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This chapter treats of the miracles of Elisha, of his multiplying a poor widow’s pot of oil for the payment of her husband’s debts, ( 2 Kings 4:1-7) of obtaining a son for a Shunamitish woman, who had been very hospitable to him, ( 2 Kings 4:8-17), of his raising up her son to life when dead, ( 2 Kings 4:18-37), of his curing the deadly pottage made of wild gourds, ( 2 Kings 4:38-41), and of his feeding one hundred men with twenty barley loaves, ( 2 Kings 4:42-44).
Ver. 1 . Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha , etc.] This, according to the Targum, was the wife of Obadiah, who had hid the prophets by fifty in a cave in the times of Ahab; and so Josephus f40 , and it is the commonly received notion of the Jewish writers; though it does not appear that he was a prophet, or the son of a prophet, but the governor or steward of Ahab’s house; she was more likely to be the wife of a meaner person; and from hence it is clear that the prophets and their disciples married: saying, thy servant my husband is dead ; which is the lot of prophets, as well as others, ( Zechariah 1:5) and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord ; her husband was well known to the prophet, and known to be a good man, one of the 7000 who bowed not the knee to Baal, for the truth of which she appeals to Elisha; and this character she gives of her husband, lest it should be thought that his poverty, and leaving her in debt, were owing to any ill practices of his: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen ; which it seems were allowed of when men became poor and insolvent, and died so, to which the allusion is in ( Isaiah 1:1 Matthew 18:25), (see Gill on “ Matthew 18:25”). Josephus suggests, that the insolvency of this man was owing to his borrowing money to feed the prophets hid in the cave; and it is a common notion of the Jews that this creditor was Jehoram the son of Ahab; and in later times it was a law with the Athenians f42 , that if a father had not paid what he was fined in court, the son was obliged to pay it, and in the mean while to lie in bonds, as was the case of Cimon f43 , and others.
Ver. 2 . And Elisha said unto her, what shall I do for thee ? etc.] Or can I do, being poor himself, and unable to relieve her out of his substance, and not knowing where to get anything for her; and so what could she expect from him? signifying, that he pitied her case, but all that he could do was to give her his best advice, and pray for her: tell me what thou hast in thy house ? that she could part with and dispose of, in order to pay her debt; and satisfy her creditor: and she said, thine handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil ; that is, nothing of any value; she might have some things, some sort of household goods, though perhaps she had parted with most of them in her poverty; this was the most valuable thing she had.
Ver. 3 . Then he said, go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours , etc.] For he perceived that she had none: even empty vessels ; which they might more readily lend her: borrow not a few ; but as many as she could get; the prophet, under a divine impulse, was directed to say this to her, foreseeing, by a spirit of prophecy, that a large quantity of oil would be given her.
Ver. 4 . And when thou art come in , etc.] Into her house: thou shall shut the door upon thee, and upon thy sons ; that they might be alone in the house while the miracle was working; that they might not be interrupted in what they were to do, by the creditor coming in upon them, or by neighbours, who would be for getting the oil from them in the vessels they had lent them: and that the miracle might appear the plainer, no oil being brought into the house by any: and shalt pour out into all these vessels ; out of the single pot of oil into all they borrowed: and thou shalt set aside that which is full ; by itself, and fill the rest of the empty ones.
Ver. 5 . So she went from him , etc.] And did as he advised her, borrowed many empty vessels of her neighbours, having faith in what the prophet had said to her: and shut the door upon her, and upon her sons ; and then went to work as she was directed, with her sons: who brought the vessels to her ; the empty ones she had borrowed: and she poured out; the oil out of her pot into them.
Ver. 6 . And it came to pass when the vessels were full , etc.] For the oil being miraculously increased as it was poured forth, there was enough to fill all the vessels; Ben Gersom and Abarbinel say, that when the pot was emptied, all the air that entered it was turned into oil: that she said to her son, bring me yet a vessel ; as she had two sons, one it is probable was employed in setting aside the full vessels, as she poured into them, and the other in bringing to her the empty vessels, and to whom she thus speaks: and he said unto her, there is not a vessel more ; not an empty one, they were all filled: and the oil stayed ; it ran no longer, it was no more multiplied; there was no necessity of continuing the miracle: this oil may be an emblem of the grace that flows from the fulness of it in Christ, to which it is compared, which will be always flowing, as long as there is a vessel of salvation, or faith in any to receive it; (see Matthew 25: 3 John 1:14,16) ( 1 John 2:20,27).
