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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Matthew 15

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XV.

Christ reproveth the Scribes and Pharisees for transgressing God's commandments through their own traditions; and teacheth how that which goeth into the mouth doth not defile a man: he healeth the daughter of the woman of Canaan, and also great multitudes: and with seven loaves, and a few little fishes, feedeth four thousand men, besides women and children.

Anno Domini 31.


Verse 1-2

Matthew 15:1-2. Then came to Jesus, &c.— The law of Moses required external cleanness as a part of religion: not however for its own sake, but to signify with what carefulness God's servants should purify their minds from moral pollutions: accordinglytheir duties are prescribed by Moses with such moderation, as was fitted to promote the end of them; but in process of time they came to be multiplied prodigiously: for the ancient doctors, to secure the observation of those precepts which were really of divine institution, added many commandments of their own,as fences to the former; and the people, to shew their zeal, obeyed them. For example, because the law, Leviticus 15:11 saith, Whomsoever he toucheth that hath an issue, and hath not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening; the people were ordered to wash their hands immediately on their return from the places of public concourse, and before they sat down to meat, lest, bytouching some unclean person in the crowd, they might have defiled themselves. The Pharisees were very zealous in these trifles, and from this source came that endless variety of purifications not prescribed by the law, but ordained by the elders; such as the washing of cups and pots, brazen vessels, and tables, Mark 7:4 not because they were dirty, but from a principle of religion, or rather of superstition. These ordinances, though they were of human invention, came at length to be looked upon as essential in religion; nay, were exalted to such a pitch, that, in comparison of them, the law of God was suffered to lie neglected and forgotten; insomuch that in some of the Jewish writings we find these blasphemous maxims: "The words of the Scribes are more lovely than the words of the law; the words of the ancients are more weighty than those of the prophets." See Beausobre and Lenfant, and Wetstein


Verses 3-6

Matthew 15:3-6. But he answered, &c.— It was easy for our Lord to retort upon the Pharisees the charge of impiety which they had brought against his disciples, being themselves guilty of the grossest violations of the divine law, through the regard which they shewed to their own traditions. Accordingly, he produces an instance of an atrocious kind: "God (says he) hascommanded children to honour their parents;" that is to say, among other things, to maintain them when reduced; for as the greater includes the less; so honour, Matthew 15:4 imports assistance and maintenance when they are wanted, as appears from Matthew 15:5. And honour is used for maintenance, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and elsewhere.—"Nevertheless (says our Lord) you Pharisees presumptuously make light of the divine commandments, and of the aweful sanction annexed; affirming, that it is a more sacred duty to enrich the temple than to nourish one's parents, though they be in the utmost necessity; and pretending that what is offered to the Great Parent is better bestowed, than that which is given for the support of our parents on earth, as if the interest of God was different from that of his creatures. Nay, ye impiously teach, that a man may lawfully suffer his parents to starve, if he can say to them, It is a gift, &c. that is to say, what should have succoured you is given to the temple. Thus have you hypocrites made void the commandment of God, though of immutable and eternal obligation, by your frivolous traditions; and distinguished with a cloak of piety the most horrid and unnatural actions whereof a man can be guilty." See the note on Mark 7:11. Dr. Heylin reads the 5th and 6th verses thus: But you say, that whoever will declare to his father or mother, that what he might assist them with is an oblation, shall hereby be free from his obligation to maintain them. Thus you invalidate the command of God by your tradition. Dr. Doddridge reads it: But you assert, that any one may say to his father or mother, let that be a gift, by which thou mightest receive an advantage from me; and he shall not honour his father and mother. Thus, &c. See Capellus and Sir Norton Knatchbull. The version of 1729 gives the sense of the passage thus: "But your doctrine is this, If any man declare to his father or mother, that whatever he has to give for their relief is dedicated to the temple, he is not obliged to regard," &c.


Verses 7-9

Matthew 15:7-9. Ye hypocrites, &c.— See note on Isaiah 29:13. In St. Mark, our Lord makes this citation at the beginning of his discourse, Mark 7:6-7. Possibly therefore he cited and applied it twice; first, at the beginning, as St. Mark tells us; and having proved that it was truly applicable to the Scribes and Pharisees, he applied it again at the conclusion of his argument, asSt. Matthew affirms. We have several examples of the like repetitions in the Gospels. See Mark 10:6-9 compared with Matthew 19:4-6.; ch. Matthew 24:5 compared with Matthew 15:11; Matthew 15:24.; and Luke 22:18 compared with Matthew 26:29. Dr. Doddridge renders the last clause of Matthew 15:9. While they teach doctrines that are human injunctions, the mere precepts of men, which have no stamp of divine authority upon them.


Verse 11

Matthew 15:11. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth Our Lord, addressing the multitude, observed to them, that nothing could be more absurd than the precepts which the Scribes and Pharisee endeavoured to inculcate: anxious about trifles, they neglected the great duties of morality, which are of unchangeable obligation. They shuddered with horror at hands unwashed, but were perfectly easy under the guilt of impure minds; although not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; because, in the sight of God, cleanness and uncleanness are qualities not of the body, but of the mind, which can be polluted by nothing but sin. Our Lord did not at all mean to overthrow the distinction which the law had established between things clean and unclean in the matter of men's food; that distinction, like all the other emblematical institutions of Moses, was wisely appointed, being designed to teach the Israelites how carefully the familiar company and conversation of the wicked is to be avoided: he only affirmed; that in itself no kind of meat can defile the mind, which is the man, though by accident it may: a man may bring guilt upon himself by wilfully eating what is pernicious to his health, or by excess in the quantity of food and liquor; and a Jew might have done it by presumptuously eating what was forbidden by the Mosaic law, which still continued in force; yet inall these instances the pollution would arise from the wickedness of the heart, and be proportionable to it: which is all that our Lord asserts. See Macknight, Doddridge, Calmet.


