Crumbs from the Master’s Table

HEROD HAD BEHEADED John the Baptist under the most bizarre circumstances and his conscience, what was left of it, was assailed by superstitious remorse. At this time Jesus went about preaching the kingdom, and performing wonderful miracles of love and mercy, and the people flocked to him. They even considered taking him by force to make him a king!

This growing popularity of Jesus disturbed Herod. We read in Mark 6:14, “Herod heard of him, for his name was spread abroad; and he said that John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.” Jesus knew what was going on in Herod’s warped and depraved mind. He knew there was a possibility that Herod would seek to kill him. Jesus was not afraid to die. This was the very purpose for which he had come to earth. But he knew that it was not the due time for him to die. He had a work to do; a ministry to perform; and only when that was finished, at a certain predetermined and prophesied time, he would be offered up, and not before.

So it was because of prudence and not because of fear that he left Galilee temporarily. Together with a few of his disciples, he journeyed about 45 miles toward the Mediterranean. It was a two-day journey in those days. Today, by jet, it would take about five minutes. This brought Jesus to what is called in our lesson, the borders of Tyre and Sidon, an area within the boundary of the land called Phoenicia, of which Tyre and Sidon were the principal cities. Apparently, he merely crossed the borders of Galilee, thus freeing himself, for a time, from the authority of Herod. By so doing he was by no means abdicating his ministry. It was an interlude he would profitably utilize for necessary physical recuperation, meditation, prayer, and the private instruction of his disciples.

He would have preferred that no one recognize him in Phoenicia. Mark 7:24 tells us that he “entered into an house, and would have no man know it. But he could not be hid.” Of course he could not be hid! Can you picture the contrast there must be between a perfect man, and a fallen and depraved man? At that time mankind had fallen for 4,000 years, each succeeding generation born in sin, and shapen in iniquity (Ps. 51:5), every generation with its cumulative effect of physical disfiguration. In 4,000 years man had become miserable caricatures of a truly perfect man. And it is even more so today.

We can picture Jesus arriving in Phoenicia, accompanied by his very ordinary-looking disciples. Being a replica of the beautiful and physically perfect Adam, with the grace and regal bearing of the king of earth, he, by sheer contrast caught the attention of everyone who saw him. So he was quickly identified as Jesus, and the news of his arrival was rapidly passed from mouth to mouth—the great prophet and healer of Israel, about whom they had heard so much, was in their midst!

We read in Mark 7:25,26 that, “a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.” One can scarcely imagine the heartbreak which that poor woman had to endure! A devil had taken possession of her sweet little girl! The specific manifestations of such an obsession are too horrible to describe in detail. Matthew’s account says that she was “grievously vexed with a devil” (Matt. 15:22); which the Weymouth Translation renders, “cruelly harassed by a demon.”

This unclean spirit, was, no doubt, one of the fallen angels who had been instrumental in corrupting the earth in the days of Noah. This was one of the powerful spirit beings who, allied with Satan, had tyrannized and degraded mankind; so that, as is written in Genesis 6:5,11, “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. … The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” Under the domination of Satan, these fallen angels used their superior powers to influence mankind to wickedness, pulling them down to the depths of corruption.

Now here was one of these evil beings who had seized control of the brain of a helpless little girl. He expressed himself through the lips of that innocent child, using the most foul and profane language. That is why he was called an unclean, or impure spirit. And he, no doubt, sometimes controlled the girl’s body to viciously attack anyone who came near. The poor mother could have had many scars from encounters with her own daughter. She may even have thought that the poor girl could eventually be driven to attempt suicide.

The mother must have been at her wits’ end, but when she heard about Jesus, the great healer of Israel, who was doing such wonderful things in distant Galilee—frequently casting out devils from those possessed—it must have given her a glimmer of hope. However, her daughter was in too bad a state to take the necessary two days’ journey to Galilee. And besides, she probably had heard, also, that this Jesus would not have dealings with any but Israelites. So she may have had only a very small hope of reaching Jesus with her dilemma.

