Old Testament Study:
To contact us:
21Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”
23Jesus did not answer a word. So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
27“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
28Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Jesus at this time withdrew to an area that was primarily Gentile, presumably to avoid more conflicts with the Pharisees, with whom He had recently had some run-ins: “Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (vs. 1). There, a woman who was familiar with Jesus’ work, and even familiar with the religion of the Jews, came to Him for help: “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession’” (vs. 22). Significantly, though a Gentile, she called Jesus “Son of David”. Thus, she knew of the promised Jewish Messiah, and she believed Jesus to be him. She also understood that anything Jesus did for her would be an act of “mercy”. She came to Jesus not arrogantly, as if claiming a reward for something meritorious she had done, but she came to Jesus humbly, crying, “Have mercy on me!”
Interestingly (and uncharacteristically?), “Jesus did not answer a word” (vs. 23). Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus healing all comers; yet here, He seems to be ignoring a poor woman crying out to Him. Why? Certainly He is teaching a lesson here. Perhaps He is teaching us through this episode that we must persevere in prayer despite God’s silence, despite our perception that God is not listening.
The disciples wrongly interpreted Jesus’ silence as disapproval, and a desire to be rid of the woman: “So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us’” (vs. 23). “Christ’s people are often less gracious and compassionate than Christ Himself… There is only too much of this spirit among many who profess and call themselves believers” [Ryle, 181]. They said to Jesus, “Send her away.” But what a ridiculous request that was? Did Jesus ever send anyone in need away? Although men tire of being nagged, Christ does not tire of our prayers. “Continued importunity may be uneasy to men, even to good men; but Christ loves to be cried after” [Henry].
Jesus ignored the disciples’ request and spoke to the woman: “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’” (vs. 24). Jesus stated His primary mission on earth at that time; that is, to be the Messiah for the Jews. She was well aware of this; she did call Him “Son of David.” In fact, she saw that He was the Messiah for the Jews more clearly than many of the Jews did. She continued to persevere, in faith that Jesus’ mercy would extend beyond the Jews: “The woman came and knelt before Him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said” (vs. 25).
Jesus continued to test her faith: “He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs’” (vs. 26). It may be surprising to some to see Jesus speak with such harshness to a woman in need, but His purpose was to draw out her faith. Jesus was mimicking somewhat the Jews’ tendency to look down on the Gentiles, for the Jews regularly called the Gentiles “dogs”. Yet He was also pointing out that the Jews did and do have a place of pre-eminence in the eyes of God, being the chosen people of God. This place of pre-eminence in the eyes of God has not ended, even though they largely rejected Jesus as their Messiah. Paul wrote of the special place the Jews have in the heart of God: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (vs. 28).
The woman, in her faith, was not to be put off by theological technicalities. “Faith can find encouragement even in that which is discouraging” [Henry]. She knew her Lord had the power and grace to heal her daughter. She accepted that Jesus’ primary mission was to minister to the Jews, but knew that there was enough of Jesus to go around for everybody: “‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table’” (vs. 27). She knew that the crumbs of Jesus are greater fine gold.
Note that she did not contradict what Jesus said, but said, “Yes, Lord.” This is refreshing. So many of God’s people in the Bible (and in modern day life) say, “But, Lord…” The woman of faith said, “Yes, Lord,” and intelligently framed her request so that it would be consistent with His mission and His teaching. Jesus honored her for this, and rewarded her for her faith: “Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (vs. 28). This woman, through her faith, did what the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were unable to do: she held her own in a verbal wrestling match with Jesus. She wrestled with Jesus, just as Jacob wrestled with the Lord. Her faith persevered, and was victorious. And certainly Jesus was glad to give her the victory. “Howsoever Christ seem to wrestle with a believer, yet He is purposed to give faith the victory, and to yield Himself in this conflict to the believer” [Dickson].
The Feeding of the Four Thousand
29Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then He went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them. 31The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
32Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
33His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
34“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
35He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36Then He took the seven loaves and the fish, and when He had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. 39After Jesus had sent the crowd away, He got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.”
After healing the daughter of the woman of faith: “Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then He went up on a mountainside and sat down” (vs. 29). Jesus was not to be alone, though; nor was He to be inactive: “Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel” (vss. 30–31). Jesus was still (most likely) in an area with many Gentiles. In fact, this passage seems to indicate that much of the crowd was Gentile, for the passage specifies that they praised the God of “Israel.” It could well be that the people had heard of the healing of the daughter of the woman of faith, and so they too brought their sick. If so, then that one woman’s faith had beneficial effect upon many in the area.
Matthew here relates the miraculous feeding of the four-thousand. This episode is very similar to the feeding of the five-thousand, which occurred earlier (Matthew told of that event in chapter 14). But clearly, they were two separate events, for the same author speaks of them both. And yet, if they both had not been referred to by the same author, but strictly by different authors, critics would have claimed that they were the same event with inconsistencies between Biblical authors. This episode teaches us that similar events related by more than one Gospel writer may very well have been separate events, especially if they contradict each other in some way. Jesus’ life on earth was full of great works and magnificent miracles, enough to fill many books. Many of these were similar, yet separate events.
Jesus must have been an engaging and captivating person, for, without planning to ahead of time, the people remained with Him for an extended period of time: “Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way’” (vs. 32). We see again that Jesus does not send people away without meeting their needs.
Despite witnessing the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples seemed clueless as to how these people could be fed: “His disciples answered, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?’” (vs. 33). It could well have been that the disciples were hesitant to suggest another miraculous feeding, because Jesus had rebuked some people for following Him expecting to get free food (see John 6:26). If this was not the case, we really must wonder at the disciples. They are typical of those who forget to turn to Jesus in times of trouble. “Past experience must teach us to hope for the future the same blessing which God has once or often bestowed upon us” [Calvin, 174].