Matthew 15 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Matthew 15
Pulpit Commentary
Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
Verses 1-20. - Discourse concerning ceremonial pollution. (Mark 7:1-23.) Verse 1. - Then. This is after the third Passover, which whether our Lord attended or not, has been a matter of some dispute. Moral considerations would make us infer that he was present, fulfilling all righteousness, though there is no direct statement in our narratives on the subject. Came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying. The Sinaitic, B, and some other manuscripts read, Came to Jesus from Jerusalem scribes and Pharisees. This, which is virtually the reading of the Revised Version, whether original or not, seems to represent the fact correctly. The bigoted rabbis of the capital, aroused to fresh action by the news of Christ's success in Galilee, send emissaries from Jerusalem to see if they cannot find some cause of offence in the words or actions of this rash Innovator which may give the desired opportunity of crushing him. An occasion offered itself, and was immediately seized.
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
Verse 2. - Thy disciples. They had watched our Lord and his followers partaking of some meal, and doubtless Christ had acted in the same manner as his disciples. Open houses and food partaken of in public allowed this close observation without any infringement of Eastern courtesy. They come to Christ with the insidious question, because they consider him answerable for his disciples' doings (comp. Matthew 9:14; Matthew 12:2). They imply that his teaching has led to thee transgression on which they animadvert. Doubtless the apostles, from Christ's instruction and example, were learning to free themselves from the endless rules and restrictions which were no help to religion, and to attend more to the great realities of vital piety and holiness. The omission of the outward acts, rabbinically enjoined, was readily marked and censured. The tradition. This formed a vast collection of additions, explanations, etc., of the original Law, partly, as was affirmed, delivered orally by Moses, and handed down from generation to generation; and partly accumulated by successive expounders. St. Paul refers to this when he speaks of himself before his conversion as being "exceedingly jealous for the tradition or my fathers" (Galatians 1:14). From it, in the course of time. was formed the Talmud, with its text (Mishna) and its commentary (Gemara). It was not put into writing till after our Lord's time (hence called ἄγραφος διδασκαλία), but was taught authoritatively by accredited teachers who, while retaining the letter of the Law abrogated its spirit, nullifying the broad line of God's commandments by enforcing minute observances and puerile restrictions which were a burden and impediment to purity and devotion, rather than an aid and encouragement. The elders (τῶν πρεσβυτέρων); the ancients. The older expositors and rabbis, whose commentaries had been orally handed down.. Such traditions were regarded with more respect than the letter of Scripture, and the latter had to give way when it seemed to be antagonistic to the former. Wash not their hands when they eat bread. To eat bread means to take food of any kind. The fear of legal defilement led to a multitude of rabbinical rules of the most vexatious and troublesome nature, the infringement of any of which endangered a man's ceremonial purity (see Mark 7:3, 4). These frivolous regulations had been built upon the plain Mosaical enactments of Leviticus 11, etc. St. Matthew, writing for those who were well acquainted with these glosses, enters into no details; St. Mark is more explicit. It is to be remarked that the Pharisees were extending and enforcing these traditions just when the Law was to be superseded by something more spiritual and doing so in spite of the interdiction "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2).
But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
Verse 3. - He answered. Christ does not formally defend his disciples, nor condemn the Pharisees for their ceremonial ablutions, but he turns to a matter of more importance, even a plain breach or evasion of a plain commandment. Ye also. If my disciples transgress a tradition of the ancients, ye too transgress, and that the commandment of God - an error of far graver character. His non-observance of these minutiae showed their unimportance, and called attention to the inward purity which they typified, and which could be maintained without these external ceremonies. At the same time, Jesus does not condemn such symbolical acts, even as he himself washed the disciples' feet before the last Supper. The evil in rabbinical teachings was that it superseded the spiritual view, and placed outward cleansing on a higher level than inward holiness. By (διὰ with accusative); on account of, in order to maintain. Your tradition. Tradition which is emphatically yours and not God's, a human gloss, not a revealed command. Jesus does not accept the assertion that these traditions are derived from the ancients; he gives them a more modern origin.
For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
Verse 4. - Christ proceeds to give an instance of the evacuation of the Law by means of tradition. God commanded. Mark, in the parallel passage, has, "Moses said," which may be taken, in conjunction with our text, as conveying our Lord's testimony to the Divine origin of the Mosaic code. Christ cites the fifth commandment, because it more especially appealed to the conscience of every one, and was emphasized by the solemn enactment of death as the penalty of its infringement (Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:17). Honour (τίμα). This term includes the idea of succor and support, as in 1 Timothy 5:3, "Honour widows that are widows indeed;" and in 1 Timothy 5:17, where τιμὴ means "stipend." In Ecclus. 38:1, "Honour a physician with the honours due unto him," the expression has reference to his proper fees, the honorarium paid for his services. In God's view honour to parents is not shown only in outward salutations, obedience, and respect, but also in material assistance, help provided for their needs, alms freely bestowed when necessary. This well known signification makes the tradition next given more inexcusable. Die the death. An Hebraism, equivalent to "shall surely be put to death" (comp. Genesis 2:17, margin). If words against parents are thus punished, shall not deeds be visited?
