Unusual healings: he saw “men like trees, walking about”

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Mar 8:22-26 KJV 22 And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.

24 And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.

25 After that he put (his) hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.

26 And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell (it) to any in the town.

Introduction: In the context, Jesus had made a number of trips across the Sea of Galilee and has now returned to Bethsaida: interestingly, the home town of several disciples (see John 1:44).. He had recently fed 4000 people with seven loaves and a few small fish, then dealt with some Pharisees (religious leaders) who wanted Jesus to perform another “sign” or attesting miracle. We are not told what He was doing in Bethsaida but Mark records one of the most unusual miracles our Lord ever performed.

I Unusual because of the location

Jesus had performed any number of miracles by this stage of His ministry on the earth. Galilee was the location where many of these happened (the catch of fish in Luke 5, the healing of the nobleman’s son in John 4, the feeding of the 5000 and 4000, to name a few). Bethsaida, located near the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, was the place where Jesus Himself had performed “mighty works (Matthew 11:21, Luke 10:13) but the people didn’t seem to respond in the way He wanted.

Neither Matthew nor Luke were permitted to describe the “mighty works” that Jesus did but He knew that if Tyre and Sidon had seen them, they would have repented “in sackcloth and ashes”. The people of Bethsaida, apparently had not repented and thus brought judgment onto themselves. Seldom did the Lord pronounce “woe” on any person or any city but when He did, there was a reason for it. Rejection of the Lord’s miracles would certainly qualify.

II Unusual because of the subject

At least later in our Lord’s ministry, the blind would call out for Him to heal them. Bartimaeus was one such person (Mark 10:46-52) as did the two other blind men of Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34). Earlier in His ministry, two other blind men had asked Jesus for “mercy (Matthew 9:27)” but received their sight, as well. One other classic example is the man born blind in John 9 whom the Lord and the disciples saw, but it is not recorded he asked for anything from them. When the disciples asked Jesus why he was in that condition, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud “clay (John 9:5, KJV)”, then anointed his eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. This must have been an act of faith, because how would a blind man know how to get there unless someone either escorted him or gave him directions or assistance. The rest of the story is that the blind man did as Jesus said and then, after an interrogation by the religious leaders, was one of the first to worship Jesus as Son of God.
But here in Bethsaida, this blind man has made no recorded effort to find Jesus. He is simply being brought along and other people (verse 22) besought Jesus (implored, NASB) to “touch him (the blind man)”. Why they didn’t ask for Jesus to restore the man’s sight is not stated. After all, “touch” could mean anything from a hand on the shoulder to an embrace to, in this case, the Lord reaching His finger and making contact with the blind man’s body, eyes, whatever, in hopes the blind man might be healed.

III Unusual because of the method

The first thing Jesus did was to take the blind man by the hand and lead him out of the town (verse 23). At least the blind man followed: we are not told if others went with him or not. What happened to the people who brought him to Jesus? Why did they stay behind? Had the Lord said something to them that is not recorded in the text? Or did they really have faith that Jesus could heal the blind man? Mark is not permitted to give us details or information such as this. Perhaps we have no need to know. Besides, Bethsaida was already under a curse because the people did not repent when Jesus performed His mighty works among them.

Some see a bit of parallel or comparison and contrast here with Lot being taken “by the hand (Genesis 19:16, paraphrased)” when the angels took him, his wife and his two daughters and got them—somehow—out of Sodom. One of the angels told Lot, “I can’t do anything to the city until you’re out of there (Gen. 19:22, paraphrased)”. Sodom was under God’s judgment and was destroyed. Bethsaida was under God’s judgment as well. Even so, the Lord rejected the city and ministered to the blind man outside the city limits, so to speak.

Now Jesus uses a very unusual method to restore the man’s sight. He spit on the blind man’s eyes! Among other things, this proves the humanity of Jesus—could a ghost or phantom, not having a real, physical body—actually “spit”? And if a spirit could, did the spirit have the power to heal a blind man’s eyes? After spitting on the man’s eyes, Jesus then laid His hands on the man’s eyes—“touching” him, as the citizens had requested.
But something was wrong—and Jesus certainly was not at fault.

IV Unusual because of the outcome

In this event, the man didn’t receive complete healing at first. Jesus had done for him what the people had requested (the blind man had said nothing up to this point, that is recorded in Scripture). He had touched the blind man’s eyes after spitting (!) on them and now asks him if he saw anything (“ought”, KJV). His reply is one of the most unusual ever recorded in the Bible:
“I see men as trees, walking.” In one sense, he was right: there are various sizes of people (tall, short, medium height, etc.) just as there are various sizes of trees. We may never know just what he meant by his statement but, at the very least, he was honest about it.

Remember that he didn’t ask to be healed. This was something the people of Bethsaida wanted Jesus to do for the blind man. One wonders if the blind man had been asked for his opinion!
One other detail is worth observing. The blind man “looked up” after Jesus had spit on his eyes and then touched them with His hands. Logically the blind man would have had to be standing either “eye to eye” or close to level with Jesus for this to happen. Have you ever tried to spit upwards? It would have been difficult for Jesus to do, also, humanly speaking, so it’s likely the blind man was looking down after Christ’s healing touch. Again, we don’t know why he did this.
Then Jesus touched the blind man’s eyes again, and this time, Jesus _made_ him look up. He was restored (to sight) and, as Mark records, “saw everything clearly (verse 25). No doubt about it: this man was healed. Completely.

V Unusual because of the command by Jesus

When Jesus healed people, many times they couldn’t wait to share the good news. Even after Jesus had warned people not to do this, they did it anyway (witness the leper of Mark 1:40-45). Other times, the healed one/s wanted to follow Jesus (e.g., the “maniac of Gadara”, in Mark 5:1-20, and Bartimaeus, Mark 10:52). Here, after He healed this blind man, Jesus told him not to go into the town, nor even tell anybody in the town. Imagine: being healed, and not given permission to tell anybody in your own home town what had happened.

Even more disturbing was the fact that Jesus didn’t stay near Bethsaida. Verse 27 says He and the disciples left for Caesarea Philippi, a good ways north of Bethsaida, and there is no record they ever came that way again.

Conclusion: It was good for the blind man that people were concerned enough to try and take care of him. It’s also disturbing: had they seen or heard of Christ’s mighty works and yet failed to bring the blind man to Jesus at that time? Why did they wait until now?

But at the very least, one man knew that Jesus Christ had the power to heal, and heal He did, restoring sight to a blind man. The saddest part of this is that the man was never permitted to share his story with anyone else.

O that we all might learn from the sad story of this blind man: healed, but hindered, from sharing his testimony.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the NASB. http://www.lockman.org

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