Mark 4 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Mark 4
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.

(1-20) He began.—See Notes on Matthew 13:1-23.

And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
(2) In his doctrine.—Better, in His teaching.

Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
(3) A sower.—Better, the sower.

And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
(8) Some thirty . . .—For the most part the parable is almost verbally identical with that in St. Matthew. Here, however, we note the difference, sufficient to establish a certain measure of independence, of an ascending instead of a descending scale.

And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
(10) They that were about him.—In St. Matthew, simply, “the disciples.” Here the presence of others besides the Twelve is directly asserted.

And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
(11) Unto them that are without.—The form of the phrase is peculiar to St. Mark; St. Matthew giving, “to them,” and St. Luke, “to the rest.”

That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
(12) That seeing they may see. . . .—St. Mark characteristically gives the words of Isaiah 6:9, but not as a quotation, and perhaps in a less accurate form, and omits the addition in Matthew, “Blessed are your ears . . .” The form in this instance, at first sight, suggests the thought that our Lord’s purpose was to produce the blindness and deafness of which He speaks. The real meaning of the words is, however, plain. This was to be the result of the wilful blindness of those who rejected Him; and the acceptance of a foreseen result was, in Hebrew forms of thought, expressed as the working out of an intention. (See Notes on Matthew 13:14-15.)

And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
(13) How then will ye know all parables?—The question is peculiar to St. Mark, and suggests the thought of our Lord as contemplating for His disciples an ever-growing insight, not only into His own spoken parables, but into those of nature and of life. But if they were such slow scholars in this early stage, how was that insight to be imparted? The question is followed up by the answer. The first lesson in interpreting is given in that which is a pattern and exemplar of the method of interpretation.

The sower soweth the word.
And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.
(15) In their hearts.—The better MSS. give simply, “in them.”

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.
And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?
(21) Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel?—See Note on Matthew 5:15. St. Mark, it will be noted, omits all the other parables that follow in St. Matthew, and connects with that of the Sower sayings more or less proverbial, which in St. Matthew appear in a different context. Looking at our Lord’s method of teaching by the repetition of proverbs under different aspects and on different occasions, it is not unlikely that this of the “candle” was actually spoken in the connection in which we find it here. Their knowledge of the meaning of the parable was not given them for themselves alone, but was to shine forth to others. We probably owe to the saying so uttered the record of this parable given in three out of the four Gospels.

For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.
(22) For there is nothing hid.—This also is found elsewhere (e.g., in Matthew 10:26). The Greek word here for “secret” is interesting as being the same as that which we find in our word “Apocrypha.” The term was, in the first instance, applied to books that were surrounded with the secrecy of a spurious sacred-ness, but were not publicly recognised in the Church as being of divine authority, and was then transferred to all books which, whether “spurious” or “secret,” wanted that recognition.

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
(24) With what measure ye mete.—See Note on Matthew 7:2. The proverb furnishes a good illustration of what has just been said as to our Lord’s method of presenting the same truth under different aspects. In the Sermon on the Mount it appears as the law of retribution, which brings pardon to those who pardon, judgment without mercy to those who show no mercy. Here the law works in another region. With the measure with which we mete our knowledge, God will. in His bounty, bestow more knowledge upon us. The old maxim, Docendo disces (“Thou wilt learn by teaching”), becomes here more than the lesson of experience, and is one with the divine law of equity.

For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.
(25) For he that hath.—See Note on Matthew 13:12.

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
(26) As if a man should cast seed into the ground.—What follows has the special interest of being the only parable peculiar to St. Mark, one therefore which had escaped the manifest eagerness of St. Matthew and St. Luke to gather up all that they could find of this form of our Lord’s teaching. It runs to some extent parallel with the parable of the Sower, as though it had been given as another and easier lesson in the art of understanding parables; and if we assume a connection between St. Mark and St. Peter, it may be regarded as having in this way made a special impression on the mind of the Apostle. Like many other parables, it finds an interpretation in the analogous phenomena of the growth of the Kingdom (1) in the world at large, (2) in the heart of each individual. Speaking roughly, the Sower is, as before, either the Son of Man or the preacher of His word, and the ground falls under one or other of the heads just defined in the previous parable, with, perhaps, a special reference to the good ground.

