Let us begin to read the account for which I will use both Mark and Matthew.
From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. Mark 7:24, 25
Here we see that Yeshua’s fame went beyond the Galilee, north to Tyre and Sidon where people flocked to see Him. Why did Yeshua choose to go there? It also was a territory that was very hostile to Jews. Josephus, the first century historian, wrote that the people of Tyre were among the bitterest enemies of the Jews (Ag. Ap. 1.70) and during the wars preceding the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., they killed so many and imprisoned many others (Ant. 14.313–21).
Even before him, Joel the prophet tells us that they sold the sons of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their territory. Joel 3:6.
Here the prophet prophesies that they will be practicing ethnic cleansing to chase the Jews from their region. Something they did in the first century and probably will do in the future since this is a prophecy preceding the Second Coming.Their animosity is probably due to the fact that Tyre and Sidon are within the territory of the tribe of Asher as given by the Lord in the Torah. So why would Yeshua choose such an aggressive place?It was a part of the training of the twelve, through a simple woman of great faith.
A Humble Heart in a Hostile Place
From this point on, the text focuses on her. Let’s meet her. Mark 7:26 gives us a lot of information about her, her origins, and her character. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. What do we learn about her?
- First, she is a woman, a person no rabbi of the time would associate with. Yet she enters a room filled with 13 men, seemingly undaunted by their presence.
- Second, she is Gentile, or a Hellenist as the Greek tells us. This describes more than a people but refers as well to a way of living and thinking that was imposed on Israel at the time by the invaders.
- Third, she is part Syrian, an enemy of old.
- Fourth, she is part Phoenician, another enemy of old.
- And fifth, Matthew puts the cherry on the sundae by adding that she is a Canaanite (Matthew 15:21).
Here we have a woman who is a Hellenist, a Syrian, a Phoenician, and a Canaanite; and she comes to speak to Yeshua in her hostile territory. It would have been very hard to find someone more foreign to Israel than this combination, especially pointing out her Canaanite pedigree. The disciples were originally impressed by the Scribes and the Pharisees. This woman, with all she is, is about to upset their traditional beliefs and reveal the great work of the Spirit of God in an individual.
Hard Words to Digest
Listen to the hard words Yeshua says to her when she asks for her daughter to be healed. Mark 7:26 gives us more information. “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Who are the children? The children are the children of Israel, but those who are called dogs, refer to the Gentiles. How should we understand this?
It is very interesting to see how so many commentators tried to deal with or even escape this verse altogether. One of them imagined another situation altogether and said that Jesus was talking to Himself, not to the woman (Taylor / Joel Marcus, Anchor Commentary on the Book of Mark). He could not believe that Yeshua would ever say such a thing. Another imagined Jesus as demonstrating some facial expression or even tone of voice that would somehow indicate to the woman that it was only temporary (Filson / Joel Marcus, Anchor Commentary on the Book of Mark). One went very far in suggesting that Jesus winked at the woman while pronouncing these words (Hassler / Joel Marcus, Anchor Commentary on the Book of Mark).
Personally, I struggled a lot with this passage and tried to look at it from every possible angle. The fact remains the same; the verse is clear and the translation along with it.
Faith Like Abraham
Maybe we are not looking at the right place to understand the dilemma. We cannot just stop at this verse; we need to read the next one. Her answer is as powerful as the seeming rejection from Yeshua. “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Mark 7:27 It takes great faith to pronounce these words.
But she accepted all that Yeshua said. She does not argue with Him but tries to find a way out for the sake of her daughter. That was her objective. Her response reminds us of when the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. He did not argue with or doubt God’s words, even though the promise of a nation and the promise of redemption in Messiah was in Isaac. This woman also accepted all the words of the Lord no matter what they were.
Abraham’s faith was not fazed by uncertainty or hesitation about the truth of God’s Word, but he resolved the dilemma by saying to himself that the Lord would resurrect Isaac should his life be sacrificed. That is what the Book of Hebrews tells us. For Abraham and this woman then, the living and pure word must remain untouched. Whatever Yeshua said, He is right. Her defense is, “Okay, I am a dog, but even a dog needs to eat.”
Jesus must have helped her faith because the word which He used for dog is puppy, a house dog. So she must have resolved her dilemma by seeing that this dog, this puppy, is still part of the family. It eats the same bread and so she agreed: Yes, Lord, it is as you say. Her answer showed that this woman was a true daughter of Abraham by faith.
The Heart Behind the Hard Words
The point is then made. Yeshua could not take it anymore, so He burst forth with admiration and love for this lady, something that must have surprised everyone, even the woman. Combining His sayings from Matthew and Mark, He said: “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish. Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter, and her daughter was healed at once”. Matthew 15:28 & Mark 7:29
O woman, the word O is an exclamation of admiration, an expression of joy even of surprise. It must have been such a relief for Yeshua to have pronounced these words. He played the game for our learning, but we understand by His answer that it was very hard for Him. It must have also shocked the disciples, because they probably were proud that Yeshua seemed to take their side by His initial scolding of the woman. It also must have been a shock for the woman. I don’t think she expected Yeshua’s outburst of admiration. Everyone must have been surprised. But a great truth had been set and written in the eternal Word of God.
This may very well have been the first and only time when Yeshua lost an argument. But it echoes the way the Lord lost His fight against Jacob. Do you remember when he fought with an individual against whom he won? His defeated opponent said: “You have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Genesis 32:28
Both the Syrophoenician woman and Jacob won their fights.