But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
Verse 5. - But ye say. In direct contradiction to what "God commanded" It is a gift, etc. This is better rendered, That wherewith, thou mightest have been benefited by me is Corban; i.e. is given, dedicated to God. The vow to consecrate his savings, even at death, to the temple absolved a man from the duty of succouring his parents. It was further ruled that if a son, from any motive whatever, pronounced any aid to his parents to be corban, he was thenceforward precluded from affording them help, the claims of the commandment and of natural affection and charity being superseded by the vow. He seems to have been allowed to expend the money thus saved on himself or any other object except his father and mother. So gross an evasion of a common duty could not be placed in the same category as the omission of unnecessary washings.
And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
Verse 6. - And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. The last clause is not in the Greek; it is supplied by our translators, as it was in Coverdale's version, to complete the apodosis. There are various methods of translating the passage. Retaining καὶ at the beginning of the sentence, some make these words the continuation of the gloss, "Whosoever shall say," etc., the apodosis being found in the sentence following. Others conceive an aposiopesis after "be profited by me," as if Christ refrained from pronouncing the hypocritical and indeed blasphemous words which completed the gloss. In this case the apodosis follows in ver. 6, καὶ, then such a one will not honour (τιμήα ει, not τιμήσῃ), etc. The words are best taken as put into the Pharisees' mouth in the sense, "The man under those circumstances shall not honour," etc.; he is free from the obligation of helping his parents. The form of the sentence (οὐ μὴ with the future verb) is prohibitory rather than predictive, and implies, "he is forbidden to honour." Christ thus sharply emphasizes the contradiction between God's Law and man's perversion thereof. St. Mark has, "Ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father." Thus; καὶ in the apodosis, removing the full stop before it in the Authorized Version. This is our Lord's own saying. Made...of none effect. Evacuated its real force and spirit. By; owing to, for the sake of, as St. Mark says, "that ye may keep your tradition." Our translators often mistake the meaning of the preposition διὰ with the accusative, which never signifies "by means of."
Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
Verse 7. - Ye hypocrites. He called them by this name because, while they pretended that zeal for God's glory led them to these explanations and amplifications of the Law, they were really influenced by covetousness and avarice, and virtually despised that which they professed to uphold. A Jewish proverb said that if hypocrites were divided into ten parties, nine of them would be found in Jerusalem, and one in the rest of the world. Well did Esaias prophesy of you (Isaiah 29:13). That is, their conduct fulfilled the saying of the prophet, as Matthew 13:14. Such "prophecies" were for all time, and were suitable for various circumstances, characters, and events. Christ is wont to fortify his arguments by the authority of Scripture, often rather explaining the mind of the Spirit than quoting the exact words.
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
Verse 8. - The quotation is from the Septuagint Version, with a slight variation from the text at the end. The Hebrew also differs a little; but the general meaning is not affected. With their mouth. They use the prescribed forms of worship, guard with much care the letter of Scripture, observe its legal and ceremonial enactments, are strict in the practice of all outward formalities. But their heart. This is what the prophets so constantly object. Prayers, sacrifices, etc., are altogether unacceptable unless inspired by inward devotion, and accompanied by purity of heart.
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Verse 9. - But in vain, etc. The Hebrew gives, "And their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them," or "learned by rote" (Revised Version). Septuagint, "In vain do they worship me, teaching men's commandments and doctrines." Their worship is vitiated at its very root. Commandments of men. This is Christ's designation of rabbinical traditions (comp. Colossians 2:22).
And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
Verse 10. - He called the multitude. Jesus had now finally broken with the Pharisaical party; he had carried the war into their camp. It was necessary that those who had followed these false teachers should know, on the one hand, to what irreligion, immorality, and profanity their doctrines led, and, on the other, should learn the unadulterated truth, "pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father." So he calls around him the crowd of common people, who from respect had stood aloof during the previous controversy, and teaches them a great moral truth which concerns every human being. Hear, and understand. The distinction which he was about to enunciate was difficult for persons trained in Pharisaical dogmas to receive and understand; he therefore calls special attention to his coming words. The depreciation of ceremonial cleansings might easily be misunderstood. Jesus would say - There is indeed cleansing necessary for all men; but it does not consist in outward washings, but in inward holiness. In what follows, our Lord says nothing definitely about the distinction between clean and unclean meats laid down in the Mosaic Law; he would only show that impurity in the moral sense came from within. This is leading up to the principle enunciated by the apostle, "Every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4, 5).
Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
Verse 11. - Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man. The word rendered "defileth" (κοινοῖ) means "renders common," in opposition to ἁγιάζειν, "to separate" for God's use; hence the verb, ethically applied, signifies "to contract guilt." The rabbis taught that certain meats of themselves polluted the soul, made it abominable in God's sight. This was a perversion of the law respecting clean and unclean food. The pollution or guilt arose, not from the nature of the meat, but from the eating of it in contravention of a positive command. It was the disobedience, not the food, which affected the soul. It is remarkable that these distinctions of meats still obtain among half the civilized inhabitants of the world - Buddhists, Hindoos, Mohammedans - and that one of the hardest tasks of Christian missionaries is to make men understand the non-importance of these differences. We do not see that Christ here abrogated the Levitical Law, but he certainly prepared the way for its supersession and transformation. But he made no sudden and violent change in the constituted order of things. Indeed, some distinctions were maintained in apostolical times, as we read in Acts 10:14; Acts 15:20, 29; and it was only gradually, and as circumstances made their observation impossible, that such ceremonial obligations were regarded as obsolete. It is, perhaps, with the view of not shocking inveterate prejudice, that he does not say, "No food whatever defileth," but "That which goeth into the mouth" defileth not, referring especially to the notion above reprehended, that eating with unwashen hands polluted the food taken and the soul of the person who consumed it. Our Lord says nothing of excess, e.g. gluttony and drunkenness, which, of course, has a polluting and deteriorating effect on the moral nature (see Luke 21:34). But that which cometh out of the mouth. In the former sentence the mouth is regarded simply as the instrument for receiving food and preparing it for digestion; in this sentence it is considered as the organ of the heart, that which gives outward expression to inward thoughts and conceptions. Fillion distinguishes them as "la bouche physique, et la bouche morale." Philo has well said, "The mouth is that by which, as Plato puts it, mortal things enter, and whence immortal things issue. For therein pass meat and drink, the perishable food of a perishable body; but from it proceed words, immortal laws of an immortal soul, by which the rational life is directed and governed" ('De Mundi Opif.,' § 40). Defileth a man. Pollutes his soul, not with merely ceremonial defilement, but intrinsically and morally. Of course, our Lord is referring to evil words, etc., as he explains in ver. 19. For the mouth may give utterance to God's praise, words of love, sympathy, edification. But the evil in a man's heart will show itself in his mouth; and the open expression will react on the wicked thought, and make it more substantial, deadly, and operative.
Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?
Verse 12. - Then came his disciples. Jesus had been speaking in some open spot; he now leaves the crowd, and, entering a house with his disciples, instructs them further in private (Mark 7:17). These had been greatly alarmed at their Master's antagonism to the popular party, and, on the first occasion that presented itself, expostulated with him on the danger incurred by this hostile attitude. This saying (τὸν λόγον); the word. What he had said to the multitude (ver. 11). The Pharisees had cared less for the denunciation addressed to themselves (vers. 3-9), but when he interfered with their doctrinal supremacy over the people, they were offended, they took exception to p the teaching, believing that they detected therein an insidious attack on the Law. In their view, spiritualization of any of its enactments was equivalent to its subversion. But, as St. Gregory observes, "If offence arises from the statement of the truth, it is more expedient that offence be permitted to arise than that the truth should be abandoned" ('Hom. 7. in Ezek.').
But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
Verse 13. - Every plant, etc. The answer of Christ signifies - Do not be alarmed by the displeasure of the Pharisees, and at my opposition to their teaching; the system which they support is ungodly and shall be soon destroyed. Christ, as often, puts the statement in a parabolic form, using two images, one derived from the vegetable kingdom in this verse, and one from human life in ver. 14. Plant (φυτεία); plantation. The act of planting, and then by metonymy the thing planted. It here signifies the sect and doctrine of the Pharisees, the persons themselves, and that which they taught. The comparison of men and trees, plant and doctrine, is a common biblical metaphor (comp. Psalm 1; Isaiah 5:7; Matthew 7:16-20; Luke 6:43, 44, etc.). The traditions of the rabbis were plants which my heavenly Father hath not planted. They were of human, not Divine, growth; and the men themselves, even though originally planted in holy soil, had degenerated, and become not only unfruitful, but pernicious. So the Lord speaks by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:21), "I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?" Shall be rooted up. Our Lord is not referring to the judgment of the last day (Matthew 3:10), nor to any forcible destruction effected by human agency; he means that the system must pass away entirely to make room for a better growth, even the gospel. The Jews would not see that the Law was a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ; they deemed that their ceremonies and rites were to be permanent and universal; and this, more than anything, impeded the reception of Christ's claims, and made men utterly averse from his teaching. It was in vain that Jesus proclaimed, "If ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me" (John 5:46). The very Law, as handled and obscured by the Pharisees, was made an obstacle to the truth.
Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Verse 14. - Let them alone. Do not trouble yourselves about them; let them be offended, if they will. Blind leaders of the blind. Both teachers and taught are alike ignorant of the truth. The people had no spiritual light, and, applying to their appointed pastors, they learned nothing profitable from them; for these were as much in the dark as themselves. It was evident, then, that the rabbis ought not to be followed unreservedly. If the blind. A proverbial saying. Comp. Horat., 'Epp.,' I, 17:3 -

"... ut si
Caecus iter monstrare velit."
And the Greek adage, Μήτε τυφλὸν ὁδηγόν, μήτε ἐκνόητον σύμβουλον. Nosgen calls attention to the order of the words, Τυφλὸς δὲ τυφλὸν ἐὰν ὁδηγῇ, "Blind blind if he lead," which, while it substantiates the advice, "Let them alone," forcibly expresses the fatal result of this guidance. The ditch (βόθυνον); a pitfall (comp. Isaiah 24:17, 18, Septuagint, where it is used as the translation of the Hebrew pachath, a pit in which wild animals are taken). The "ditch" in one sense is unbelief in Christ, to which rabbinical teaching undoubtedly led. In another sense it adumbrates the ruin in which these false principles would involve the Jewish polity and people. It is obvious that the rejection of the Messiah drew down the punishment which has made the Hebrew nation an astonishment to all the world.
