Mk. 7:24-37 Notes & Commentary
MARK 6-8 - CONTEXT: Beginning with the Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44), Mark relates a series of miracles, including the restoration of the deaf man's hearing and speech (7:31-37) and a blind man's sight (8:22-26). The passage culminates in Peter's confession of faith, "You are the Messiah" (8:29). Along the way, Jesus encounters the antagonism of the scribes and Pharisees (7:1-23; 8:11-13) and the lack of faith of the disciples (8:14-21). When the latter worry about not having enough bread (keep in mind that Mark has just related both the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Feeding of the Four Thousand), Jesus says, "Why do you reason that it's because you have no bread? Don't you perceive yet, neither understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, don't you see? Having ears, don't you hear? Don't you remember?"(8:17-18). Jesus' has come to impart physical healing, but his greater purpose is opening spiritual eyes and ears.
MARK 7:24-30 - HE WENT AWAY TO TYRE AND SIDON
24 Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. 25 But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter 27 And He was saying to her, "Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered and *said to Him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs." 29 And He said to her, "Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter." 30 And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.
"From there he arose, and went away into the borders of Tyre" (v. 24a). This is Gentile country. The region of Tyre and Sidon was the home of Jezebel, Elijah's enemy (1 Kings 16:31). It inspired the ire of the prophets (Ezekiel 26:15-17; Zechariah 9:3). It is remarkable that Jesus would visit such a place-except that he came to break down the barriers that divide people. He came to save people-not to exclude them.
"He entered into a house, and didn't want anyone to know it" (v. 24b). Given the character of this story, the house seems likely to be a Jewish home. Jesus' purpose for visiting this area is unclear. Verse 24 makes it sound as if he is looking for solitude from the crowds that have pursued him in his Galilean ministry. Perhaps he simply wants time alone with the disciples.
▪ In verse 19, Jesus said that food can't defile people, because food is soon eliminated without ever penetrating the heart. Thus he declared all foods-and all people clean. (Williamson, 137; Brooks, 120). When Mark wrote this Gospel (65-70 A.D.), the church included many Gentiles. The fact that Mark must explain Jewish customs (7:3-4; 7:11, 19) suggests that his readership is predominantly Gentile. By Mark's time, the church has gone through considerable struggles to determine its right relationship to Gentiles. This story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman reflects that struggle in its earliest moments. It avoids pronouncing the ascendancy of either Jews or Gentiles (Boring 213).
"Yet he couldn't escape notice" (v. 24c). In both this story and the next, Jesus' efforts to maintain a low profile are frustrated. Just as the sun cannot be hidden in the sky, neither can the Son be hidden on the earth.
"For a woman, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, having heard of him, came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race" (vv. 25-26). Mark double-emphasizes that this woman who lives in Gentile territory is herself a Gentile-a Syrophoenician Gentile, no less-a Gentile of this abominable Gentile area. "She begged him that he would cast the demon out of her daughter" (v. 26).
▪ Phoenicia is a long narrow coastal strip bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the west and mountains on the east-the coastal plain of modern-day Lebanon. Its southern boundary is Mount Carmel (due east of the Sea of Galilee), and it extends approximately 185 miles (300 km) north from there. Major cities include Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon. "Syrophoenician" links this woman with Syria and Phoenicia.
We are shocked at Jesus' response.
"Let the children be filled first, for it is not appropriate to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs" (kynariois) (v. 27). This is one of the most troubling verses in the New Testament. The mother is asking healing, not for herself, but for her daughter. It must be difficult for a Gentile woman to ask a Jewish man for help, but her need is overwhelming. She comes in faith as a deferential supplicant-what more could Jesus ask? As it turns out, he could ask that she be Jewish-"Let the children be filled first, for it is not appropriate to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
▪ Some scholars try to soften Jesus' words, suggesting that this is a well-known proverb that would not sound so harsh in context-or that the diminutive, kynariois, refers to household pets, implying an affectionate tone. However, it seems inappropriate to try to domesticate Jesus' words. We cannot validate this saying as a common proverb, and it is a cutting remark even if it refers to household pets. Most Biblical references to dogs are negative (see Exodus 22:31; 1 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 16:9; 1 Kings 21:23; 22:38; 2 Kings 9:36; Isaiah 56:10; Matthew 7:6; Luke 16:21; Philippians 3:2).
▪ R.T. France gives a refreshing perspective with regard to this problem. He says that Jesus is functioning as a devil's advocate, and not disappointed with the woman's strong rejoinder (France, 296). (A devil's advocate is "a person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments"-Oxford Dictionary)
▪ The scriptures are clear that Jesus knows people's hearts and responds accordingly. A rich man comes asking what he must do to gain eternal life, and Jesus, knowing how the man loves money, says, "One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross" (Mark 10:21). There are other accounts like this in the New Testament-accounts where Jesus knows people's hearts and responds accordingly (see 12:15). If that is true, Jesus surely knows this mother's heart too-and knows that she will not buckle if he presses her a bit. He does so to give her the opportunity to win her case.