We can imagine her elation as we perhaps picture in our minds a neighbor, running to her home and breathlessly saying, “A most wonderful thing has happened! Jesus, the great prophet and healer of Israel is here in our village! He arrived just a little while ago with his disciples, and I know the very house he is in right now!” A hope, almost dead, revived and surged in her heart!

There is really no accounting for the love of a mother for her child. There is nothing logical about mother love. It is a blind and driving force of pure, unselfish devotion. It rejects cold, calculating reason, and gladly attempts even the obviously impossible for the child’s welfare. So, casting aside every logical objection, this mother lost no time in going to Jesus. We are told in Mark 7:25, that she “came and fell at his feet.” In Matthew 15:22 we read that “she cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil!”

Then Jesus did something which seems so unlike him. The 23rd verse reads, “But he answered her not a word.” But you may be sure that this was not because of a lack of compassion. Jesus was never insensitive to grief or pain. He was the most compassionate man the world has ever known. We read in Matthew 9:36 that when he saw the suffering multitude, “he was moved with compassion on them.” His heart went out to them in love and sympathy; and it is written of him that he healed “every sickness and every disease among the people.” When Lazarus died, and Jesus saw the sorrow of Mary and Martha, his heart melted in sympathy, and he wept.

He certainly knew the situation of this unfortunate woman even before she told him. Why then did he turn away in silence? Perhaps it was because he saw in this woman a faith of unusual magnitude, a faith worthy of testing. And this seeming indifference on Jesus’ part did not deter the woman in the least. She continued her earnest entreaty, “Have mercy on me, O Lord!” over and over again.

A former American Consul at Jerusalem has written, “To one who has ever held a prominent or official position in the East, the persistency of pleading women is a fact one will never forget! They will not be driven from their purpose in a rough manner. Severe language does not deter them. They are not wearied by delays. They will sit and wait, hour after hour, and come day by day, ignoring all kinds of refusals. They are importunate beyond anything that I ever experienced in our Western life.” In addition to this natural characteristic of Eastern women, this mother who pleaded with Jesus was driven by a more powerful incentive than most. She was pleading for the life of her daughter.

Finally, the disciples could not stand it any longer, and went to Jesus about it. We read in Matthew 15:23, “His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.” The disciples were sympathetic to her cause. Their words, “Send her away,” did not mean for Jesus to send her away empty. They, no doubt, meant, “Grant her request, and let her go. It is such a simple thing for you to do. You have healed thousands in Israel. You have cast out legions of demons from others. Cast out this demon also, from her daughter, and send the poor woman away in peace.”

We read that Jesus “answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:24) In other words, Jesus said, “My ministry is confined exclusively to the nation of Israel. This woman is a Gentile; an outsider. Do you not remember, when I sent you forth to preach and heal, that I told you, ‘Go not in the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?’ This woman has no claim upon us.”—Matt. 10:5,6

At this point, it seems that the woman herself came into the presence of Jesus, having followed closely upon the heels of the disciples. She probably heard what Jesus just said. Now she prostrated herself before Jesus, in an attitude of worship, “saying, Lord, help me! But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” This seems a very harsh thing for Jesus to have said, but it really was not. His answer to her was not one of disdain or contempt; nor did it indicate indifference to her great misfortune. Our Lord had no such feelings toward any. On the contrary, he was greatly moved by her predicament. But it was necessary for him to give her a reason for his position in the matter. He was further testing the great faith he saw in her.

We must remember that, at the time, the term ‘dogs’ was commonly applied to all Gentiles by the Jews as signifying their inferiority in the sight of God. God’s dealings were exclusively with the house of Israel, and dogs were generally kept outside the house. Thus, it was a symbolic term, common in his day, which the Gentile woman understood perfectly. Even here, the Lord mercifully softened the expression, giving the woman a ray of hope. It seems that he used a word for dogs which signifies, not ferocious, outside dogs, but house dogs, well-loved pets which were companions of their children.

In Mark’s account, Jesus gave the woman still another tiny ray of hope, “Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled. For it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.” (Mark 7:27) This implied that once the children had had enough, then some bread might be spared for the dogs. We see how loving and merciful Jesus really was. Far from discouraging the poor woman, he was leading her on to the strong declaration of faith which she then made.