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
Verse 15. - Then answered Peter. The disciples could not understand the apparent depreciation of the external in religion; they did not see the meaning of what Christ had said. Peter, as their mouthpiece, asked for further explanation. Declare; φράσον: edissere. Explain. Parable. The word in an extended sense is used of any hard, enigmatical saying or figurative expression. The term here is applied to the statement in ver. 11. The apostles did not comprehend the minimizing of the rules concerning purification, and the possibility of a man being defiled by what proceeded from his mouth. Inveterate prejudices die hard, and it is difficult to emancipate one's self from old modes of thought.
And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
Verse 16. - Are ye also yet without understanding? Even yet; ἀκμήν: adhuc. In spite of all that has passed - my teaching, my life, my miracles - do you not understand in what real purity consists? Often had Jesus to complain of the dulness of his disciples' intelligence, the slow appreciation of his meaning, the indifference to the spiritual side of his acts and doctrine. Up to the very last they failed to apprehend his mission; nor was it till the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured upon them, that they really and in fulness understood the Lord's teaching and their own duties and powers.
Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
Verse 17. - Whatsoever entereth in at the mouth, etc. Food taken into the mouth goes into the stomach, is assimilated into the bodily system, and its refuse passes away to the draught (ἀφεδρῶνα), the necessary house. It has nothing to do with the heart or the moral being; it affects only the material organization, and has no connection with the spiritual. Christ does not concern himself with questions, which modern philosophers would attempt to solve, concerning the mutual influence of soul and body, the animal and spiritual nature; he puts forth an argument which every one could receive, plain even to those "without understanding." This is the elucidation of the first part of ver. 11. The further explanation follows in vers. 18, 19.
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
Verse 18. - Those things. He does not assert that everything which issues from a man's mouth defiles him; for, as was said above on ver. 11, many good things may come from a man's mouth; but he means that the evil to which he gives utterance is fraught with pollution to his moral nature. From the heart. The heart stands for soul, mind, spirit, will, the whole inner man, that which makes him what he is, a conscious, intelligent, responsible being. Hence are attributed to it not only words, but acts, conceptions which issue in external actions, and the consequences which these involve.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
Verse 19. - Out of the heart proceed. The shameful catalogue which follows is less full than that in St. Mark, which contains thirteen items, while this consists of seven only. These are produced or created by the human will, of which the heart is the symbol. Evil thoughts (διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί). Some would translate the words, "evil machinations." But there is no need to change the usual rendering, which is very appropriate here. Evil thoughts are the preparation of all other sins, and have a pernicious influence on the character. We are very much what we think. That on which our minds are fixed, that which is the chief object presented to our inward sight, shapes our disposition and life. High and noble thoughts elevate and purify; low and mean thoughts debase and pollute. The wickedness in a man springs from within; he is guilty of it. If he admits the tempter, succumbs to his seductions, it is his own will that is in fault, encouraging the evil imagination, and not at once resisting, abhorring, and repelling it. Well may we pray, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10); and remember the wise man's injunction, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The enumeration follows more or less closely the second table of the Decalogue.
These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.
Verse 20. - Thus Jesus sums up what has been said, and recalls the circumstance which led to the discourse, emphatically repeating his judgment on the Pharisaical gloss.
Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
Verses 21-28. - Healing of the daughter of the Canaanitish woman. (Mark 7:24-30.) Verse 21. - Went thence. Jesus left the place, probably Capernaum, where the above discourse had been held, and where it was no longer safe for him to remain. He had grievously offended the dominant party by his outspoken words concerning purity and defilement; therefore, to escape any premature violence, he departed to a more secure quarter. Into the coasts (ta\ me/rh, "the parts") of Tyre and Sidon. The word "coasts" here, ver. 22, and elsewhere, does not mean "seacoasts," but "borders." The Authorized Version conveys a wrong impression by its use of the word. These two cities lay on the coast of Galilee, and had never been really conquered by the Israelites, though allotted to the tribe of Asher. There was no very exact limitation of territory between Phoenician (of which they were the capitals) and Jewish land, but there was a great moral distinction. The Phoenicians were sunk in the grossest idolatry; the worship of Baal and Ashtaroth reigned among them with all its depravity and pollution. Whether our Lord actually entered this district, or only approached its confines, is a matter of dispute. The language in the two extant accounts is ambiguous, and might be taken to imply either proceeding. But we cannot suppose that Christ betook himself to the close neighbourhood of those evil towns. His injunction to the apostles, when he sent them on their missionary tour, to abstain from going into any way of the Gentiles or entering any Samaritan city (Matthew 10:5), and his own declaration which shortly follows, that he was sent to the house of Israel, alike preclude the idea that he ever passed beyond the boundaries of the Holy Land. The woman, too, who appealed to him is said to have "come out away from those borders" - an expression which could hardly have been used if Christ had at this time been within them. And that he did no mighty work in these Phoenician cities may be gathered from his denunciation of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not showing the appreciation of his power and mercy which these centres of heathendom would have exhibited had they been equally favoured (see Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). If, as Chrysostom suggests, Jesus, by going to these partly Gentile districts, wished to give a practical commentary on the abrogation of the distinction between clean and unclean (breaking down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile), this lesson was given equally well by the acceptance and commendation of the Gentile woman's faith, even though Christ himself was outside of pagan territory.
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.