▪ Jesus clearly feels it necessary to focus his mission on the Jews. While he has occasionally visited the Gentile shore of the Sea Galilee (the eastern shore), this visit to a place with a significant pagan history is unusual. The time will come when Gentiles will be welcome in the church, but the time is not yet. As Paul said in his letter to the Romans (written earlier than Mark's Gospel), "for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16). There is a natural order in every good endeavor. A builder must lay a solid foundation before erecting walls and roof. So it is that Jesus limits his ministry to Gentiles in deference to the people whom God chose so many centuries prior. Ministry to Gentiles will come in good time.
"But she answered him, 'Yes, Lord (kurie-sir or Lord). Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs'" (v. 28). In this Gospel, on several occasions Jesus refers to himself as Lord (2:28; 5:19; 11:3; 12:36), but this is the only place where another person calls him "Lord." It is ironic that the person calling him "Lord" is a Gentile woman rather than one of his disciples.
▪ The woman answers well, acknowledging the special place of the Jews, calling attention to her own need, and using Jesus' words to press her plea. The kynarion-pets indeed-are part of the household and are under the master's care. The woman uses the image of children carelessly (or perhaps purposely) dropping bits of food on the floor. What harm will come from allowing the kynarion to partake of the scraps that will not be eaten by the children in any event? What harm will come of Gentiles participating in the bounty of the messianic banquet?
"He said to her, 'For this saying, go your way. The demon has gone out of your daughter'" (v. 29). Note:
• Jesus does not accompany her to her home. He does not touch the child. He does not issue a healing command. He simply reports a healing that has already taken place. The emphasis in this story is not on the healing but on Jesus' relationship to Gentiles.
• In Matthew's account, Jesus commends the woman's faith (Matthew 15:28), but here he commends her good answer.
"She went away to her house, and found the child having been laid on the bed, with the demon gone out" (v. 30). The woman does not plead for Jesus to come to visit her daughter. She first expressed a simple but profound faith by coming to Jesus, and she now expresses a simple but profound faith by departing. Her faith is much like that of the Roman centurion (Matthew 5:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)-also a Gentile. Arriving at her home, she finds the demon gone and the child well.
▪ This woman serves as an example of persistent prayer that refuses to be discouraged when prayer is not immediately answered. She provides us with a model for engaging God fully and passionately in prayer rather than simply reciting rote prayers or a laundry list of our needs. Not every fervent prayer will be answered as we ask, but God honors fervor and has little regard for half-hearted, lukewarm prayer (Revelation 3:16). The archetypal model of fervent prayer is Jacob wrestling with God at Peniel until he received a blessing (Genesis 32:22-32).
▪ This woman also serves as a model of a parent who loves her child enough to take an active role in the child's life. She could have found excuses for not going to Jesus, but she went. She could have allowed herself to be discouraged at Jesus' initial response, but she persisted. Her daughter's life was at stake, and she wasn't about to accept defeat.
▪ There are two ways that parents can go wrong here. One is to become a "helicopter parent," hovering too closely-advocating excessively for their child-intervening too quickly to resolve conflicts for the child. Helicopter parents are a particular problem in little league sports-and school officials see far too many of them. Studies show that the children of helicopter parents don't function as well as children of parents who allow their children to work out their own children's issues.
But the opposite problem is failing to provide appropriate guidance and support. Many parents today are content to practice laissez faire parenting, and the results are often disastrous. The church needs to call parents to take an active role in guiding their children. Just as the inattentive gardener begets weeds, so do inattentive parents beget troubled children.
▪ The woman also provides a stark contrast to the scribes and Pharisees who challenged Jesus in the preceding story (7:1-23). They know what the prophets said about the coming messiah. They have seen (or at least heard about) the Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44) and the healing of the sick in Gennesaret (6:53-56), but they chose to find fault with Jesus and his disciples (7:1-23). In other words, given every opportunity to see through the eyes of faith, they have chosen to see through the eyes of unfaith. This woman, a Gentile, chooses to see through the eyes of faith.
MARK 7:31-35 - THE DEAF AND MUTE MAN
31 Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. 32 They *brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they *implored Him to lay His hand on him. 33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; 34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He *said to him, "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!" 35 And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly.
"Again he departed from the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and came to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the region of Decapolis" (v. 31). This itinerary seems odd. Sidon is north of Tyre and the Sea of Galilee is southeast, so Jesus goes out of his way to visit Sidon. Some scholars suggest that Mark is unfamiliar with the geography of this area, but it seems more likely that Jesus simply decides to visit Sidon before leaving the area.
▪ The word Decapolis comes from two Greek words (deka and polis) that mean "ten cities"-although more than ten cities were members over time. Most member cities were located south and east of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, but Damascus (located 60 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee) is a member city. The Decapolis is not only these cities but also the region in which they are located. The population of the region is primarily Gentile, but there are Jews living there as well. These cities were established by Greeks, and the Jews resented this Gentile presence on their border-a resentment that sometimes broke into open warfare. The Greeks responded by devising a loose confederation of cities to provide for the common defense, not only against Jewish incursions, but also against desert marauders.