She saw her opportunity, and grasped eagerly at it. She said, “Truth, Lord. Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” (Matt. 15:27) Or, as Mark recorded it, “Yes, Lord. Yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28) Jesus was greatly touched with this response. He saw in this Gentile woman many excellent traits of character—a great love, a humble spirit, a persistence in seeking after blessing, and above all, a magnificent faith, which even the most devout Jew might emulate.

He took her by the hand and gently raised her from her knees, and said to her, “For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.” At that very moment, at the home of the woman, the demon was expelled from the little girl. The woman hurried home, without any doubt in her mind that her request had, indeed, been granted. “When she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.” (Mark 7:30) Her little girl was evidently peacefully sleeping, for the first time in many years.

Let us consider some of the lessons to be derived from this incident. First, we can learn something from the prudence which Jesus exercised by leaving, briefly, the jurisdiction of Herod. Unless principle is involved, we should avoid trouble in every way we can. Although we may sometimes feel the enmity of the world, we should never incite it. As we are told by the Apostle Paul, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) And in II Timothy 2:24 we read, “The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men.” In this way our usefulness to the Lord, and our influence for good in the world, will be prolonged.

In the special intensity of violence which is prevalent in the world today, we should act prudently, not exposing ourselves recklessly with the thought that God will take care of us. Of course he will. He would have taken care of Jesus, too. He said, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53) But Jesus acted prudently, just the same, until his time had come. And so with us. We will get all the help we need, when it is necessary, just as Daniel and all the ancient prophets received it. Daniel, for the sake of principle was cast into the den of lions; and the Hebrew children were thrown into the fiery furnace. But let us not make the mistake of jumping into the den of lions, or into the fiery furnace!

The great love the Syrophenician woman had for her child reminds us of God’s love for us, his children. Mother-love is an apt illustration of God’s love, except that his love is even more intense. This was emphasized by Isaiah when he said, “Can a woman forget her sucking child? … Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee”! (Isa. 49:15) And the same thought is expressed in Psalm 27:10: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”

There is a lesson in the fact that this Gentile woman ignored every logical reason why she should not go to Jesus with her problem, and went anyhow. Do we sometimes have problems which we hesitate to lay before the Lord? Do we wonder whether they are too great? Or too small? Or too intimate? Or too complicated? Or too simple? Or too worldly? Or too ‘something else? Are we afraid of being ignored or rebuffed? It should not be so if we are God’s children.

Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me. And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) To which Hebrews 4:16 adds, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” And again, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Ps. 55:22) No stipulations are made here concerning the kind of burden, or problem, or need—any kind may be cast upon the Lord.

Another valuable lesson for us is the manner in which the Syrophenician woman approached Jesus, which the Lord approved and rewarded. She was not brazen or assertive. She did not reproach Jesus for his partiality toward the seed of Abraham, and did not claim to be just as good or just as deserving. She was not demanding. She did not even express a specific wish. She merely told the Lord the nature of her trouble, and said, “Lord, have mercy on me! Lord, help me!” She did not tell the Lord what to do. She left it entirely to his wisdom as to how or when the help and mercy should be bestowed.

From her actions we certainly learn how we may approach the Lord acceptably. Are we not dealing with the very same Lord, who is now our Advocate at the right hand of God? So, as Philippians 4:6 instructs us, “Let your requests be made known unto God,” and then simply say, “Lord, help me!” You may be sure his way will be the very best way.

When the woman had made her earnest plea, we read that Jesus answered her not a word. Does it sometimes happen that the Lord answers us not a word? Do we ever go to him with problems which seem very important and urgent to us, and apparently receive no response? This can be a severe test of faith. Questions may arise in our minds, “Am I a child of God, or am I not? Has my consecration been accepted? Am I in covenant relationship with God? Have I, perhaps, lost favor with the Lord? Has he turned his face from me?” Then, with continued delay, sometimes discouragement comes.

