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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 15

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,

Then the scribes and Pharisees: Jesus now resumes His encounter with the scribes and Pharisees that began two chapters earlier. It is impossible to know how much time has elapsed since Jesus’ arrival at Gennesaret (14:34). Likely, by this time He has traveled to a new area of His teaching circuit.

who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying: The previous attack by the religious leaders seemed to have come from local Pharisees in Galilee. Now, however, leaders from Jerusalem come to challenge Jesus. The fame of His works in Galilee, and His two previous visits to Jerusalem (John 2:13; John 5:1) have caught their attention.

It is natural that these powerful men arrive from Jerusalem. Broadus says, "Jerusalem was the seat of the great schools, as well as of the temple worship, and the most eminent men were congregated there" (332). Jerusalem also seems to be the seat of conspiracy against Jesus. Therefore, the Pharisee’s trip to the unsophisticated Galilee represents their growing concern about this new and enormously popular rabbi. Their mission is to spy on and discredit Him.

Verse 2

Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders: The Pharisees do not attack Jesus because He violates the "Law" but because His disciples violate a scribal tradition. Their criticism of the twelve implies that Jesus is responsible for the actions of His students.

for they wash not their hands when they eat bread: Mark’s gospel, presumably written to Gentile converts, explains the background behind the hand washing conflict (7:2-4). Matthew omits such details since his Jewish audience is familiar with rabbinic custom. Mark records that the issue arises when the Pharisees see the disciples eating "with defiled," or unwashed hands. The issue, however, is more about ceremony than cleanliness. For the Pharisees, hand washing and other washing practices are an outward show of piety.

As with many rabbinic traditions, "hand washing" stems from a misapplication of God’s law. While Mosaic Law is very strict about physical cleanliness and defilement (Leviticus 5:2 ff; Leviticus 7:19-21; Leviticus 11:13-15; Leviticus 15:11; Leviticus 17:15; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 21:4; Leviticus 22:1-9; Numbers 5:3; Numbers 6:9; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 19:13; Deuteronomy 14:3-21; Deuteronomy 21:22-23), God does not command the hand washing ritual that is under consideration in this passage. Such traditions are an attempt to put a "fence around the Law." Plummer says that this fence consists of a vast number of prohibitions and precepts designed to protect and supplement the law (211). Such regulations are extra laws, not given by God, which are designed to keep Jews from breaking the actual law of God.

Ritual hand washing probably began innocently as the rabbis tried to ensure that sacred offerings were not eaten in defilement (Edersheim, Life vol. III 10). Leviticus 15:11 may be one of the key proof texts. Once the practice became an ordinance of the elders, however, it was regarded as obligatory. Edersheim notes that in many cases tradition came to be more venerated than the words of Moses (15). The Talmud of Jerusalem says, "The words of the Scribes are more lovely than the words of the Law; for the words of the law are weighty and light, but the words of the Scribes are all weighty" (Broadus 332).

Eating with "common hands" is unthinkable for the scrupulous Jew of Jesus’ day. The practice, which began as the mark of a Pharisee, has become the mark of any true "Jew." To neglect hand washing is as gross a violation as carnal defilement. Jews believe that not upholding the tradition will produce poverty, at the least, if not temporal destruction. Bread taken in such a careless manner is regarded as filth.

Even the frequency of "hand washing" approaches the ridiculous. Hand washing is not only done before meals (known as "first waters") but also afterwards (known as "second waters"). Edersheim says, "Afterwards because something might be left on the hands that might prove injurious to the eyes" (Life vol. III 10—check all sources). Eventually the tradition expands, and the most scrupulous Jews begin to wash between the courses of the meal.

The restrictions on the water for washing are equally as strict. First, the water must be pure, not having been used previously for any other purpose. If a foreign object has fallen into the water, it is defiled and must be discarded. To ensure such purity, water is stored in large vessels or jars usually made of stone (John 2:6-8). Jews then draw water out of these containers using a special dipper that must hold at least the equivalent of one and a half eggshells full (Edersheim, Life III 11).