▪ The Romans encouraged the growth of Greek culture in the Decapolis as a way of limiting Jewish influence in the region. The mention of the Decapolis in verse 31 is significant because it shows that Jesus is choosing to stay in Gentile territory rather than to return to the more familiar nearby cities of Galilee.
"They brought to him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. They begged him to lay his hand on him" (v. 32). This is reminiscent of the healing of the paralytic, whose friends brought him to Jesus (2:1-12). We know very little about this man or his friends. Some reliable scholars think of them as Gentiles (Edwards, 226-227), but it seems possible that they are Jewish. Given Mark's care to label the Syrophoenician woman as Gentile (v. 26), it would seem that he would do the same here if the man were not Jewish. Also, the laying on of hands is a Jewish healing practice, and the request that Jesus perform this act (v. 32) may indicate that the man's friends are Jewish. However, there is no mention of faith on the part of the friends or the deaf man.
▪ Deaf people commonly have difficulty speaking clearly, because they cannot hear how words sound. The man has "an impediment in his speech," which might indicate that he was not deaf from birth but that he learned some speech (however imperfectly) before becoming deaf.
▪ There is a significant parallel between the deaf man and Jesus' disciples. The man can neither hear nor speak properly. The disciples cannot understand what Jesus is telling them, and are thus hampered in their proclamation. They, too, need Jesus' touch so that they might see, hear, and understand. We, too, need Jesus' touch so that we might understand. Just as Jesus' first disciples failed to understand and to proclaim him faithfully, the church today often experiences the same failings:
▪ The church too easily tolerates divisions within its midst-racial, gender, national, denominational, and socio-economic-because crossing these dividing lines makes us so uncomfortable. We find it far easier to stay with our own kind than to reach out to those who are different. However, Jesus' visit to the Decapolis demonstrates his commitment to those who are different and calls us to share that commitment. In these and a thousand other ways, we demonstrate our own blindness and deafness. We, too, need Christ's healing touch.
Jesus "took him aside from the multitude, privately" (v. 33a). We don't know why Jesus takes the man aside for healing. Perhaps Jesus' action is related to his desire in the previous story to keep his presence secret (v. 24).
"and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue" (v. 33b). This healing is very different from that of the woman's daughter. In that story, Jesus took no action other than to report the healing to the mother (v. 29). If Jesus seemed too-little-engaged in that instance, he seems too-much-engaged in this one. He puts his fingers into the man's ears. He spits and touches the man's tongue. These are common healing procedures. If we were offended by Jesus' sharp words to the woman (v. 27), now we are offended by the fingers in the ears and the spittle on the tongue. If Jesus could heal the woman's daughter without even a word, why does he not do the same for this man?
"Looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him,'Ephphatha!' that is, 'Be opened'"(v. 34). Looking to heaven demonstrates Jesus' dependency on the Father. His sigh demonstrates his sympathy and compassion. "Ephphatha" is an Aramaic word, which Mark translates for his Gentile readers-"Be opened."
"Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was released" (Greek: eluthe ho desmos tes glosses-was loosened the bond of the tongue) (v. 35) The image is that of a man whose tongue was in bondage-literally tongue-tied-and whose tongue, at Jesus' command, finds freedom of movement and expression. While Jesus puts his fingers in the man's ears and touches his tongue, it is only when Jesus utters his authoritative word that the man's tongue is loosened (Guelich, 395).
MARK 7:36-37 - THEY WERE ASTONISHED BEYOND MEASURE
36 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. 37 They were utterly astonished, saying, "He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
"He commanded them that they should tell no one" (v. 36a). The irony is that the deaf/mute man can now speak clearly, but Jesus forbids him and his friends to speak of this miracle-the most important thing that has ever happened to him. Jesus has commanded silence in several earlier instances-of unclean spirits (1:25, 34; 3:12)-of a leper (1:44)-and of the little girl's parents (5:43). Why would this be?
• When Jesus' mother pushed him to solve the wine problem at Cana of Galilee, Jesus responded, "My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4). The timing was not yet right for Jesus to reveal his Godly power. That would be especially true in this overtly Gentile and pagan land.
• A successful exorcism might draw crowds of petitioners and curiosity seekers who would take Jesus' ministry in a direction that he did not want to go.
• Or it could be that Jesus models his ministry on the Servant motif found in Isaiah 49:1-6, where God acts through concealment and hiddenness.
"but the more he commanded them, so much the more widely they proclaimed (ekerusson-from kerusso) it" (v. 36b). The word kerusso (proclaim) is related to the word kerygma, which is the preaching of the Gospel by the early church. Just as in the previous story (v. 24), Jesus will not be permitted anonymity or privacy. However, Mark gives no hint that the crowd's kerygma-their proclamation-is bad (v. 36). Instead he portrays them as "astounded beyond measure" (v. 37).
