Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

84. The Gadarene Swine (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39; Matt. 8:28-34)*

The eastern shore of Galilee which that battered fishing vessel approached offer the storm was much less densely populated than the Capernaum side. Here there is one stretch where the land sweeps down abruptly to the waters edge though not from a great height.

The gospels present a tangle of different textual readings of the local name-Gadara, Gergesa, Gerasa, all seeming to have fairly good evidence in their favour. The city of Gadara was six miles from Galilee. Gerasa was much further to the east, verging on the edge of me desert. But there is also identifiable another Gerasa (Khersa) on the eastern shore of Galilee, where the topographical details seem to be right also.

Here excitement now followed on excitement, and wonder on wonder.

Matthew’s doublets

In this rough unpopulated stretch of hillside was a wild ungovernable lunatic — the gospels use their usual term “demoniac”. Matthew adds to the difficulty by mentioning “two possessed with devils”. The plausible suggestion has been made that the second was actually a guard stationed to keep an eye on the poor wretch who lived there (and similarly when Matthew mentions two blind men), but this hardly takes the language at its face value. Alternatively, has Matthew brought together two separate demoniac healings? (Mk. 1:23 has been suggested, but neither is this without its difficulty).

There are several examples of such duplication in this gospel. Not only two blind men at Jericho (20:30) but also on an earlier occasion (9:27). There is mention of both ass and colt at the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (21:2). And there is the miraculous feeding of the multitude on two occasions (this is mentioned in Mark also). On the other hand, Matthew specifies only one angel at the resurrection of Jesus (28:2), whereas Luke says there were two (Lk. 24:4).

At least two of the foregoing examples suggest that Matthew’s “duplications”, certainly factually correct, are given because of their symbolic value. In a considerable number of places (see Study 171) there are signs that in his gospel Matthew was seeking to commend to his Jewish readers the acceptance of Gentiles along with Jews into the community of the Messiah.

Since Mark and Luke speak of only one demoniac, it may be assumed that one of the two specially occupied the Lord’s attention. He was so notorious as to be well-known through all Decapolis (so Mt. 8:28 implies). The story centres round him-and again for symbolic reasons, as will be seen by and by.

Violent lunacy

The vivid detail given regarding this demoniac is one of the most impressive bits of descriptive writing in the gospels. He came from the town near-by (Lk.), but lived in the hill-side caves which had formerly been used as burial places (Lk). His madness, which was intermittent (Lk. v. 29), made him so violent that all attempts at restraint had proved useless. Chains had been forced apart or snapped (Mk.). Stout ropes had been rubbed through. The man’s madness seemed to impart superhuman strength. Mark’s triple negative is specially impressive: “No man could bind him, no, not with chains”. So now jn wild animal nakedness (Lk.) he roamed the rough open country (Mk.). All who came that way were scared (Mt.) by the wild cries and howls with which, night and day, he banished peace and stillness from that lovely locality (Mk.). His lunacy was fierce, violent, and homicidal, scaring away even the strongest and bravest (Mt.). The poor wretch even bruised and battered himself in his dementia (Mk.). Here was another kind of storm to be stilled.

As the boat drew to shore the demoniac recognized Jesus (Mk.) from a long way off (in his saner moments he must have had personal contact with the Lord during one of those tours of preaching in the Decapolis), and he came charging down the hillside (Mk.) uttering wild cries as he came. The obvious thing was to change course and land further along the coast, well away from this fearsome creature. But evidently Jesus bade his disciples pull in to shore as at first intended. He feared no demoniac, and at least the poor lunatic’s presence guaranteed that no multitude would gather.

Jesus in control

As he jumped out of the boat, the demoniac rushed towards him (Mk.). Matthew’s characteristic “Behold!” comes into his record no less than three times (8:29,32,34), thus indicating the apprehension of the disciples. But, to their surprise, the man threw himself at the feet of Jesus in an attitude of worship (Mk, Lk). Would a wicked “spirit” do this?

Jesus began immediately to speak in tones of command: “Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit”. The words were being repeated (Mk, Lk —Gk.), but the demoniac interrupted, shouting out: “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” Here, obviously, was sanity fighting its way through. Clearly, the man had known Jesus at a time when there was mental health to appreciate the acts and claims of the Son of God. But now any further sense was drowned in a sea of delusion: “Art thou come hither to torment us before the time? (Mt.) / adjure thee by Cod that thou torment me not” (Mk.). Strange, truly, that he should address Jesus as though he-the calm, strong healer-were the one possessed with a devil. The picture of this wild, naked, unkempt creature adjuring the Son of God in this way has a very sad irony about it.