The washing is also rigorous. Water must be poured on both hands which are then lifted skyward. This allows the water polluted by the hand to run off the wrist and down the arm. If the water remains short of the wrist, the hands are still unclean. So important is this procedure that one Rabbi says, "It is better to go four miles to water than to incur guilt by neglecting hand-washing" (Broadus 333). It is said that Rabbi Akaba, when imprisoned and having his allowance of water reduced, used what little water he had to wash his hands before eating.

Verse 3

But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

Jesus does not deny their objection but temporarily dismisses it as irrelevant. He will address the issue later in verses10-11. He and His disciples have certainly violated manmade tradition, but the scribes have violated God’s law; therefore, Jesus’ rebuttal is not an ad hominid argument designed to justify His disciples. The real issue is the law of God and the Pharisees’ willingness to violate it in order to keep their tradition.

Notice that Jesus says "your" tradition as if this particular group has conceived it. Although the tradition probably began with the "elders" as mentioned in verse 2, by saying "your" Jesus holds these followers of such tradition personally culpable. To continue in something that ultimately violates God’s law is inexcusable even if it stems from time-honored sages or situations.

Verse 4

For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.

For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: The Pharisees’ only evidence for attacking Jesus is tradition, yet Jesus uses God’s word to object to their tradition (Corban–see verse 5). The Pharisees’ tradition prevents them from obeying God’s law of honoring their parents.

The fifth commandment of the Decalogue is the building block of any society. Unless children honor their parents (authority), chaos will ensue and a nation will ultimately fall. Furthermore, when one does not honor his parents, he shows contempt for higher power–God. By developing a tradition that circumvents the respect God demands for parents, these Jews are actually showing contempt for the authority of God.

and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death: Exodus 21:17 stipulates the death penalty for those who do not honor their parents. Mosaic Law forbids "cursing" father or mother, but the command is broad enough to encompass many disrespectful acts including the tradition of "Corban."

Verse 5

But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;

Honoring one’s parents includes providing for their physical needs. The Jerusalem Talmud says, "A son is bound to nourish his father, yea to beg for him" (Broadus 334). The scribes, however, develop a way around this with the concept of "Corban." Mark uses the technical term (7:11) while Matthew simply describes the practice of saying, "It is a gift."

"Corban" is the practice whereby one dedicates his wealth to God or the temple for sacred purposes. Once the vow is taken (the gift is made to God), it is considered "binding" even if other obligations arise. Ellicott says, "The idea seems to be that it was sacrilege to divert to lower human uses that which had been consecrated to God" (212). Broadus says that devoting one’s wealth to God was thought sufficient enough reason to set aside the highest obligations, even that to one’s parents (334).

It is difficult to say whether the practice Jesus condemns initially stemmed from a desire to circumvent the command to "honor one’s parents" or whether it arose out of a sincere desire to keep people from breaking their vows. The Pharisees see themselves as protectors and "fence builders" of the law–an attitude that leads to their ridiculous hand washing tradition (verse 2). Making a vow under Mosaic Law is serious; once a person promises something to God, he is bound to keep it (Numbers 30:2; Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Fowler asks, however, whether a man is free to give to God that which God has already obligated him to use for other purposes—in this case the care of his parents (342). Fowler further says, "Here were men who were trying to be so holy that they could not use their ’holy’ money to obey the command of God!" (344).

It is unlikely, however, that all Pharisees were noble in their motivation. This is especially the case when one considers that wealth dedicated might be retained in one’s possession indefinitely for his own use (Broadus 334). Thus, some Jews, not wishing to care for their parents, might have taken a vow of "Corban" to avoid responsibility. Broadus notes that the Talmud "mentions various ingenious expedients for evading Corban and other vows, when one afterwards changed his mind" (334).

Verse 6

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.

And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free: This verse simply concludes the Pharisees’ rationale of the previous verse. By saying, "It is a gift to God," these Jews believe they are "free" from honoring their father or mother. Their tradition not only permits withholding "help" but actually encourages it (Mark 7:12).

Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition: Jesus contrasts their "law" to God’s law. Tradition is not necessarily wrong in every instance. In this case, however, their tradition stands in direct conflict with God’s law.

