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Christ and the Pharisees: The Woman of Canaan
Summary —Eating with Unwashen Hands. Keeping the Traditions of Men. What Defileth a Man. The Blind Leaders of the Blind. In the Bounds of Tyre and Sidon. The Appeal of the Woman of Canaan. Great Faith and Its Results. Feeding the Four Thousand.
1. Scribes and Pharisees … of Jerusalem. Representatives of these bodies, sent, no doubt to counteract the influence of Christ. Compare Mark 7:1–13. These were always bitter opposers of Jesus.
2. Why do thy disciples transgress? Not the law of Moses, but the tradition of the elders, which had as much authority with the Pharisees as the written law. The tradition of the elders. Purported to be precepts never written in the Scriptures, but handed down from the times of Moses and the elders by oral means. These precepts were spoken of the “law upon the lip,” and have been embodied in the Talmud. They were additions to the written word. See Gal. 1:14. For they wash not their hands. The orthodox Jews insisted on washing the hands before eating, not to remove the filth, but lest they might have touched something ceremonially unclean. This commandment was purely traditional, but so rigidly did they insist upon observing it that the Rabbi Akiba, imprisoned by the Romans and with scarcely water to sustain life, preferred to use all provided for his ceremonial ablutions, and to die of thirst.
4. For God said. Exod. 21:17. He that speaketh evil, etc. The Ten Commandments promised long life to those who honored father and mother. Here the Lord quotes the punishment of dishonoring them. On nothing did Moses insist more than respect for parents. 88
5. Ye say. Following tradition, you say one thing while God says in the law just the opposite. The scribes taught that a Jew by calling his possessions “Corban” (a gift to God, Mark 7:11) was absolved from the duty of caring for his parents, even though he did not afterward devote his property to sacred uses. Thus by an artifice the law with respect to parents could be set aside. The Talmud furnishes a curious illustration of this perversion of the command. The Mishna says: “He that curses his father or his mother is not guilty, unless he curses them with an express mention of the name of Jehovah.”
6. Ye have void the word of God by your tradition. Modern Pharisaism does the same. Church tradition leads to dogmas that set aside God's commands. The corruption of the simplicity of early Christianity is due to following human tradition.
7. Ye hypocrites. The word so rendered might mean one self-deceived as well as a deceiver, but was always a rebuke. Well did Isaiah prophesy of you. See Isaiah 29:13.
8. This people. The Jews. Verses 8 and 9 are the quotation from Isaiah. Their heart is far from me. The essential of true worship is that the heart be wholly given to God. Even the forms commanded by God are worthless unless they are obeyed from the heart.
9. In vain do they worship me. This worship is all idle, empty, and without profit, because they teach as doctrines the commandments of men. This rebuke to the Pharisees, who had added to the law of Moses many traditional human precepts, applies equally to all modern religionists who have modified or added to the Christianity of Christ and the apostles. Whatever one cannot find in the New Testament is of such a character; observance of saints' days, of Christmas, of Lent, the removal of the cup in the Lord's Supper from the laity, infant sprinkling, party creeds and party shibboleths, are all of men and not of God. The devout worshiper should go right to the New Testament for his religion, and reject every ordinance or precept that is not to be found there.
10, 11. He called the multitude. In order to show them that the Pharisaical expounders of the law did not understand its real sense. Not that which goeth into a man defileth. The Mosaic law forbade Jews to eat what was ceremonially unclean, in order to teach the need of moral purity. The Rabbins added stringent precepts to prevent the slightest contact with ceremonial uncleanness, but were careless about moral purity. Christ shows that a pure heart is far more important than clean food, in the ceremonial sense, in the stomach. Pharisees in all ages have paid more attention to the letter than to the spirit, to the symbol than to that which is signified. That which cometh out of a man. The impure words that indicate an impure heart. What one eats does not render him defiled before God, but what he says. See verses 18–23.
14. Let them alone. The Pharisees. His disciples were troubled by their opposition. They be blind leaders of the blind. They pretend to be spiritual guides of the people, while spiritually blind themselves. The blind are unsafe guides of the blind.