Ver. 7 . Then she came and told the man of God , etc.] Elisha the prophet, what had been done, what a quantity of oil she had, and advised with him what was to be done with it: and he said, go, sell thy oil, and pay thy debt ; what was thus miraculously produced was no doubt very good and excellent, and would fetch a good price; and she is therefore bid to turn it into money, and pay her debts with it; she was not to keep it all for her own use, and indulge to luxury with it, but first pay her just debt, as everyone ought to do that is able: and live thou and thy children of the rest ; so that it seems there was enough to pay her debt with it, rid her of her troubles, and somewhat remaining for the support of herself and children.
Ver. 8 . And it fell on a day , etc.] Or so it was at a certain time: that Elisha passed to Shunem ; a city in the tribe of Issachar; of which (see Joshua 19:18), where was a great woman ; of great wealth and riches, of great benevolence and hospitality, and of great grace and piety; that feared sin, as the Targum paraphrases it; a woman of great credit and reputation on all accounts. The Jews say she was the sister of Abishag the Shunammite, and the mother of Iddo the prophet: and she constrained him to eat bread ; she had observed him at all times pass that way, and guessed by his habit and deportment that he was a religious man, and therefore took an opportunity to invite him into her house, and take a dinner with her; but he being modest and shy, she was obliged to use some pressing language, and be importunate with him, that he would accept of her invitation, which he did: and so it was, that, as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread ; being made very welcome, and encouraged by the free and kind entertainment he met with, as often as he had occasion to come that way, he called and took a meal with her; and this it seems was pretty often, for Shunem was not far from Carmel, which he frequented, and lay in the way to Samaria, Bethel, and Jericho, places he often visited, the schools of the prophets being there.
Ver. 9 . And she said unto her husband , etc.] Not being willing to do any thing without his leave and consent: behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God which passeth by us continually : and calls here frequently: this she perceived by his discourse and conversation; and by his carriage and behaviour he appeared to be a prophet, and one very eminent for holiness and religion.
Ver. 10 . Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall , etc.] Either of the city, to which their house might join, or of their garden, a little distance from the house; though the Jewish writers commonly understand it of a little edifice built up of walls of stone or bricks, and not one with reeds, or stud and mud: let us set for him there a bed ; that he may stay all night when he pleases: and a table ; not only to eat his food, but to write on, and lay his books on he reads. Of the table of a scholar of the wise men, in later times, we are told f45 , that two thirds of it were covered with a cloth, and the other third was uncovered, on which stood the plates and the herbs: and a stool ; to sit upon at table: and a candlestick ; with a candle in it, to light him in the night to read by, and the like: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither ; where he would be free from the noise of the house, and be more retired for prayer, reading, meditation, and study, and not be disturbed with the servants of the family, and be mixed with them; all this she contrived, both for his honour, and for his quietness and peace.
Ver. 11 . And it fell on a day that he came thither , etc.] As he had been wont to do: and he turned into the chamber ; built for him, and to which he was directed: and lay there ; all night, and which no doubt was frequently repeated by him, he accepting of the kindness of his host.
Ver. 12 . And he said to Gehazi his servant , etc.] Who attended him wherever he went, and ministered to him, and lay very probably in the same chamber with him; he might be one of the sons of the prophets: call this Shunammite ; tell her I desire to speak with her: and when he had called her, she stood before him ; at the door of the chamber, in great reverence of him, and with much humility, waiting to hear what he had to say to her: this must be understood after what had further passed between Elisha and Gehazi, and between Gehazi and the woman, who returned to his master, and acquainted him with what she had said to him, upon which he was sent to call her, and she came.