Verse 7

Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

Here Jesus returns to a familiar epithet. As in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the Pharisees as actors on a stage—hypocrites (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 7:5). With pretended piety, these Jews give their wealth to God—the very same wealth that if they obey God, goes to their aging parents.

The prophet Isaiah encountered a similar attitude with the Jews of his day. Thus, the prophet’s words speak not only to his own generation but also to the one under the sound of Jesus’ voice. These scribes are condemned by both Isaiah and Jesus.

Verses 8-9

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

The quote is substantially from Isaiah 29:13 in the Greek Septuagint (LXX). Here Jesus paraphrases as He selects only those thoughts from the passage that fit His purpose (see Broadus 336 and Fowler 350 for a full discussion).

Jesus identifies three problems with these Jewish leaders.

1. Hypocritical formalism: They pretend to be godly by speaking pious things and insisting on proper external appearance but their hearts are far from God.

2. Self deception: They go through the motions and punctiliously perform, but God considers their worship a mockery.

3. Improper authority: Worship to God must be carried out as He wants. These Pharisees play by their own rules and substitute manmade tradition for Law. Therefore, their worship is vain, empty, and worthless. The Hebrew literally reads, "Their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men." The LXX says, "In vain they do worship teaching as doctrines the commandants of men." The thought, however, is the same. McGarvey says, "Fear toward God, if pure and rightly inspired, springs form the word of God and not from the commandment of man" (135).

McGarvey adds, "Every human addition to the commandments of God, so far as it induces any worship at all, induces vain worship, and there is probably not one such addition which does not, to a greater or less degree make some commandment void" (135).

Verse 10

And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:

Having exposed the evil of the Pharisees’ tradition by raising the standard of God’s authority, Jesus now turns His attention to the issue of cleanliness.

Apparently a crowd gathers while the discussion is going on. Dismissing the Pharisees with Isaiah’s stinging rebuke, Jesus now shifts His attention to the common people. They deserve His attention because they are the ones harassed and scattered by their hypocritical shepherds (9:36). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, now sets forth the truth. His words, "Hear and understand" (literally: be hearing) serve to underscore the message that follows.

Verse 11

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

The issue of "defilement" is paramount to the Jews, who vigorously avoid becoming "common, unclean, or polluted." Peter’s protest on the housetop at Joppa is one example of Jewish aversion to eating unclean food (Acts 10:14; Acts 11:8). The main purpose of Mosaic dietary ritual, however, is to demonstrate that God’s people must be spiritually pure. Many Jews miss this point and focus only on external purity. In this verse Jesus shows that it is not what goes into a man (i.e. food) that defiles him spiritually, but what comes out of an evil heart. Jesus uses "mouth" because of the previous question about eating, but other body parts can also demonstrate what is in the heart. For example, what one does with his hands reveals what is in his heart.

Verse 12

Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?

Then came his disciples, and said unto him: Mark 7:17 says that by this time Jesus and His disciples have retired to the "house." The disciples seem uneasy at what has just transpired. Important men have traveled all the way from Jerusalem to hear Jesus (15:1), and they have left insulted. In just a few short moments Jesus has quickly turned their own objections against them, He attacked their evil traditions, and He exposed their hypocrisy. Barclay says, "No wonder the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked. The very ground of their religion was cut from beneath their feet" (118). By asking their question, the disciples act as if Jesus does not realize what He is doing.

Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying: The question reveals the disciples’ immaturity. Jesus knows He has offended the scribes, but the bigger issue is that the scribes have offended God. The disciples fail to recognize that Jesus does not expose the Pharisees’ error simply to win a minor argument, but rather He exposes them so the common people will benefit and so that God’s law will be glorified.

Verse 13

But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.

In response to the disciples’ inquiry, Jesus sets forth another "parable." These Pharisees and their false doctrines are like weeds in a garden. God has neither planted them nor authorized their doctrine. It is appropriate, therefore, to root them out. To some extent, Jesus roots them out with His rebuke. Ultimately, however, they will be uprooted by God in the final judgment (13:29-30).