But what did his strange language signify? There must have been some coherent idea in his bemused mind. If these words were just the meaningless ramblings and ravings of a brain gone sick, would they be preserved in all three records? “Beat me not” probably meant “as they have often done, to drive the demons out of me”. And it may be that his own mad habit of cutting (or, beating) himself with stones was the result of having this ignorant idea planted in his unbalanced mind. But “come to torment us before the time” must mean more than this.

As already suggested, this man had apparently known the Lord earlier in the days of his sanity (“Jesus, thou Son of God most high”). If the man had notions of Jesus being the Messiah who would judge the unworthy in Israel and unleash the divine wrath against Rome and its legions, his irrational fears are seen to have more than a grain of sense in them.
The repeated command of Jesus: “Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit”, was beginning to have its effect (this is yet another example of a gradual miracle), for there is insight in that question: “Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” The only usage of this word “torment” in the Old Testament Scriptures is with regard to the plague which God brought on the Philistines when the ark of God was in their midst, so that they would fain be rid of it (1 Sam. 5,6)!
The Jews expected, in their crude Messianic aspiration, that one day the kingdom of God would mean not only their own exaltation as a nation but also the torment of Gentile oppressors. So the man recognized Jesus as Messiah, but knew also that the time was not yet ripe for the assertion of his royal majesty. A few years later, with this atonishing episode in mind. James, one of the witnesses of it was to recall the surprise of it: “The devils also believe and tremble” (Jas. 2:19).

“What is thy name?”

Partly to calm the distraught creature, and partly to further his purpose with him, Jesus asked: “What is thy name?” There was more in this than a desire to know who the man was. Indeed, Luke’s phrase implies that when sane he had been a person of some importance and known to those he now met.

Long centuries before, Jacob, violent and desperate, was asked by the one he deemed to be his adversary: “What is thy name?” - and then found himself endowed with a new name meaning “God rules”. From that time on, Jacob was a new man, with a new and better outlook on life, for thenceforward he recognized (what should have been clear to him long before) that in wrestling against those he thought were his human adversaries he had really been wrestling against the control of heaven.

Now, another Jacob, with even more distorted thinking, failed to realise that his present disability came from an exercise of angelic power. In an earlier chapter (Study 30) attention was drawn to the close connection between ‘demons’ and Bible truth about angelic control of both good and ‘evil’.

But this poor creature had had one distortion added to another: “My name is Legion, for we are many”. It is easy to see how the man came to reply in this fashion. In his saner moments he must often have had foolish people din into him: ‘You are possessed with a devil - but not just one devil, an entire legion of spirits! Else why should you be so violent?’
“Come out of him”, Jesus commanded. This was no kindly falling in with the man’s-and the aposfles’?-delusion. For if you agree with a lunatic that he is Adolf Hitler, you may make him more tractable for the moment, but you certainly make the likelihood of his cure smaller than ever. No, this was an assertion by the Lord of Truth of his authority over God’s angels of evil.

“Legion” and ancient Israel

The poor crazy fellow, apparently not without a certain logic, saw himself as living afresh the experience of ancient Israel. Here he was/naked and miserable, amongst tombs, as Israel had been in Egypt, the land of graves, and he now pleaded his unworthiness to share Israel’s deliverance: “Not out of the country (Mk.), not into the wilderness, not into the deep (Lk.)”-the same word ‘abyss’ is used in Isaiah 63:13 LXX about Israel’s passage through the Red Sea. >

Instead: “Send us away into the herd of swine”-this with reference to the tremendous herd which was being tended “a great way off” (Mt.). This sensible yet insane request was pressed with most pathetic earnestness (Mk.). So Jesus assented.

Then was witnessed a sight such as Galilee had never seen before. The pigs suddenly turned and charged violently down the short hillside and, like a swarm of overgrown lemmings, followed their leader into the deep inshore waters and were drowned, for (experts say) the pig is one of the very few animals unable to swim.

Thus, as “Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore”, so also now this pathetic slave to powers beyond his control saw the symbols of his suffering destroyed.

Why the stampede of swine?

It was, of course, no accident. The stampede of swine was another miracle added to the healing of the demoniac. But why? The explanation often advanced makes this the Lord’s rebuke of Jewish tending of unclean animals (Num. 19:16).

This is hardly as satisfactory as it seems at first hearing. Besides the dubious morality of this destruction, there is the consideration that these animals may have been intended for a Gentile market (eg. the local Roman garrison). Also, this side of the lake was Galilee of the Gentiles, having been settled by ex-servicemen from the army of Alexander the Great. And Josephus says that in that . area were many hellenized Jews.