Verse 22. - Behold. The word marks the sudden and unexpected character of the incident. A woman of Canaan. She belonged to the accursed race of Canaan, the ancient inhabitants of the land, doomed, indeed, to destruction, but never thoroughly extirpated. St. Mark calls her "a Greek," i.e. a Gentile, and "a Syro-Phoenician," which explains her proper nationality. Out of the same coasts. Some join these words with "a woman;" but came out would still imply that she left her own territory to meet Christ. Have mercy on me. She speaks as though she herself were the one that needed healing, identifying herself with her diseased daughter, as though the horrible incubus lay upon her own spirit and could not be relieved without the cure of the suffering girl. O Lord, thou Son of David. Living among a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, she had heard this title applied to Jesus; she knew something of the hopes of the Hebrew nation, that they were expecting a Messiah, son of the great King David, who should preach to the poor and heal the sick, as she heard that Jesus had done. We know that the reputation of Jesus had spread into these parts, and that persons from this country had come to him to be healed (Mark 3:8; Luke 6:17). There is no reason to suppose that the woman was a proselyte; but evidently she was of a humble and religious spirit, open to conviction, and of an enlightened understanding, which needed only grace and instruction to ripen into faith. At present she saw in Christ only a merciful Wonder-worker - an error which he often combated, and which now by his conduct he corrected. My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. She must have learned from her Hebrew neighbours to attribute her child's malady to demoniacal influence, as such an idea would not have naturally occurred to a heathen Greek. The power of the devil was shown more openly in heathen localities. We do not read of many bad cases of possession in strictly Jewish districts. It is in Gentile or semi-Gentile regions that the worst instances occur; and while the pagan inhabitants attributed the mysterious maladies to natural causes, the truer insight of believers assigned them, and often most justly, to spiritual agencies. In the present case, the possession must have been unconnected with any ethical relations. It was not that the child, by any act of her own, had put herself into the demon's power. We must regard it, like the sufferings of innocent infants, as a providential arrangement which God for wise purposes allows.
But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
Verse 23. - Answered her not a word. The woman made no specific request; she had not brought the sufferer with her, and entreated Christ to exorcise the evil influence; she did not urge him to go to her house, and by his gracious presence work a cure. Simply she tells her affliction, and lets the woeful tale plead for itself. But there was no response. The Merciful is obdurate; the Physician withholds his aid; in the face of misery, to the voice of entreaty, the Lord is silent. It is the discipline of love; he acts as though he hears not, that he may bring forth perseverance and faith. Send her away. There is some doubt concerning the feeling of the apostles in thus addressing Christ. Did they wish him to grant her virtual petition or not? On the one hand, it is urged that they were thoroughly annoyed at her importunity. They had sought for quiet' and privacy, and now this woman was bringing a crowd around them, and occasioning the very notoriety which they wished to avoid. Their Jewish prejudices, too, were aroused by this appeal from a Canaanite; they could not endure the idea that favour should be extended to this Gentile of an abhorred race; hence they desire Christ to dismiss her at once, give her a decided rejection. On the other hand, the answer of Christ to their request leads to another explanation, as if he understood them to be asking him to grant her prayer. And this is undoubtedly what they did want, though they did not presume to prescribe the manner or to beg for a miracle. They range themselves on the woman's side, not from any genuine compassion, but from mere selfishness. The ground of their appeal is, She crieth after us. The appeal had been first made in the open street, and the Canaanite had followed them, as they moved, continuing her piteous cry, and thus attracting attention to them and defeating their hope of retirement and rest. So they, for their own peace and comfort, ask Christ to grant the prayer of this obstinate suppliant: "Give her what she wants, and have done with her."
But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Verse 24. - I am (was) not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Doubtless the woman had listened to the apostles' intercession, and thought her cause won; but the repulse is only repeated; this Gentile is beyond the sphere of his mission; he cannot help her without departing from the rule which he had set himself. Jesus says nothing here about the rejection of the Jews and the future ingathering of the Gentiles; he states merely that his personal mission while he was on earth was confined to the Hebrew nation. He was, as St. Paul calls him (Romans 15:8), "a Minister of the circumcision." Later, he would send others to evangelize those who were now aliens from the chosen commonwealth; at present he has come unto his own possessions. Lost sheep. There is a tenderness in this expression natural from the mouth of the good Shepherd. He had used it when he sent forth the twelve on their apostolical journey (Matthew 10:6); the metaphor is found in the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 50:6, etc.) It is appropriate here, where he is emphasizing his attitude towards the chosen people, and teaching the Canaanitish woman the relative position of Jew and Gentile.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
Verse 25. - Came she and worshipped him. Meantime, as we learn from St. Mark, Jesus had left the street and entered into a house. The woman, nothing daunted by her rebuff and the disregard with which her appeal was received, followed him persistently, and, growing bolder in her importunity, fell as a suppliant at his feet. While he still seemed to repulse her, she was learning fresh faith and hope. Lord, help me. She does not now call him "Son of David." She begins to feel that she has little claim upon him as the Jewish Messiah; she appeals rather to his mercy and his power. Still, she identifies herself, as at first, with her daughter; the only boon she wants for herself is her child's relief. "For she indeed (my daughter) is insensible of her disease, but it is I that suffer her innumerable woes; my disease is with consciousness, my madness with perception of itself" (St. Chrysostom, 'Hom. 52 in S. Matt.').
But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.
