The Zealots in the crowd of five thousand began to stir up the multitude. A violent insurrection seemed about to begin. “Perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king,” Yeshua acted quickly to diffuse the situation (John 6:15).
He wanted to get back to Capernaum, but He did not want five thousand people following Him there. To get the disciples out of danger, He forced them back in the boat and sent them away while He stayed behind to disperse the crowd (Matthew 14:22). Yeshua dismissed the crowd and “left for the mountain to pray” (Mark 6:46). He had to escape the crowd to do so. He slipped away into the hills under the cover of darkness.
Early Christians identified a small cave in a hillside overlooking the north shore of Lake Galilee as the one in which the Master prayed. The cave is visible from the modern highway below, and Christian pilgrims today leave prayer notes and votive candles in the cave.
That particular night a cold Northeaster (Sharkiyeh), dreaded by fishermen, sprang up. “The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing” (John 6:18).
The Master’s place of prayer granted Him a bird’s eye view of the lake. As the first light before dawn began to illumine the sky, Yeshua could see “the disciples straining at the oars, for the wind was against them” (Mark 6:48).
The boat ride to Capernaum should have taken the disciples no more than an hour or so. Against that sudden, stiff, east wind, they found themselves pulling at the oars to no avail. They slipped further and further out into the lake, unable to make any progress at all.
James and John were no strangers to the lake; Simon and Andrew were experienced boatmen, but a sudden storm on the lake could capsize and drown even the most seasoned fishermen. They took turns at oars and rudder while calling one to another. The tops of the waves splashed and frothed over the sides of the boat, soaking them to their bones. The wind carved out higher waves and scooped out deeper troughs. They remembered the time when they were all at sea together, not so long ago, and a storm had caught them by surprise. At a word from Yeshua’s mouth the wind had died and the waves had flattened. Now, in the absence of the Master, it seemed as if the lake seized the opportunity to avenge itself for the previous insult to its dignity.
The disciples did not realize that the Master’s eyes were upon them as they floundered on the lake. They did not realize that His prayers were with them.