The possibility does not seem to have been taken account of that if, as has been suggested, the demoniac was a man of consequence, these swine may well have been his property. Certainly this hypothesis copes adequately enough with the moral problem, which has otherwise to be faced, of Jesus causing the destruction of other people’s property.

But what was the point of it? Could not Jesus have healed the man without this bizarre accompaniment? Of course he could. So it may safely be assumed that there was purpose and value in this decidedly grotesque addition to the miracle.

Already there have been indications in the narrative that the lunatic’s malady was intermittent. This is a common enough phenomenon. Then, although restored to sanity, he would very soon be anxiously asking himself: “How long before I am once again in the grip of this evil? Jesus has healed me-but how long will this last? Is it merely a temporary restoration such as I have known before, or is it a cure?”

Here lies the wisdom in the Lord’s assent to the crazy request: “Send us into the swine”. Whenever this man, healed of his terrible infirmity, found himself beset with doubts whether he was blessed with a lasting cure, there would always be the vivid memory of that great herd of swine stampeding uncontrollably into the sea. It was the lasting guarantee to him that the demon possession was gone for good. Never again would he experience the horror of a lapse into the irrational world of maniac fury and ferocity which he had known so often.

Popular reaction

Whilst the man rejoiced in his restored health, the pig-keepers took fright at the weird behaviour of their herd, and went off to tell their strange experience to the townsfolk near by. They had no reason for connecting the loss of the swine with the recovery of the demoniac, for they had been too far away (Mt.), but possibly as they passed Jesus and the disciples they learned that story also and added to it the extraordinary tale they had to tell (Mt.). They went not only to the near-by town but also to the country-folk (Mk.), evidently warning them to beware of this Jesus of Nazareth lest he demonize their stock also!

Inevitably a great crowd of people came out to the scene and there they found the party from the boat resting on the shore, and no doubt preparing a meal. Among them, sitting at the feet of Jesus (Lk.) was the demoniac whose uncontrollable rages they had so often feared. Now he was as sane and normal as any, clean and tidy, and decently clothed in spare garments out of the boat. They stared incredulously, heard the story once again from the disciples who had witnessed it all (Lk.), and shrank back in fear from the man of Nazareth who had such powers at his command.

Within a few hours, as the news spread and the crowd grew, there came a serious build-up of feeling against Jesus. But they dared not do anything against him. Instead he was approached by a delegation begging him to go away and leave them undisturbed, for all the people were gripped with a great dread of his presence. And at the first intimation (Mk.) Jesus meekly assented!

Plea rejected

Forthwith preparations were made to embark and return to Capernaum. As Jesus himself was about to go on board (Mk.), the man who had been healed begged and pleaded that he too might come and be thenceforward a follower of Jesus. But the Lord, mindful of the recent slander of the Pharisees that his ability to cast out devils was through alliance with the prince of the devils, foresaw the possibility of more harm than good in such a decision and quietly rejected his plea (contrast Lk. 9:59,60; 18:22).

But he gave him also a positive commission: “Go home to your own people, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and has had mercy on you”. The last phrases here are not the same. The first refers to the actual restoration to sanity. But the word ‘mercy’ means ‘forgiveness of sins’. Jesus was never content merely to bring physical or temporal blessing. So here he emphasized the greater gift which he had brought into this poor sufferer’s life.

His words carried also a further implication. Doubtless another reason why the man should want to be with Jesus was his fear of recurrence of his violent mental upheavals. But the Greek expression (a perfect tense) which Jesus used when he said: “How much the Lord 4ias done for you”, implied that restoration was permanent. There would be no need of further healing.

The man did as he was bidden. In his delight and thankfulness he proclaimed the greatness of the prophet of Nazareth (Lk.) and not only in his own place but also through Decapolis (Mk.), wherever people had known about his sorry plight. His story, and with it, no doubt the details of how Jesus had stilled both the storm and the sea, made people more aware than ever that God was at work in their midst. And they marvelled (Mk). But the gospels do not say they believed.

Answered prayer

There are two important corollaries to this unique incident. The first is its remarkable illustrations of positive and negative answers to prayer.

The deranged man besought Jesus that he would not send the demons away (Mk. 5:10), but Jesus did, because it was for the man’s good that it should be so.

Next, he asked that the demons might go into the swine. And Jesus agreed. This because it was an aid to the man’s peace of mind later

Then, when he was healed, he begged Jesus to let him accompany him, but this was refused. This for the Lord’s own sake, but also for the good of those to whom the man would witness at home (Ps. 51:10-13). After all, his family had been deprived of him for a long while (Lk. 8:27).