Verse 13

Matthew 15:13. Every plant, &c.— Every plantation, Φυτεια, that is to say, doctrine. The metaphor was familiar in the time of our Lord, and is still used by the Jewish writers, with whom to pull up plantations signifies "to deny articles of faith." See Heylin and Wetstein.


Verse 14

Matthew 15:14. They be blind leaders, &c.— "Teachers who foolishly think to lead their disciples to perfection by the observation of precepts wherein there is not the smallest degree of true piety; and who will not be convinced of the contrary: for which cause, both the guides and the guided, who prefer ignorance to knowledge, and superstition to religion, shall fall into the ditch of eternal perdition. Therefore let them alone; concern not yourselves about them."


Verse 15

Matthew 15:15. Declare unto us this parable The disciples, not understanding their Master's doctrine concerning meats, desired him, when they came home, to explain it. See Mark 7:17. He complied, and shewed them that meats, being of a corporeal nature, cannot defile the mind, or make a man a sinner in the sight of God, unless when used immoderately, or in opposition to the commandment of God; in which case the pollution arises from the man, and not from the meat: whereas that which proceedeth out of the man's mouth, coming from his heart, really pollutes the mind. See Matthew 15:18. The verb φρασον, rendered, declare, signifies properly, make known or explain, Comp. ch. Matthew 13:36.


Verse 19

Matthew 15:19. Evil thoughts Διαλογισμοι πονηροι, evil reasonings: So I choose to render it, says Dr. Doddridge, as better suiting both the original and the occasion, and as containing a more universal and important truth; for those thoughts only defile the heart, which it willingly admits, and does as it were hold a parley and converse with; and I fear there are multitudes in the present age like these Pharisees, who are contracting immense guilt by those corrupt and sophistical reasonings, on the subtilty of which they may highly value themselves and each other. See Mark 7:21-22. Dr. Heylin renders it ill designs; and instead of blasphemies, he reads calumnies. The original wordincludesallreviling,backbiting,and evil-speaking. It is remarkable, that three of the crimes here mentioned as pollutions of the mind, namely, murder, false-witness, and blasphemy, were on this very occasion committed by the persons who charged our Lord with impiety, because he neglected such ceremonial precepts of religion as were of human invention: for while they feigned the highest reverence for the divine law, they were making void its most essential precepts. At the very time that they condemned the disciples for so small an offence as eating with unwashen hands, contrary only to the tradition of the elders, the Scribes and Pharisees were murdering Jesus by their calumnies and false-witnessings, notwithstanding it was the whole study of his life to do them all the good possible.


Verse 20

Matthew 15:20. These are the things which defile a man Thus our Lord defended his disciples by a beautiful chain of reasoning, wherein he has shewn the true nature of actions, and loaded with perpetual infamy those Jewish teachers and all their posterity who should imitate them; the main strokes of whose characters are, that by their frivolous superstitions they weaken and sometimes destroy the eternal and immutable rules of righteousness. It may be proper just to observe, that St. Matthew represents these evil things as proceeding out of the mouth, Matthew 15:18 not so much by way of contrast to meats which enter by the mouth into the man, as because some of them are committed with the faculty of speech, such as false-witness and blasphemy; and others of them are helped forwards by its assistance; as adultery, deceit, &c.


Verse 21-22

Matthew 15:21-22. Then Jesus went thence It may easily be believed, that the Pharisees were highly offended at the liberty which Jesus took in the preceding discourse; for he had plucked off from them the mask wherewith they had covered their deformity, and rendered themselves so venerable in the eyes of the people. Accordingly, their plots being laid against his reputation and life, he judged it proper to retire to the remote regions which lay between the cities of Tyre and Sidon, proposing to conceal himself awhile. Sidon was a very ancient town, having been built by Sidon, the eldest son of Canaan, the son of Ham, the son of Noah. It appears from Joshua 22:9 that the whole country westward of Jordan was called Canaan, that on the east being named Gilead. From the same book, ch. Matthew 19:28-29 we learn that Tyre and Sidon were cities in the lot of Ashur; which tribe having never been able wholly to drive out the natives, their posterity remained even in our Lord's time. Hence he did not preach the doctrine of the kingdom in this country, because it was inhabited principally by heathens, to whom he was not sent as a minister or preacher. See ch. Matthew 10:5. Neither did he work miracles here with that readiness which he shewed everywhere else. The reason of his retiring to these parts was, as before observed, to shun the Pharisees by concealing himself; but he could not be hidden. It seems he was personally known to many of the Gentiles in this country, who no doubt had often heard and seen him in Galilee. See Mark 3:8. As for the rest, they were sufficiently acquainted with him by his fame, which had spread itself very early through all Syria; see ch. Matthew 4:24. In one of the towns of this remote country there lived a Canaanitish woman, whose daughter was possessed with a devil. She was a descendant of the ancient inhabitants, and by religion a heathen, as seems plain from St. Mark, who calls her a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation, Mark 7:26. For since the woman's nationis mentioned in the latter clause, the title of a Greek, which is given her in the former, must certainly be the denomination of her religion: Keuchenius thinks, that the epithet Καναναια, a Canaanite, denotes the woman's occupation,—she merchandized; and supports his notion by the like use of the word in the Old Testament: but this conjecture will not hold, because our Lord's reply to her, Matthew 15:26. It is not meet, &c. plainly imports that she was a heathen; I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But though this woman was ignorant of the true religion, she had conceived a very great, honourable, and just opinion not only of our Lord's power and goodness, but even of his character as Messiah, which she had gained a knowledge of by conversing with the Jews; for when she had heard of his arrival, she went in quest of him, and meeting him as he passed along the street, she addressed him with the title of Son of David, or promised Messiah, and cried after him for a cure of her daughter. See Macknight. Dr. Heylin renders the last clause of the 22nd verse, My daughter is in a grievous manner possessed by a demon.