"They were astonished beyond measure, saying, 'He has done all things well'" (v. 37a). Their proclamation, "he has done everything well" (v. 37), hearkens back to Genesis 1:31: "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good."
Their assessment, "he makes even the deaf hear, and the mute speak" (v. 37b), alludes to Isaiah 35:5-6a: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy." This allusion is strengthened by the use of the word mogilalos (speech impediment) in v. 32. This word is used only twice in the Bible-here and in Isaiah 35:6 (LXX-the Septuagint or Greek version of the Old Testament).
The Isaiah passage looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and the crowd's proclamation in verse 37 reveals Jesus as the Messiah. In the next chapter, Peter will confess Jesus as Messiah (8:27-30), but the crowd (perhaps without fully realizing the significance of their proclamation) has already beaten him to it.
Mark 6:24-37 BibleRef Commentary
CONTEXT: 1. Mk. 7:24-30 follows a lengthy dissertation on what makes a person clean or unclean. Jesus takes His disciples to Gentile territory. There, He acts in strict contrast to the elders' traditions by interacting closely with Gentiles. First, He heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Mark's account of the faith of the Canaanite woman is relatively short. Matthew 15:21-28, written specifically to Jews, is fleshed out to better drive home the point. Through the end of chapter 7 and into chapter 8, He heals a deaf man and several of his neighbors (Matthew 15:24-30). Finally, He decisively dismisses any concern about clean or unclean food by providing a meal for four thousand, many of whom are undoubtedly Gentiles. 2. Mk. 7:31-37 mentions only this one healed man and is the only Gospel to do so, while Matthew 15:29-31 describes Jesus healing a great crowd. It's possible that this one healing created the crowd mentioned in Matthew. Healing the deaf is associated with God's direct blessing (Isaiah 35:5) and the Old Testament does not record any account of a literally deaf person being healed; most mentions of ''deaf'' people are references to those who are spiritually hardened. The people praise Jesus not only for healing the deaf and mute man, but for doing it well.
v. 24: Jesus has spent much of the previous two chapters trying to find a quiet place for the disciples and Himself. He tried the east coast of the Sea of Galilee but was driven out by the people who were afraid of His power (Mark 5:1-20). He then brought them to the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, but was met by five thousand men, plus women and children, practically before the boat landed (Mark 6:30-44).
Now He travels to the region of Tyre and Sidon, about twenty miles northwest of Capernaum. Tyre and Sidon are the major cities of a district known as the economic bully of Galilee, and the people are not loved by the Jews. Josephus called the Tyrians "our bitterest enemies." It's reasonable to expect that Jesus and His followers can avoid the Jewish crowds in a hostile Gentile district.
In the Old Testament, "Tyre and Sidon" represents the pagan world. Sidon the city is west of Damascus, and Tyre is south and a bit west of Sidon and north of Caesarea. Technically, the region is Canaanite, but the Greeks called it Phoenicia after the purple dye for which they were famous. Tyre wasn't always antagonistic toward Israel; the king sent cedar and craftsmen to help King David build his palace (2 Samuel 5:11) and did the same to help Solomon with the temple (1 Kings 5:8-11). Although the region survived Nebuchadnezzar, it was conquered by Alexander the Great.
This and the time spent in Decapolis are the only times Jesus leaves the Tetrarchy. This is the only time Jesus leaves the historical borders of Israel. In order to train His disciples, Jesus has to leave the country. The thought begs the question, do we give our spiritual leaders the space to rest? Or do we demand so much they must seek rest outside the reach of the church?
v. 25: The account in Matthew 15 gives more flesh to Mark's bare-bones narrative. The woman cries out, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon" (Matthew 15:22). She falls at His feet, a humble act duplicated by only a few amongst the many jostling crowds. She enters a private residence to see Him, an act Jesus sees as bold and faithful (Mark 2:1-5; Matthew 15:28).
It's likely she heard of Jesus from early on in His ministry. At some point around the time He finalized His twelve disciples, Jesus was nearly crushed by a large crowd "from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon" (Mark 3:7-8). She would have heard that Jesus can both heal and exorcise demons (Mark 3:10-11).
Most striking, however, is that she calls Jesus "O Lord, Son of David." "Lord" could refer to an understanding that Jesus is God, but it more likely means she is submitting to Him as an authority. "Son of David" has only one meaning: Jesus is the promised descendent of David who will sit on the throne forever-He is the Jewish Messiah. How a Canaanite woman came to understand this about Jesus is unknown. How she understood it when the scribes and Pharisees, experts of the Jewish Scriptures, did not is mind-boggling.
v. 26: As Jesus tries to rest in a home in the Gentile region of Tyre, a Canaanite woman enters the house seeking healing for her daughter. Canaanites were the original inhabitants of the Promised Land. They lived on the shore of the Mediterranean from Lebanon to nearly Egypt, and east to the Jordan River. Descended from Noah's grandson Canaan (Genesis 9:18-25), the Canaanites were known for being wicked and idolatrous. But this woman recognizes Jesus as the Son of David, Messiah of the Jews (Matthew 15:22).
