It was the first Thursday of the month again! This means we share lunch with the folks of Senior Adults Fellowship! Their spread of foodfare is always so sumptuous I would not want to miss it. A large pot of curry chicken is almost always present!
We had lunch together in the Fellowship Hall, after which the mothers group adjourned to Judah room for our bible study, while our littlies stayed in the adjacent room for playtime. Today, there was only Caleb, Isaac, Asher and E. Mothers included Aunty Judy, Marie-Tess, Linh, Cheryl, and myself.
Study Notes: The Faith of a Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:21-28)
This account can also be found in Mark 7:24-30. Not a Jewish descendent, the Canaanite woman is considered a gentile woman. The Jewish and the Pharisees were known to be proud of the fact that they are from the lineage of Father Abraham. This account shows us that salvation is not solely for the Jews and the Israelites, the free gift of salvation is open to the Gentiles. It is important to note that people who reject the Truth, the privilege to know God personally will be taken away from them. For God deem it just to have the light taken from those who cavil at it, rebel against it, or are wilfully prejudiced against the gospel. It is described in Acts:46-48.
“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
It is interesting to note that today’s verse in Proverbs 15:31-32 also pertains to what we observe in this passage.
Background of Ethnic Controversy (Conflict between Israelites and Canaanites)
Tyre and Sidon were the two main Phoenician cities just north of Mount Carmel on the west coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In the Old Testament times, this includes all the region of the Phoenicians, better known as the Canaanitish tribes. Before Roman Caesar’s reign, Alexander the Great was the one in power. He was from Greece and during his reign, he conquered all the way to the Mediterranean coast, where the Greek culture permeated throughout the area where he governed.
In Mark’s account, he explains that this woman was Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia, which was ruled by the Greeks for the period immediately before the time of Jesus. People in that region would be of mixed nationalities, where the pagans intermarried the Jews (that is why they were refered to as “dogs” by the pure and proud Jews of that time).
As the Canaanites were thoroughly pagan and corrupt, their presence in the land was a strong threat to the purity of Israel’s religion and morality. Hence, there is a long history of spiritual and military conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites.
Striking Contrast of Faith
The substance of the account centres around the conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Here, we witness a striking contrast between the reactions of the Jews vs Gentiles in their encounters with Jesus Christ. There is obviously something powerful at work in the ethnic dimension of the conversation – In Israel, Jesus was trying to convince people He was the Messiah, and was being challenged to prove it with a sign. But here in Gentile territory he met a woman who was convinced He was the Messiah and He could not discourage her efforts. His apparent attempt to put her off seemed more like a test of her faith, and her great faith was rewarded with prompt healing of her daughter by the Savior.
From what we studied last week, the Jewish leaders were rejecting Him, but here, we see the Gentile woman who hardly knows Him, was seeking mercy as she completely trusts in Him.
The Woman Shows Her Faith (v 22)
Having heard a lot about Jesus, and blessed with a discerning mind, she believed in His powers, and came all the way to seek Him. The woman recognizes that Jesus is no mere magician who performs feats for fame or money. By calling Jesus Lord, she acknowledges His lordship over her, willing for Jesus to be her Master. She also called Him Son of David, because she knew He is the Messiah, the One who is to come. By hailing Jesus as Son of David, she is also acknowledging Him as the rightful King over a nation that had conquered her ancestors.
Jesus Draws Faith Out of the Canaanite Woman (v 23)
Jesus did not answer her plea initially because He is using this encounter to draw out her faith, for the benefit of those who are present (including us who are now reading about this account that was documented both in the gospels of Mark and Matthew). Jesus Christ, being God Himself, is omniscient and knew about the extent of her true faith and persevering supplication without even having to test her!
Jesus’ Mission Is Specifically for Israel (v 24)
In His answer, Jesus said He was ‘sent’, and not He ‘came’ because He has always taught that He was sent by God the Father. So the Canaanite woman who has learnt so much about Him will further be sure that He is indeed the Messiah. His answer directs us all to understand His true mission and identity, summoning us to recognize Israel’s priority in the divine plan, which is His primary mission in the world. He was the promised Jewish Messiah who came to His own (John 1), but when His own rejected Him, He turned to the Gentiles. Jesus came as a Jew, as the promised king of the Jews, whose kingdom would eventually extend to all the world, as it had in bits and pieces in the Old Testament, and it began with Israel.
The “lost sheep of the house of Israel” referred to in Matthew 10:6 and here also in 15:26, does not mean there were some lost sheep in Israel, but that all Israel was lost (Isaiah 53: all we like sheep have gone astray). So His own mission was primarily to Israel; the mission of the Gentiles will be to go into all the world.
Jesus wanted the disciples and the woman to understand fully that His ministry in the brief time He had on earth was very focused. He was the Son of David, the Messiah. That fact did not admit this Canaanite woman to the benefits of the covenant made with the Jews. The kingdom had to be fully offered to the Jews first, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom. So all the woman could do was ask for mercy, general mercy as a non-Israelite.
Persevering Supplication (vv 25-27)
Recognizing her status, and reminded of the historic distinction between the cursed Canaanites and the blessed Israelites, the woman knelt down to plead with Jesus for His help! The woman swallowed her pride and pleaded with God to not turn her away, because she knew very well that she is speaking to none other than God Himself! Instead of letting the term “dog” deter her, she is still grateful to God that she will still benefit from the overflowing of the blessings that God grants to the uncovenanted Gentiles, for she knows that even from the little leftover she receives from God, it is still much better than anything else she will ever receive!
Her Reward (v 28)
Her faith made her daughter well that same hour. God didn’t even have to appear in front of the daughter to heal her. There was another account of Jesus healing a Gentile from afar – The centurion who asked Jesus to merely speak to make his servant well. The centurion was a roman, so he is also a gentile. In Genesis, remember how God just have to speak and His will be done. We have a really great God. O’Lord, how great Thou art!
Conclusion and Application
Be assured that even when we don’t hear an answer, be not disheartened, but continue to persevere in praying. We also learn from this account that we must not be quick to act like the disciples, but be discerning, and not be judgmental especially by just looking things on the surface. We are also reminded here that it is so easy to assume by judging a book from its cover, only God sees our heart and the true intentions that it harbours.
*As mothers ourselves, we should be very fearful about our children being overtaken by the dark powers. We ought to pray for their salvation as early as possible, that they may know and love the Lord early in their life. May their foundation be strongly rooted in Christ Jesus the Lord, such that they will not be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness in deceitful schemes that encircles the world these days. God wants us to be discerning, knowing the whole truth, and speaking the Truth in love, that we may all grow up in all things into Him, who is the Head – Christ. May we take our lead from Christ, who is the Source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
And so the instruction is for us as well, that we are to take the message of grace to the world, to whoever is seeking mercy and will believe. If there is resistance and refusal, we may continue to pray for them (as Jesus prayed for Jerusalem), but we turn to people who want it, whom the Spirit of God has prepared to receive the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.
After Bible Study
I missed E very much right after our bible study. Although I heard no cries from her, I was sure she must have missed me too. I peeped in through the door and saw her playing by herself.
I went closer, and when she saw me, she smiled bitterly as if asking “where have u gone for the past 1.5 hr?!” Then she walked right through all the obstacles that were sprawled along her way, and approached me with wide open arms for a hug and kiss!
Awww… I melted that moment…