Verse 23

Matthew 15:23. But he answered her not a word Jesus did not seem to regard the woman, intending that the greatness of her faith should be made to appear; an end, highly worthy of the wisdom of Jesus; because it not only justified his conduct in working a miracle for a heathen, but was a sharp rebuke to the Jews for their infidelity. In the mean time his disciples, being ignorant of his design, were uneasy at the woman's importunity, thinking, that issue was permitted to follow them, they should soon be discovered. Desirous, therefore, to get rid of her, they intreated their master to dismiss her, as he was used to dismiss such petitioners, that is to say, with the grant of her request. The version of 1729 renders the clause, His disciples came and intreated him to grant her request; for, said they, she is very importunate with us. As it appears from Mark 7:24 that Christ was entered into an house, and that the application of this woman prevented his being concealed, as he seemed desirous to have been; it appears probable, that, having learned that Jesus was there, she watched for the disciples, as they went in and out, and having cried after them some time, she at length got admittance into the house, and with the profoundest respect accosted him; at first from some distance, and then drew near, and threw herself at his feet. See Doddridge.


Verse 24

Matthew 15:24. I am not sent but, &c.— See the note on ch. Matthew 10:5. "Though I am come to save all the nations of the world,my ministry must be confined to the Israelites." Thus at first Jesus seemed to refuse both the woman's request, and the disciples' intercession in her behalf: our Lord's answer was well adapted to their own prejudices. And as they entertained high notions of the Jewish prerogative, they were so well satisfied with the reply, that we hear them no more pleading for this unhappy Gentile.


Verse 26

Matthew 15:26. It is not meet to take the children's bread, &c.— The Jews gloried greatly in the honourable title of God's children, because of all nations they alone knew and worshipped the true Jehovah: they gave the name of dogs to the heathens for their idolatry and other pollutions, by which they had in their judgment degraded themselves from the rank of rational creatures. By this appellation the Jews intended to mark the impurity of the Gentiles, and their odiousness in the sight of God; at the same time conveying an idea of the contempt in which they were held by the holy nation: though in some respects it was applicable, it must have been very offensive to the heathens. Nevertheless, this good woman neither refused it, nor grudged the Jews the honourable title of children: she acknowledged the justness of what Christ said, and, by a strong exercise of faith, drew an argument from it, which the candour and benevolence of his disposition could not resist.


Verse 27

Matthew 15:27. And she said, Truth, Lord Ναι, Κυριε : which is sometimes used as a form of assenting, and sometimes of intreating. "I acknowledge, Lord, the truth and justice of what thou hast said; nevertheless let me have such kindness as the dogs of any family enjoy: from the plenty of miraculous cures which thou bestowest on the Jews, drop the offal of this one to me, who am a poor distressed heathen; for by it they will suffer no greater loss than the children of a family do by the crumbs which are cast to the dogs." See Macknight, and Blackwall's Classicks, vol, 1: p. 143.


Verse 28

Matthew 15:28. Then Jesus answered—O woman! great is thy faith Jesus having thus made it evident that the woman possessed a very high degree of faith, a just notion of his power and goodness, and of her own unworthiness, wrought with pleasure the cure which she solicited on behalf of her daughter, and atthe same time gave her faith the praise which was due to it. As soon as she had uttered the sentiment which was so acceptable to Christ, he willed the ejection of the demon; and though scarce any time passed between her uttering that sentiment and his answer, so great was his power and goodness, that the devil was expelled before he spake, Go thy way, the devil is gone out of thy daughter, Mark 7:29. The success which this Canaanitish woman's suit met with from Jesus, teaches us two lessons of great importance: 1st, That God is no respecter of persons, but always accepts sincere faith and fervent prayer, proceeding from a humble penitent heart. 2ndly, That it is our duty to continue in prayer with earnestness, although the answer thereof should be long deferred. But see more in the Inferences and Reflections.


Verses 29-31

Matthew 15:29-31. And Jesus departed from thence Jesus at length departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, returned to the sea of Galilee through the region of Decapolis, on the east side of Jordan. See Mark 7:31. Having continued in Decapolis a considerable time, the fame of his being in the country reached every corner; wherefore, to avoid the crowds, he retired into a desert mountain beside the sea of Galilee. Here the sick, the lame, the dumb, the blind, and the maimed, were brought to him from all quarters, and laid down around him by their friends who followed him thither. The sight of so many people in distress moved the compassion of the Son of God exceedingly; for he graciously healed them all; particularly the dumb, who are commonly deaf also. He not only conferred the faculty of hearing and pronouncing articulate sounds, but he conveyed into their mind at once the whole language of their country, making them perfectly acquainted with all the words in it, their significations, their forms, their powers, and their uses, so as to comprehend the whole distinctly in their memories; and at the same time he gave them the habit of speaking it both fluently and copiously! This was a kind of miracle very astonishing; but the change produced in the bodies of men was but the least part of it: what passed in their minds was the grand and principal thing, being an effect so extensive, that nothing inferior to infinite power could have produced it. With respect to the blind restored to sight by this great Light of the world, they saw every object distinctly, and immediately bore, without any inconvenience, the fullforce of unaccustomed light! A most wonderful circumstance, but which was universally the case, so far as we can judge by all the accounts of the blind restored to sight which occur in the Gospels.