Some versions say the woman is Greek. The woman is Hellenistic and speaks Greek, but ethnically she is a Canaanite and geographically she is Syrophoenician. Syrophoenicia is a portmanteau of "Syria," the Roman province which administers the republic of Tyre, and "Phoenicia," the Greek term for the region known for its purple dye. Syrophoenicia stands in contrast to Libophoenicia which belongs to Carthage in North Africa.
Mark states that the woman begs; Matthew adds specifics. As Jesus seemingly ignores her plea, the woman continues to the point that the disciples ask Jesus to make her leave (Matthew 15:23). Like with the woman with an issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34) and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus doesn't act until everyone's attention is where He wants it. This is part of the reason for His denial: a deliberate tactic to bring out an important point. We don't know why this woman is so desperate, but considering another demon tried to throw a young boy in fire and water (Mark 9:17-27), her determination is understandable.
v. 27: Matthew gives more context to this particular encounter. This Canaanite woman is begging Jesus to free her demon-possessed daughter, while the disciples beg Jesus to send her away (Matthew 15:23). Once Jesus has the disciples' attention, He tells the woman, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). The stage is set to demonstrate the faith and wisdom of a Gentile woman.
She responds by kneeling before Him. She is a Gentile from a nation that treats Jews poorly. She likely knows how little respect Jewish religious leaders have for Gentile women (John 4:9). She is educated enough to understand and respond to Jesus' riddles. But right now she humbles herself before the Jewish Messiah (Matthew 15:22) and says, "Lord, help me" (Matthew 15:25). The woman understands Jesus' metaphor. The "children" are the Jews (Deuteronomy 14:1) and "bread" is God's provision in whatever form it may take. She is the "dog," and although He uses a diminutive form of the word that means household pet-rather than an insulting remark-it's still not very flattering.
Despite the cultural baggage behind the Jewish tradition of calling Gentiles "dogs" and Jesus' seeming dismissal, the woman catches something that the disciples will take years to understand: Jesus the Messiah came for the Jews first but not only (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16-17). She takes the chance that if Jesus has plans to reach the Gentiles later, He can make an exception and save her daughter now.
Some scholars have a different view. Instead of great theological significance, the interaction may have more to do with the household setting. The term "dog" is diminutive, meaning the household pets that get the scraps the children drop. The children are the disciples who need rest and nourishment (bread). The woman is disturbing their peace, and it is Jesus' priority to make sure His disciples get what they need before yet another person steals His attention. It's possible the woman recognizes the metaphor in the setting-she as household puppy who is distracting the Master from the children-and not as a racial slur. And Jesus may be reluctant because if He heals her daughter there's no telling who she will tell. He might once again become swarmed by mob (Mark 4:1; 5:21; 6:34), this time Gentiles in search of magic. More likely, He isn't reluctant at all. He just wants the situation to be clear: that He also came for Gentiles, that she is clever and able to understand His teaching, and that the disciples have hardened their hearts to what Jesus is trying to teach them (Mark 8:17) and think too much of themselves and their position with Jesus (Mark 10:13-16).
v. 28: The Canaanites have feuded and warred with Israel since the time of Joshua, but now a Canaanite woman kneels before Jesus, begging Him to free her daughter from a demon. He tells her, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs" (Mark 7:27), and she sees her chance.
Unlike the disciples who continually show fear and anxiety (Mark 4:38; 6:37; 8:4), the woman has faith that all she needs is crumbs. She doesn't even ask Jesus to come to her house. She believes that whatever attention and power He has to spare is enough.
"Lord" is from the Greek root word kurios and is used to identify someone with authority. Scripture also uses the title of Jesus to mean Messiah (John 20:28), but here she probably means "sir." She places herself under His authority and discretion. She has one request and trusts that He can and will meet it. This is the faith the Nazarenes couldn't understand (Mark 6:1-6).
Most of the Jews don't understand Jesus' riddles or parables and have to ask Him to explain. The Canaanite woman understands immediately and plays along. The Gospels show that she is not the only woman to show insight into Jesus' character. The woman at the well might have been trying to dodge Jesus' choice of topic, or taking the unexpected chance to have a theological discussion with a Jewish prophet (John 4:19-20). Mary of Bethany may have been the only person who fully realized Jesus was going to die (Mark 14:3-9).
