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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Syro-Phenician Woman's Daughter: Devil Vexation

In Tyre and Sidon, (Zidon) after leaving Gennesaret, Jesus is encountered by a woman of Canaan regarding her daughter who is vexed with a devil. The setting of Tyre and Sidon is an interesting backdrop for a healing which involves the casting out of a demonic spirit, because these were the 'twin cities' on the coast which were known for riches, world trade and a host of decadent practices and lifestyles, including slavery. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel warns Tyre and Zidon that they are to be so judged for the degree of their wickedness that only fishing nets left out to dry will remain, and other prophets note their wickedness as well such as Isaiah and Joel:

Eze 26:3 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I [am] against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up.

Eze 26:4 And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock.

Eze 26:5 It shall be [a place for] the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken [it], saith the Lord GOD: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.

Yet it is here in the remnants of the once great cities, that a non-Israeli woman seeks and finds the healing for her daughter from the Savior who was the answer to the wickedness of those cities long before.

The woman is of Canaan, and she approaches the Lord with pleas for mercy:

....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 greivously vexed with a devil. Mt 15:22

Jesus's response though, is initially one of non-response. It says he 'answered not a word', but the persistence of another gentile, would be used for an illustration to Israel, just as had the faith of the Centurion in the last study. She was apparently making quite a stir, begging for the well-being of her daughter, for the noisome woman caused the disciples to come to Jesus to send her away:

Send her away; for she crieth after us.

The clamoring and crying though showed the requisite faith which Jesus sought in all those he healed: she KNEW that Jesus could heal her daughter. In true form though Jesus does not give an expected answer, but answers from the depth of Heaven, saying

"....I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" 15:24

Is this an unkindness by the Lord? Is He telling the stricken mother that only Jews can be healed? There are a couple times in Scripture where it seems on the surface that Jesus is being less than kind, but that is a serious misunderstanding. The woman is a Canaanite: they were even in the day of Jesus idol worshippers. The woman is seeking healing from a Jewish man, a rabbi, a prophet (nabe), so her faith has already carried her over one boundary, for neither the Canaanitish people nor the Jews cared for a great deal of commerce among one another. Jesus's response though is very telling, because he does not first attend to the healing, but addresses his purpose, of being sent to Israel, and being for the sake of Israel. It is not that Jesus is unconcerned with the suffering of her daughter, but instead the passage emphasizes his concern with the lost of Israel. Salvation was of the Jews. The prophecies were of the Jews, the Jews were the oracles of God: the faith she had was being trained a step further.

The woman responds not with outrage or rebuke but enters into faith further, showing

1. worship
2.faith, and
3 supplication.

Then came she and worshipped him, saying 'Lord, Help me.' Mt 15:25.

This humility and heartfelt plea to the Lord, showed that she believed he was the Lord, or at least divine, because she fell in worship! While certain pagan groups occasionally treated a rare few as 'gods', such as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:12) most did not fall in worship at a man's feet, yet this happens over and over in encounters with the Lord.

Some think this interchange between the Syro-Phenician woman and Jesus indicates prejudice or insensitivity but that is also not true. One must remember the predicament of first century Israel. The Syro-Phenicians with others farther north had:

1. Changed the ways of God
2. Intermingled with the Jews which was forbidden
3. Had a false system of worship, and
4. Were characterized by idolatry.

They were enemies of the Jews who hardly treated them well. Here though is not a political issue, but a grieving mom, begging for the true Lord's help and worshipping him. Yet Jesus replies what seems curtly:

"...It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." vs 26

While the word 'dogs' may seem abusive,and the word means exactly that, it was used in that day for 'evilworkers' and sorcerers (Ph 3:2; rEV 22:15) to refer to those to avoid who would ruin the faith of Israel, and were equated with murderers, adulterers and idolators who are kept outside the gate. He was noting that healing and the Gospel were for the more faithful Jews, at least first, but the woman continues in her plea for mercy:

And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbswhich fall from their Master's table.

She is tenacious and will not let go. She never rails, never takes offense, never ceases right humility before the Lord, but reasons with the Redeemer that she is aware of Truth, and that she will settle for the smallest crumbs of what the Lord will offer.

The Reward of Persistent Faith

Does Jesus turn away and ignore her? No, it was never the way of Jesus to ever turn away those begging to be let into fervent faith. Faith as we have seen time and time again, was what Jesus was after, even requiring for healing. He immediately turns away from the sharp response, to a reward of the woman's faith, who is pleading not for herself, but for her child:

"O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt"

The reward of faith for this non-Jew, this Greek-Canaanite-SyroPhenician woman isgreat and immediate:

"...And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. Mt 15:28"

This healing takes place right before the great multitudes are healed on a mountain beside Galilee.