And with respect to the maimed, — κυλλους, that is, persons who had lost their legs and arms, and who are here distinguished from the lame or crippled (see Mark 9:43.), Jesus gave new members in their stead; but when he thus created such parts of their bodies as were wanting, without having any thing at all as a subject to work upon, the spectators could not have been more surprised, had they seen him form a whole human body out of the dust of the earth. The Jewish multitudes seem to have apprehended the greatness of these miracles more distinctly than the generality of Christian; for we are told, ch. Matthew 9:33 when Jesus opened the mouth of the dumb man, the multitude marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel. See also ch. Matthew 12:22-23. On this occasion likewise they were not silent nor unaffected: They glorified the God of Israel; acknowledging that in this event was fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah, Isaiah 35:5. This clause makes it probable, that many heathens were now present with our Lord, beheld his miracles, and formed a just notion of them. It seems, hisfamespreadingitselfintotheneighbouringcountrieshadmadesuch an impression even upon the idolatrous nations, that numbers of them came from far to hear and see the wonderful man of whom such things were reported, and if possible to experience his healing goodness; wherefore, when they beheld these effects of his power, they were exceedingly struck with them, and broke forth in praises of the God, by whose assistance and authority they considered him as acting: and it may be also, from that time forth devoted themselves to his worship. See Macknight, Beza, and Elsne


Verses 32-38

Matthew 15:32-38. I have compassion on the multitude Σπλαγχνιζομαι, a very expressive word, signifying My bowels yearn, or are moved, see ch. Matthew 9:36. It is pleasing to remark the strong compassion which our blessed Lord continually discovered in all his actions toward mankind. The multitude, it is probable, intent on hearing Christ and seeing his miracles, had lodged two nights together in thefields, as the season of the year was pleasant, this event happening quickly after the passover: and, besides that the great number of the cures which had been wrought but just before might animate them,—perhaps they might conclude, that the miraculous power of Christ, which was displayed in so many glorious instances around them, would either preserve their health from being endangered by the large dews which fell in the night, or restore them from any disorder they might contract by their eagerness to attend on his ministry. The multitude having now, as on a former occasion, consumed all the provision they brought with them, Jesus would not send them away without feeding them, lest they might have fainted in the way home. The disciples, who it seems did not reflect on the former miraculous dinner, imagined that Jesus proposed to feed this great multitude in the natural way; and were greatly surprised, and strongly hinted the impracticability of so doing, Matthew 15:33. Jesus did not reprove them for these wrongnotions, but meekly asked them what meat they had; and upon their telling him that they had seven loaves and a few little fishes, he ordered them to be brought, and out of these made a second dinner for the multitude by miracle. The Evangelist having, in the history of the former dinner, described the manner in which the multitudes were set down, thought itneedless on this occasion to say any thing of that particular; probably because they were ranged before in companies, by hundreds and by fifties. Few or none of these persons, it is most probable, were present at the former dinner; they seem to have been principally such as followed Jesus from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and the neighbouring heathen country: hence they are said, on seeing his miracles, to have glorified the God of Israel. This dinner was in all respects like to the first, except in the number of loaves and fishes of which it was made, the number of persons who were present at it, and the number of baskets which were filled with the fragments that remained. One cannot but remark with what wisdom Jesus chose to be so much in deserts during this period of his ministry: he was resolved, in the discharge of the duties of it, to make as little noise as possible, to avoid crowds, and to be followed only by such as had dispositions proper for profiting by his instructions; and to say the truth, not a great many others would have accompanied him into solitudes, where they were to sustain the inconveniences of hunger and the weather for several days together. As the multitude on this and the like occasions remained long with Jesus, doubtless his doctrine distilled upon them, all the while like dew, and as the small rain upon the tender herb; if so, what satisfaction and edification should we find in the divine discourses which he then delivered, were we in possession of them! Therefreshment that we receive from such of them as the inspired writers have preserved, raises an ardent desire of the rest. At the same time it must be acknowledged, that we are blessed with so much of Christ's doctrine as is fully sufficient to the purposes of salvation. See Macknight, Doddridge, and Wetstein.


Verse 39

Matthew 15:39. And came into the coasts of Magdala Bengelius properly separated this verse from the present chapter, and placed it at the beginning of the next; for it was on the coasts of Magdala that the Pharisees came to our Saviour. Compare Mark 8:10 where it is said, that Jesus came into the parts of Dalmanutha: but the Evangelists may be easily reconciled, by supposingthat Dalmanutha was a city and territory within the district of Magdala. Reland (Palaest. p. 884.) mentions a castle called Magdala, not far fromGamaba, which he thinks gave this region its name. See Hammond, Calmet, and Wetstein.

Inferences.—The good Shepherd walks the wilderness to seek for immortal souls, Matthew 15:21. Why are we weary in doing good, when our Saviour underwent this perpetual toil in healing bodies, and winning souls?

