The feeding of the 4,000 in Mark 8 is different from the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter 6. What is the difference? The feeding of the 5,000 was directed to the Jews while the feeding of the 4,000 was to the Gentiles. These two events taught the disciples that both Jews and Gentiles must be saved and fed by the Messiah of Israel. So, while the procedure was the same, there are marked differences.
Let us look at the event. When Yeshua saw the big crowd, He said:
“I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance.” Mark 8:1-3
Like it was with the 5,000, and as Yeshua saw that the people were running out of food, He decided to feed them because of His compassion. Not because He wanted to feed a large number of people, but simply because He had pity and deep empathy for them.
This is the common grace which is given to everyone, no matter what they believe.
Even our English word compassion testifies of the spreading and giving of love to all. The word comes from two Latin words, com meaning together and pati or passio meaning to suffer. Yeshua felt their suffering and wanted to alleviate it. The word passio, came to be associated with the suffering of the Messiah. You have surely heard of the passion of Christ.
This is the compassion we are called to have for the world around us, even for those who do not agree with our faith.
And note that they had already been following the Messiah for three days, so their provisions were depleted. At the time, travelers were known to carry with them at least a three-day provision. Josephus writes that Roman footmen were ordered to always carry provisions for three days. (Wars III, v. 5) But there is much more to these three days. The whole text follows the Passover motif where Israel was delivered from slavery, where the same motif of deliverance is brought to all people. In the bread He will multiply, we remember the manna which miraculously appeared and fed the three million for a period of 40 years. As it was for the 5,000, we are told that they were in the wilderness or a deserted area, like the Israelites were.
The mention of three days reminds us of when Moses asked Pharaoh for the same amount of time to allow the Israelites to go worship their God. That time marked the beginning of their deliverance.
So with the approximately 15,000 hungry people, we ask, “How are they going to be fed”? That is the question Yeshua is about to ask the 12 disciples and it is where we are going to learn something. We could have expected the disciples to say, “Jesus, just a few days ago you fed 5,000 and more. What would stop you from feeding these 4,000?
But that is not the response the disciples gave. The disciples seemed to have so soon forgotten about the 5,000 and they gave the wrong answer. This is when they said in verse 4. “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” Didn’t they remember that Yeshua had fed 5,000 just a few days earlier? Didn’t they remember that just a few days before, Yeshua also walked on water?
But here again, we ought to remember that these things are given to us as examples, as a mirror of who we are, because we are also so prone to forget spiritual things. It is written here and all over the Scriptures. When God gave the law to Israel, He told them: And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead. Exodus 13:9
They had to remember it as if it were engraved on their hands and foreheads. God would not have said it if they were not so inclined to forget. That is also why we see so many other phrases are repeated over and over. Just look at the number of times we find this idea or similar ones in the Hebrew Scriptures: This is the Lord your God. who brought you out of Egypt. He could have just said, “I am the Lord your God”, but He reminds them at least 30 times in the Hebrew Scriptures that He brought them out of Egypt, to refresh their memory of their past salvation. Why? Because we forget.
Forgetting is not just a Jewish problem, it is a human problem to forget the goodness of God. As you read the text of Mark, it does not get better. A little later, when they went back to Galilee, they got into a boat and forgot to bring bread, so they began to worry. That is when Yeshua said to them: “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Mark 8:17
Then He reminded them of the miraculous feedings of the 5,000 and the 4,000.
The Battle to Remember
We don’t just forget spiritual things. In everyday life, we tend to forget some very simple things. According to one study, here are the most forgotten items.
Forgetting the first names of people was high up at 83% of forgotten things. It is very embarrassing, which is why I rarely call people by their names. Second on the list is when we forget where something like our keys, cell phone, or glasses were put. This represents 60% of the forgotten items. Third, we forget words, that is, not finding the proper word to describe a thought, which is at 57%. Fourth, we often forget what was just said. That happens when we get a little older, but it is high up there at 49%.
But then again, if we forget the simple things in this life, how much more do we need to remember the words of our God? Every believer is fighting a spiritual battle. Let us not forget the birds which typify the devil as Yeshua said in the parable of the Sower. It is the evil one who continues to remove the truth of God whenever we give him an entry into our hearts and minds. Let us not forget that this event is in the context of the training of the 12, and that there really were not 12 but 13 of them. Because each one of us has a place in the group.
Soon the coaching and teaching will reach an even higher level.
By the way, this forgetting of God also follows the Passover motif. Remember that the Israelites had manna every day as well as the visible presence of God day and night through the cloud which was following them. Yet somehow, the sons of Israel wept again saying, “Who will give us meat to eat?” Numbers 11:4
The situation is so similar to that of the 12 disciples and to ours when we complain. Isn’t that true?