Ver. 13 . And he said unto him , etc.], To Gehazi, before he went to call her: say now unto her, behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care ; in building a chamber, and furnishing it with proper household goods, and providing food for them from time to time: what is to be done for thee ? can anything be thought of by thee that will be acceptable, and in my masters power to do for thee, or thy husband? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host ? that her husband might be promoted to some post in the court, or in the camp; intimating, that if either of these was agreeable, Elisha would speak on his behalf, having interest in both through his services in Edom: and she answered, I will dwell among my own people she was content and satisfied with her present state of life, and the situation she was in, and with her friends and neighbours she lived among, and did not care to remove, though it was to a higher rank of life, and to greater dignity and honour; and she had no suit to make to the king or general, nothing to complain of; and she had friends enough to speak for her, should she want any assistance.
Ver. 14 . And he said , etc.] That is, Elisha to Gehazi, when he returned to him, and told him what the Shunammite said: what then is to be done for her ? something he thought should be done in gratitude, the favours they had received, and advises with his servant what could be thought of, he being one about the house: and Gehazi answered, verily she hath no child, and her husband is old ; and so not likely to have any by him; as children were always very desirable by women, and especially in those days, the servant suggests, that no doubt to have one would be very acceptable to her.
Ver. 15 . And he said, call her , etc.] Perhaps finding an impulse on his own mind, from the Spirit of God, that this was the thing to be done for her: and when he had called her, she stood in the door ; of his chamber: (see Gill on “ 2 Kings 4:12”).
Ver. 16 . And he said, about this season , etc.] In the next year: according to the time of life ; the usual time women go with child: thou shalt embrace a son ; in thine arms, that shall be born of thee, which she should have in her lap, and in her bosom: and she said, nay, my lord, do not lie unto thine handmaid ; or speak unto her what was not truth; it was so great, and so unaccountable, how it could be in her circumstances, that she could not believe it to be true, though she wished it might; or do not deceive me with vain and false words, or flatter me, jest with me, which would be unbecoming his character as a man of God, and prophet of the Lord; according to the Targum, she wished it might prove true, and she not deceived; (see 2 Kings 4:28).
Ver. 17 . And the woman conceived, and bare a son at the season that Elisha said unto her , etc.] Quickly after this she conceived, and became pregnant, and by that time the year came round, she was brought to bed of a son: according to the time of life : when she had gone her full time to have a son born alive, and live.
Ver. 18 . And when the child was grown , etc.] Perhaps was six or seven years of age, or more: it fell on a day that he went out to his father to the reapers ; it was harvest time, and the men were reaping the corn in the fields; and his father, though a wealthy man, was with them to direct them, and see they did their business well, as Boaz formerly; and the child went out from the house to the field, to see his father and the reapers, for his recreation and diversion.
Ver. 19 . And he said unto his father, my head, my head , etc.] After he had been some time with him, he complained of a pain in his head, which might be owing, as Abarbinel thinks, to the sun’s beating upon it, being harvest time, and hot weather; and the pain being exceeding great and vehement, he repeated his complaint, (see Jeremiah 4:19) and he said to a lad, carry him home to his mother ; his father gave orders to a lad that attended the reapers to have him home to his mother, that she might give him something to ease him of his pain.
Ver. 20 . And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother , etc.] The lad led him home, and delivered him to his mother: he sat on her knees till noon, and then died ; out of her great affection, she took him on her knees, and laid his head in her bosom to sooth the pain, and in this posture he continued until the middle of the day, and then expired; by which it appears it was in the morning when he went into the field, and when the sun was pretty high, and beat strongly on him; which, it may be, produced a fever, and which issued in his death.
Ver. 21 . And she went up , etc.] Into the little chamber built for the prophet: and laid him on the bed of the man of God ; not from any imagination of any virtue in it to bring her child to life; though she might think of the prophet, and have faith that he could raise it to life, as Elijah raised the widow of Zarephath’s son laid on his bed, of which she might have heard; but this being a private room, and into which none went, she laid it here to conceal its death from her husband and family, and to prevent grief, and that they might not bury it until she returned: and shut the door upon him ; that no creature might enter, and, do any damage to his corpse: and went out ; not out of the chamber, that she did before she shut the door, but out of the house.
