Jesus was desirous to visit the region that lay east of the southern extremity of the Lake of Tiberias, and embarked with his disciples in “a ship,” or large boat, for that purpose. During the passage, a sudden and violent squall, such as small inland seas, surrounded by mountain gorges, are always exposed to, came down upon the bosom of the waters; and the vessel appeared to be in imminent peril, even in the eyes of those who had been always familiar with the lake, and had witnessed many of its storms. They were seriously alarmed. Their faith ought to have taught them that they were safe while in the same ship with their Master. They had not this faith; but they had faith enough to know that He was their only refuge in this distress. And where was He? Fatigued with the labors of the day, He had withdrawn to the hinder part of the vessel, and composed himself to sleep; and He slept so soundly that all this turmoil and terror had not aroused Him. It is probable that they did not for a time like to awaken Him; but at length their alarm became so intense, that they aroused Him, with exclamations significantly expressive of haste and agitation—“Master, Master—carest Thou not that we perish!” O foolish disciples, to think that He could perish thus at misadventure (for they doubtless meant to include Him in their “we”), or that they could perish while He was there. This struck their Lord’s attention more than the storm; and he said. “Why are ye so fearful?—how is it that ye have no faith?” And then he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” Then the wind fell at once, and immediately there was “a great calm.” The quiet and simple recital of the evangelists more effectually realizes this scene, and “dilates the strong conception” of this sublime transaction, than any garniture of words in prose or verse could do. Nothing comes near it but that one other instance which the commencement of the sacred volume supplies—“and He said, Light be—and light was.” And the analogy of the two examples is nearer than might at first appear, for He who now rebukes the wind, is He “by whom also God made the worlds;”—He, “without whom was nothing made that was made.”
Upon landing at the other side of the lake, they met an extraordinary reception from a most furious demoniac, Note: Matthew intimates that there were two; but Mark and Luke name only one—showing, seemingly, that the case of one of them was so much less remarkable than that of the other as to fall into the background in the narrative. who had his dwelling among the tombs. It is to be remarked that there are in this part of the country, and especially near the ruins of the city of Gadara, from which the district took its name, still to be seen numerous old sepulchers hewn in the sides of the hills, some of which are occupied as residences by poor families. These places of tombs being outside the towns, and being avoided by the Jews, for fear of contracting pollution from contact with human bones, formed secluded retreats, acceptable to those who, from demoniacal possession, madness, crime, or other causes, shunned the society of men. These things still happen; and the anecdote given below, Note: “On descending from the heights of Lebanon I found myself in a cemetery, whose sculptured turbans showed that the neighboring village was Moslem. The silence of the night was now broken by fierce yells and howlings, which I discovered proceeded from a naked maniac, who was fighting with some wild dogs for a bone. The moment he perceived me, he left his canine comrades, and bounding along with rapid strides, seized my horse’s bridle, and almost forced him backward over the cliff, by the grip he held of the powerful Mameluke bit.” from Mr. Warburton’s Crescent and Cross, bears very much on the case before us. The demoniac who encountered our Lord is likewise expressly stated by Matthew to have been so dangerous to passers-by, that the neighborhood of his haunt was shunned. He also, like this maniac, was naked; for although it had often been endeavored to make him wear clothes, he speedily released himself from the encumbrance, by rending off whatever was put upon his person. There is a kind of mania in which this propensity is often manifested; and we remember to have been much astonished when we first, in the East, observed a man in this condition moving about freely in the streets and market-places, without attracting much notice. On inquiry, we learned that he was a maniac, and had so often destroyed the clothing put upon him, that all attempts to dress him had been abandoned.
But why was he not under restraint? The reason is given: “No man could bind him, no, not with chains.” For when the demoniacal paroxysm was on him, he became endued with tremendous strength, so that he easily rent his chains asunder. This is nowise incredible; for there are still some forms of mania in which the sufferer, notwithstanding the constant exhaustion of mind and body, gains a daily increase of muscular strength, and is able to break the strongest bonds and even chains. Moreover, this wretched man often vented vengefully upon his own person the irritation of his perturbed spirit, “crying and cutting himself with stones”—which also finds a parallel in some cases of insanity—as in an instance of raving madness, mentioned by the late Dr. Pritchard, in which the patient “habitually wounded his hands, wrists, and arms, with needles and pins…. The blood sometimes flowed copiously dropping from his elbows when his arms were bare.” It would therefore seem that this instance of demoniacal possession took the form of the most outrageous lunacy—or rather, perhaps, concentrated in one case all the most outrageous manifestations of different kinds of raving madness.