15. Declare unto us the parable. The figure was used in verse 11.
18, 19. Out of the heart. The emotional nature; the mind. Evil deeds are begotten of evil thoughts; evil words are the expression of these evil thoughts. These indicate a sinful heart and make a man sinful, or defiled.
21. Jesus … departed into the coasts. Compare Mark 7:24–30. Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon were the two principal cities of Phoenicia, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Tyre was about twenty miles south of Sidon, and about one hundred miles in a straight line northwest of Jerusalem. In the days of David and Solomon, Tyre was the leading seaport of the world. It was afterwards taken by the Babylonians, the Persians, and Alexander, but up to the time of Christ it remained a great commercial city. Since then its harbor has been filled with sand, and there remains only a wretched shadow of its former greatness. Both were Gentile cities in a Gentile country. This is the only instance in the Lord's ministry when he went beyond the bounds of Palestine.
22. Behold, a woman of Canaan. The name Canaan was the oldest bestowed upon the country, and all the heathen inhabitants were often called Canaanites, whether of the same stock or not. Mark says (7:26) that the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician; i. e., a Gentile, and a Syro-Phoenician, because she lived in the district of Syria called Phoenicia. Have mercy on me. She has a boon to ask for her daughter, or rather indeed for herself, for so entirely had she made her daughter's misery her own. My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. More correctly, “a demon.” See note on Matt. 8:28. 90O Lord, thou son of David. It is remarkable that two of the brightest examples of faith seen in the ministry of Christ were exhibited by Gentiles, that of the centurion (Matt. 8:8, 9), and of this woman. The fact that the latter addresses Jesus as “the son of David,” shows that she knew of the prophecies concerning the Christ and that he would be the son of David.
23. He answered her not a word. He neither repelled her, nor made a favorable answer. There were reasons for hesitation, given in verse 24, on which see the comment, but there is no doubt that it was his purpose to have mercy. He delayed in order to bring out a great lesson.
24. I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Lord's personal mission was to the Jews. Under the first commission his apostles were directed to go only to the Jews (Matt. 10:6). It would be impossible to evangelize the Gentiles without setting aside the Jewish customs, the law of Moses, and arousing the bitterest prejudice of the Jews. Hence it was the divine plan that the Son should “keep the law blameless” during his ministry. It was only when the Jews crucified him “that the handwriting of ordinances was nailed to the cross,” the “wall of partition” between Jews and Gentiles broken down, and all prepared for the Great Commission which bade his disciples “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
26. It is not meet to take the children's bread. She knew that, in comparing the Jews to the children of God's family, and the heathen to the dogs without, he simply used the customary language of a Jew. He would bring out fully the greatness of her faith. The gospel was offered first to the Jews and then to all.
27. Truth, Lord. Observe that she acquiesces heartily in Christ's declaration: it is not fit that the dogs be fed before the children. Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs. The word for crumbs is a diminutive, and means little crumbs.
28. Woman, great is thy faith. We can see how greatness of faith is manifested: (1) She came to Christ under difficulties. (2) She persevered when her prayer seemed to be denied. (3) She still pleaded when obstacles were presented. (4) She waited at the feet of the Lord until he had mercy. Such faith always prevails. Her daughter was made whole. Mark, who adds some features omitted by Matthew, follows the woman home, where she found her daughter no longer raving, or in convulsions, but lying quiet on the bed, healed in consequence of her mother's faith and prayers.
30. There came to him great multitudes. Where he had retired for rest and solitude to a mountain (verse 29). 91
33. Whence should we have so many loaves? This was not said in ignorance of the Lord's creative power, but probably to suggest the need of its exercise. They could not have forgotten the events narrated in Matt. 14:15–21.
35. He commanded … to sit down on the ground. Not on the grass, as in Matt. 14:19, for they were in a bare, desolate, grassless region, such as the greater part of Judea is to-day.
39. Came into the coasts of Magdala. He took the boat to escape the multitude. Magdala was on the western shore of the lake, three miles north of Tiberias. The Revision says Magadan, supposed to have been a village near Magdala. Mark says Dalmanutha. The meaning is that he came into the vicinity of all three of these places, which were near each other. 91
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