Ver. 22 . And she called unto her husband , etc.] In the field, who might be within call, or by a messenger she sent to him: and said, send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again ; intimating that she should not be long gone, but should return again presently; saying not a word of the death of the child, or of the occasion of her going.
Ver. 23 . And he said, wherefore wilt thou go to him today ? etc.] What reason is there for it? what is the meaning of it? it is neither new moon nor sabbath ; neither the first day of the month, nor the seventh day of the week, times which were religiously observed; so with the Heathens the new moon and the seventh of the week, and so the fourth, were sacred f46 ; which notions they borrowed from the Jews, (see Gill on “ 1 Samuel 20:5”) and when, it seems, it was usual to frequent the house of the prophet, to hear the word of God read and explained, and other religious exercises performed, as praying and singing praise, and receiving some good instructions and advice. Joseph Kimchi gives a different sense of these words: “there is not a month past, no, not a week, since thou sawest him;” why therefore shouldest thou be in such haste to go to him? so the words for new moon and sabbath may signify: and she said, it shall be well ; it was right for her to go, and it would be well for him and her, and the family; or, “peace” f47 , be easy and quiet, farewell: it is much he had no mistrust of the death of the child, or that it was worse, since it went from him ill.
Ver. 24 . Then she saddled an ass , etc.] Her servant did it by her order: and said to her servant, drive, and go forward ; make all the haste he could: slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee ; do not be afraid of riding too fast for me; if thou dost, I will tell thee; till then, keep on a good pace:
Abarbinel says she walked afoot all the way, and ordered the man not to slacken his pace in riding for her, unless she called to him; and the Targum seems to favour this sense, “do not press me to ride unless I call to thee;” so that the ass was for Elijah to ride on; but one would think, that, as she was in haste, quicker dispatch would be made by her riding than by walking, (see 2 Kings 4:22).
Ver. 25 . So she went and came unto the man of God at Mount Carmel , etc.] Where Elijah used to be, and where, perhaps, was a school of the prophets; this, according to Bunting f48 , was sixteen miles from Shunem: and it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off ; as he might from the eminence of the mountain: that he said to Gehazi his servant, behold, yonder is that Shunammite ; that has so often and so hospitably entertained us at her house.
Ver. 26 . Run now, I pray thee, to meet her , etc.] In respect to her, and to know the occasion of her coming; something is the cause of it: and say unto her, is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child ? has any disaster befallen thee, thy husband, or the child? are all in good health? or does any disorder attend any of them? and she answered, it is well ; as in general they were, the greatest part, she and her husband; and though the child was dead, yet, if gone to heaven, as she might hope, it was well too; and it is right to judge and say, that all that the Lord does is well: she gives a short answer to the servant, not being willing to be detained, and being desirous of telling her case to the prophet himself.
Ver. 27 . And when she came to the man of God to the hill , etc.] To the top of it: she caught him by the feet ; in reverence to him, and as a supplicant, she prostrated herself at his feet, and, out of affection to him, caught hold on them, and held them fast, and determined not to leave him until he had promised to go with her, (see Matthew 28:9). It was usual with the Jews to lay hold on and kiss the feet or knees of those to whom they did homage, or made supplication, (see Matthew 28:9 Luke 7:38). (see Gill on “ Luke 7:38”), and so with the Greeks, as may be observed in various passages in Homer and others: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away ; as being troublesome and disagreeable to his master, and not for her honour and credit: and the man of God said, let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her ; or “is bitter” f50 , full of trouble and distress, and knows not what to do, nor very well what she does: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me : what is the cause of this her trouble; for prophets did not know things of themselves, nor had they the vision of prophecy at their will and pleasure, but according to the will of God.