The Vexation of a Devil

The parallel passage in Mark (7:25) speaks to the vexation as an "unclean spirit". The term appears 11 times in the Bible, 10 of which are in the New Testament and the Greek reads,
akathartos pneuma. Pneuma, as we have spoken of before in other bible studies is spirit with the connotation of air or breath; akathartos is rendered 'unclean' but applies to ceremonial uncleanness and/or moral uncleaness. The possession by 'devils' or demonic possession often carries with it a lewd characterization as well: whatever those walking in light and love and holiness are comfortable with, the demonic is equally uncomfortable with those things. Unclean spirits seem to love desert dry places (Mt 12:43) and are ferocious and violent, sometimes causing thrashing and unusual strength such as in the son who threw himself into a fire, or as in the Man of the Gadarenes whom chains could not hold, and found tombs a suitable habitat. An unclean spirit also, if cast out, wanders around dry places but with opportunity will return to a 'host'. The host we see in the New Testament is usually a person, and sometimes a child, but in one case, Jesus casts demonic spirits into a herd of swine who go charging over a cliff.

"Unclean Spirits" attend to the periphery of Jesus's ministry: from the announcement in the Synagogue of his ministry by the reading of Isaiah 61, his 'inaugural address' unclean spirits begin to occasionally cry out with howlings of 'i know who you are' but Jesus silences them.

In this healing, the daughter is not present, one of the few healings where merely the word of the Lord is spoken afar off, and the person is healed. This is one of the few where a devil is cast out without being directly in contact with the person. The mother BELIEVES and trusts, and the little Canaanite girl is completely well when her mother returns:

And when she was come to her house she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed. Mk 7:30

Immediately following the casting out, Jesus departs to the coasts of Decapolis.

Sidon was the first city founded in Phenicia: and was know for breathtaking views, fruits and a fertile plain. There were many ruins and even today the 'King of the Sidonians' tomb may be found verifying the location. It was a place of Asthoreth worship, and Dagon and Baal worship---so that a history of demonic activity cannot be thought of as unusual, and either the mother's practices or that of relatives or acquaintances may have set the stage for the 'vexation'. However, in 1860 an expedition to the area found little verifying the curse of the prophets: the great story of the daughter's healing has lasted far beyond the one of the wickedness of the cities. The Lost Sheep of the house of Israel had but to wait momentarily for Jesus to return to healing Israel: the cause of healing for this woman from pagan surrounds was her humility, love and faith combined with trust and supplication, to provoke Israel to what was rightfully theirs.

Till next time: many blessings in the Name of Yeshua:
ELizabeth K. Best
note: this study is an updated version of an earlier study from 2005

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Faith, In Israel: The Healing of the Centurion's Servant

Most of the healings done by Jesus were healings of the children of Israel. A few times though, and quite distinctly, Jesus heals non-israelis, even enemies of Israel, both in compassion, and to make a divine point. The healing of the Centurion's Servant is one such occasion.

The healing of the Centurion's servant takes place after the healing of the Leper, after the Sermon on the mount and before the healing of Peter's Mother-in-Law following teaching on Shabbat in the Synagogue. The healing is in Capernaum, Jesus' 'hometown' when he descends from the mount where He has taught the beatitudes.

The Roman Centurion who encounters Jesus seems an unlikely person to humble themselves before the Lord and Savior and ask for mercy for a mere servant. To begin with, the fellows chosen as centurions, were hardly chosen for their affability: they were brutal, strong and totally dedicated to Rome, and among the least likely who would ever approach a Jewish Rabbi and ask in faith for him to aid a suffering servant. On this day in Israel though, near the early part of Jesus' ministry of healing and preaching, the encounter both brought the Roman guard to trusting in the Redeemer, and to show all Israel, what God required in a people of faith, to exact the power and work of God in the nation .

This healing also bears another distinction: it is one of the few where the one who is healed, does not encounter Jesus. Yet ironically, the healing is one in which the Messiah points to the nature of faith behind all the healings: trusting in the Son of God.

The fact that the healing took place in the town Jesus lived is also remarkable, because even the divine Rabbi himself had pointed out that "a prophet is a prophet everywhere but in his own country". The Centurion, without us knowing why he was there on that particular day (they were all over Israel, but could have been sent to 'assess' this itinerate teacher), saw something in the Lord that impressed him so, that he confronts him about the healing of a servant sick at home. The request was simple:

"Lord my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented."

and the Savior's reply was equally simple:

"And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. Matt 8:7"

