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Bible Commentaries

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible

Matthew 15

 

 

Verses 1-39

3. The Corruption of the Scribes and Pharisees; the Canaanitish Woman and Her Faith; the Multitudes Healed.

CHAPTER 15

1. The Question of the Scribes and Pharisees.(Matthew 15:1-2.)
2. His Answer. (
Matthew 15:3-9.)
3. The Multitude Called.(
Matthew 15:10-11.)
4. The Disciples Instructed.(
Matthew 15:12-20.)
5. The Canaanitish Woman. (
Matthew 15:21-28.)
6. The Multitudes Healed. (
Matthew 15:29-31.)

This chapter introduces us more fully into the events which follow the rejection of the King by His people and which manifest the enmity, the Satanic hatred against the Lord. He has now set His face like a flint to go up to Jerusalem and soon He will reveal His sufferings; His death, His resurrection and His return to earth. While going on steadily towards the cross, which was ever before Him, that departure He should accomplish in Jerusalem, the enemies swarm around Him, they test Him and bring their questions, but He silences them all. The wisdom of Him who is wisdom Himself is gloriously manifested. At last the tempting and accusing scribes and Pharisees have spent their last arrow upon Him. He asks them a question which they could not answer (chapter 22). He then reveals their wickedness and hatred of Him and pronounces His “woes” upon them followed by His last word to Jerusalem (chapter 23). But while these evil men with their evil hearts, under the leadership of Satan, approach the Lord from time to time, He also teaches His disciples and utters parables all in harmony with the scope of the entire gospel. We shall fully show this as we continue in our exposition.

“Then the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem come up to Jesus, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress what has been delivered by the ancients, for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread?” (Matthew 15:1-2).

We can easily learn from this that behind this deputation from the religious Jerusalem stood the whole company of Pharisees and scribes, and that it was a cunningly devised and concerted attempt to ensnare Him. The Lord in answer asks them another question and lays bare their wicked hypocrisies, after which He addresses the people and answers Peter’s question. Before we follow these events a more detailed explanation of the question of the Pharisees and scribes is in order.

We are aware that the two questions, the one by the Pharisees and the other, the Lord’s counter question in the beginning of the fifteenth chapter, are not fully grasped by many readers of the Word. The Jews believed and still believe (at least, the orthodox) in a written law and in an oral law. This they founded upon Exodus 34:27 and taught that while Moses wrote down a law another oral law was given to him and that this oral law was handed down from generation to generation. It is believed by them that Moses received both the written and the oral law on Mount Sinai. They placed the oral law above the written law. (The words of the scribes are lovely above the words of the law; for the words of the law are light and weighty, but the words of the scribes are all weighty. -- Beracoth.) Circumstances, however, forced them to commit the oral law to writing, which was done in the Talmud (meaning doctrine), from which we can learn all the ridiculous paraphrases and wicked additions to the law the ancients had made under the plea that it was given by God. To illustrate what interpretation they put upon certain statements of the law we select Exodus 34:26 : “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.” The oral law has expounded this to mean that it is a sin to eat meat and drink milk at the same time, and the elders have gone so far as to declare, if a pot of milk boils over and some of the milk drops into a pot of meat, the meat is unclean and must be thrown away. Butter, coming from milk, is likewise not to be eaten with meat, etc.

Such a question these tempting scribes and Pharisees brought to the Lord. It is the question about the washing of the hands. It will interest the reader to learn a little more about this unscriptural act and what emphasis the Pharisees and the present day talmudical Jews lay upon the washing of hands.

Nothing whatever is said about such washing of hands in the Old Testament scriptures, but the oral law has precept upon precept upon this ceremony, which, if neglected, is looked upon as a great sin, worthy of excommunication. One even was permitted to eat unclean meats, forbidden in the law, and drink unclean drinks, as long as he fulfilled the traditions of the elders and washed his hands before he broke the law. The Pharisaical righteousness consisted in this: “Whosoever hath his place in the land of Israel, and eateth his common food in cleanness, and speaks the holy language, and recites his prayers morning and evening, let him be confident that he obtains the life of the world to come.” Volumes were written and are in existence which enlarge in the most critical and minutest way upon the washing of hands. Dissertations we find here on the simple washing and the plunging into water, on the manner of the washing, what hand is to be washed first, the time when it is to be done, the quantity of water to be used, and many other rules. Besides this we find the grossest superstitions. We read some years ago in a jargon book, published in Poland, that evil spirits light upon the hands over night and if the hands are not washed as prescribed by the oral law these evil spirits find their way into the mouth and stomach of the transgressor and defile him. (This is undoubtedly founded upon the following talmudical statement: “Shibta is an evil spirit which sits upon man’s hands at night. If any touch his food with unwashed hands, that spirit sits upon that food, and there is danger from it.”)