Ver. 28 . Then she said, did I desire a son of my lord ? etc.] It was not at her request she had one, at least the first motion was not from her; the prophet first told her, and assured her she should have one, without her asking for it; she might be pleased with it, and desire the promise might be fulfilled; but it was not an inordinate, importunate, desire of one, in which she had exceeded, that so the taking it away from her might be a correction of her for it: did I not say, do not deceive me ; by giving hopes of a child, and yet have none; and now it was equally the same, or worse, to have one, and then to have it taken away again as soon as had almost; so the Targum, “did I not say unto thee, if a child is given me, let it live, if not, do not trouble or grieve me;” and then, no doubt, she told him plainly the child was dead, and where she had laid it, though not recorded.
Ver. 29 . Then he said to Gehazi, gird up thy loins , etc.] His loose and long garments about him, that he might make quicker dispatch in travelling: and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way ; not for the sake of travelling with it, but for an end after mentioned: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again ; that so no time may be lost: and lay my staff upon the face of the child ; he not intending when he said this to go himself, but at the time, as near as he could, when this action was performed, would pray to God to restore life to the child; for he could not imagine that by this bare action it could be done.
Ver. 30 . And the mother of the child said , etc.] Having no faith in what the servant was to do, or could do: as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee ; signifying she would not go with his servant, but insisted upon it that he himself went with her, or she would not depart: and he arose, and followed her ; influenced by her importunity, and a sense of favours he had received from her, and more especially by the Spirit of God.
Ver. 31 . And Gehazi passed on before them , etc.] The prophet and the Shunammite: and laid the staff upon the face of the child ; as he was ordered: but there was neither voice nor hearing : it seems as if he spoke when he laid the staff on the child, but it heard and answered him not, so that there was no sign of life in it: wherefore he went again to meet him ; upon the road between Carmel and Shunem: and told him, saying, the child is not awaked ; by which he expresses its being dead; or, if he knew nothing of its death, he supposed it fast asleep, which was the reason of its not hearing and answering, though the former seems best.
Ver. 32 . And when Elisha was come into the house , etc.] Of the Shunamite, and into the chamber built for him: behold, the child was dead, and laid upon the bed ; upon his bed, and where he found it really dead.
Ver. 33 . He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain , etc.] Himself and the dead child; that nobody might come in and interrupt him in his prayers for the restoration of it to life, nor see the motions and gestures he used, and the postures he put himself in: and prayed unto the Lord ; that he would restore the child to life.
Ver. 34 . And he went up , etc.] To the bed, which was on an ascent in the chamber, (see Gill on “ 2 Kings 1:4”) and lay upon the child; as Elijah did on the widow’s son of Zarephath, ( 1 Kings 17:21) and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands, and stretched himself upon the child ; that is, he did each of these one after another, since the disproportion of their bodies would not admit of their being done together: and the flesh of the child waxed warm ; not from any virtue imparted to it by these motions and actions of the prophet, but from life being infused into it by the Lord, which caused an heat in the several parts of the body.
Ver. 35 . Then he returned and walked in the house to and fro , etc.] Left the chamber, and came down to the house where the family chiefly resided, and walked to and fro in deep thought and meditation, and, no doubt, in fervent ejaculations for the wished for blessing to be completed: and went up ; to the chamber again, and up to the bed in it: and stretched himself upon him ; as before: and the child sneezed seven times ; which was a sign of life, and even of health; and hereby his head was cleared, as some observe, of those humours that had caused the pains in it f51 , and had issued in death: and the child opened his eyes ; upon the prophet, another sign of life.
Ver. 36 . And he called Gehazi, and said, call this Shunammite , etc.] To come up to the chamber to him: so he called her: and when she was come in unto him, he said, take up thy son ; from off the bed, alive, safe, and sound.
Ver. 37 . Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground , etc.] In reverence of him, and with the most profound gratitude and thankfulness for the mercy received: and took up her son, and went out ; of the chamber into her house, with great joy and gladness.