The image of the children and the dogs is a metaphor for Christianity. God fed the Jews with truth until they could take no more and hanged Jesus on a cross. Then He sent the gospel to the Gentiles (Romans 3:29). Those who are happy to receive the crumbs under the table will find themselves at the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9).
v. 29: The woman is a Canaanite, from a line whose patriarch disgraced Noah (Genesis 9:20-25), and which God had told the Israelites to eliminate (Deuteronomy 20:17). But Jesus says, "O woman, great is your faith!" (Matthew 15:28). The Pharisees with their extensive hand-washing traditions and their fear of ceremonial uncleanness are upstaged by a Gentile woman kneeling on the floor. They add rule upon rule because they don't have faith that God will keep them from being defiled. The woman humbles herself and asks, which is what God wants from all of us.
Jesus and the disciples have searched for a quiet place where they can rest and where Jesus can teach, but have been thwarted by demons (Mark 5:1-13) and unexpected mobs (Mark 6:30-34). In a private home in a Gentile district, a woman comes to demonstrate the greatest lesson of all. Salvation knows no traditions to follow, no boundaries to observe, no historical/cultural baggage to acknowledge. Just faith.
It's easy today to become overburdened by religious "shoulds." Traditions and social niceties can be expressions of our faith and a convenient way to maintain order and peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). But we must never put manmade convention above the needs of others or the worship of God. As C. S. Lewis said, unpleasant things are not interruptions of our lives; they are our lives, and many are God-sent.
v. 30: This passage is of great importance to the Gentile readers of Mark's Gospel as it reveals Jesus' acceptance of both Jews and Gentiles who come to Him by faith. Though His earthly mission largely focused on the Jewish people, Jesus was and is available to all who will come to Him. Further, His acceptance of a woman kneeling before Him, asking for help, again shows Jesus as a person who cares about the needs of women and responds to their concerns. In a time when women's rights are often neglected, Jesus expresses much compassion and respect to the women who come to Him.
At the time of the writing of this commentary, western culture is reeling at the fusillade of revelations of abuse and violence against women and ethnic minorities. No matter how many of these accusations have ties to a church, a denomination, or a "Christian" organization, it's essential to understand that this was never Jesus' heart. He condemns religious leaders who take advantage of their charges (Ezekiel 34:1-10) and welcomes anyone with faith-even a woman from a nation antagonistic toward Jews. Paul said that in the church, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Jesus here shows that there is no distinction between Jew and Canaanite. And today, there is no distinction between white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or any other earthly ethnicity. As Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21: "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
v. 31: Tyre was originally an island city off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea about thirty-four miles northeast of Capernaum. Sidon is also on the coast, about twenty miles north of Tyre. The text doesn't say that Jesus entered into the cities, just that He went into the region of which Tyre and Sidon were significant population centers. Tyre and Sidon are inhabited by Hellenized (Greek-cultured) Canaanites. The area is administered by Syria in service to the Roman Empire. The region is also called "Syrophoenicia"-"Syro" because of its ties to Syria, and "Phoenicia" for the purple dye the residents collected from murex sea snails.
Decapolis, by contrast, is east of Capernaum, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The northwestern arm borders the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the eastern shore of part of the Jordan River. The body of the district lies yet further east. "Deca" means ten and "polis" refers to cities. The cities referred to are actually city-states which share a similar culture but are administratively independent of each other.
Jesus apparently designs this circuitous route to avoid the district of Galilee. Their exact location in Decapolis isn't given, and neither is the particular shore on which Jesus earlier rescued the man possessed by a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-13), but they are in the same area. The last time He had been in Decapolis, the crowd had begged Him to go, but He told the man to tell his friends what God had done for him (Mark 5:14-20). Apparently the man's testimony acts as a sort of target-softening, and this time the people are much more receptive.
v. 32: The last time Jesus and the Twelve were in this area, the crowd drove them away (Mark 5:17). Now the villagers and farmers rush to greet Him, hopeful He will heal a deaf man. "Deaf" is from the Greek root word kophos and means dull of hearing. The word often encompasses the state of being unable to speak, as well. "Speech impediment" belies the speculation that the man is completely mute. The Greek root word mogilalos means that either he speaks with difficulty or others find him difficult to understand. Either way, the description suggests he was not born deaf.
That the people ask Jesus to lay hands on their friend indicates that the disability may have been caused by trauma. They, at least, did not believe it to be due to demon possession like the mute man in Matthew 9:32-34. When Jesus heals physical ailments, He typically touches the victim (Mark 1:31; 5:23; 6:5; 8:25). When He frees people from demons, He does so with the power and authority of His words (Mark 1:25; 5:7-8).
It appears that the locals like or respect this man. Like the crippled man who was let through the ceiling (Mark 2:1-12) and the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), they bring him to Jesus. Neither the man with a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-13) nor blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) received such a courtesy. Fortunately, even when we don't have friends to lift us up to God, He hears us where we are.
v. 33: We can't know what the deaf man thinks of all this, but Jesus shows particular gentleness with him. The man seems to be in a vulnerable state; Jesus doesn't use him as a public object lesson, like He does the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34) and the Canaanite woman (Mark 7:24-30). Instead, Jesus pulls him away, perhaps so he won't be overwhelmed when his hearing returns.