But enough of this. Such were and are the traditions of the elders. The Lord might have easily dismissed the question of the Jerusalem deputation by telling them that their oral law is invalid, but He aims at something higher. He aims at their conscience and uncovers their true condition. With His divine wisdom He has the answer ready which will completely shut their mouths.

“But He answering said to them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God on account of your traditional teaching?” For God commanded saying: “Honor father and mother; and he that speaks ill of father and mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift (corban) whatsoever it be by which received from me thou wouldst be profited; and he shall in no wise honor his father or his mother; and ye have made void the commandment of God on account of your traditional teaching” (Matthew 15:3-6).

The great lesson from this is the fact which our Lord makes so prominent, that traditional teachings lead to the transgressing of God’s commandment and make it void. This is true in every case. If we look upon religious Christendom with its traditions and man made rules and institutions, we find ample proof of it and could illustrate it in many ways. The one who follows the traditions of Christendom most, finds himself soon in Rome and then in out and out opposition to God’s revealed will and purpose, and he who has nothing at all to do with traditional teachings and rejects them altogether is in submission to the Word of God and looks to it as his only authority.

Surely ritualistic Christendom, the so-called religious world, is the direct offspring of Phariseeism. Its traditions, lent, holidays, man made ministry and many invented ceremonies, have superseded the Word of God and made it of non-effect. We could easily digress here and enlarge upon this thought. We leave it to the reader to make the application. But think of the awful sin, dear reader, that men can dare to set aside with their own inventions and traditional teachings the very Word of God, eternally settled in the heavens! This has been done, and God will judge Christendom for it in His own time. The Pharisees had no room for the Christ of God; they hated Him. Modern Phariseeism may talk of a Christ and use His name; it rejects the Christ, His person and His work.

The Lord, to uncover the hypocrisy of the Pharisees with their traditions, refers to the commandment which demands the child to honor father and mother. To this Jewish tradition had added, “A son is bound to provide his father meat and drink, to clothe him, to cover him, to lead him in and out, to wash his face, hands and feet. A son is bound to nourish his father, yea, to beg for him.” (Kiddushim.) But with all this strictness tradition had found a way how to avoid this obligation. A person had only to say “corban” -- a gift, something dedicated to the temple or a vow of personal obligation, and the son was completely released from any duty towards his father and mother.

“And so stringent was the ordinance that it is expressly stated that such a vow was binding, even if what was voiced involved a breach of the law. It cannot be denied that such vows in regard to parents would be binding, and were actually made. Indeed, the question is discussed in the Mishnah, in so many words, whether “honor of father and mother” constituted a ground for invalidating a vow, and decided on the negative against a solitary dissenting voice. And if doubt should still exist, a case is related in the Mishnah, in which a father was thus shut out by the vow of his son from anything by which he might be profited by him.” (See Edersheim, “Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah.”)

And now follows the righteous word of condemnation by Him who searches the hearts of men. “Hypocrites! well has Esaias prophesied about you, saying, This people honor Me with the lips, but their heart is far away from Me; but in vain do they worship Me, teaching as teachings commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).

The same verdict He pronounces upon the religious world, modern Phariseeism. There is much talk of worship and approaching God -- the Lord has only one word for the whole thing, “Hypocrites”! May we through the rich grace of God be delivered from Phariseeism in any shape or form and keep delivered. It will need great heart-searching and self-judgment.

“And having called to Him the crowd, He said to them, Hear and understand. Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what goes forth out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matthew 15:10-11). Without fear, which He never knew, He declares publicly the evil teachings of the sayings of the elders. Simple truth, indeed, and yet how many who are professing Christians have not hold of the very first principle, that the evil is within which defiles the man.

Of course the Pharisees were offended. It lowered their dignity with the common people. They looked upon themselves as the leaders of the people and here, after so strongly proving the contrary teachings of traditions, He corrects in a few simple words the errors of the Pharisees.

“Then His disciples coming up said to Him, Dost thou know that the Pharisees, having heard this word, have been offended? But He answering said, Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up. Leave them alone; they are blind leaders of the blind; but if blind lead blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:12-14). These words not alone show the doom of the Jewish Pharisees, but they speak also of the doom of that which His heavenly Father has not planted -- Christendom. It will be rooted up and then cast out with its boasted leaders, who are but leaders of the blind.

But even the disciples did not understand His plain and simple language. Peter calls that which was plain teaching “a parable.”