Verse 14

Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

Let them alone: Jesus reminds His disciples that they need to continue their mission without regard for the Pharisees. They should not become discouraged by the Pharisees’ attacks or cast their gospel pearls before swine. Jesus is not insinuating that false doctrine should be ignored, but rather that the disciples are not to try to appease these religious leaders–something the disciples apparently would like to do (verse 12).

they be blind leaders of the blind: "Blind" refers to those who are spiritually ignorant. It is apparent from Romans 2:19 that the Jews view themselves as "leaders of the blind." Here in Matthew, however, it is the leaders who are deliberately blind (John 3:19) because they willfully reject God’s word.

And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch: The illustration is vivid. When a blind man leads a blind man, both are in peril. Literally, the "ditch" or "pit" refers to holes that are dug in a field, collect water, and serve as drinking troughs for animals (MacArthur 462). Spiritually, the ditch or pit refers to doctrinal error and, ultimately, hell.

The sad truth of the parable is that both leader and follower fall into the same pit. While it is the leader’s fault that both are going astray, the follower has a responsibility to question the one in whom he puts his trust. There is responsibility on both leader and follower. Both must follow Jesus.

McGarvey beautifully writes, "As there is no leader who can see all the way that we have to travel except Jesus, let us take his word as our only guide, going only as it leads us. The word of God must be our pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night; we move when it moves, and stop where it stops" (136).

Verse 15

Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.

Peter is the spokesman for the group as he often is (16:16). His inquiry, however, is not about the illustration of verse 14 but about what was taught in verse 11. Broadus notes that "this parable" should actually be translated "the parable" (338).

Verse 16

And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?

The "ye" is emphatic in the Greek, underscoring Jesus’ feelings. The question is a mild rebuke. Like the Pharisees, the disciples also struggle with spiritual blindness. There is a difference between Jesus’ followers and the Pharisees, however. The disciples do not understand because they are spiritually immature. The influence of their Pharisaic world so permeates their thinking that they struggle with the concepts Jesus presents. The Pharisees, on the other hand, are blind because they choose to be blind. Jesus explains the parable to the disciples because they are sincere.

Verse 17

Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?

Physical food does not defile a person spiritually. Mark 7:18-19 adds, "Whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him because it does not enter his heart." Here "heart" refers to the spiritual and moral seat of man. Fowler says, "Purely physical processes, which have no relation to the will, the intellect, the emotions, or the conscience, can never really pollute or profane the heart" (367).

When eaten, food simply follows the natural process of entering the stomach and intestines and passing "out into the draught." The Greek word (aphedron—draught) literally means, "a place to which one retires to sit down (Lenski 592; Broadus 338). Thus, the term refers to a latrine.

Mark adds, "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ’clean’" (Mark 7:19, NIV). This addition is significant because it raises the question of whether or not Jesus respects Levitical law. The issue is best understood when one considers the nature of the Levitical dietary system. "Unclean" foods do not defile because they are inherently or objectively impure. They defile because of a person’s disobedience. God gives arbitrary and subjective restrictions that He expects men to follow. These laws, while physical, point toward a deeper spiritual "purity." Thus Lenski is right in saying that defilement comes through a man’s disregard of the Levitical law and "the disobedience he would voice by asking for such food and by justifying his eating thereof" (589).

By declaring all foods "pure," Jesus rises above the Mosaic system and cancels the subjective restrictions previously given. Fowler says that Jesus shows the basic goodness of God’s creation as opposed to the ascetic tendency to suspect certain aspects of God’s creation as intrinsically contaminating (368). Matthew omits the phrase about all foods being clean. This may be because he is writing to Jews who are still sensitive to Mosaic dietary laws. It will take time for many of these Jews to understand that the Old Law has passed away (Acts 10:10-16; Acts 11:9; Colossians 2:8-23).

Verse 18

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

The contrast is between that which goes in the body (food) and that which comes out of the body (moral filth). The Jews are so concerned about external purity that they overlook inner defilement. They fail to grasp the true essence of why God gives them their dietary restrictions in the first place (see verse 17).

