God’s Word for You
Mark 6:39-40 Hundreds, fifties, and green grass
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, February 4, 2023
39 Then he directed all of them to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.
Jesus “directed them.” Jesus gave instructions, and these were followed by everyone without question. What was about to happen could have brought about chaos, and people could easily have been trampled, hurt, or even killed by one another in a scramble for food suddenly made available to them. Instead, the Lord had them sit in groups (Greek: “group by group”). In their culture, sitting was not as common as reclining (see Esther 7:8; Matthew 26:7, Luke 7:36; John 12:2). But whatever their posture, they did as he instructed them. The church asks Christ: “Tell me where you rest your sheep at midday” (Song 1:7) and adds, “I will hurry and I will not delay to obey your commands” (Psalm 119:60).
Mark adds the detail of the “green grass,” either on account of Peter’s recollection in his preaching or because Mark himself might possibly have been present as a young man (cp. Mark 14:51). John (6:4) says that this took place near the time of the Passover. In Israel, the winter rains turn the foliage green for a few weeks or a couple of months in March and April, otherwise the plants struggle for water. But here the Shepherd looks after his flock, as fulfils the words of David quite literally: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2).
The groups on this grass would be a convenient way of serving them all. Mark says they sat in groups of hundreds and fifties. This would also explain how the disciples were able to get an accurate count of the men. Each of the gospels is consistent with the number of the men: five thousand, besides women and children. This establishes the arena of the miracle, as when the angel told John: “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there” (Revelation 11:1).
Sitting in these groups would therefore also help everyone in the crowds to pay attention to what was about to happen. Jesus had in mind, as always, to give glory to his heavenly Father by the display of the coming miracle: “They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might” (Psalm 145:11).
See how the Lord directs the people in order to bless them! See how he directs our lives in such a way as to bless us, to display his glory, and to provide for us the things that we need the most. Sometimes this will be earthly things like food and shelter, medicine and other care, but his heart is always on the condition of our souls. He wants to strengthen our faith, so do not run from his blessings of Word and Sacrament. “My soul faints with longing for your salvation,” the Psalm says, “but I have put my hope in your word.”
Pastor Timothy Smith