We might decide, “It is no use to ask any more. The Lord evidently does not hear my prayers. And if he does, he does not intend to answer.” These are suggestions from the Adversary, and should be instantly rejected. We should have no doubt that the Lord does hear our prayer, because the Scriptures tell us that he does. “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” (Ps. 34:15) Reassured, we should next consider Jesus’ own words, “If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”—John 15:7

These are positive statements, firm promises. Then let us ask ourselves, “Am I abiding in Christ? Am I carrying out my consecration as a member of his body?” If so, the next questions are, “Does the Lord’s Word abide in me? Am I seeking to be always guided by his Word of Truth?” Then, the most important question, “Is the blessing I am seeking in harmony with God’s Word and Plan?” If it is, then we should persist in our request just as did the Syrophenician woman. And we will obtain the same result she did! Our prayer will be answered, in the Lord’s own way and time. And, because of our patient persistence, he will say to us also, “Great is thy faith!” And with those words, the delay will not be too long!

This is the very lesson Jesus taught in his parable of the importunate widow. (Luke 18:1-8, Weymouth) He summed it up by saying, “Will not God avenge the wrongs of his own people who cry aloud to him day and night, although he seems slow in taking action on their behalf? Yes, he will soon avenge their wrongs!” Let us emulate the positive faith of Paul, as expressed in his words: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.”—II Tim. 1:12

When Jesus answered the Syrophenician woman ‘not a word’, he was testing the woman’s strong faith. Let us learn from this that the Lord tests our strength, not our weaknesses. So when the Lord subjects us to a test of faith, let us take it as an indication that he considers our faith strong enough to endure his testings. Such trials then will not discourage us, but will encourage us.

Even when the woman pleaded with him, Jesus withheld his blessing, and said to her, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We were all at one time as that woman was. Our former condition is well described as “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” (Eph. 2:12) Yes, at one time we, too, were ‘dogs’, out of favor with the Lord. As Psalm 73:22 says, “So foolish was I, and ignorant, I was as a beast before thee.” But then a great transformation took place, as shown by Paul: “Now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”—Eph. 2:13

We read in Galatians 3:26-29: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” In this way, the high calling, which was first offered exclusively to natural Israel, is now made available to individuals who constitute spiritual Israel. And, by the grace of God, we have heard and accepted the call.

When Jesus told the woman, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs,” she answered, “Truth, Lord. Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.” This reminds us of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, where we read, “There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores; and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.”—Luke 16:19-31

Here again we find a person who is an associate of ‘dogs’, desiring ‘crumbs’ from the ‘table’. In this picture, the ‘rich man’ represented the Jewish nation, rich in God’s favor. He was clothed in purple; invested with royalty. The Jews were of a royal priesthood, because of the promises to Abraham and David. The high calling was offered to them first. The rich man was clothed in the fine linen of [typical] righteousness, the Jews being typically a holy people. He fared sumptuously—the Jews being the special recipients of God’s favor. His Word was given to them. The prophets were sent to them. As we read, “What advantage then hath the Jew? … Much every way. Chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.”—Rom. 3:1,2

The beggar, Lazarus was an associate of ‘dogs’—dogs representing Gentiles, who were outcasts from divine favor. The Syrophenician woman was one of this class. As Lazarus begged, “desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table,” she also begged—she pleaded with Jesus for a crumb from the table of divine favor. The parable goes on to indicate how, later, the positions of the rich man and Lazarus were reversed—the beggar being exalted to favor, and the rich man degraded. This shows the temporary casting off of natural Israel, and the opening of the high calling to the Gentiles.

When the Lord finally acted on behalf of the Syrophenician woman, the result came with lightning speed. Her daughter was instantly healed. As we read, her daughter was cured from that very moment! This is often the experience of the Lord’s people. After much pleading to the Lord—after much delay and vexation, trying one’s patience and faith to the utmost—the answer suddenly comes in a time and manner least expected, and the difficulty is instantly removed. Having had such an experience, one can always remember it, and never doubt the Lord again.

