21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
The reason why Jesus went into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon is because He wanted to rest. Public ministry can be exhausting, especially when there is controversy involved. Jesus had just taught that the commandments of God were to be preferred to the commandments of men. It was not an easy lesson for people to hear because tradition can grip the soul and enslave it. Jesus was breaking the traditions of the elders. Now, he was tired. He would go to rest, but it was not going to be easy because His Messianic ministry could not stop. In Tyre and Sidon He would have to engage the needs of individuals.
The ministry of our Lord in Tyre and Sidon was in great contrast to the His ministry in the Land of Palestine. In Tyre and Sidon, He hesitated. In Palestine, He was totally engaged. Study Matthew 15:29-30
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
This Gentile woman of Canaan is not one of the prominent personalities in the Bible, though she was eventually given great honor by the Lord. Until the day she needed Jesus, this Greek woman remained in the shadows of life much “like one of those figures in the margin in Rembrandt’s painting”, as someone has said. It has been noted that, “The brightest jewels are often found in the darkest places.” This woman was in a dark place in life because her daughter was demon possessed. Study Matt. 4:24; 8:16, 28; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22
Demon possession is a real phenomenon, and should be distinguished from mental illness. One distinctive between the two, is that mental illness often has a predictable pattern of behavior which can be detected, and treated with counseling, or with leveling drugs. Demonic activity is spontaneous, and characterized by hatred, insatiable immorality, and predatory violence. Only the power of God can deliver a person from demons.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
In light of the serious illness which afflicted this woman’s daughter, the silence of Jesus, and the callousness of His disciples is startling. The woman cried, and Jesus answered her not a word. The woman cried louder, and the disciples became irritated, and told Jesus to send her away because she would not be silent, and she would not be left behind, and for some very good reasons.
First, the woman knew that Jesus was Lord. Second, the woman knew that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah, and the Savior of the world. Third, the woman would not be silent because she was among the elect, for only the elect of God can call Jesus, Lord.
Though Jesus did not answer her a word initially, eventually He would. Tradition calls the woman Jesta, and the name of her daughter, Bernice.
Because the Lord answered her not a word, the disciples felt they had freedom to get involved in the situation, but they did so in the wrong way. Instead of taking up the woman’s cause and interceding for her, the disciples became annoyed, and exhorted Jesus to do what they thought was on His mind, and send her away.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
It seems that Jesus was going to honor the suggestion of the disciples, for His response to them was to say, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” In other words, Jesus understood the Divine order. He was to confirm the Covenant made with the Fathers, and then show mercy and grace to all.
This Messianic emphasis was understood by the disciples, for Jesus had already sent the Twelve out with instruction to go not into the way of the Gentiles, nor into any city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (10:5-7).
This Messianic emphasis was understood by the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the church in Rome that the Lord Jesus was a minister of the circumcision, in order to confirm the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom. 15:8).
The woman of Canaan was definitely outside the primary sphere of the people to whom Jesus said He came to minister. And yet, the woman was needy. The lady was humble. Her daughter was in trouble, and the love of the mother was determined to find help.
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
Despite the silence of the Savior, and the irritation and rejection of His disciples, the woman of Canaan persisted in saying, “Lord, help me!” By so doing she teaches all people, Gentile and Jew, the proper way to approach Jesus, and that is by faith. “The just shall live by faith,” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).
The desperation of her situation led to a short prayer, “Lord, help me!” Only three words were spoken, but heaven heard. The heart of Jesus was touched, and He began to engage the lady of faith in a conversation.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
When Jesus began to engage the Syro-Phoenician woman, the hearts of His disciples must have been calmed, for the words to the woman were words of dismissal. They were harsh words, for the Lord spoke in terms of good bread being thrown to dogs. That would be irresponsible. This woman was but a dog to the Jews. Why should she be helped? Would that be the right thing to do?
According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus also said something else to the woman by way of introduction. “But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs” (Mark 7:27).
Let the children first be served and filled, said Jesus. No doubt the lady picked up on the word first, because it implied there could be a later feeding for others. She also embraced the word dog, which is an interesting word in the Greek.
There is, in the original language the word “kunarion” (koo-nar’-ee-on), which refers to a young puppy, or a household pet. This is the term Jesus used in contrast to “kuon”, which refers to a savage, and unclean animal prowling the streets, very much like wolves. But there were other dogs that could be tamed and trained. We would use the term “doggie” to indicate a household pet.
People who have a pet dog generally treat them very well. If they are not always allowed to have their own plate at the table, (some do) they are often allowed to stay near the table and receive some crumbs from a generous hand. The woman identifies herself as a household pet that needs to be taken care of and, in this way, turns the words of the Lord to her favor.
The Lady Spoke: She Asked for Crumbs for a Dog from the Master’s Table
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
Rather than resent the words and image of Jesus, the woman of Canaan bowed herself before the Lord, and affirmed the truth which He spoke. It was not right to give good bread to the dogs, but it would be an act of grace and mercy. It was not justice the woman asked for, but mercy, for, she was but a dog, a hungry dog, a humble dog, and desperate dog whose daughter need the touch of the Master’s hand, for she was possessed by demons. All she wanted was the crumbs from the Master’s Table of Grace. “Oh Lord,” she cries, “Give me a crumb of your mercy and all shall be well!”
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
The faith of the woman touched the heart of Jesus and He gave her one of heaven’s highest accolade saying, “Great is thy faith.” Later, in Capernaum, speaking to a Centurion, the Lord would say something very similar as He marveled at the solider, and said unto the people, “I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” Like the woman of Canaan, the man of Capernaum was a Gentile, a righteous Gentile.
Lessons to be Observed
From this narrative one lesson to be learned is that there is something more important than showing mercy, as important as that it. Doing the will of God takes precedent to all else in life, even when doing so seems unkind and unloving.
There is a silence of higher thoughts. When Jesus was silent, He was thinking of how the faith of this lady of grace could be tested for the purpose of approval. “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:3). On the Cross, there was the silence of higher thoughts when mockers told Him to come down, if He was the Son of God. In time Jesus would reply and say, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
The silence of God must not negate our faith and lead us to be silent before Him. Rather, when it seems that God is not listening, cry louder. God is patiently listening. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7). If the Lord does not answer immediately, or in a way anticipated, let faith cry out with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
S. Lewis Johnson points out that the faith of the woman was not silenced by the doctrine of election. She agrees she was not part of the national election of Israel. She is but a dog in that sense. Nevertheless, she will not be silent, and will be proven to be among the personal elect of God, chosen from the foundation of the world, to manifest the glory of redeeming grace.
It is not wrong to use the words of the Lord to plead one’s cause. The woman from Canaan did not hesitate to use the very words of Jesus to prevail that she should be helped on the basis of grace, and a close relationship in her heart to Him. She is one of His “doggies”. She is not a savage dog that is unclean. Her place is near His Table of Mercy.
The bread of this narrative refers primarily to the Messianic Promises. Israel was to receive the bread of life first, and then other nations could be helped. The promise was made to Abraham that in His seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:18).
We must always come to Jesus for hope, health, and healing. We must come to Jesus first, and not as a last resource. And if the Sovereign is silent, cry louder until He engages your heart, and then, all shall be well as you claim the divine promises.
O Lord, hear my prayer,
O Lord, hear my prayer,
When I call, answer me.
O Lord, hear my prayer,
O Lord hear my prayer,
Come and listen to me.