Ver. 38 . And Elisha came again to Gilgal , etc.] Where he was with Elijah a little before his assumption to heaven, ( 2 Kings 2:1) and whither he went, there being a school of the prophets, as he did to all places where there were any, and where he had been before with Elijah; partly to instruct, encourage, and strengthen them, and partly to confirm his office as a prophet by miracles, which he did in several places he came to: and there was a dearth in the land ; a famine through drought: and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him : as disciples before their master, (see Acts 22:3) and he said unto his servant ; very probably Gehazi: set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets ; who seemed to have lived together in one house or college, and to be to the number of one hundred, (see 2 Kings 4:43) and therefore required to have a large pot set on to boil pottage for them all.
Ver. 39 . And one went out into the fields to gather herbs , etc.] To put into the pottage, the gardens affording none in this time of dearth; or, however, being scarce, were at too great a price for the sons of the prophets to purchase them; and therefore one of them went out into the field to gather what common herbs he could: and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full ; thought to be the same with coloquintida, the leaves of which are very like to a vine, of a very bitter taste, and a very violent purgative, which, if not remedied, will produce ulcerations in the bowels, and issue in death; some think the white brier or white vine is meant, the colour of whose berries is very inviting to look at, but very bitter and ungrateful, and it vehemently purges f52 ; the Arabs call a sort of mushroom that is white and soft by this name f53 , but cannot be meant here, because it has no likeness to a wild vine: and came and shred them into the pot of pottage ; cut or chopped them small, and put them into the pot: for they knew them not ; what they were, the nature and virtue of them, being unskilful in botany.
Ver. 40 . So they poured out for the men to eat , etc.] When the pottage was boiled, they poured it out into dishes or basins, for the sons of the prophets to eat: and it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot ; poison, the cause of death; the pottage was so exceeding bitter, that they concluded there must be some poisonous herb in it; and coloquintida is so bitter, that it is called “the gall of the earth”: and they could not eat thereof : they stopped eating, it being so very disagreeable, and, as they supposed, dangerous.
Ver. 41 . But he said, then bring meal: and he cast it into the pot , etc.] And stirred it about in it: and he said, pour out for the people, that they may eat ; as they now might freely, and without any danger, as he intimated: and there was no harm in the pot ; or anything that could do any harm or mischief to the health of men: this was not owing to the natural virtue of meal, but to a miraculous power attending it, whereby the pottage was cured of its malignity, as the bad waters of Jericho were by salt, in a preceding miracle.
Ver. 42 . And there came a man from Baalshalisha , etc.] Of which place (see Gill on “ 1 Samuel 9:4”), the Targum is, from the south country: and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley ; so that it was now barley harvest, and this the first fruits of it, which, according to the law, ( Leviticus 23:10), was to be brought to the priest; but being forbid in the land of Israel going up to Jerusalem, religious men brought their firstfruits to the prophets, and here to Elisha, the father of them; believing it would be dispensed with, and acceptable, since they were not allowed to carry them to the proper person; and in this time of famine was very agreeable to the man of God, supposing it only a present: and full ears of corn in the husk thereof ; these were green ears of corn, which they used to parch; but might not be eaten until the firstfruits were offered, and then they might, ( Leviticus 23:14), the Targum renders it, “in his garment”, in the skirt of his clothes; and to the same purpose are the Syriac and Arabic versions; and so Jarchi interprets it; and Ben Gersom says, it signifies some vessel in which he brought them: and he said, give unto the people, that they may eat ; Elisha did not reserve this offering or present for himself, but, as he had freely received, he freely gave.
Ver. 43 . And his servitor said , etc.] His servant Gehazi very probably: what, should I set this before one hundred men ? for so many, it seems, the sons of the prophets were in this place; and these loaves being very small, no more, it is thought by some, than one man could eat, and the ears of corn but few, the servant suggests they would be nothing comparatively to such a company of men: he said again, give the people, that they may eat ; he insisted upon it that his orders should be obeyed: for thus saith the Lord, they shall eat, and shall leave thereof ; it was suggested to him by a spirit of prophecy, there would be enough for them, and to spare.
Ver. 44 . So he set it before them , etc.] The twenty barley loaves, and the full ears of corn: and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord ; as the disciples did at the miracle of the loaves and fishes; though that must be allowed to be a greater miracle than this, ( Matthew 14:17-21).