Then, Jesus lets the man know what is going to happen. Spit is thought to have healing powers in Jewish and Greek tradition. By going through the process of touching his ears and tongue, Jesus invites the understanding of the man who can't hear what was going on.
This is very similar to how Jesus heals the blind man in Mark 8:22-26. People bring the man to Jesus, but Jesus leads the man out of the village, spits on his eyes, and heals him. It's important to remember that we can "bring" our friends to Jesus in prayer, but His work is an intimate experience between Himself and the one who needs healing. We cannot heal others; we need to trust Christ.
Many people are healed by touching Jesus' robe (Mark 6:56), and, on our side, we often ask for healing or help in a similar kind of immediate but anonymous way. We need to remember that God wants our relationship more than our comfort. We grow closer to Him when He pulls us aside and interacts with us, showing us where He is working and not just relieving our inconvenience or pain and letting us go on our merry way.
v. 34: Jesus and the disciples are in Decapolis, possibly near the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. A group of people have brought Him a man who is deaf and can't speak clearly. Jesus has pulled him away from the crowd and indicates what He plans to do.
Jesus tends to look up in situations where He wishes to direct attention to God, notably, when He feeds the five thousand (Mark 6:41) and raises Lazarus (John 11:41). "Ephphatha" is either Hebrew or Aramaic for "be opened." Like with the raising of the little girl (Mark 5:41), Mark records the original words, perhaps to show Jesus did not use a magical spell.
There's a lot of confusion over the fact that although Jesus is God, He often prays to God. The topic touches on the nature of the Trinity and whether Jesus is all-powerful during His life on earth. Jesus clearly states that as a person, He is separate from the Father (John 5:19-27). In fact, He "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Jesus' power comes from the Holy Spirit, not Himself (Mark 3:22-30).
Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are members of the Trinity. They are of the same essence, but they are different persons with different roles. In His time on earth, Jesus learns obedience to God (Hebrews 5:8) and asks God for power (John 11:41-42) and wisdom (Mark 1:35; 6:46). Jesus, the only perfect man who ever lived, serves as our example; no matter how much we think we have what we need, we still need to ask for God's power.
v. 35: The healing of the deaf and mute is a prophecy, directly identified with the work of God: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy" (Isaiah 35:5-6). Like many Messianic prophecies, part of Jesus' earthly ministry was to bring a taste of what we will experience in the Millennial Kingdom and on into eternity.
The first recorded miracle that Jesus performed was turning the water into wine at a wedding in Cana. When the master of the feast tasted the wine, he told the bridegroom, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now" (John 2:10). Jesus didn't just make wine so that the wedding party wouldn't be embarrassed. He made better wine than the groom had been able to afford. In the same way, Jesus has completely healed the deaf man with a speech impediment. Not just well enough to communicate, but completely (Mark 7:37).
This is hope for those of us who suffer now. We many never see complete healing in this world; those who insist that you will be totally healed if you have "enough faith" are false teachers. But those who trust in Christ for their salvation can rest in the knowledge that we will spend eternity completely whole. We will not shed tears, suffer pain, or feel sorrow (Revelation 21:4). We will never be separated by death again (Revelation 20:6). And, greatest of all, we will spend eternity with the God who healed us (1 John 3:2; Revelation 21:1-4).
v. 36: Very rarely does Jesus tell those He healed to spread the word. He did give the order to the man who was released from a legion of demons (Mark 5:19), which may be the reason why Jesus is crowded with those who need healing now (Matthew 15:29-31). Most of the time, Jesus tells the newly healed to either remain quiet or show themselves to the priests for verification (Mark 1:44; Luke 17:14), particularly if they had leprosy. When word does spread around, the sheer number of people who want Him delays the more important work of training the disciples and sometimes threatens Jesus' safety (Mark 3:9).
Today, we need to be careful how we proclaim Jesus. He gives us specific promises in His Word that tell us what to expect in a life devoted to Him. They include gifts for the service of others (1 Corinthians 12), conviction of our sins (John 16:7-11), forgiveness (Acts 13:38), and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). They do not guarantee complete or instantaneous physical healing (2 Corinthians 12:7), immediately- or fully-healed relationships (Matthew 10:35), an easy lifestyle (Matthew 8:20), or a long life (Acts 7:54-60). Healing and restoration are possible, but not certain during earthly life. Many of God's promises to us must be accepted, or even fought for, such as the fruit of the Spirit which we can't receive until we lay down our own desires (Galatians 5:22-24).
Jesus doesn't want those He heals to proclaim what He has done, yet, because physical healing isn't His primary mission. Like any miracle, the healings and exorcisms affirm His position as a prophet of God (John 10:37-38), but they are secondary to His more important purpose: to reveal the way of salvation and train others to spread the gospel after He leaves. Many seek signs, but the gospel is Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:21-23). It is this message that we need to spread.
v. 37: When the crowd brings the deaf man with the speech impediment to Jesus, they don't ask Him to heal him but to lay His hands on him (Mark 7:32). It could very well be that the people don't expect healing, but just a blessing. "Astonished" is from the Greek root word ekplesso and means to be struck with amazement, as if someone hits you. "Beyond all measure" is from the Greek root word huperperiossos and is used only here in the New Testament. When the crowd says Jesus has done "all things" well, it suggests they knew of His success in healing in other areas-perhaps from the man Jesus freed from a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20).