No nation carried such brands and marks of a curse as Canaan; yet, to the shame of these careless Jews, even a faithful Canaanite is a suppliant to Christ, while they neglect so great salvation. God is no accepter of persons; in every nation they who fear him will obtain his favour. This woman does not merely speak but cry; need and desire have raised her voice to an important clamour; the God of mercy is quick to hear; yet he loves a vehement solicitation; not to make himself inclinable to grant, but to make us capable of receiving blessings. They are words, and not prayers, which fall from careless lips.—Neither does her vehemence so much argue her faith, as her address, O Lord, thou Son of David! What proselyte, what disciple could have said more? O blessed Syrophenician! who taught thee this abstract of divinity? What can we Christians confess more, than the Deity, the humanity, and the Messiahship of our glorious Saviour? His Deity as Lord, his humanity as a Son, his Messiahship as the Son of David. Whoever would come to Christ effectually, must come in the right style; apprehending a true God, a true man, a true God and man: any of these severed from the other, makes Christ an idol, and our prayers sin.

Being thus acknowledged, what suit is so fit for the Son of David as mercy? Have mercy on me! It was her daughter who was tormented; yet she says, Have mercy on me. Perhaps her possessed child was senseless of her misery: the parent feels both her sorrow and her own. As she was a good woman, so a good mother. No creature is so unnatural, as the reasonable who has put off affection.

My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. It was this which sent her to Christ. I doubt whether she would have inquired after Christ, if it had not been for her daughter's distress. Our affections are the files and whetstones which set an edge on our devotions; neither are they stronger motives to our suit than our own misery; that misery sues, and pleads, and importunes for as; that, which sets men at a distance, whose compassion is finite, attracts God to us. Who can plead discouragements in his access to the throne of grace, when our wants are our forcible advocates, and all our worthiness is in a capable misery?

Who would expect any other than a kind answer to so pious and faithful a petition? But behold, he answered her not a word! O holy Saviour, we have often found cause to wonder at thy words; never, till now, at thy silence: A miserable suppliant cries and sues, while the God of mercies answereth not! he who comforts the afflicted, adds affliction to the comfortless by a willing disrespect! Whether for the trial of her patience and perseverance; whether for the farther sharpening of her desires, and raising of her zealous importunity; whether for the giving more sweetness to the blessing by the difficulty of obtaining it; whether for the engaging of his disciples in so charitable a suit; whether for the wise avoidance of exception from the captious Jews; or, lastly, for the drawing of a holy and imitable pattern of faithful perseverance, and to teach us not to measure God's hearing of our suit by his present answer; the wisdom of Jesus resolved upon silence.

It was no small fruit of this silence, that the disciples thereupon were moved to pray for a favourable dismission of this woman; they felt her misery, and became suitors for her, unrequested. It is our duty, in case of necessity, to intercede for each other; and by how much the more familiar we are with Christ, so much the more to improve our interest for the relief of the distressed. We are bidden to say, our father, not mine; he cannot pray, or be heard for himself, who is no man's friend but his own. There is no prayer, without faith; no faith, without charity; no charity, without mutual intercession.

That which urged them to speak for her, is urged to Christ by them for her obtaining her request; she crieth after us, Matthew 15:23. Prayer is as an arrow; if it be drawn up but a little, it goes not far; but if it be pulled to the head, it flies strongly, and pierces deep: heartless motions do but teach us to deny; fervent suits offer violence both to earth and heaven.

Christ would not answer the woman, But he answers his disciples, I am not sent, Matthew 15:24. But who can tell whether his silence or his answer be more grievous? While he said nothing, his forbearance might have been supposed to proceed from the necessity of same greater thoughts. But now his answer professes that silence to have proceeded from a willing resolution not to answer. Yet is not this woman hereby to be discouraged. Neither the silence of Christ, nor his denial, can repulse her: as if she saw no arguments of discouragement, she comes, and worships, and cries, Lord, help me! no contempt can cast her off. Faith is an undaunted grace. It has a strong heart and a bold forehead; even denials cannot dismay it, much less delays. The woman's first suit was for mercy; her present, for help. There is no use of mercy, if it produce not help. To be pitied without aid, is but an addition to misery. Who can blame us, if we care not for an unprofitable compassion? the very suit was gracious. She says not, Lord, if thou canst,—help me, like the father of the lunatic; but professes the power, while she begs the act, and gives glory, where she would have relief.

Who can expect other than a fair and yielding answer to so humble; so faithful, so patient a suppliant? What can succeed well, if a prayer of faith, from the knees of humility, succeed not?—And yet, behold! her discouragement is doubled with her suit. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. First, his silence seemed to imply a contempt; then, his answer defended his silence; now, his speech expresses and defends his apparent contempt. Lo, he has turned her from a woman to a dog; and, as it were, spurns her from his feet with a harsh repulse. What shall we say? Is the Lamb of God turned a lion? Does that clear fountain of mercy run blood? O Saviour! did ever so hard a word fall from those mild lips? Thou calledst Herod fox, and most worthily,—he was crafty and wicked;—the Scribes and Pharisees a generation of vipers,—they were venomous and cruel;—Judas a devil,—he was both covetous and a traitor:—but here,—was a woman in distress, and challenges mercy;—a good woman, a faithful suppliant, a Canaanitish disciple, a Christian Canaanite;—yet treated by thee with great severity; by thee, who wert all goodness and mercy. How different are thy ways from ours! even thy severity argues favour: the trial had not been so sharp, if thou hadst not found the faith so strong,—if thou hadst not meant the issue so happy!