And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
(27) And should sleep, and rise.—So it was in the world’s history. Men knew not the greatness of the new force that had been brought into action. Philosophers and statesmen ignored it. Even the very preachers of the new faith, the “sowers” of the parable, were hardly conscious of the enormous revolution which they were working. So it is in the individual life. The seemingly chance word, the new truth that flashes on the soul as a revelation, the old words now for the first time apprehended in their true force, these prove to be the seeds of a new growth in the soul.

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.
(28) The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself.—Stress is laid on the spontaneity of growth; and the lesson drawn from it is obviously one at once of patience and of faith. It is not well in the spiritual husbandry, either of the nations of the world or of individual souls, to be taking up the seeds to see whether they are growing. It is wiser to sow the seed, and to believe that sun and rain will quicken it. Thus, the words find an interesting parallel, like, and yet different, in the precept of Ecclesiastes 11:6, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand.”

First the blade, then the ear.—Following the same lines as before, we have (1) three stages in the growth of the Church of Christ in the field of the world, and (2) three like stages representing the influence of the new truth on thoughts, purposes, acts, in the individual soul.

But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.
(29) He putteth in the sickle.—From one point of view, here again, the harvest is the end of the world (Matthew 13:39), and the putting in the sickle is the coming of Christ to judge. (Comp. the use of the same image in Revelation 14:14-18.) From the other, the harvest is the end of each man’s life, and the sickle is in the hands of the Angel of Death.

And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?
(30) With what comparison shall we compare it?—Literally, By what parable shall we set it forth? The question which introduces the parable is in St. Mark and St. Luke, but not in St. Matthew. It gives us the impression of a question asked, in order to put the minds of the hearers on the stretch, so that they might welcome the answer.

It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:
(31-32) It is like a grain of mustard seed.—See Notes on Matthew 13:31-32. Slight variations in this report are (1) the “great branches,” and (2) the birds lodging “under the shadow” of the tree.

But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.
And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it.
(33-34) And with many such parables.—See Notes on Matthew 13:34-35. St. Mark’s omission of the reference to Psalm 78:2, and his addition of “as they were able to hear it,” are, each of them, characteristic. It may be noted that the “many such parables” of St. Mark imply something like the series which we find in St. Matthew.

But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
(34) He expounded.—The word may be noted as being the verb from which is formed the noun “interpretation” in 2 Peter 1:20, and so takes its place in the coincidences of phraseology which connect that Epistle with this Gospel. (See Introduction.)

And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
(35-41) And the same day.—Better, in that day. See Notes on Matthew 8:23-27. The connection of the events, as given by St. Mark, seems to be precise enough, but it differs widely from that in St. Matthew and St. Luke, and it must remain uncertain which was the actual order.

The other side.—The voyage was from Capernaum—from the west to the east side of the lake.

And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
(36) They took him even as he was.—The phrase is peculiar to this Gospel, and seems to point to the impression made on the mind of St. Mark’s informant by the utter exhaustion that followed on the long day’s labours. St. John’s statement that our Lord, on His journey through Samaria, “being wearied . . . sat thus on the well” (John 4:6), presents an interesting parallel.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
(37) Beat into the ship, so that it was now full.—Better, were beating upon the ship, so that it was filling. Both verbs describe continuous action.

And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
(38) Asleep on a pillow.—Better, on the pillow—the cushion commonly to be found in the boat’s stern.

Carest thou not that we perish?—St. Mark alone gives this touch of despairing expostulation, in which we trace the specific want of faith which was afterwards reproved.

And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
(39) Peace, be still.—Literally, be still, be silenced, The latter word is the same as that used of the man who had not on a wedding garment, and was “speechless” (Matthew 22:12). Note the vividness with which St. Mark gives the very words addressed to the raging sea, as though it were a hostile power rising in rebellion against its true Lord.

The wind ceased.—Better, lulled.

And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
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