Verse 26. - But he answered and said. At length Jesus spoke directly to her; but his words were rough in sound, still enforcing the previous repulse. It is not meet; οὐκ ἔστι καλόν: non est bonum (Vulgate). Another reading of less authority is oboe ἔξεστιν, "it is not lawful." The question is rather of fairness and expediency than of lawfulness. To take the children's bread. "The children" are the chosen people, "the children of the kingdom" (Matthew 8:12), who held this high position by election, however individuals might forfeit it by an unworthy use of privileges. "Bread" is meant to signify the graces and favours bestowed by God in Christ. To cast it. An humiliating term; not to give it, as you would to your children, but to throw it away as valueless, fit only for animals. Dogs (κυναρίοις). A contemptuous diminutive, rendered by Wickliffe, "whelpies," or, as we might say, "curs." This was the term applied by the Jews to the Gentiles, even as Turks nowadays talk of "dogs of Christians," and as in later times, by a curious inversion, the Jews themselves were generally saluted with the opprobrious name of"dogs." Some have seen a term of endearment in the diminutive "little dogs," as though Christ desired to soften the harshness of the expression by referring, not to the prowling, unowned animals that act as scavengers in Oriental towns, but to the petted inmates of the master's house. But Scripture gives no warrant for thinking that the Hebrews ever kept dogs as friends and companions, in our modern fashion; and our Lord adopts the language of his countrymen, to put the woman in her right position, as one with whom Jews could have no fellowship. To take the blessings from the Church of Israel in order to give them to aliens was to throw them away on unworthy recipients.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.
Verse 27. - And she said, Truth, Lord; or better, but she said, Yea, Lord (Revised Version). Christ's answer might have seemed the climax of rejection, and to have at once closed the matter forever. But her love for her daughter, and her growing faith in Jesus, overcame all seeming hindrances. With a woman's ready wit, quickened by urgency and affection, she seizes the opportunity, and turns Christ's own words against himself. Thou sayest truth, she means; the Jews are the children; we are the dogs; and as dogs we claim our portion. This we can receive without defrauding the children of any of their food. Yet; καὶ, or καὶ γὰρ, for even; nam et (Vulgate). The Authorized Version injures the significance of the mother's reply, as if there were something adversative in the particles, which really introduce the confirmation of her assent. The dogs eat of the crumbs, etc. Dogs in the East have access to the rooms, and live on what they can pick up or on what is thrown to them. The fragments at meals were naturally numerous, the abundance being occasioned by the nature of the food, the use of fingers instead of spoons and forks, and the employment of pieces of bread as platters and napkins. We may paraphrase the Canaanite's reply thus: By calling us dogs, you virtually grant what I desire. You can do what I wish without infringing your rule, in the justice of which I humbly acquiesce. I claim nothing as a daughter of Abraham; I look only for uncovenanted mercies; I ask only for that portion which falls to the lot of the creatures which hold the lowest place in the household, and the loss of which will never be felt. Truly by humbling her Jesus educated her, taught her that her real plea was her unworthiness, that in acknowledgment of her degradation lay the force of her appeal. And in asking for this one act of mercy she is doing no wrong to the sons of the house.
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.
Verse 28. - O woman, great is thy faith. Jesus had often to complain of unbelief in his hearers; at no man's faith did he ever express surprise, except in the case of another Gentile, the centurion of Capernaum (Matthew 8:10). Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. She had conquered; she gained her wish. But we must not think that Christ consented because his human feelings were overcome by her importunity, like the unjust judge in the parable, though the principle and teaching of that parable were here beautifully illustrated. He acted all the time as God, who foreknew what he would do. He had been leading her up to this climax; he had willed to give her an opportunity of exhibiting this trust and sell-command and unfailing confidence, and now he crowns her with his mighty eulogium, and grants her request, rewarding her great faith by a great mercy. Her daughter was made whole. St. Mark reports the words of Christ, "For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter." He does not say, "I will come and heal her;" he tells her that the cure is already effected. Without personal contact with the sufferer, without any command uttered to the possessing demon, by his silent will alone the wonder comes to pass. This blessing for the child was won by the mother's faith. The two points to be remarked in this marvellous history are - Christ's abnormal treatment of a suppliant, and that suppliant's astonishing faith and perseverance. Both of these subjects have been noticed in the course of the Exposition.
And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.
Verses 29-39. - Healing of the sick, and feeding of the four thousand. (Mark 7:31; Mark 8:1-10.) Verse 29. - From thence. From the borders of Tyre and Sidon. We learn from St. Mark that Jesus, making a considerable circuit, traversed the territory of the ten free cities called Decapolis, situated chiefly on the east and south of the Sea of Galilee. A mountain (τὸ ὄρος); the mountain (as Matthew 14:23). The range of hills by which the lake is bounded on the east and northeast. No particular hill seems to be indicated. Sat down there. Rested awhile after his journeyings and labours.