“And Peter answering to Him said, Expound to us this parable. But He said, Are ye also without intelligence? Do ye not apprehend that everything that enters into the mouth finds its way into the belly, and is cast forth into the draught? but the things which go forth out of the mouth come out of the heart and these defile men. For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnessings, blasphemies; these are the things which defile man, but the eating with unwashed hands does not defile man” (Matthew 15:15-20). How slow they were to understand the full meaning of what He wanted to convey to their hearts. Our Lord shows the true source of all defilement. It is within. The Pharisees did not believe in the utter corruption of the heart. “I the Lord search the heart” (Jeremiah 17:10). And this searcher of hearts is present here on the scene and throws His own light upon the source of evil, of which He had said through Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Blessed is he who bows before this verdict.

The incident which follows is in closest connection and fullest harmony with all this inasmuch as it reveals deliverance from the evil which is within.

The first part showed us how the Lord tore down the mask from the Pharisees and uncovered the human heart. “All things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” The One who uncovers here and knoweth the heart, desperately wicked, the Heart-searcher, is the same who called in Eden, “Adam, where art thou?” What else are the religious observances, the traditions of men, than miserable fig leaves to conceal the nakedness of the sinner! But He stripped off these fig leaves, He removed the covering and aimed at the conscience. His divine light revealed the darkness and defilement within. Blessed is the man who puts himself in that light and lets that light uncover and undo him!

The Holy Spirit now connects with the manifestation of Christ as the One who uncovers the heart -- another incident. It is the Syrophoenician woman and the healing of her daughter. If we have in the first part of this chapter the manifestation of Jehovah, who reveals, we find in the second part Jehovah revealed, who covers and delivers His poor, naked and needy creature. The blessed story before us is the full revelation of the loving heart of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“And Jesus going forth from thence, went away into parts of Tyre and Sidon.” He left the religious Pharisees with their hypocrisies and deceitful dealings. He turns His back upon all, and chooses for His path a country where religious observances were unknown, where sin and misery held sway. How significant once more! A foreshadowing again of what should happen soon: the Gospel to be sent to the Gentiles. And now we read of her who is the object of His divine compassion, and through her the Lord manifests His rich grace and power to deliver from evil.

“And lo, a Canaanitish woman, coming out from those borders, cried to Him, saying, Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is miserably possessed by a demon. But He did not answer her a word.”

Assuredly He knew her and her need, her struggles and her faith, and as He went through Samaria on account of that one soul who came to the well, so here He enters these parts to meet the needy one and deliver her. His heart is all for her, and His divine love and desire is toward her. But who is this miserable, crying woman, with her face marred by suffering, lifting her imploring eyes to Him in whom she recognized her Deliverer? She is a Canaanitish woman, or, as she is also called on account of her living in that country, a Syrophoenician. She belongs to a race which is cursed. The Caananite was to perish. Israel was called to carry out the divine sentence. She directs her prayer for help to Him as Son of David. Perhaps she had heard of Him by that name, and how He, the Son of David, drove out demons, healed the sick and raised the dead. Faith she possesses, and faith casts itself upon Him, trusting in His power and willingness to help. But had she a claim upon Him, the Son of David? Had she a promise anywhere that the Son of David would come and deliver and heal a Canaanitish woman? No, not one. For the Canaanite is no hope held out in connection with Israel ‘s Messiah. When at last the Son of David has taken His place upon the throne of His father David, the Canaanite will have been driven out of the land (Joel 3:17; Zechariah 14:21). For this reason He did not answer her a word. If He had opened His lips it could have only been to speak with the authority of the Son of David, and that would have meant her doom. But nevertheless is His heart full of grace and sympathy for her. He who read the hearts of the proud Pharisees reads her heart too, knows her state and that faith will triumph. So He answered her not a word. In that silence was hidden all His rich Grace towards her. It told her: You have no claim on Me as Son of David; you have no promise to claim Me as David’s Son. In calling Him “Son of David” she claimed what was not hers. He wants her to know that she is to come with no claim, as one stripped of all. This is the gracious object before Him in being silent to her pitiful cries.

We next hear the voice of the disciples. “And His disciples came to Him and asked Him, saying, Dismiss her, for she cries after us.” They did not suggest that her request should be granted. Perhaps they meant it by their expressed desire, “Dismiss her.” Had they not seen multitudes healed? Did they not see the blind, the deaf and dumb, the fever-stricken and the infirm press around Him, and He had healed them all? The centurion with his sick servant, too, was a Gentile, and now they ask Him to dismiss her. How little they knew of His ways. He could not dismiss her without the blessing she craved. He could not give her the blessing she wanted as long as she appealed to Him as Son of David, laying claim to that to which she had no right.

