Prophetic Events in Matthew 15
Jan 23, 2010
The message of Matthew 14 was primarily about feeding the people with the true Word of God, which, in the hands of the Living Word, the bread takes on a life of its own and multiplies to fill the need.
Chapter 15 builds upon this foundational idea, showing the difference between clean food and unclean food (dung). The question comes up when the scribes and Pharisees confront Jesus with the supposed sin of His disciples who were eating without the accepted ceremonial pouring of water to "cleanse" their hands.
In those days, washing one's hands before eating had nothing to do with sanitation. It was a ritualistic pouring of water, based upon the laws of cleansing. It was assumed that in daily life, one's hands might touch something unclean, and that unclean hands would render the food ceremonially unclean.
There was no such law given by Moses, of course. It was a tradition of men. Jesus came back at them, showing that they had put away the law of God by their traditions. If you know anything about the Jewish Talmud, you will understand how the rabbis tortured the Scriptures to make them say what they desired. Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29, saying,
(7) You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, (8) This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. (9) But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.
Then He proceeded to give a dissertation about the heart of the matter.
(11) Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.
The disciples were uneasy about this, not wanting to offend the Pharisees. Further, they were not sure they even agreed with Jesus. So Jesus said to them,
(16) Are you still lacking in understanding also? (17) Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? (18) But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.
Jesus was speaking about ceremonial defilement vs. heart defilement. He was not talking about nutrition here. The real underlying issue was about the traditions of men vs. the law of God. When a teacher of the law does not really know the mind of God, he will inevitably misinterpret the law in order to make it conform to his own understanding.
This is "dung." It is not clean food. When dung comes out of the mouth of the teacher, it defiles him and all those who "eat" (accept as truth) what he has prepared. Ezekiel's favorite word for "idol" isgillul, which means "a log." (as in Ezekiel 14:3, 4). They used pillars (logs) as idols in those days, and the word galal, "dung," was so named for its round, log-like shape. Hence, the prophets considered idols to be dung.
What a person eats passes through the stomach, and the body knows what to do with that which it cannot digest. It passes through the "dung gate." But defilement comes when the "dung" comes through the wrong gate (the mouth), when the scribes and Pharisees taught the traditions of men.
(21) And Jesus went away from there and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.
This is a change of scenery, but not a change of subject. Jesus took His disciples on a field trip to deal with a hidden problem of heart idolatry in their own hearts. The disciples were yet full of dung, having eaten much from the Pharisees, and Jesus intended to give them the antidote.
(22) And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."
Not only was she a despised (and "unclean") foreigner, but a Canaanite at that. They were the worst of the worst in the eyes of the Jews, for it appeared from the law that God had instructed them to kill every Canaanite. (But see chapter 2 of my book, The Laws of Spiritual Warfare to understand that law and how it was misunderstood.)
Jesus gave the appearance of being just like the others of His day, and He totally ignored her plea. The disciples wanted her to be sent away. Jesus then stated in verse 24, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," to which the disciples would have been in full agreement.
(25) But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me." (26) But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
Once again, it sounds like Jesus was agreeing with the common belief widely taught by the scribes and Pharisees.
(27) But she said, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
What persistence! What faith! She obviously knew that Jesus was different from all other Judeans that she had met. In fact, she knew Him better than His own disciples did (at least in this regard). Though Jesus quoted the same old sayings that had been taught for centuries among the Judeans, justifying their hatred for non-Jews--especially Canaanites--Jesus did not really believe this at all. In fact, He said these things only to uncover the "dung" in the hearts of His own disciples. They certainly fell for it.
(28) Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once. (29) And departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon for just one purpose. It was to meet this Canaanite woman and to heal her daughter. There was no other purpose for this trip. So we must ask ourselves the underlying purpose of this trip. In the context of the chapter, it was to deal with the "dung" in the hearts of His own disciples. That "dung" was the tradition that God hated Canaanites and would have nothing to do with them. It was the tradition that Canaanites were genetically incapable of having faith in the true God.
Furthermore, she was a woman. In the temple in Jerusalem, non-Jews and all women were kept at a distance by the dividing wall in the outer court. This dividing wall cemented the tradition that women and non-Jews were less beloved of God and incapable of attaining the same close relationship with God as Jews enjoyed.
That was one of the biggest piles of dung ever taught. God never instructed anyone to build such a wall in the temple. That is why Jesus came to destroy that dividing wall (Eph. 2:14), giving all men equal citizenship and equal access to God. Only then could God's temple truly be a house of prayer for ALL PEOPLE.
After Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman, He returned to the sea of Galilee. Galilee means "circuit" (i.e., round), and it is from the same root word as galal and gillul. It is also shaped like the heart. So it is an integral part of the story in Matthew 15 that Jesus first spoke of dung in the heart, then went on a field trip to expose the dung in the disciples' hearts, and finally then returned to the sea of heart-dung.
The chapter closes with Him feeding a crowd of 4,000. Four is the number of the earth, or creation. Multiplying it by 1000 indicates His "glory" covering the earth. This is a fitting end of the chapter, for it shows God's interest in His entire creation, extending far beyond the smaller group of "chosen" people. There are certainly those who are "chosen" or "elected," but it is through them that God's blessings are dispensed to all families of the earth.
Dr. Stephen Jones