And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
Another perfect example of context being king, amongst many other things that I probably won’t get into. As when we went through the book of Revelation, my goal is not to be exhaustive but to demonstrate how we keep the Bible caged with our presuppositions and preconceived notions. Hence the CAGED method.
- Author’s Aspirations to Audience
- Examples (expository exegesis thereof)
- Dividing Rightly
This particular passage pleads with the reader to consider the context and to not isolate one verse like an island far off the mainland.
That is, we should not take verses such as, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and let them stand alone. They are part of the greater context. Therefore, we must take today’s text verse by verse and line by line; a little here and a little there. Bonus points to those who recognize the Biblical book from which I quote. And remember, the majority of the Bible was not written verse by verse but as literature, letters and the like.
“And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.” He went away from the land across the Sea of Galilee, where he heals many and where the Pharisees from Jerusalem sought him out, into the land of Tyre and Sidon. What can I write about the land of Tyre and Sidon that I haven’t already written (he asked rhetorically)? Much, actually–the Old Testament tutor is full of references to Tyre and Sidon as is the New, and most of it is not good, but some is. Geographically speaking, Jesus headed North West to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. That is where Tyre and Sidon were located compared to the region of Galilee. Spiritually speaking, Jesus went from one dark place to another dark place. Ezekiel, especially in chapter 28, prophesies against Tyre and Sidon because of their idolatry and the arrogance of their leaders. And little has changed.
“And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out…” I will forgo the grammar lesson and let the context speak for itself. Canaan was located just South of Tyre and Sidon. The exact region from which she came is irrelevant. What is relevant is that she is a Canaanite from the coastal region proper. The exact geographical location of her dwelling, pales in comparison to the general status of the surrounding spirituality. Our Old Testament tutor teaches us about the Canaanites.
Canaanites are descended from Canaan, son of Ham, son of Noah. Expository exegesis of examples enlightens and is crucial to understand current context. However for time’s sake we won’t look at all the examples of Canaan in the Bible because there are far too many. They begin in Genesis 8+9 and culminate in Revelation. The Canaanites were against Israel and more importantly, the Lord.
Noah got drunk and naked, Ham told his brothers who covered him up and then we read; “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.” It didn’t start well for the Canaanites, and it didn’t get any better. The Israelites were to take down Canaan in their conquest of the promised land but failed to completely eradicate them. In Joshua and Judges we read that they intermarried with the Canaanites. In Canaan, idolatry and false gods prevailed.
Fast forward to today’s text; “a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.'” It is intensely interesting the words of which the woman chose to use to address Jesus. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” Let’s look back at the beginning of Matthew; “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Unlike the Pharisees, Saudducees and Scribes, she recognized Jesus.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” Her daughter wasn’t simply demon-possessed, but cruelly demon-possessed. Some synonyms of cruelly are; badly, miserably or terribly. She and her daughter were both greatly affected by the torment of this demon.
“But He did not answer her a word.” Jesus doesn’t offer any response, not even a single word. As far as her request, Jesus remained silent. We must not jump to conclusions. We must let the context and the story play out. We cannot obtain distinct doctrine or timely truths by the lack of response from Jesus. We must continue to consider the context.
“And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.’” It appears that the woman’s entreaty evoked the ire of the disciples. Notice the context; they didn’t once say, “send her away,” but “kept asking him,” to send her away. I admit, the disciples, in no small way, are annoying me at this point. However the Bible is a mirror, and I have been much harder on people in my own life, therefore I will let the story play out, remembering that God uses the incredibly flawed followers to further his kingdom. That, and the obvious allusion to the woman being exceedingly indefatigable in her request. Persistence pays off.
“But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” And there it is–13 little words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Before one makes this statement of Jesus into a dogmatic defense, one must define “lost sheep” and “House of Israel.” Beyond that, one must understand the intent of Jesus. But even more compelling is to let the context and the content play out. You may say that Jesus is only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and that’s fine. Literally Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” however the context plays out differently than we understand in our mind’s eye.
“But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’” The Pharisees and scribes (Israel) didn’t bow down before him but this woman does. She came to Jesus, humbled herself and begged Jesus to help her. And not only her but her request was for someone else, her daughter. She came from a dark place to envoke the empathy of a man that she recognized and believed to be the Lord, the son of David. Do not miss that.
“And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.'” Doctrine, or Discernment of Deity? Was Jesus calling her and her race dogs or was he testing her faith, for her own sake and the sake of the people present and for the sake of the reader? And notice her response–she continues to acknowledge Jesus as the master. Consider the greater context of the Pharisees and scribes, who are blood Israel, who continually try to undermine the authority of Jesus. Juxtapose that to the cursed Canaanite woman who continually calls him Lord and bows in his presence. It gets better for the Canaanites and worse for the Pharisees.
“Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once.” In other words, boom; snap; blink of an eye and the Canaanite woman’s daughter was healed. Jesus, Lord of heaven and Earth didn’t consider this woman a dog. He was highlighting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes. Once again we must use the CAGED method to unlock our caged presuppositions and outdated, dogmatic doctrines. Otherwise we will become like the Pharisees and scribes. They considered the Canaanites dogs and Jesus, in the blink of an eye, duly disrupted their presuppositions. They are the true Israel, in their own minds, but as the Bible continually concludes, it is not the decendents of Israel that are considered heirs, but those who share the faith of Abraham that are reckoned as righteous (Galatians 3 and Romans 4).
In conclusion, the dirty, dog, daughter of Canaan had the faith of Abraham. Jesus took the long road to show it to everyone.