“But He answering said, I have not been sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

His answer was not only meant for the imploring disciples but it was meant for her. He speaks, of course, as Son of David. And oh! how wonderful is this word, though it has often been declared as harsh. He puts her, so to speak, in the right path to receive the blessing. It is one little word around which all is centered. The little word is ¦ “lost.” He gave her thus to understand He had come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel ; and if they were lost and needed a Saviour, how much more she, a Canaanitish woman? And it is this word, lost, which faith lays hold upon, and through which she is enabled to draw near and ask His help simply as a needy one. “But she came and worshipped Him, saying. Lord help me.” She has understood; her heart grasped the meaning. She fully realized her place outside of the commonwealth of Israel, and because she knows it she drops His title, Son of David. With this she declared, “I have no claim upon His mercy.” But she came. Yes, she came into his divine presence, and worshipping she falls at his feet with a cry of need, “Lord help me.” She has taken her place before Him, and casts herself upon Him with all her need. “Lord help me” -- what a blessed prayer it is!

And that she had taken the true place in which He, the Son of God, could bless her, is soon to be brought out. Her faith is to be tested -- to pass through the fire. He knew her; He knew the answer she would give, and in testing her He points out the way to Himself and to the blessing once more. Oh! how gracious and tender He is! And still He deals with the soul in the same tender and loving way.

“But He answering said, It is not well to take the bread of the children and cast it to the dogs.” What would she say to this? A dog -- a Gentile -- the bread for the children! Is her faith truly paired with humility (and true faith always is) to stand this word? Does she really know herself as such an unworthy outcast? Before we read her answer let us glance at the word “dogs.” The word used by our Lord is a diminutive; it really means “little dogs.” It denotes the dogs which enter the house to find something to eat there and not the homeless animals which roam through Oriental villages. In the use of this word she understands once more His readiness and willingness to bless her. And so He led her down, deeper and deeper, and as He leads her down her hope becomes brighter and brighter. Thus He deals with the soul which seeks His help.

But now faith bursts forth in all its fragrance. Crushed she lays before Him, the Lord. Tenderly His eyes must have rested upon His poor creature. Her appeal to the Son of David was hushed, her need and help, her expectation from Him alone, and now the word which had crushed her still more and yet which holds out to her the brightest promise.

Listen to her answer as it comes from her trembling heart and lips, “Yea, Lord, for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the table of their master.” She admits it all. She has nothing to answer back. She assents to it: “Yea, Lord.” Thou art right! But faith rises higher. She takes His word in her lips, “the dogs” -- the little dogs -- “eat of the crumbs which fall from the table of their master.” The little dogs are cared for and in the confession of being one of these little dogs she claims from Mercy’s hands a few crumbs. She has conquered. Once more greater faith is found than in Israel. And now He speaks the Word which must have filled her with praise: “O, woman, great is thy faith; be it to thee as thou desirest. And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” But how it all must have refreshed His heart -- the heart of the rejected One -- moving on towards the cross!

However, while we learn the way of grace and spiritual lessons from these events, let us not forget the dispensational phase of it. The first part of this chapter (Matthew 15:1-20) stands for the apostasy of Israel and Israel set aside. The incident of the Canaanitish woman stands typically for the call of the Gentiles and Salvation going forth to them. The third part of the chapter reveals the dispensation to come: the Kingdom age.

“And Jesus going away from thence came towards the sea of Galilee, and He went up into the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to Him, having with them lame, blind, dumb, crippled and many others, and they cast them at His feet, and He healed them; so that the crowds wondered, seeing dumb speaking, crippled sound, lame walking, and blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel. But Jesus having called His disciples to Him said, I have compassion on the crowd, because they have stayed with Me already three days and they have not anything that they can eat, and I would not send them away fasting lest they should faint on the way. And His disciples say to Him, Whence should we have so many loaves in the wilderness as to satisfy so great a crowd? And Jesus says to them, How many loaves have ye? But they said, Seven and a few small fishes. And He commanded the crowds to lie down on the ground; and having taken the seven loaves and the fishes, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples and His disciples to the crowd. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was over and above of the fragments seven baskets full; but they that ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And having dismissed the crowds, He went on board ship and came to the borders of Magadan.”

Here, then, we have once more a foreshadowing of the coming age. The God of Israel is glorified, which will not come to pass in the earth until the King comes back and establishes His kingdom. Then it shall be, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.” The feeding of the second crowd of people has the same meaning. Three days they were with Him and on the third day He fed them miraculously. As we have shown elsewhere, the third day stands always for resurrection and the completion. The seven loaves and seven baskets of fragments teach us the same lessons.

 


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Bibliography Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gab/matthew-15.html. 1913-1922.

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