Jesus shows that defiling words, thoughts, and actions stem from the heart. If the heart is right with God, outward purity follows. This is why Jesus blesses those who are pure in heart in Matthew 5:8. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Verse 19

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:

Every sin that one commits comes from the heart. Murder begins with anger. Adultery and fornication begin with lust. Theft begins with covetousness. False witnessing and blasphemy stem from disrespect for God or man. Although not exhaustive, this list illustrates what an evil heart can produce.

Verse 20

These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

Regardless of what the Pharisees try to accomplish through their traditions, they fail to understand that spiritual impurity does not come from eating with dirty hands. Impurity that condemns has its origin in the heart (Mark 7:21-23).

Verse 21

Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.

As in 14:13, Jesus again withdraws from the populated centers to avoid His enemies and the crowd. Here Jesus leaves the Capernaum area and travels northwest beyond the jurisdiction of Herod toward the Phoenician seaport cities of Tyre and Sidon. The term "coasts" more literally refers to the "surrounding area" or "parts" known as Syrophoenicia (Lenski 593). Broadus says, "It is then certain that our Lord went into the heathen country of Phoenicia, the nearest part of which was about thirty miles from Capernaum" (340). Ellicott notes that the journey might be made in one long, active day of walking (216).

This retreat is significant as it marks the only recorded instance of Jesus going to strictly Gentile territory. Tyre and Sidon were the point of comparison earlier when He condemned Chorazin and Bethsaida (11:21). Now Jesus actually enters the area. In so doing, He demonstrates that the dust of these heathen cities is no more defiling than that of Capernaum or any other city that rejects Him. Verse 24 makes it clear that the design of this trip is not to extend His ministry to Gentile territory, but rather is for rest and rejuvenation. Nevertheless, even in this non-Israel region, Jesus does not go unnoticed. Mark says that upon arriving, Jesus enters a house and wants no one to know it, but it cannot be hidden (Mark 7:24).

Verse 22

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.

And, behold: "Behold" draws attention to the remarkable encounter that now transpires with this Canaanite woman.

a woman of Canaan: The Canaanites were the original inhabitants of what later became the land of Israel (Genesis 10:15-18; Genesis 12:6; Judges 1:10). When Israel entered the land, they failed to drive out all the inhabitants as God commanded (Deuteronomy 7:2). In mentioning this woman, Matthew no doubt reminds his Jewish readers of this fact. This woman is from a pagan background. The story will carry special interest to Matthew’s Jewish audience who struggle to throw off their former prejudices. Mark describes the woman as "Greek" (Gentile), a "Syro-Phoenician" by birth (7:26). Phoenicians are descendants of the Canaanites who, during Jesus’ time, belong administratively to Syria. Mark probably uses this term to distinguish this woman from other groups such as the Libyan-Phoenicians of North Africa.

came out of the same coasts: The woman makes her request before Jesus can even fully enter the region of Tyre and Sidon. Lenski suggests that Jesus and His disciples are just finishing dining and are now interrupted as they leave the house (Mark 7:24). If this is the case, then the subsequent illustration of "bread crumbs" is more poignant.

and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil: This woman not only knows her desperate need for the Master, but she also recognizes His authority.

In asking for mercy on herself, the woman makes the plight of her small daughter her own. By combining "Lord" with "Son of David," she uses a common Messianic title and demonstrates her faith in Jesus. "Lord" is a term of respect. "Son of David" is a well-known Old Testament expression for the Messiah. Although a Gentile, this woman believes in the promise of a Jewish Messiah.

Verse 23

But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

But he answered her not a word: Jesus does not respond to the repetitious cries but continues on in silence. Matthew does not say why He does this, but perhaps He is testing her faith. Another possibility is that Jesus is allowing the scene to reach a climax before teaching a great spiritual lesson.

And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us: Although Jesus is silent, His disciples are not. They complain about the woman’s persistence and the public attention it brings. She is bothering them. Also, they are not happy with the way Jesus is handling the situation. Irritated, they demand that Jesus send her away.