The Centurion's Act of Faith

Men of war rarely are concerned with the tender affection for a servant's suffering: they most often have a more brutal outlook on life, a 'matter-of-fact' approach to daily trivia. They also rarely see themselves as less than anyone, save for a superior officer, a higher 'order', and it was hardly a Roman stance to humble oneself before the Jews in general, much less before a 'country' preacher from Nazareth and the surrounds. The humility of the Centurion before God is eminent in this gentile soldier. Rome, most likely including himself, had been crucifying Jewish men, imprisoning others and some years before had set a group of zealots afire, burning them alive for protesting and taking down the Roman eagle insignia on the Temple, a sign of idolatry. The emphasis here on the man's humility needs to be seen in the context of the 'zeitgeist' of Israel in that hour. If one may speculate, it is not unlikely that the Centurion was of a slightly more humane sort, since he is noted in Luke as having built a synagogue for the Jews, and and that having most likely seen or heard of Jesus healing others, sent Jewish elders to Jesus on his behalf. (Not all of the healings Jesus did are recorded in the Scriptures). When the Centurion then espouses his 'unworthiness' for the great honor of the healing of a servant, it must be seen as the exceptional act that it truly is, and why Jesus later commends it.

"The Centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." mt 8:8

A Roman soldier noting his own 'unworthiness?' Think of how phenomenal that was to the crowd who attended. Rome did not bow to Israel, Israel was being required to bow to Rome. His request of the Lord was also one of utter trust: he was not looking for a sign or a miraculous act, or a feeling, but placed his faith in the WORD of the Lord. "Speak the Word only..." was the apex of his faith. It was faith in the Word of the Lord without requiring His presence or even his touch.

The Rationale of Rank and Order in Heaven and Faith

Faith is so critical among the virtues, in heaven's eyes, that nothing really surpasses it, save for Love itself: we are saved by faith, and faith alone, and the healings of Jesus are for the purpose of faith and salvation. The word 'faith' in the Greek is:

πίστις or 'pistis'

and it means belief, fidelity, or trusting in the truth, particularly of God. He is after our trust as He is after our Love. We can actually love God without really exercising life-giving faith: what's not to love? He saves, protects, keeps, provides and comforts. He is always there. But do we trust him? Even in daily life, we can love some one but not trust them, yet that is because people are not always trustworthy. God is. So to go to the depths of Love for God, the very thing He saves us for, is to go to the depth of faith and trust.

One of the reasons that the Centurion trusts the Lord is not merely because he saw other healings, but because he sensed the power of the Lord, and the authority of the Lord. Power and authority are two commodities which Roman soldiers understood. The Centurion understands implicitly Sovereignty, rank, order and leadership, as he conversely understands surrender to authority obedience and the necessity or quick obedience in battle. He is able to apply 'soldiering' to the divine order and battle as well. The Roman officer shows his understanding of sovereign authority and being under authority:

Mt. 8:9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

The Centurion expects obedience from those below him, so he expects to obey those above, and in Jesus he recognizes such power and authority, that it illicits utter trust, to the point that he does not even feel worthy to have him under his roof, this great Sovereign whom he has encountered in Israel this day. This happens elsewhere in the scriptures. When Jesus stands before Pilate, Pilate's premiere question is whether He is a King. Another Roman Ranking leader says

Mar 15:2 And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest [it].

Isn't it noteworthy that there is such a sense of kingship about Jesus among the leaders of Rome and the leaders in that day of the Jews (in Roman collusion). Those men knew authority and what makes a leader. Herod in Jesus' infancy sends to kill the newborn infant king, sensing his eminent overthrow. The leaders of Israel when Jesus is 12 listen to him attentively in the Temple. I used to wonder why Jesus was only questioned and not arrested or killed when He overthrew the moneychangers: the reason: it was His house, His rule, and they could sense it. They question him instead about WHERE his authority comes from, not whether he has it:

Mat 21:23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

And by the time He is given over to the death on the Cross, Pilate sets his charges over His head much to the consternation of the Pharisees who have just crowned him with thorns, placed a scepter of reeds in his hand

Mat 27:29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put [it] upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

and Pilate in unalterable Roman edict posts His crime:

Mat 27:37 And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

He does so in every language of the time and area. That the Roman Centurion then, recognizes immediately the greater authority of Messiah and the veracity of his word (the way, THE TRUTH and the life..), so much so that his entire trust is place in Jesus' word and command. It is such an impressive display of faith by a gentile, much less a Roman officer, that Jesus commends his faith and clear understanding of the divine nature of authority, rank order and obedience to Israel when he says,

When Jesus heard it, he marvelled and said to them that followed Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.

