God’s Word for You
Mark 6:43-44 crumbs and bits of fins and fish heads
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, February 11, 2023
43 Then they picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces of bread and the fish. 44 And there were five thousand men who ate the loaves.
Mark wants to emphasize the miracle, whereas John knew that we had to know about the mistake of the people and their terrible sin that accompanied this event. So while Mark presents the two numbers as the preaching of the gospel (twelve baskets full of leftover pieces; five thousand men), John presents these things as a preaching of the law: the five thousand were only the men, besides women and children (John 6:10), meaning that there were, at the most conservative guess, more than 20,000 people there, who “intended to come and make him a king by force” (John 6:16). Compare this with Ahithophel’s suggestion to Absalom to attack his father David’s force with twelve thousand men (2 Samuel 17:1). This was why, John tells us, Jesus withdrew from the crowd.
Mark, on the other hand, sees the joy in the miracle itself and focuses our attention on its staggering arithmetic. Five loaves of bread and two fish fed five thousand men, not counting the women and children, and there were a dozen basketfuls of leftovers. In my commentary on Luke (Volume 2, page 486) I related that descriptions of these baskets “always remind me of an oriole’s nest.” That is true, but now I am convinced that I have grossly underestimated the size of these baskets, floppy and haphazardly-made though they may have been. When the word for this sort of basket appears in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Judges 6:19), the kophinos (κόϕινoς) is a wicker basket large enough to carry the meat of a whole butchered goat, which I would compare to a small household laundry basket (compare the same item describing a heavy burden on the shoulder in Psalm 81:6).
Such a basket would probably hold about twenty or thirty loaves of bread, and between three and four dozen fish. This makes the total number of leftovers between 240 and 360 loaves of bread, and as many as thirty to fifty fish, all from five loaves of bread and two fish (only Mark mentions that the fish were also represented in the leftover pieces).
This miracle of multiplication is a gift from God to his beloved people. It shows his power, certainly, but also his compassion and pity on us who suffer from the ravages and the indignities of sin, and from the oppression of Satan upon our brief lives. Satan only wants to kill our bodies (Mark 9:22) and drag our souls into hell. God wants to save our souls, but he also cares for our bodies and the needs we have. Usually he provides for our bodily needs with ordinary means: planting, harvesting, grinding, baking. But sometimes he provides for us with miracles of sending food as manna from heaven (Exodus 16:4) or bread brought by other means (1 Kings 17:4) or multiplying what little we have (2 Kings 4:42-44). Perhaps we can expect that in heaven he will feed our physical bodies through miraculous means as a rule, but allow us to make and eat our own heavenly food as a delightful task in his service from time to time.
Nothing is too small or insignificant for God to notice and take action. He loves us. In this miracle, “he blessed their pittance so that they have an abundance” (Luther).
Psalm 34:10 says, “The rich and powerful (‘young lions’) suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” When government fails to care for the lowly, the widow, the immigrant, the refugee, the orphan, the homeless, and the oppressed, then the Lord will bless them one by one even if it enrages those who are in power.
God blessed these people who did not come expecting food, but asked the Lord for healing and for spiritual blessings. Nevertheless, he saw to their physical needs as well, demonstrating his promise: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mathew 6:33). By focusing only on the miracle and the blessing and not on the later error, Mark shows us the pure blessing of God unsullied by man’s sinfulness. God will do as he has promised. He blesses us despite our sins.
Compare in your mind this miracle and the change from water to wine. That the Lord could change water into another thing is not beyond our imagination since we know about chemical changes, the working of yeast and even of rust in the world. Or from soft dough to baked bread. What was one thing before can be another thing in a short time. Yet the human mind still must be in awe of God changing water into something as different, complex, and subject to human taste and experience, as delicious wine!
But this miracle! How it staggers the imagination! Think again of the devil’s tempting words: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). This was in no way beyond the Lord’s grasp. It could easily have been done—but there were no bellies to fill there in the desert wilderness, apart from the Lord’s own. He avoided the Murderer’s temptation by meditating upon the words of Moses: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The power of God is only hinted at in this, the most famous of his miracles. To make a meal, even for an army, is a small thing for the one who made the world, the universe, time and space, with a spoken word. Put your faith in his spoken word, the word that says: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Do not trouble yourself with thoughts about leftover crumbs and bits of fins and fish heads, but rejoice that you will never be left; you will be lifted up and brought into the eternal feast with Jesus your Savior. And you will never be hungry, sad, lonely, hurting, frightened, lost, or thirsty, not ever again.
Pastor Timothy Smith