Then Jesus went there, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.…
So the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman is described by the Lord. The elements of that great faith are evident in the narrative.
I. GREAT FAITH IS CLEAR SIGHTED.
1. In the discernment of evil.
(1) This woman saw that her daughter was possessed of a devil; that her faculties were under the power of an evil spirit. Her eyes were not blinded by maternal partiality. She clearly apprehended the terrible fact. Do Christian parents ever fail to discern that their unchristian children are vexed in spirit with a proud devil, an unclean devil, a malicious devil?
(2) She saw that her daughter was "grievously vexed." The demon, in this case, was of extraordinary malignity. Note: As in evil men, so in devils, there are varieties and degrees of malignity. Or the demon in this case had unusual scope allowed him for the exertion of his malignity.
2. In the discernment of the cure.
(1) This woman saw that the cure for her daughter was not within the ordinary physicians' skill. She may have come to this conclusion through experience. She may have come at it by reasoning. For devils are stronger than men.
(2) She saw it in the power of God. That power devils must acknowledge. That power she sought in Jesus. When she called him "Lord," she meant more than the complimentary Sir. She identified him as the Christ; for such is the meaning of the title "Son of David."
(3) She saw it in the mercy of God. The Messiah of prophecy is full of mercy. The fame of Jesus was in accordance with the promises. "Mercy," therefore, was her plea.
II. GREAT FAITH IS HUMBLE.
1. In conduct.
(1) This woman cried for "mercy." Here was no plea of right. Her hope was in the sympathy of a merciful heart. Nothing can touch that like the cry of misery.
(2) She cried "after" him (ver. 23) - followed at a distance, as unworthy to come too near. As a daughter of Canaan, her behaviour accorded with the condition of a servant (see Genesis 9:26).
(3) When she did come near, "she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me." In her the humble attitude of worship expressed truly its humble spirit.
2. In temper.
(1) She consented to the appellation of "dog." "Truth, Lord," was her humble reply. "Dog" here is opposed to "sheep." The clean animal in the Law was the type of the Israelite; the unclean, of the Gentile. She was a "Greek" or Gentile, "a Syro-Phcenieian by race" (Mark 7:25). She does not seem to have been a proselyte.
(2) It does not hence follow, however, that she was an idolater. Hiram, a king of her nation, had a hand in building the temple of Solomon, and was a lover of David, and blessed the God of Israel (see 1 Kings 5:7). Zarephath, where dwelt the worthy widow in the days of Elijah, was in the land of Sidon (see 1 Kings 17:9; Luke 4:25). Many Gentiles in those parts respected Judaism, and looked for the promised Messiah.
(3) If she understood the spirit of the Law, and the force of the promise which makes clean the Gentile believer, and constitutes him the child of Abraham's faith, she did not plead this. She accepted the title of "dog" in its spiritual as well as in its ceremonial signification. Note: Modesty is no restriction to greatness of faith (cf. Matthew 8:8, 9).
III. GREAT FAITH IS EARNEST.
1. It will not miss an opportunity.
(1) Here was a golden opportunity. Jesus was "in the parts of Tyre and Sidon." He was "a Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God" (Romans 15:8), yet went to the limits of his commission to cast a look of pity over the boundary.
(2) Hearing of his vicinity she "came out." She did not wait until Jesus should cross over the border land. Had she done so, she would have missed her opportunity. Note: Many lose their souls by devising opportunities instead of accepting those provided for them by God.
(3) Abram had to come out of Ur in order to his inheriting Canaan. This woman had to come out of Phoenicia to inherit the blessing of Israel. So must the sinner leave his sins in order to find salvation. If he be in earnest he will not miss his opportunity.
2. Its heart is in its cause.
(1) This woman made her daughter's case her own. Her cry was, "Have mercy upon me." Her plea was as though she herself was sorely vexed with the demon that possessed her child. So she sought relief as for herself. "Lord, help me."
(2) Her importunity moved the disciples to plead for her: "Send her away; for she crieth after us." "O disciples! and does the voice of prayer trouble you? How little at present do ye resemble the Master! We never read of his being troubled with the cry of the poor and needy. And this is all that you have to urge, is it? Your charity amounts to just so much as that of some wealthy persons, who give a poor man a penny, not out of compassion, but in order to get rid of him!" (A. Fuller). But whether the motive of the disciples was that of the unjust judge or something more worthy of them, the earnestness of the woman cannot be mistaken.
IV. GREAT FAITH IS PERSISTENT.
1. It refuses discouragement.
(1) Jesus "answered her not a word;" still she cried. He knew the quality of her faith. We must not construe delay in answering our prayers into a refusal to answer them. It may be to draw out the quality of our faith. God proves that he may improve our faith.
(2) Jesus refused the intercession of his disciples for her; still she cried. "He answered her and said, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This silenced the disciples; not so the woman.
(3) Jesus "entered into a house, and would have no man know it," apparently to avoid her importunity. But "he could not be hid," for This woman followed him, and then "fell down at his feet" (see Mark 7:24).
(4) Jesus said, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs." This was the culminating point.
2. In the very heart of discouragement it finds encouragement.
(1) Never for a moment did she lose sight of her great argument, viz. that hers was the appeal of misery to Mercy itself. The more sensibly we feel the burden the more resolutely we pray for its removal. Christ himself in his agony prayed more earnestly. This plea of misery to Mercy remained in undiminished force.
(2) The quickness of her faith could even discover the presence of that mercy in the tenderness of tone behind the sternness of expression. Did not Jesus use the diminutive (κυνάρια), "little dogs"? Here was a leverage which she adroitly seized. The children are familiar with the little dogs, and have no objection to their eating the crumbs that fall from the table. "The spirit of faith suggests the best forms of prayer" (Bengel). It is, moreover, "their master's table." It cannot go ill with the dogs. "There is bread enough [for the children] and to spare" for the servants and the dogs (see Luke 15:17, 19). A crumb of Christ's mercy is sufficient to expel a malignant devil.
(3) So faith triumphed. "It resembled the river, which becomes enlarged by the dykes opposed to it, till at last it sweeps them away" (A. Clarke). "O woman." By faith the dog is already transformed into the woman. "Great is thy faith." "Jesus admires this faith to the end we may admire and imitate it" (A. Clarke). "Be it done unto thee even as thou wilt." There is faith in willing. "And her daughter was healed from that hour." Healed at her home (see Mark 7:307.
(4) Here was a gleam of that light which was to lighten the Gentiles; a presage of that mercy to be fully revealed after his death. Here also is a proof that the curse upon Canaan was only meant for those of his race who should follow his unbelief. The doom of corporate bodies does not necessarily fall upon all their individual members. True faith is saving evermore. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.