Five Barley Loaves and Two Fish
When Jesus asked Philip about purchasing food for the large crowd who had been following Him because of the miraculous healings He had been performing, Philip indicated that 200 denarii—about “eight months’ wages” (John 6:7, NIV)—couldn’t purchase enough bread to feed each person in the crowd even a small amount. Peter’s brother Andrew mentioned that a boy had brought “five barley loaves and two fish—but what are they for so many?” (v. 9). In the Old Testament, the prophet Elisha had presided over the distribution of 20 barley loaves to 100 men, who ate and had some left over (see 2 Kings 4:42-44), but here the there was a massive throng of people (see John 6:10) and significantly fewer loaves of bread. At the same time, the One who would preside over the distribution of the food in this case was far greater than Elisha.
The fact that the bread was made from barley was an indication the boy came from a poor family. Barley was a cheap, low quality bread. What could a poor lad contribute that would make any difference to such a large crowd? And what he did have to contribute was so small as to be obviously insignificant. Again note Andrew’s assessment: “but what are they [five loaves of bread and two fish] for so many?” (v. 9).
Yet God notices—and uses in powerful ways—what many would dismiss as insignificant. Who would have ever noticed two small coins being dropped by a widow into an offering receptacle? Surely such a gift was extremely unimportant! But it wasn’t. Jesus noticed it and said the widow had “put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. For they gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty…put in everything she possessed—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44; see also Luke 21:1-4).
And what about Moses? Afraid, he ran for his life after killing an Egyptian who had mistreated a fellow Hebrew (see Ex. 2:11-16). He was not an eloquent speaker. He didn’t want to confront Pharaoh (see 3:1–4:17). Yet God used him to lead His people out of Egypt and to bring them to the edge of the promised land (see Deut. 34:10-12; Heb. 11:23-29). And Moses’ staff, ordinary though it was, was an instrument God used on many occasions to display His great power (see Ex. 4:2-5; 4:20; 7:20; 9:23; 10:12-13; 14:15-31; 17:8-16).
God trimmed Gideon’s army down from 32,000 to 300 men, whom He used to confuse and ultimately defeat the Midianites. Each man was armed with a trumpet, a pitcher, and a torch (see Judges 7:1-23). Another example was David. He was a surprise choice to be anointed king (see 1 Sam. 16:1-13). Moreover, David’s sling and five smooth stones constituted his weapon against the Philistine giant Goliath. David, who also was armed with his faith in God, prevailed in a short period of time (see 17:1-52).
Throughout the Bible, God turns conventional wisdom on its head. Thus, He uses many people and things that seem insignificant in human minds—and in the process He is glorified (see Isa. 55: 8-9; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). Do you ever feel insignificant? You aren’t to God! In fact, He wants to showcase His grace and power in your life. Will you let Him?