Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:30 “And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine
Pigs were unclean to Jews, but Gentiles, who were a large percentage of the Gergesene population, raised swine as a cash crop. The presence of the Roman army had helped make pigs a valuable commodity. Part of a soldier’s pay was salt pork. Also, pigs could be sold or bartered to the Romans, who were quick to buy.
This particular herd “was a good way off.” This is Matthew’s way of telling us the pigs were too far away to be stampeded by shrieks from the demoniacs. The herd consisted of “many swine.” Mark (5:13) tells us they numbered about 2000.
Matt. 8:31 “So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us
to go away into the herd of swine.”
These distraught demons sensed Jesus was unhappy with them, and feared He was getting ready to do something drastic. The demons could tell their two present homes had become iffy, seemingly on the verge of yielding to Christ. The handwriting was on the wall; demons were about to be evicted from the premises.
The demons wanted to be somewhere away from Jesus–anywhere would be fine, as long as it did not entail consignment to the abyss. Do we feel this way? Does the presence of good unnerve us? Are hearing a preacher and reading a Bible unpleasant experiences? Avoiding the good is evidence of a demon’s attitude.
Matt. 8:32a “And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out,
they went into the herd of swine:. . .”
The two demoniacs possessed a will to resist. Thus, in them the demons were invited guests. Pigs, though, do not have a will to resist. Therefore, demons had to be granted permission to enter the swine.
Christ responded with one word. “Jesus never wastes words upon devils; he is always short and sharp with them” (Spurgeon). Our Master felt no need to carry on an extended conversation with demons. We need to follow His example.
Once the command was given, the evil spirits hightailed away. Demons always obeyed direct orders from Jesus. Oh that the same could be said of humans.
Matt. 8:32b “. . .and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a
steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.”
Pigs rushed madly into the sea. Sows and boars, more sensible than people, preferred death over a life filled with demons. A sin-filled life is not worth living.
This scene of hog-wild religion raises two important questions. Before we ask why Jesus let 2000 hogs be destroyed, let’s probe the minds of the demons.
Why did these demons want to enter pigs? First, evil spirits desire a body to work through. They crave a physical reality which can be used as an instrument in their labors. Satan used a serpent in Eden (GN 3), and entered Judas at the last supper (JN 13:27). Demons seek incarnation, wanting to be materialized in order to exert the most influence and wreak the most havoc they can in this world.
These demons knew they had been in a place Christ did not want them, yet also realized He would not let them enter another person. To make a fast exit, they knew they had to quickly find a locale less precious to Christ than their current abode. Thus, they called attention to the less valuable pigs as an option to invade.
Second, the demons saw in the pigs’ destruction a way to strike at Jesus. Always having a sinister desire to destroy, they here twisted their sadistic bent to try to make Christ look bad. The demons would do the killing, and hoped Jesus would get the blame. They hoped slaughtering 2000 hogs would turn the locals against Jesus by making Him look like a financial burden. The demons were willing to sacrifice two demoniacs and 2000 pigs to gamble on gaining a whole city.
Why did Jesus allow the destruction of 2000 pigs? Of one truth we are absolutely certain, whereas demons meant it for bad, Christ meant it for good. God grants Satan permission to do mischief, but in the end uses it to achieve His own benevolent purposes. The devil is always ultimately thwarted by God.
First, two wretched, mournful demoniacs needed a visible demonstration, tangible proof, that their nasty inhabitants truly had been evicted. Not till they saw the evil forces wreaking havoc elsewhere could the two dare to believe they had been delivered. These two knew what demons do, and recognized their style. Seeing those hogs rush as suicidal maniacs, the two knew their demons were gone.
Second, all the onlookers were given dramatic proof that demons truly had been cast out of the two men. Not only did the two demoniacs know they were delivered. Everyone else nearby realized it, too. This is very important, for Jesus said, “If I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (LK 11:20). The whole crowd knew evil spiritual forces had obviously been present, been at work, and been expelled by a stronger power.
Even Christ’s bitterest enemies never tried to refute His miracles. The evidence was too strong. As Josh McDowell often reminds us, the evidence still demands a verdict. The Christian faith is built on writings which pass critical standards for historical accuracy not adopted till 1700 years later–original documents, multiple sources, trustworthy eyewitnesses. Archaeology continues to enhance and corroborate our message. Anyone with intellectual honesty has to come to grips with the incredible tidal wave of evidence flowing in support of our faith.
Third, the citizens of this region needed to learn people are more important than animals. The following verses prove the Gergesenes required this vital lesson. The locals needed to know human beings, even when demon possessed, are more valuable than a whole herd of pigs. An endangered fetus is more valuable than an endangered whale. Do try to save whales, but also seek to have enough integrity to save human babies, too. The Bible does not condone wanton cruelty to animals. “A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast” (PR 12:10). I have often regretted the small number of conservative Christians in the forefront of the environmental movement. We of all people should understand the stewardship God entrusted to us with regard to His creation. The Bible is a sane book, keeping things in proper perspective. Animals are valuable, but people are more valuable.
Fourth, the locals needed to learn people are more valuable than money. The next verses indicate this loss of 2000 pigs severely tested the local citizenry’s value system. They were awakened to how far they had sold themselves to greed. Money mattered more than people. I remember when our country worked harder to protect the morally weak among us. Blue Laws kept businesses closed on Sunday and allowed people to rest, but money became more important than rest, and we have been tired ever since. Laws against lotteries were enacted to protect the poor and weak, but money is now more important than people who struggle with covetousness or fight gambling addictions. Laws kept certain states and counties free of alcohol in order to protect our youth and those who struggled with drinking, but money is now more important. Let teens and alcoholics fend for themselves, let the weak take the hindermost, let survival of the fittest rule the day.
Lest we deem this only a problem in society at large, examine our own place of business. What matters most, company profits or the people who work for us?
Fifth, Jesus exposed demons for what they really are. He revealed their true nature. What evil spirits did to these pigs openly is what they do to people behind the scenes. In watching 2000 pigs rush madly to their deaths, let the whole world see how destructive sin really is. If demons caused this much havoc in pigs, what do they wreak in people? If we do not let the Holy Spirit give us a will to restrain evil, this mad rush pictures the result. Sin unabated and unchecked leads to this.