There was also the plea of the local inhabitants that Jesus would leave their country. *’ They feared what else he might do. And Jesus,’ did as they asked, even though it was to their detriment. Just as Israel clamoured for flesh in the wilderness and were given it, to their/ destruction (Num. 11; Ps. 78:18-33), so new, these purblind Gergesenes had proved to be the true spiritual descendants of the Girgashites,” whose name they bore. “Thou shalt make no covenant with them”, the Law commanded (Dt. 7:1,2), so Jesus answered their prayer and went away.

“Legion” and Israel
Finally, it is important to re-consider this miracle as a sign, in the way that so many of the lord’s miracles have asked for interpretation.

Already hints have been picked up suggesting a parallel between the demoniac and Israel needing Jesus to restore the nation to sanity (see pages 3 and 4). There are others:

  1. Isaiah’s prophecy about light being brought to “them that dwell in the region and shadow of death” (9:1,2; Mt. 4:15,16) takes on a new significance when set alongside this story of the poor wretch who lived in tombs in Galilee of the Gentiles. Even more pointed is Isaiah’s prophecy about “a rebellious people that walketh in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts...which dwell among the graves, and lodge in the monuments” (65:2-4).
  2. There is the vigorous description of the demoniac as “crying out and cutting himself with stones”; the close resemblance to Jezebel’s priests of Baal makes the figure of /srael in apostasy all the more pointed.
  3. “Dwelling among the tombs” comes also in Ps. 68:6 LXX (but not in the Hebrew text) with reference to Israel. Similarly, the word “fierce” (Mt. 8:28) is applied to Israel in Is. 18:2 (LXX). There is hardly any other occurrence of it.
  4. The only two other injurious acts done by Jesus-the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree-were both intended to be symbolic of judgement against rebellious Israel. This suggests that the drowning of the swine is to be interpreted in the same fashion.
  5. The word “tame” comes only in Dan. 2:40, and there with reference specially to Israel; for Judaea was the only province which the Romans devastated; to all other conquered countries they gave peace, law, and order.
  6. “Besought... that he would not send them away out of the country” (Mk. 5:10) suggests (Ez. 34:25: “I will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land”; and also: “I will cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land” (Zech. 13:2).
  7. Since this violent lunatic was well-known, it would seem that Jesus deliberately chose to land on the shore there. It would have been easy to land half a mile or so further north or south. But this healing of the demonized man now makes a most telling commentary on the demons parable (Mt. 12:43) which Jesus had told on the previous day shortly after the Baalzebub encounter. And that parable was about “this wicked generation” in Israel,
  8. Christ’s final exhortation to the healed man was to go and tell “how great things the Lord hath done for thee” (Mk). Where else is there clear evidence that in his teaching Jesus used the Covenant Name of God?
An acted prophecy

The man presents an apt picture of Israel needing to be healed by the gospel, then, in the first century. It is an even more apt picture of Israel in later days with everyman’s hand against it, yet always re-asserting its vigour and individuality, so that the world marvels, even when there is no wish for fellowship.

Reduced to pitiable nakedness, Israel will one day acknowledge Messiah’s authority when he comes (after a night of terrible storm and a morning of incredible calm), and only then will the nation be restored to spiritual health. “The evil beasts will cease out of the Land” (Ez. 34:25), and Jewry will be found sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed with the garment of his providing, and now at last in their right mind. Nevertheless they will not be “with Jesus” in the intimate sense that the closest friends of Jesus will then rejoice in.

But they will be given a mission to the Gentiles, that mission which God committed to them at Sinai, to be “a kingdom of priests”, that is, a missionary nation. This they will now at last fulfill, to the glory of Christ.

Notes: Mk. 5:1-20
There is here a neat ABCDEEDCBA structure in the narrative.
Bound, plucked asunder. The two perfect tenses here suggest well and truly bound, and just as emphatically got rid of.
The most high God. Melchizedek was priest of the most high God at the time when Abraham had made the “evil beasts” to cease out of the land (Gen.14:18-22).
Clothed. There is here a neat undesigned coincidence with Lk. 8:27.
Depart out of their coasts. With this contrast Lk. 8:40 and its benefit. It is useful to compare other occasions when Jesus found himself unwelcome: Lk. 2:7; 4:29; 9:53; 13:31; Mt. 2:13; 8:20.

Notes: Lk. 8:26-39
Opposite Galilee. This suggests that the proper reference of “Galilee” was to the western side of the lake.
30, 31.
Entered...begged. In the Greek text there is a distinction between these verbs which suggests (like Mt.) that there was more than one demoniac.

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