Although the term for "speech impediment" is used in Mark 7:32, here the crowd seems to say the man was mute. The Greek root word alalos can mean completely speechless or just impossible to understand. The healing brings to mind the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 35:5-6, in which God promises, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." Earlier, Jesus did not correct the Canaanite woman when she called Him "O Lord, Son of David" (Matthew 15:22). Soon, Jesus will lead Peter to confess that Jesus is, in fact, the Jewish Messiah (Mark 8:27-30).
Despite Jesus' request that the crowd keep this secret, they can't contain it (Mark 7:36). Before long He will pull away to a mountain where many will demand healing, including the prophesied lame, blind, and crippled (Matthew 15:29-31). Yet again, the day will grow late, and the people will get hungry. The Pharisees scolded Jesus' disciples for not practicing the manmade tradition of washing hands before eating. Meanwhile, Jesus is happy to interact with a Canaanite woman at the table (Mark 7:24-30) and share bread with some four thousand Jews and Gentiles, sitting on the ground (Mark 8:1-10).
Mark 7:24-37 Commentary - In Desperate Need
Tell us about a time when you were desperate for help. What did you do? Let's see how Jesus deals with two people in this passage who are in desperate need.
Let's read verses 24-30.
When Jesus enters a house in the vicinity of Tyre, why does He try to "keep His presence secret"? (Probably to get some needed rest, since his previous efforts to do so had been interrupted: 6:30-34, 53-56.)
What is odd and unconventional about the Syrophoenician woman's request? (It violates Jewish religious tradition for a woman, especially a Gentile woman, to approach a Jewish rabbi and make a request of him. So in terms of breaking tradition, it is linked with the scene of our previous study.)
Why does Jesus answer her with what seem to be harsh words? (This is possibly the most hard to understand saying of Jesus. It could be that He was merely testing her faith. Let's not let His reference to "dogs" blind us to the fact that He did show care to her by granting her request.)
What do His metaphors of "children" and "dogs" refer to? (Jews and Gentiles. It was common for Jews to refer to Gentiles as "dogs". Jesus "was not in any sense recognizing this description as accurate. He desired to see whether the woman was ready to take such a lowly position in order to receive a healing." [Cole 123])
What does Jesus reveal here about the strategy and scope of His ministry? (His primary focus was on Jews, but He later sent His disciples "into all the world". His word "first" extends hope to the Gentiles, and that's more than most first century Jews would do.)
Why was the woman undeterred by Christ's reply? (F.F. Bruce writes: "What if there was a twinkle in His eye as He spoke?....The written record can preserve the spoken words; it cannot convey the tone of voice in which they were said. Maybe the tone of voice encouraged the woman to persevere." [Bruce 111])
What does she add to Christ's mini-parable? (Sure the bread should go to the children, but what of the crumbs they drop as they eat? He need not "be deflected from his main mission to the Jews in order to do something for her daughter."
In what ways is the Syrophoenician woman a model for us? (She was humble, she was persistent in bringing her needs to Jesus, and she had faith that Jesus had ample power and good will to meet her needs.)
Let's read verses 31-37.
Who does Jesus meet in the Decapolis? (A group of people bringing a deaf man for healing.)
What is exemplary about these people? (They cared enough to bring a needy friend to Jesus, and had faith that Jesus could heal him, a good model for our prayer and witness. We saw a similar scene in 2:3-4 where a paralytic's friends brought him to Jesus.)
What is the first thing Jesus does with the deaf man? ("...He took him aside, away from the crowd...")
Why do you think Jesus did this? (Jesus didn't throw miracles into the crowds; He cared for individuals personally.)
How did Jesus heal this man who was handicapped with deafness and a speech impediment? ("Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then He spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Ephphatha!'", meaning "Be opened".)
Why does Jesus use this seemingly odd technique instead of simply pronouncing him healed? (Jesus is communicating His intentions to the man and possibly looking for at least the smallest response of faith from him. "All the actions of verses 33 and 34 were miming his present need, the course of healing, and the manner in which such healing alone could come, in a way which even a deaf mute could understand, i.e. the blocked ears opened, spitting an impediment away from the tongue, the upward glance and sigh of prayer." [Cole 124-125])
How does the crowd respond to the healing? (They spread the word of it against Christ's command. They are "overwhelmed with amazement". William Lane writes that "Mark intends an allusion to Isaiah 35:5-6" [Lane 268] which reveals the messianic significance of this miracle: "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.")
Let's approach Jesus with faith that He can meet our needs, and praise Him who "has done everything well."