What ordinary patience would not have been over-strained with such a repulse? how few but would have fallen into passionate expostulations? "Art thou the prophet of God, who so disdainfully entertainest poor suppliants? Is this the comfort which thou dealest to the distressed? Is this the fruit of my humble adoration, of my faithful profession?"—But here was nothing of this kind; on the contrary, her humility grants all; her patience overcomes all; and she meekly answers, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. "Thou, O Lord, art truth itself; thy word can be no other than truth; thou hast called me a dog, and indeed such I am; a poor outcast, a sinner, and a Gentile. Give me therefore the favour and privilege of a dog, that I may gather up some crumbs of mercy from under the table whereat thy children sit. This blessing, though great to me, yet, to the infinitude of thy power and mercy, is but a crumb to a feast. I presume not to press to the board, but to creep under it: deny me not those small offals, which else would be swept away, and lost in the dust!"

O woman, say I, great is thy humility, great is thy patience; but, O woman, says my Saviour, great is thy faith! He sees the root, we the stock; nothing but faith could thus temper the heart, thus strengthen the soul, thus charm the tongue. It is no wonder, if that chiding end in favour; be it unto thee even as thou wilt: Never did such grace go away uncrowned: the beneficence had been strait, if thou hadst not carried away more than thou suedst for; lo, thou, that camest as a dog, goest away a child. Thou that wouldst but creep under the children's feet, art set at their elbow, art fed with full dishes. The way to succeed well at God's hand, is to be humbled in His eyes, and in our own. It is quite otherwise with God than with men: with men, we are so accounted of, as we account of ourselves; he will be sure to be vile in the sight of the children of this world, who is vile in his own: but with God nothing is got by vain ostentation; nothing is lost by abasement. He that humbleth himself, shall be exalted!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Since the purity of the Redeemer's conduct was such that his most inveterate enemies could not convict him of sin, the Scribes and Pharisees endeavoured, if they could not prove him guilty of a breach of God's law, to accuse him at least as a breaker of the canons of their church.

1. The accusation laid against him is for permitting his disciples "to transgress the tradition of the elders; and eat bread with unwashen hands:" which to them appeared highly criminal, who, having lost the spirit and power of godliness, were wholly engrossed with the form, and spent their zeal in practising, and enforcing the vain superstitions of their own invention as the most essential parts of religion. And, similar to this, we still too frequently see the most rigid and superstitious observers of the form of godliness the greater enemies to the power of it, and the most inveterate persecutors of the spiritually-minded. 2. Christ answers their accusation, vindicates his disciples, and rebukes their hypocrisy. [1.] He vindicates his disciples, by shewing the folly and wickedness of the traditions on which they grounded their charge, and recriminates by a juster accusation of their conduct who made void the commandments of God by their traditions. In proof of which, he produces the fifth commandment, where the duty of children towards their parents is enjoined; and in the honour that we must pay to them there is included the relief of their wants, in case of need: and to this law God has annexed the most aweful sanction: the transgressor who curses, or but speaks contemptibly of, his father or mother, is doomed to death, Exodus 21:17. But their false casuistry had provided an evasion, to avoid ministering to the necessities of their parents; and their tradition asserted, that however urgent these might be, if they vowed to employ in sacred uses what should have been given to relieve their parents' wants; or, as Dr. Gill interprets the passage, vowed that what they had should be as Corban, as if dedicated to the sanctuary, and should not be given to their parents' use; they were then supposed to be bound by their vow; and though the things were not employed in sacred uses, they thought themselves authorised under this pretence to withhold from their father or mother the relief which they ought to have afforded them: a tradition as absurd as impious, and utterly overturning the law of God. Note; (1.) Many who are flaming in zeal for trifling human ceremonies, disregard and violate the most essential precepts of charity, and the most evident commands of God's law. (2.) Tradition has been ever a treacherous guide; therefore neither antiquity nor authority must weigh a rush with us against the revealed truths of God's word.

[2.] He rebukes their hypocrisy. He knew their hearts, and therefore there was no rashness nor uncharitableness in the charge laid against them: and he brings his reproof from Isaiah; for what the prophet spake as the character of the men of his day, had also a farther view to the generation then present, who exactly answered the description; and it is indeed equally applicable to the state of all hypocrites and formal professors to the end of time. They made an outward shew of religion, and, so far as lip-service and external worship went, pretended to honour God; but their hearts, without which he is pleased with no services, were far estranged from him: and while they appeared to pay the higher respect to God, they set up their traditions and human inventions, or many of them at least, in direct opposition to God's law; and this rendered all their worship and apparent devotion vain, useless, and rejected. Note; (1.) Hypocrisy is among the most common and fatal sins; and though men may not discover it in us, it cannot be hidden from God. (2.) God's first requirement of us is our heart; if this be alienated from him, nothing that we can offer him besides will meet with any acceptance.

2nd, Having vindicated his disciples, and rebuked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he endeavours to set the multitude in general right in a matter of such importance, which had been so grievously mistaken. And for this purpose he calls them to him, as perhaps they had withdrawn while the Pharisees talked with him, and bids them hear and understand; for it requires much attention and careful examination before we can emancipate ourselves from the fetters of long-rooted error, and the prejudices of education.

1. He lays down this grand axiom, that all defilement comes from within. It was a superstitious tradition which the Pharisees inculcated, that the meat eaten with unwashen hands communicated pollution to the soul; whereas nothing can defile the soul but sin, which, taking its rise in the heart, issues forth at the mouth. And herein he levelled a tacit rebuke against these cavillers, who, while they contended for cleanness and purity, betrayed the venom and malignity of their own hearts. The severest censurers of others are usually thus found most culpable themselves. While they pretend to pluck the mote from their brother's eye, they discover not the beam which is in their own.