There is still another lesson we can learn from the interaction between Jesus and the Syrophenician woman. It is a very encouraging and heart-warming lesson which gives us insight into the wonderful character of God. We learn that the Lord, lovingly and mercifully, makes exceptions to his rules. For example, although Jesus told the poor Gentile woman that he was not sent except to the house of Israel, nevertheless, he did heal her daughter. On another occasion he, himself, did heal the Roman centurion’s servant. (Matt. 8:5-13) And on another occasion he talked with the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well and spent two days in a Samaritan city with his disciples. It is recorded that, as a result of this, “Many more believed because of his own word.”—John 4:41

Is this making of exceptions to stated rules contrary to God’s character? Does not James 1:17 describe the Heavenly Father as one ‘with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning?’ Does not God say, “I am the Lord; I change not?” (Mal. 3:6), and again “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips?” (Ps. 89:34) And what about Numbers 23:19, “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Of course! These Scriptures emphasize the absolute justice and dependability of God. He may be utterly relied upon to carry out his divine plan of the ages, for the blessing of all mankind. Such Scriptures give us confidence in God. But we must not forget that in addition to being a just God, he is also a loving God.

Let us note some ways in which his love tempers his justice. Even in his Law he made provision for the exercise of love. For example we read, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Gen. 9:6) Yet provisions were made for exceptions. Cities of refuge were provided in Israel, to which unpremeditated killers could flee to escape their avengers.—Num. 35:6

Although we read: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exod. 21:24,25), these were the outlined provisions of the Law, allowed as payment for wrongs experienced. They were what the Law permitted, but they were not compulsory punishments. If someone knocked your tooth out, you had the right to knock out one of his—but you could choose to forgive him. Similarly, the loss of a hand or foot might legally be avenged by the cutting off of the hand or foot of the guilty person. Surely, few chose to take such gruesome revenge. In every case the aggrieved party had the right to choose to exercise pity and mercy, and to forgive the offender. And to do so would be godlike.

We read in Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy.” In dealing with us, the Lord does not exact full retribution for our sins. This is beautifully brought to our attention in Psalm 103:10-14: “He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Praise the Lord!

A merciful abstaining from exacting the full penalty of the Law does not violate justice, but goes beyond justice! It exceeds justice. Jesus enjoined this superseding law of love upon his disciples in Matthew 5:38-41: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, That ye resist [revenge] not evil. But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” These are figurative expressions to illustrate the law of love by which the Christian lives—not to exact strict justice, but to go beyond and above it!

The law of weights and measures which God gave to Israel provides us an apt illustration of this: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and just him, shall ye have.” (Lev. 19:35) This was strict justice. It was absolutely right. They must not do less. But Jesus taught his followers that, by the law of love, they should do more than that—they should exceed justice. He said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over”!—Luke 6:38

The Law did not require the Israelites to press down, and shake together to eliminate air spaces, and to allow more to fit in the container. It did not require them to pour liquid until it ran over the edge of the vessel. Did this teaching of Jesus contradict the Law? No, there is no contradiction here. It is entirely proper and always permissible to give more than the Law demands; never less.

This is why Jesus, although he was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, was free to make exceptions—to lovingly give the crumbs of blessing to some Gentiles who had no claim to them, being outside the commonwealth of Israel. In this he exemplified his Heavenly Father, who so loved the world that he arranged a way for the justly condemned Adam—who had no claim to life—to be released from death.

Do you like to surprise those you love with a gift, something precious they do not expect, and for which they have not asked? God does; only his gifts are exceedingly more excellent than we can ever give. This is what the apostle meant when he said, “Him [Jehovah] that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think”!

We must not be disposed to chide the Lord if he makes loving exceptions to his rules—granting crumbs of blessing to those outside our fellowship. This is the Lord’s business. “Who can hinder him? Who will say unto him, What doest thou?” (Job 9:12) And Daniel said of him, “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. And none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”—Dan. 4:35

As for us who know what a loving God we have, we should expect to receive from him blessings “pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” If faithful to our consecration, we should confidently claim the promise, “Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it”!—Mal. 3:10

We do not have to beg for crumbs. We are the children, seated at the Lord’s table, “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), and all the marvelous bounties of the Lord are ours!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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