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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

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