And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them:
Verse 30. - The incidents in this and the following verse are mentioned only by St. Matthew. Great multitudes. The fame of Jesus attracted the Jews settled in this semi-Gentile district, and cut short the privacy which he had lately been enjoying in his apostles' company. The people seized the opportunity of listening to his teaching and profiting by his superhuman power. Having with them. The catalogue of sufferers that follows represents accurately the sight that meets one in Oriental towns and villages, where the absence of medical appliances and the general want of surgical treatment render slight maladies or injuries chronic and inveterate, and fill the streets with persons in all stages of disease. Maimed; κυλλούς: debiles (Vulgate). In Matthew 18:8 the word means "deprived of a member;" but it has been doubted whether our Lord ever exerted his creative power to replace an absent limb. In the case of Malchus the ear probably was not wholly severed from the skull, but was still attached thereto by a fragment of flesh or skin, and no fresh creation was needed. We may well understand the word to signify "deformed," or deprived of the use of hand or foot. The Arabic Version renders it "dried up," or "withered." Cast them down. The expression implies the precipitancy With which their friends offered the sufferers to Christ's notice, appealing to his mercy and relying on his power - not with careless abandonment, but with an earnest rivalry to be first attended to.
Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel.
Verse 31. - The maimed to be whole. This clause is omitted by א and some other manuscripts, the Vulgate and other versions, and some modern editors. Probably the difficulty mentioned above led to its being first obelized and then rejected. The God of Israel. Jehovah, whose covenanted mercies they were enjoying. St. Matthew is careful on all occasions to exhibit Jesus as the Messenger and Representative of the God of the Old Testament. The apostles, as Alford suggests, might joyfully contrast this abundance of acts of mercy with the great difficulty with which a Gentile's faith had lately obtained help. "Seest thou," says St. Chrysostom, "how the woman indeed he healed with so much delay, but these immediately? not because these are better than she is, but because she is more faithful than they. Therefore, while in her case he defers and delays, to manifest her constancy, on these he bestows the gift immediately, stopping the mouths of the unbelieving Jews, and cutting away from them every plea. For the greater favour one hath received, so much more is he liable to punishment, if he be insensible, and the very honour makes him no better."
Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
Verse 32. - Called his disciples unto him. Seeing the necessities of the multitude, Jesus, as it were, takes his disciples into council, treating them not as servants, but as friends. They were doubtless dispersed among the crowd, and Jesus summons them around him, and puts before them the special point to which his attention is turned. Thus he tries their faith, and shows that there were no human means available for feeding these famishing people. Thus God, so to speak, takes Abraham into his confidence before visiting the iniquity of Sodom: "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" (Genesis 18:17). I have compassion (σπαλαγχνίζομαι) on the multitude. The human heart of Jesus felt for these distressed followers; his perfect sympathy was aroused in their behalf. We observe references to this tender feeling in many other instances (see Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14; Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; Mark 5:19; Luke 7:13. And in the Old Testament, e.g. Isaiah 49:15; Jeremiah 12:15; Micah 7:19). They continue with me now three days. The verb used here (προσμένειν) implies close attendance persevered in against obstacles; it is used in Acts 11:23 in a spiritual sense, "He exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave (προσμένειν) unto the Lord." The three days, according to the Hebrew formula of computation, would consist of one whole day and parts of two others. Thus constantly employed in healing and teaching, Jesus thinks not of himself; his whole care is centred on the people who, in their anxiety to see and hear him, forget their own necessities. There would be nothing strange in the people camping out for a night in Palestine. Men and women ordinarily lie down to rest in the clothes which they have worn during the day, and need no special preparation for sleeping. Thus a man covers himself with his heavy outer garment, lies on the dry ground, like Jacob at Bethel, with a stone or his arm for a pillow, and sleeps comfortably and safely till awakened by the morning sun. I wilt not send them away fasting. Like a good master of a household, in his tender pity, Christ takes the circumstances of the multitude into consideration, and cannot endure the idea of dismissing them wearied and unfed to find their way to their own homes, which, as St. Mark adds, were, in the case of many of them, at a long distance. Faint. Travellers tell us that out of the motley crowd of pilgrims that flock to Jerusalem at Easter-tide, many run short of provisions and perish on the road. Christ's thoughtful care regards the possibility of such disaster, and prepares the remedy. He had treated the sicknesses of the multitude; he had instructed their ignorance; now he will feed their bodies. They had sought nothing from him, nor begged for food; probably they had no idea of looking to him to supply their want. But they who follow Jesus shall never lack. They were seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and temporal blessings were added to them.
And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?