It is easy to view the disciples’ request as callous, but while they are less than tolerant on more than one occasion, it is impossible to know their motives here. Lenski is quick to point out that the verb, "dismiss her" is neutral and can mean that the twelve want the woman to be sent away by fulfilling her request (595). McGarvey concurs with this view (138).

Verse 24

But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Jesus responds to the disciples, not the woman. His words are not designed to test the woman’s faith but to illustrate to His disciples the scope of His ministry. Jesus has healed other Gentiles (4:24; 15:30; 8:10) but only within the nation of Israel proper. If Jesus begins to perform miracles outside of Jewish soil, it might wrongly imply a transfer of His ministry from Jews to Gentiles. Such action might give the impression that Jesus is now including Gentiles in His gospel ministry. This inclusion will occur later with the giving of the Great Commission, but for now, Israel’s "lost sheep" are the target audience.

Nevertheless, in some sense this woman’s faith brings her within the scope of Jesus’ ministry. Therefore, as Broadus correctly notes, Jesus is right in granting her request (342).

Mark omits the events of verses 23-24. Broadus suggests this is because his audience, being Gentile, would not have understood such a saying as verse 24 and might have been repelled by it (Broadus 342).

Verse 25

Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

Not deterred by Jesus’ lack of response, the woman prostrates herself before Jesus as if to block His path (McGarvey 138). The Greek word translated "worshiped him" (proskuneo) means to prostrate oneself in homage. In short, she throws herself at the feet of Jesus and worships Him. Her request for "help" carries the idea of rescue or the need for succor when in extreme distress or danger (Alexander 420).

Verse 26

But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

Mark says, "Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs" (7:27). Jews often refer to Gentiles as "dogs" to demonstrate their distain. Dogs in ancient times were unclean and a public menace because they scavenged off garbage and dead carcasses. Here, however, the term Jesus uses for "dog" refers to a "little dog" (kunaria) like one might have for a pet. He refers to her as a "pet" that the children of the house might feed by slipping small morsels under the table. Lenski notes that "no Oriental dogs of the street were ever allowed in a house, to say nothing of a dining-room" (589).

The parable is not one about dogs and children but one about Jews and Gentiles. Jesus is saying that the bread of life is for Jews first. It is inappropriate to worry about the Gentiles when there are so many sheep yet to feed.

Verse 27

And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

The woman responds with quick wit and deep spiritual insight. She has no qualms with Jesus’ statement, but she also realizes that this does not totally satisfy the issue. While the Jews are certainly God’s chosen and have received the messianic promises, there are "faithful" Gentiles who seek a humble share of God’s grace. Meeting her request, made from lips of faith, will not diminish Jesus’ mission to His own people.

Lenski says,

She keeps entirely to the figurative language of Jesus and by means of it expresses her faith in all its humbleness and submissiveness, begging, as one of those little pet dogs, a few tiny crumbs which the children, in eating, inadvertently keep dropping on the floor. Here is faith in all its lowly beauty.

Verse 28

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.

Jesus’ answer reveals the inner nature of the woman’s heart. He thus rewards her because of her great faith and response (Mark 7:29). Her daughter is healed at that very moment. She returns home to find the demon gone and the girl lying on the bed in peace (Mark 7:30).

There is a beautiful lesson to be learned from Jesus’ encounter with this woman: persistent faith is effective. In this dramatic story the woman’s faith is gradually, but beautifully highlighted. Jesus responds with silence to her first cry. He responds with talk of children and dogs to subsequent cries. The climax of the story finally comes when the woman unquestionably demonstrates a genuine faith. For this, Jesus reserves the highest praise, "O woman, great is your faith!"

Verse 29

And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.

It is impossible to say how long Jesus remains in the northern territory of Tyre and Sidon, but He probably does not stay very long. Broadus notes that the entire journey of chapters 15-18 covers less than six months (344).

