It is in that light that John’s comments about there being “much grass in the place” could have more significance than we might normally give them. Not only did the feeding of the five thousand occur in “green pastures,” but it also occurred by the “still waters” of the Sea of Galilee (v. 1). We know this because, according to verse 18, it was not until evening that the sea “became rough” by “a strong wind.”
John, therefore, could very well be implying that Jesus is the Shepherd of Psalm 23. He makes His people lie down in green pastures; He leads them beside the still waters; He restores their souls. And He does all this in such a way that His people shall never be in want. Isn’t that the real point of the feeding of the five thousand? Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep. He provides for the needs of His people, and He does so in great abundance. In the words of the Apostle Paul, Jesus does “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). Our inadequacies and deficiencies are not limitations for Him. Five loaves of bread and two fish are more than enough for Him to feed five thousand men plus women and children. Jesus fed them all and even produced twelve baskets full left over.
But there may well be something more here. Matthew, Mark, and John all follow the account of the feeding of the five thousand with the account of Jesus’ walking on the water. In each of these Gospels, we are told that the disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee by themselves at night and were struggling mightily against the wind and the waves. Matthew says that the disciples’ boat was being “beaten by the waves” (Matt. 14:24). The word that is translated “beaten” here is actually translated “tormented” every other time it is used in the New Testament. In Matthew 8:29, it is used to describe the kind of tormenting that demons will endure at the last day. In Revelation 9:5, the word describes such incredible pain and agony that people will long for death just to put them out of their misery. The point is that the word seems to suggest that the disciples were facing more than just a few small waves. Likely they were fighting for their lives in a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee.
This is especially interesting when we remember that the Sea of Galilee is approximately seven hundred feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains on every side—a sea inside a valley. The disciples were, therefore, in the midst of the valley with mountains all around them; they were in the dark; they were exhausted after hours of being tormented by what was apparently a fierce storm. And Jesus came walking to them on the water. The Shepherd of Psalm 23 came to them walking through the valley of the shadow of death, as it were, and He reminded them that they needed not fear any evil (John 6:20) because He was with them.
The picture is an encouraging one, to be sure. Jesus is the Shepherd of Psalm 23. He provides for His people in ways that are abundantly more than all we can ask or even think. He does so even despite our inadequacies and deficiencies. And He comes to us in the valley of the shadow of death in the midst of our exhaustion and pain, and He reminds us that even in those times, we need fear no evil because He is with us and will protect and comfort us. It is no wonder that we are told that the disciples “were glad to take [Jesus] into the boat” with them (v. 21). The question we should be asking ourselves is, Are we?