2. When they were retired into a house, the disciples, aware of the great offence which this declaration gave to the Pharisees, expressed their concern about it, as if the observation had been better suppressed, and might prejudice and exasperate them against him. Note; (1.) Truth, however offensive, must on proper occasions be spoken; and the woe lies not against those who give the offence, but against those who take it. (2.) We are too apt to hear for others, and to fear, lest some of the audience should be disgusted with plain dealing. But they who would convert men's souls, must often be content to offend nice ears.

3. In answer to their suggestion, Jesus vindicates what he had spoken, as proper and necessary. As these men, and their traditions, were not those heavenly plants which God the Father had planted; they are thus, by the piercing word of truth, discovered, detected, and rooted up. If they be offended, the disciples need not regard it; for high as their character was among the people, they were in fact no better than blind leaders of the blind, ignorant themselves of saving truth, and misleading those who blindly and implicitly obeyed their dictates. And the necessary consequence of this was, that they must perish together, and fall into the pit of eternal misery. Note; (1.) However plausible men's professions may be, and however admired their characters, if they are not the planting of God, and experimentally partakers of the quickening influences of his Spirit, their ruin is as sure as that of impenitent publicans and harlots. (2.) Pride and blindness of heart are inseparable companions; and none are so far from the light of truth, as those who, filled with the conceit of their own wisdom and abilities, vainly boast how clearly they see. (3.) The deceived and the deceiver will perish together; and they who choose their own delusions, have themselves only to blame for the ruin which ensues.

4. Peter, in the name of the disciples, not understanding the meaning of the parable, or still biassed by the prejudices of education, desires his Master to explain himself more distinctly on this point: and though their backwardness to understand was culpable, their desire to be informed was commendable. It is always good to be inquisitive about the great concerns of our souls, and Christ is willing to teach those who desire to learn; while the wilfully ignorant, the self-sufficient, and the proud, are justly left to their darkness and ruin.

5. Christ rebukes the dulness of their capacity, yet graciously condescends to give a farther explication of what he had advanced. Are ye also yet without understanding? They had enjoyed many and long opportunities for profiting under him; and it was a shame that, in a matter so plain, they should be yet so ignorant. Christ justly expects that our means and mercies should produce a proportionate advancement in grace and knowledge. Nothing could be more evident than that the meat, of whatever sort it were, which entered at the mouth, and merely passed through the body, could communicate no moral defilement to the soul. But the heart being the source and fountain of all spiritual impurity, what flowed thence alone communicated in God's sight defilement to the man: and the corrupt and impure streams which flow from that spring he enumerates,—a dreadful catalogue, but the natural produce of every fallen spirit. (1.) Evil thoughts, such as lewd desires, infidel reasonings, covetous wishes, malicious purposes, fraudulent designs, which never appeared in words for actions, but were naked and open before God, and brought guilt upon the soul. (2.) Murders, not only the effusion of human blood, but every word of anger, every act of violence, every expression of malice, hatred, or revenge. (3.) Adulteries, fornications, with all the various steps and contrivances which have a tendency to lead men to these horrid deeds. (4.) Thefts, whether committed by force or fraud. (5.) False witness, in perjuries, lies, deceit, and misrepresentation. (6.) Blasphemies, against God or man. These are the great violations of God's law, the things which involve the conscience in guilt, and make us loathsome in the eyes of divine purity: while to eat with unwashen hands communicates no defilement to the soul, nor in the least renders any man a sinner before God.

3rdly, Departing from the country of Gennesaret, our Lord visited the coasts of Tyre and Sidon; where, by an act of favour to one of the poor Gentiles, he intimated the mercy which he had in store for them. We have,

1. The application made to him by a poor woman of that country, a Canaanite. Having heard the fame of Jesus, she seized the present moment to prefer her request. Her case was very afflictive, her daughter was grievously vexed with a devil, possessed and tormented by him, and therefore she earnestly cries, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David. She professes her faith in him as the true Messiah, expresses her confidence of his power to help her, and, conscious of her own unworthiness to receive any favour from him, casts herself intirely on his mercy. Note; (1.) To see their children under the power of disease, is deeply felt by every tender parent; but to beheld them under the power of sin and Satan, is far more grievous. (2.) When we can do no more for our unhappy offspring, we must continue in prayer to present their miserable state to Jesus, if so be he may interpose to heal them. (3.) The mercies shewn to our children are favours done to ourselves, and should be so acknowledged. (4.) All that a sinner has to ask of the Saviour, is mere mercy; we have no claim upon him, and can only cast ourselves at his feet, to do with us, and by us, according to the riches of his grace.

2. Her application at first appears to be utterly disregarded, and Jesus did not condescend to make a reply; not that he meant to deny her request, but to exercise her faith, and quicken her importunity. His disciples, who had never before seen their Master deaf to the intreaties of the miserable, interested themselves in her behalf; and not merely to be rid of her cries, but probably affected with her deep distress, wished her request granted, and that she were dismissed in peace; but his answer seemed to carry a still more unfavourable aspect, as if his ministry and miracles were to be confined to Israel alone. Nay, when the poor petitioner, notwithstanding all discouragement, approaching nearer, fell down at his feet, importunately reiterating her request, she apparently meets with still a rougher reception; seems to be spurned away as a dog, and excluded from the participation of mercies which were confined to the Jews; as if all out of the pale of their church deserved to be treated as impure animals, and rejected by the faithful. Note; (1.) We must not conclude that our requests are refused, because they are not immediately granted; nor that though the Saviour seems to frown, or even really frowns, he forbids farther intreaty; it is to exercise our faith, and quicken our prayers. (2.) Gracious souls are ever ready advocates and intercessors for the miserable.