Upon leaving this northern region, Jesus now begins to make His way southward through the midst of the Decapolis until He comes near the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31). The route from Sidon is a long and circuitous one, perhaps first taking Jesus and His disciples eastward over the Lebanon Mountains, across the Beqa’a Valley, then southward through the Decapolis region. Decapolis is primarily a Gentile territory located mainly on the east side of the Sea of Galilee and named for its ten major cities (Deca—ten, polis—city). Jesus retreats for a time somewhere in the hills of this region.

Verse 30

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:

And great multitudes came unto him: Jesus apparently spends several days in the area. No doubt it takes some time for His presence to be noised abroad and for the multitudes to begin bringing their sick. Verse 32 indicates that the crowds are with Jesus for another three days before He feeds them.

having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others: Matthew’s list represents a range of physical diseases and problems over which Jesus has power and whose cure cannot be faked. Unlike "faith healers" today, Jesus is able to heal each one instantly.

and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them: The Greek word (eripsan) means to "throw down or fling." The idea is not one of unconcern but one of haste. So many people need healing that they quickly fling their sick, one right after the other, before Jesus so that He might heal them. This exhausting work continues for three days (verse 32). Mark 7:31-37 gives a detailed account of one of these healings.

Verse 31

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.

Insomuch that the multitude wondered: The people react with amazement and appreciation at having their sick restored. "Wondered" is from the Greek word thaumazo and means to be struck with awe (MacArthur 478).

and they glorified the God of Israel: The crowd is so impressed they respond, "He has done all things well" (Mark 7:37).

The phrase "of Israel" is significant for two reasons. First, Matthew’s Jewish audience would have readily identified with such a phrase. Secondly, however, this phrase shows that the majority of the audience Jesus heals is Gentile. Lenski notes that the Decapolis was predominantly Gentile (601), and so such a statement stands in stark contrast to a land where Pagan deities exist. The people might not totally comprehend who Jesus is, but they recognize that such power can only come from the true God. How different is their response than that of the Pharisees who attribute Jesus’ power to Satan (12:24).

Verse 32

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.

Once again Jesus demonstrates His power over nature by feeding four thousand. The case before us very closely parallels that of 14:13-21 with some distinct differences. First, Jesus’ compassion toward the 5,000 of chapter 14 seems more a product of their disease than their hunger, but Jesus specifically says He has compassion on these 4,000 because they need food. Second, the 5,000 seem to have been with Jesus only a few hours before He fed them, but the 4,000 here have been with Him three days. Finally, the feeding of the 5,000 differs from this feeding in the number of men, loaves, fishes, and baskets of leftovers. Thus is clear that this is a distinct miracle from the one of chapter 14. There were two separate feedings as Jesus makes clear in 16:9-10.

I have compassion on the multitude: In both cases Jesus is said to have compassion on the multitude. Compassion (esplagchnisthe) literally means to be moved in one’s bowels, or viscera, which the ancients considered the seat of emotions (see 9:36; 14:14). Here we see the Lord’s genuine concern for the physical needs of the multitude.

because they continue with me now three days: The phrase "three days" does not mean that the crowd had not eaten in three days, but rather that they had been with Jesus three days. No doubt most carried some modest provision with them. By now, however, it was exhausted, and Jesus realizes their need.

Broadus says of the crowd, "They showed great zeal to see and hear and to be healed, remaining so long in the thinly inhabited region, sleeping on the ground two nights in the open air, living on the food brought with them, and slow to leave when it was gone" (346).

I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way: The word "faint" (ekluthosin) literally means to be "unloosed" as a bowstring might be unstrung (Lenski 603; Robertson 126). In other words, the crowd, weak with hunger, might collapse before they could get to their homes (Mark 8:3) or to the nearest village (some miles away) to buy food.

Verse 33

And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?

We will remember from verse 29 that Jesus and His disciples are once again in a remote area. Thus the disciples’ question is a natural one: Where can we get so many loaves? "Bread" is plural in the Greek. They realize they cannot meet such a need.

Whether their question denotes faith or faithlessness is difficult to determine. Have the disciples already forgotten the feeding of the five thousand, or is their response in this verse simply an insinuation that Jesus must take over? Are they saying, "WE can not supply such food in this wilderness but YOU can!"?