Now, it is not unlike God to use Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy!
(".... I will move them to jealousy with [those which are] not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation." Dt 32:21)

Jesus certainly in the line of Jacob does not mean to 'supplant' Israel with Gentiles, but to invoke them to jealousy, that they may follow what is excellent in faith and other matters. He was sent first to Israel, to the '...lost sheep of the house of Israel' as had been all the prophets, because the Jews were sanctified and called out, set apart for a purpose to bear the Word of God, the Oracles of God, the Messiah, and the glory of God. The Jews were supposed to, at that point in history have been the leaders in faith, so when an excellent spirit in the form of a Roman Centurion exhibits that life-giving faith, not even for himself but for another at a much lower level of society, Jesus holds up his example before all Israel, that they might not be replaced by it, but take their rightful place in the doing of it.

Jesus Commends the Faith of Gentiles

Following the commendation of faith Jesus commends another well known account in the Tenach of great faith in a gentile woman encountering a prophet of God in the Widow of Zarepheth (Serpta) who was obedient to a prophet:

Luke 4:26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Serepta, a city of Sidon unto a woman that was a widow. (Her son was brought back from death,)

and the healing of the Syrian King Naaman:

...and none of them [Israeli lepers] was cleansed, saving Naaman, the Syrian.

Naaman the King of Syria was OBEDIENT. He was a little particular in obedience to get rid of his leprosy, in that he wanted to wash in 'better rivers' in Syria, but he obeyed the prophet and was healed. Likewise, the Widow encountering the Prophet of God obeyed and her son lived. Jesus commends the FAITH of these two non-Israelis, not to replace Syria for Israel, but for Israel to learn to take the lead. In the New Testament he also commends the faith of the Syrophoenician woman and seeks the faith and understanding in Samaria of the woman at the well. He was interested in faith above national and ethnic boundaries.

That faith is such a pre-eminent value is self-evident: Jesus commends it above even the Chosen status of the Chosen people, and the apostle Paul notes in Romans that 'they are not all Israel that are of Israel'. Love is the greatest value, but real love is integrated with faith. The Jews are His first and Chosen people, but the ways of God are eminent and not compromised. Right order is faith in the hands of the Jews, to teach the nations, but the Lord is not above a topsy-turvy example to rebuke Israel.

The heartcry of the Chosen is to have fulfilled the eternal covenant, the everlasting Covenant and be the children of Abraham Isaac and Jacob before God in Heaven. It is the end of faith. Jesus commends faith in a Gentile though over no faith in a Jew, who is one only of the flesh: that is his point, not 'replacement'. The Jews are being instructed to 'own that part of their inheritance.

Mt. 8:11 And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, faith is first. The Jews are called the "Children of the Kingdom" and warned of eternal judgment in turning away from the God of Israel.

But the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 8:12

Rebellion and carnal living is anathema to faith. They lead to separation from God and both lead to a diminishing or even eradication of faith, needed for salvation, healing and a walk with God.

The Reward of Faith: The Servant with Palsy is Healed

We have barely mentioned the 'type' of healing here, which is critical: it is 'palsy'. In an earlier study we looked at the healing of palsy by one of the apostles in the Book of Acts, but it is the 'incurable' Palsy, with muscular deformity and atrophy that makes this act of faith even more prominent.

And Jesus said unto the Centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, So be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed the same hour. 8:13

Here again among the healings of Jesus we note the 'immediacy': not weeks, days and hours of the palsy beginning to disappear with stiff limbs loosening up, but an immediate cessation of the condition and all symptoms. All because someone intervened and begged for mercy for another! Not even the Centurion had to enter his own house for the healing to occur. There is no mistake that Jesus was the agent of healing: this is not some mustering of faith as a sort of 'mind over matter' as New Agers would like to believe, but FAITH in the Healer, the Lord God. The Centurion trusted the 'King of the Jews' sensing His power and authority over even the 'unchangeable' things of the world, such as palsy. His word was enough.

The implications of this healing are varied:

1. Jesus speaks, and is not even present, but the man is healed, noting the ubiquitous power of God.
2. Jesus heals a Gentile's servant noting that God is no respecter of persons, or of lowliness of the state of a human being in his beneficence.
3. Jesus stresses faith over race and nations, while keeping the Jews first, as a separated and sanctified nation.
4. Jesus uses this healing to teach of eternal life and judgment
5. Healing can be as in this instance, by word, without touching, metting faith
6. Jesus points to rank and order in Divine authority and surrender, and
7. Vicarious requests for healing in faith are honored.

This healing of a palsied servant, without the request of the servant, without Jewish heritage, without even the faith of the servant (eminent in most healings) shows the power and authority of divine healing. Jesus is healer, but he is also 'Commander in Chief' and nothing is too hard for him, or beyond the loving touch of his healing, including the atrophied condition of a servant in Israel, nor the hard heartedness of a Roman soldier, of the order who would later crucify the healer.

Speak the word only, Lord, and we shall be healed.

Till next time.
Elizabeth K. Best
Judah's Glory Bible Studies
Healing of Christ Series: The Centurion's Servant.

(will post a pdf copy shortly).
2. 84.