Verse 33. - Whence should we have so much bread, etc.? Christ had said nothing to his disciples concerning his design of feeding the people, but his remarks pointed to the possibility of such a design, and the apostles at once throw cold water upon the project. They do not indeed, as they did before urge him to send the multitude away, that they may supply their own needs, but they emphasize the impossibility of carrying out the idea of feeding them. Their answer bristles with objections. The place is uninhabited; the multitude is numerous; the quantity of food required is enormous; and how can we, poor and needy as we are, help them? It seems to us incredible that they could return this answer, after having, net very long before, experienced the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. They seemed now to have forgotten the earlier marvel, and to be in utter doubt how the necessary food was to be provided on the present occasion. That Christ would display his miraculous powers appears not to have crossed their minds. Such surprising forgetfulness and slowness of faith have seemed to some critics so unlikely and unusual, that they have regarded the apostles' attitude as confirming their assumption of the identity of the two miracles of feeding. But really such conduct is true to human nature. Calvin, while he condemns in vehement terms the disciples' dulness - "nimis brutum produnt stuporem" - is careful to add that men are always liable to a similar insensibility, prone to forget past deliverance in the face of present difficulty. Immediately after the passage of the Red Sea, the people feared that they would perish of thirst in the wilderness; and when God promised to give them flesh to eat, even Moses doubted the possibility of the supply, and asked whence it could be provided (Exodus 17:1, etc.; Numbers 11:21, etc.). How often did Jesus speak of his sufferings, death, and resurrection! And yet these events came upon believers as a surprise for which they were altogether unprepared. Continually the disciples forgot what they ought to have remembered, drew no proper inferences from what they had seen and experienced, and had to be taught the same lessons repeatedly under different circumstances. Since the first miraculous meal many events had happened; often possibly they had been in want of food, as when on the sabbath day they appeased their hunger with ears of corn plucked by the way, and Christ had worked no miracle for their relief. It did not immediately suggest itself to them to have recourse to their Master in the emergency; they were very far from expecting Divine interposition at every turn. If they thought at all of the former miracle, they may have looked upon it as the outcome of an intermittent power, not always at command, or at any rate not likely to be exercised on the present occasion. They were slow to apprehend Christ's Divine mission and character. The acknowledgment of his Messiahship did net necessarily connote the realization of his Godhead. In the writings of this and the immediately preceding period we see that the great Prophet, Prince, Conqueror, who is to appear, is not God, but one commissioned by God, and at most a God-inspired man or angel. So the apostles were only in unison with the best of their contemporaries when at present they hesitated to believe in, and were incapable of apprehending, the Divine nature of Christ.
And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
Verse 34. - How many loaves have ye? Jesus gives no formal answer to the apostles' hesitating question, but by a new interrogation leads them to expect his interposition. This was the prelude to the miracle. Seven, and a few little fishes. They de not add, as on the former occasion, "But what are they among so many?" They have learned something from what had previously occurred. Whether this little store was what remained of their own supplies, or whether it was all they could find among the multitude, does not appear. From the indeterminate mention of the fish, we should suppose the latter to have been the case, as they would probably have mentioned the number of the fishes had they been their own. There may have been some contempt implied in the diminutive ἰχθύδια, "little fishes," as though these were scarcely worthy of notice. Dried fish was a staple commodity in the region.
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
Verse 35. - To sit down (ἀναπεσεῖν) on the ground. At this time there was not "much grass in the place," the season being no longer early spring. Their seat was the bare ground, their meal of the plainest character. He who as man had pitied them was now feeding them as God, yet not with luxuries or dainties, but with food sufficient for their needs.
And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
Verse 36. - He took. The account differs little from that on the former occasion. Gave thanks (εὐχαριστήσας). This represents the blessing of the viands. Thanksgiving was a specially enjoined accompaniment of meals. The Talmud said, "He that enjoys anything without an act of thanksgiving is as one that robs the Almighty." The blessing here was the efficient cause of the multiplication of the food. Without any fresh creation Jesus used the materials ready to his hands, and only increased them by his Almighty power. Brake them, and gave (ἔκλασε καὶ ἐδίδου). Looking to the tenses used, we should say that Jesus brake the viands once, and then kept continually giving of them to the twelve for the purpose of distribution. We do not read how the multitude was arranged in the present case. Possibly the locality did not admit of methodical division into ranks and companies, or, on the other hand, its natural terraces may have obviated the necessity for any such formal arrangement, the company falling naturally into convenient sections.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.
Verse 37. - Baskets (σπευρ´δας); panniers. Large wicker receptacles, which were sometimes of such size as to hold a man. It was in such a basket that St. Paul was let down from the walls of Damascus (Acts 9:25). The number of the basketfuls corresponded to the original number of loaves; the increase of substance must therefore have been enormous.
And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children.
Verse 38. - The computation is made in the same way as in Matthew 14:21, the greatness of the miracle being thus enhanced.
And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.
Verse 39. - Sent away the multitude. Having supplied their spiritual and material wants. He wished to avoid all disturbance or collision with constituted authorities; and the people dispersed quietly, being less excitable than the inhabitants of Bethsaida, and not so well acquainted with the Messianic claims. The number thus dismissed was less than on the previous occasion, though the provision was greater - a difference which distinguishes one incident from the other, and which no forger would have introduced, it being much more natural to make the second wonder transcend, instead of falling short of, the previous one. We mention this here, because some critics have assumed that the present is only an imperfectly remembered account of the feeding of the five thousand already narrated. There are, of course, many points of similarity in the two incidents. Being of identical character, they must naturally present the same general features. But careful survey of the two narratives discloses many differences, which quite preclude the notion that the latter is a traditional reproduction of the former. To one who believes in the honesty and good faith of the evangelists, the allusion which Christ makes to the two miracles is a sufficient argument for their separation. Our Lord pointedly calls to mind the two occasions when he multiplied food, and rebukes the apostles for their lack of apprehension in the face of these marvels. "Do ye not yet perceive, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets (κοφίνους) ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets (σπυρίδας) ye took up?" (Matthew 16:9, 10; Mark 8:19-21). Many of the essential points of difference between the two accounts are noticed in the Exposition, and they will be seen to dispart wherever divergence was possible, in time, scene, and detail. Magdala. The right reading is most probably Magadan, or Magedan (Vulgate), the better known Magdala having at an early date been substituted for it. Conder identifies one of the two with a mud and stone village called El Mejdel, a little north of Tiberius, a poor place without any gardens, situated in a plain of partially arable soil.

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