There were at least 10,000 of them, but actually closer to 15,000. They had been following Jesus for some time, craning their necks to hear His words and see His wonders. John records that there were 5,000 men there that day near the Sea of Galilee, but with women and children, there were double or triple that number.
Jesus knew that few had brought provisions. And it was already late in the day. The sun would soon set. The multitude had come so far following Jesus, like blissful sheep, that they found themselves in the middle of the countryside–a “desolate place”–the disciples called it. They were so far away from home that grabbing a knapsack full of food was out of the question. The disciples suggested that Jesus send them away to the nearby villages to find lodging and buy themselves something to eat. But Jesus told the disciples to feed them.
Jesus felt compassion for the people. In fact, Mark records that Jesus felt compassion on them because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” And then Jesus did an odd thing. He commanded them to lie down…to “recline” as it were. Every gospel writer recorded this particular command. Two out of the 4 gospel writers also made a point of stating that there was a lot of green grass there. Why was such a description important?
Perhaps because as devout Jews, they knew the Psalms, and the similarities between Psalm 23 and what was happening before their eyes were uncanny:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Before the disciples knew it, Jesus had taken 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and turned them into enough to feed at least 10,000 people. There was absolutely no one wanting because everyone ate until they were satisfied.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
It must have seemed an odd command to the multitude that day. What did it matter if they stood, sat, or stretched out and leaned on one elbow to eat? But to Jesus, rest was a requirement for His sheep.
He leads me beside quiet waters [literally “waters of rest”]
Just prior to the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus had taken Himself and His disciples out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. They had just heard about the beheading of John the Baptist, and He knew they needed quiet time. In fact, He said, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.” When He went ashore, He found the multitude waiting for Him there. He had, quite literally, led them beside the Sea of Galilee, known for its “quiet waters.”
He restores my soul;
He restored the souls of His disciples, who had taken the headless body of John the Baptist and placed it in a tomb. It was a hideous task that traumatized all of them. No one knows what He said to them during that quiet time, but it was surely sweet balm to their spirits.
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
And then, casting His eyes upon the multitude, the Good Shepherd began to “teach them many things.”
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
It wasn’t easy being a disciple of Jesus. If John the Baptist was so easily and quickly beheaded, the disciples must have been wondering if Jesus was next. In fact, soon after the “5,000” were fed, Jesus went to the region of Magadan, and the Pharisees and the Sadducees came up to Him and tested Him. There was always a subtle threat, so they walked through the valley of the shadow of death on a regular basis. But there was something about His presence. There was no fear in His presence, because perfect love casts out fear.
Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou has anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.
As Jesus looked out upon the multitude, He knew that all too soon, those who had followed Him with such abandon would turn on Him and yell “Crucify Him!” In fact, even His disciples would ultimately flee. Devoted followers would soon become enemies. Yet He treated them with loving deference, as one would anoint an honored guest, and provided so much food that it was overflowing and the disciples picked up 12 baskets of remaining food.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
Before Jesus fed the “5,000,” He looked up to heaven “and blessed.” Many translations add the words, “the bread” or “the food,” but in fact, no gospel infers He blessed only the food. Luke says “He blessed them, and broke” which could mean He blessed the people and the food. The point is, when Jesus blesses something or someone, the blessing is not for one particular instance. It is not temporary but ongoing. Those fortunate people who were there that day and experienced Jesus’ powerful blessing surely experienced “goodness and lovingkindness” following them all the days of their lives. This is similar to when Jesus later instructed the disciples to either leave their peace upon a household, or to withdraw it. Jesus’ peace was not a temporary thing, but something that would continue to exist. But that’s not to say that Jesus’ disciples would not experience persecution and death.
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This psalm was written by David, and he would indeed dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And so would 11 of the disciples. And many others who realized that Jesus was the Messiah and accepted Him as their Lord and Savior.
…He makes us lie down in green pastures. Who else is like Him?