Lenski makes the case that the disciples are not worried in the least and know Jesus will provide. He notes that here the issue with the apostles is not feeding the crowd just a "little" as Philip had been concerned with before (John 6:7), but rather here they seek to "completely fill" the crowd. Lenski sees the aorist of the verb as denoting complete satisfaction (604). See also Alexander 425.

Lenski may be correct, for why would the disciples here be concerned with satiation whereas before (John 6:7) they were concerned with only a taste? We must also entertain the possibility that the disciples, while remembering the former miracle, might not expect a repetition. Recall Jesus’ stern rebuke of the crowds who expect more miraculous "loaves" (John 6:26). Thus the apostle’s question may not be so much one of "faith" or "faithlessness" as it is one of genuine inquiry. Being human in their understanding, they simply do not know what to do. But then perhaps this, in at least some way, demonstrates a certain lack of faith?

McGarvey suggests that the apostles have forgotten the previous miracle. He cites their oft forgetfulness and disbelief. Matthew 16:9-10 does seem to lend credence to this theory. McGarvey further believes that by this time, through their many travels, they have often been hungry and have long since ceased to look for supernatural relief in such cases (Fourfold 405).

Verse 34

And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.

These loaves and fishes seem not to have been secured from any lad in the audience as before (John 6:9) but rather are provisions left among the apostles from their own travels. The word for "fishes" is the diminutive form, emphasizing meager amounts of supplies in relation to size of the crowd.

Verse 35

And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.

Once again in Oriental fashion, the crowd reclines upon the ground. By this time it is mid-summer and the green, lush grass of 14:19 is probably parched and gone. We are not told the exact arrangement of the multitude, but it is probably similar to that of Mark 6:39-40 where they sat in ranks of 50 and 100.

Verse 36

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.

The scene is again one of tranquility and beauty. The multitude peacefully reclines on the ground, the twelve await their Master’s order, and Jesus stands in the midst, with all eyes on Him as He offers thanks to the Heavenly Father. In man’s eyes the provisions may seem small, but they are sufficient for God to be magnified.

Mark’s account (8:6-7) seems to suggest that Jesus performs two separate acts of thanksgiving and distribution—one with the loaves and another with the fish. Also note that in 14:19 Jesus is said to "bless" (eulogesen) the food whereas here He is said to "give thanks" (eucharistesas). The concepts, however, seem synonymous and give praise to God.

After Jesus breaks the food, He gives it to the twelve. Lenski notes that the "imperfect" (he kept on giving) describes the multiplication of the food in Jesus’ hands. "He again and again loaded each disciple’s basket with pieces to be distributed to the people. Always there was more to hand out" (606). The miracle does not cease until the multitude is filled.

Verse 37

And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.

In the previous feeding (14:20), twelve baskets were gathered up. Here only seven are gathered. Note, however, that the Greek words are different in each account.

In the feeding of the 5,000 Matthew uses the word "kophinos" denoting a small handbasket a Jewish individual might carry. Here, however, Matthew uses the word "spuridas" which refers to a large provision-basket or hamper (Edersheim III 64). MacArthur notes that this type of basket is distinctly Gentile (480). This seems to be same type of basket by which Paul is let down from the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25). Broadus says that the disciples may have had these large baskets because of the long journey they are on (346). The point of the narrative, however, is that the leftovers are of significant quantity to fill seven of these large containers.

Verse 38

And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children.

It is impossible to know the size of the crowd. As with the feeding in the previous chapter, only men are counted. Four thousand men eat and are completely filled. The extent of the miracle is again seen by the fact that four thousand hungry men can devour a tremendous quantity of food. Jesus is once again proved to be Lord of heaven and earth.

Verse 39

And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.

Without fanfare, Jesus dismisses the crowd and travels back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew says to the region of Magdala. Some manuscripts (Codex Vaticanus and Vulgate) say Magadan. Mark further identifies the area as Dalmanutha. The precise location of both of these areas is unknown but are somewhere on the west side of the lake. Lenski says that their obscurity indicates their size is small (607).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 15". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-15.html. 1993-2022.
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