And what brings this fierce man, leaping and bounding over the hills, to meet the Savior? Does he mean to molest Him, as he did other travellers? No. Impelled by the power within him, “he ran and worshipped him;” and with his voice the demon cried, “What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the Most High God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not.” It is clear by this that the demon knew what he had to expect, and hoped, by servile entreaty, to mitigate his doom. In answer to a question, he said his name was Legion, “for we are many,” and implored that he might not be sent out of the country—a request that may seem as suitable for the man himself as for the demon; but that the latter is meant, appears by the additional request not to be sent “into the deep.” This does not here mean the sea, but “the abyss” (as in the original), hell, the place of spirits. It was an opinion that the demons had great objections to be there, and much preferred to wander about. But it was held that they could only do this within the vehicle of some body, human or animal—divested of which, they returned to the abyss. To avert this, the demons implored permission to enter a herd of swine that was feeding near, knowing that it would be in vain to ask leave to enter into any other man, or into any lawful beast of the country. Leave was given; and forthwith the demons quitted the man, and dispersed themselves into the herd of swine, which, upon this unwonted invasion, fled, with cries of terror, down the steeps into the sea.
When the people of the neighboring villages heard of these proceedings, they hastened to meet Jesus, and beheld there the lately terrible demoniac, from whose presence they had been used to flee, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind. It is likely that the one-sided report of the swineherds, in justifying themselves to the owners of the swine, had filled the latter with hostile intentions against Jesus for the loss they had sustained. But when they came to the spot; and saw the demoniac thus quiet as a child, “they were afraid” to molest Him; but, apprehensive of further loss if He remained there, they implored Him to quit the country. And He, thus inhospitably received—thus rejected—yielded to their wish, and returned, wet and hungry, to the boat.
After all, some have said, this was a loss to these Gadarenes; and on what principle can we account for its infliction? As to the loss, it might be deemed sufficiently made up to them by their being rid of so great a nuisance as the demoniac, more terrible than any beast of prey; and they ought to have thought the benefit to this poor man not too dearly purchased at the cost of their swine. In fact, all thought of their loss should have been overwhelmed in astonishment at this great miracle. But they were a hoggish people, and their thoughts were of hogs. The inhabitants of this quarter were for the most part heathens, with some Jewish people among them. The swine, therefore, belonged either to the one or the other. To Jews the hog with other animals had been made unclean—that is, unfit for food—by the law; and since the time when Antiochus, in his oppression of the Jews, had made the eating of swine’s flesh a test and symbol of enforced rejection of the law, and of conformity to idolatry, the hog had become detestable beyond all beasts, and the keeping of them or having anything to do with them unlawful. If, therefore, these swine belonged to Jews, they were rightly punished for their infraction of what had been the law and custom of their country. The heathen on their part, aware of this Jewish antipathy to hogs, were much in the habit of insulting and worrying them, not only by oral and written allusions to the subject, which was indeed a standing jest among the heathen, but by obtruding hogs and pork upon their notice. If, therefore, the herds belonged to the heathen, there is much ground to suspect that their obtrusive preference for rearing hogs; had its root in a desire to annoy their Jewish neighbors, who could not, without disgust and irritation, behold the unclean beast flourishing thus largely on the borders of their Holy Land. In that case, their malignancy deserved the punishment of this loss. They deserved to be wounded in their tenderest part—their hogs.
But more than this. Jesus knew that a time would come when men would question the fact of demoniacal possession, and say that the poor lunatics thought they were possessed of devils, and that He merely humored them in this delusion. May He not, therefore, have had an important and special motive in leaving this evidence for the reality of such possessions—evidence so strong that even those who entertain the view at which we have hinted, acknowledge the obstruction to it which this instance offers? For, granting that men might labor under such a delusion, how, as a delusion, could it act upon hogs, and not upon one merely, but simultaneously upon a large number? The reality of their possession is avouched by the result, as taken with the antecedent circumstances; and that it was not in their case a delusion, is clear from the un-ideal character of the hoggish mind, which we may conclude had never been disturbed by notions about evil spirits and demoniacal possessions. Upon the whole, we imagine that it would have been difficult, from the very nature of the case, to have provided any single piece of evidence for the reality of demoniacal possessions more conclusive than is in this instance furnished, especially as the presence of the swineherds, interested in the preservation of the hogs, and accountable to the owners for them, shows that there could not possibly have been any foul play in the case, by worrying or frightening the hogs through any more tangible agency than that of evil spirits.