3. Not dismayed by this repulse, nor driven to quit her hold, her faith cleaves to Jesus, and her soul bows down before him. Far from being offended at being treated as a dog, or sinking into despair at Christ's reply, her answer expressed the deep humility and unshaken dependence of her heart upon him. "Truth, Lord, she replied; I own the charge; more vile and worthless than I am, no dog can be; a sinner, a Gentile, undeserving of any favour: yet, as a dog regard me;" (So gracefully and powerfully does she improve that for her plea, which seemed to convey the greatest discouragement;) "They are permitted, under their master's table, to pick up the crumbs which fall; I ask no more. While happier Israelites enjoy the abundance of thy miracles, let one crumb fall on me, a poor Canaanite; no loss to them, to me a mercy so unspeakable." Note; (1.) Nothing must ever drive us from Christ; the more we are distressed, the more should we cleave to him. If we perish, we perish; but let it be at least at the feet of Jesus, and there none ever yet were cast away. (2.) We can never have too lowly thoughts of ourselves; the worst that we can say of ourselves, or others can say of us, is nothing in comparison with what God has seen in us. (3.) Active faith lays hold even on the hand which seems stretched out to destroy: "Though thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee:" and this is indeed the triumph of faith.

4. As if amazed and overcome by faith so distinguished, Jesus grants her request, and dismisses her with the highest marks of his approbation. To her utmost wishes he extends the favour, and instantly her daughter was made whole. Note; (1.) Nothing is so pleasing and honourable to Jesus as great faith in his power and love. (2.) There is no mercy that we can ask, believing, which Jesus will ever refuse us; whether it be pardon, holiness, or consolation, it shall assuredly be given us.

4thly, Jesus returned again to the coasts of Galilee: and seating himself on a rising ground, as the great and universal physician, appeared ready to receive and relieve every miserable patient, whatever his disease might be, without money, and without price. We have an account,

1. Of the multitudes who came to him, bringing the afflicted with various maladies, and casting them down at his feet. And his compassions were so great, his power so effectual, that he healed them all. Note; (1.) The diseases of our bodies drive us instantly to the physician, though his art is uncertain; shall not then the more dangerous diseases of our souls drive us to Jesus, whose medicines of grace are infallible? (2.) The world is full of sickness and pain because full of sin; but if the cause be removed through the infinite merit of Jesus, and by the spirit of grace, in the faithful soul, the effects will quickly cease, and the inhabitants above shall never more say I am sick.

2. These wonders of power and grace deeply affected the beholders. Amazed to hear the dumb speak, to see the lame walk, the blind restored to sight, and every malady removed with a word, they glorified the God of Israel for sending the promised Messiah; for such their words bespoke him whom they now beheld. Note; Every mercy demands a tribute of praise; and if the removal of bodily complaints excited such wonder and thankfulness, how much more should we admire the spiritual riches of Christ, and adore the God of our salvation, if our souls have experienced the power of his healing grace; if our once blind eyes see the light of truth; if our ears, once deaf, are open to the Gospel's joyful sound; if our once lame feet are strengthened to run the way of his commandments! For these unutterable blessings, praise the Lord, O my soul.

3. A singular miracle is wrought, wherein all partook, similar to what he had done before, chap. 14: with this little variation, that in the present instance four thousand, besides women and children, are fed with seven loaves and a few little fishes: in the former, five thousand men, besides women and children, were fed with five loaves.

[1.] The circumstances of the people assembled moved the compassion of Jesus. So eager were they to attend on his ministry, and to behold his miracles, that for three days successively they continued with him; and if they brought any little provision with them, it was ere this consumed, so that they had now nothing to eat; and as many of them came from far, and could not soon get a supply of food, to send them away thus fasting might expose them to faint by the way through weakness, and to perish with hunger. Calling his disciples, therefore, he acquainted them with his gracious design of feeding them there; but they forgetting what they had so lately seen, chap. Matthew 14:21 objected to the possibility of providing meat for such a multitude in that wilderness; and especially when by his question he seemed to intend supplying the table out of their scanty store, which appeared so insufficient, being no more than seven loaves, and a few small fishes. Note; (1.) They who know the sweetness of the Gospel word, will undergo weariness and hunger, rather than be deprived of it. (2.) It is through our forgetfulness of the past interpositions we have experienced, that under new difficulties we fall into fresh perplexity.

[2.] Having commanded the multitude to sit down, he took the loaves and fishes, as before, and, thanking God for the provision, divided the bread and fishes among the disciples, that they should distribute them to the people; and far from any lack, when all had eaten and were filled, seven baskets full of fragments still remained. The provision indeed was somewhat more, the company fewer, and the fragments less than in the former instance, but the miracle was the same in one case as the other; and the wondrous enlargement of the food evidenced the same divine creative power. Note; We stand astonished at this relation; but is not every corn which is cast into the earth as marvellously increased at the harvest? yet who thinks of the wonder-working hand of him, by whose daily bread we are continually fed?

[3.] Having liberally satisfied his guests, he dismisses them to their own homes. Thither duty called them; we cannot always be in attendance on the sanctuary, it is not proper that we should. As for himself and his disciples, they took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala. His work was to be going about doing good; and in every place he left behind him abundant marks of his transcendant power, grace, and love.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 15:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/matthew-15.html. 1801-1803.

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