In our story today we follow the Lord away from the Sea of Galilee to the country by the Mediterranean Sea, near to the old cities of Tyre and Sidon. You can. stand there on the highlands, with the grand snowy mountains above and behind you, and look down on the green plain bordering the sea. There where little points of land run out into the water were the old cities Tyre and Sidon, once so grand and beautiful, where the ships lay at anchor and unloaded their goods from many countries. The blue Mediterranean Sea stretches away in the sunshine to the far-off shores from which they came.
The Lord came to this country across the hills from the Sea of Galilee. The people living here were not Jews, but of a different race and religion. A woman of the country came to the Lord and followed Him crying out for help, for her daughter was "grievously vexed with a devil." We know what this means, for we remember the men on the further shore on the Sea of Galilee who were possessed by devils, who were so strong and fierce that no one could bind or tame them. At first the Lord gave no answer to the woman, and the disciples asked Him to send her away. Would the Lord send anyone away who wanted His help? Would He refuse to help the poor woman? We know that He would not send her away or refuse to help her. But He did not help her at once. He waited until she asked very earnestly and humbly. She was willing to say that she was like one of the hungry dogs that came about the table when the children had their food, to eat the crumbs that fell. "Then Jesus answered and said unto her, 0 woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." From that time her daughter was well. "When she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed." (Mark 7:30)
The Lord did not stay in the country of Tyre and Sidon; He came back across the hills and through the country east of Jordan, and came near from that side to the Sea of Galilee. As He sat there on a mountain slope above the lake the multitude came to Him with sick people of every kind and wondered ("were beyond measure astonished") when they saw them healed.
Does this great company of people about the Lord on the slopes above the Sea of Galilee make you think of another time that we have learned of on the hills not far from the same place by this same shore? The day when the Lord took the five loaves and two fishes and fed five thousand men besides women and children? And on this day, too, the Lord fed the multitude. They had been with Him three days and were far from home. This time, too, He commanded the people to sit down on the ground, and giving thanks He gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. This time there were seven loaves and a few little fishes. There were four thousand men besides women and children, and they gathered up seven large baskets of broken pieces that were left. After this the Lord sent the multitude away, and He came home with the disciples by boat to the shore by Magdala, which was near Capernaum.
We will read the story of these two miracles that the Lord did on this journey away from home, one in the country of Tyre and Sidon, and one on a mountainside beyond the Sea of Galilee. Read Matthew 15:21-39.
The first verses of the chapter mention a custom of the Jews which seems to us so trifling that it is hard to realize how it could have been a matter of great religious importance with them, the washing of hands before eating. The washing of dishes and tables is also referred to in Mark 7:4. Washing had been commanded in the law of Moses, as the washing of the hands and feet of the priests at the laver in the tabernacle and temple court. (Leviticus 22:6; Exodus 30:17-21) But like the rules for keeping the Sabbath, the Jews had multiplied the rules of washing to a degree that seems too foolish to be true; when the washing should be done, how much water should be used, how the hands should be held, etc., etc. (See quite a full account of these rules in "Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," Edersheim, Vol. II., pages 9-15.)
Can you see the meaning of the command in Exodus for the washing of the hands and feet by the priests? and of words like those in Psalm 24:4, or Isaiah 1:16, 17? The verses from Isaiah explain themselves. In connection with such verses you will think of John the Baptist's baptizing in the Jordan, and of the Lord's washing the disciples' feet at the table of the Last Supper. But in the customs of the Jews, how far they had strayed away from the real meaning of the Lord's commands about washing! In verses 10-20 of our chapter you can see how the Lord is bringing the disciples and us back to the real meaning of the washings, the searching out in the feelings and the thoughts of the things that are spiritually unclean and putting them away because they are wrong and forbidden by the Commandments.
Verses 2-9 speak of another tradition of the Jews which was worse than foolish, for it was made an excuse for breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Which Commandment, you see in verse 4. The tradition excused breaking the command, for it allowed a child, if his parents asked him for something, to say, "I give to the Lord the thing you ask for," and then he need not give it to his father or mother. You can see that if the Lord commands us to honor our father and mother we can serve Him by serving them; and that if we disobey and dishonor them, we dishonor Him at the same time. Perhaps you will spend most of your time today thinking about this first part of the chapter, and how we can truly keep the commands about honoring our parents and about washing.
If you have time to read the rest of the chapter, show me first where Tyre and Sidon stood. What was this country of Tyre and Sidon called? Remember how these cities had been famous in the old days for their sailors and commerce. You read of this in Ezekiel 27, and you recall the help of Hiram, king of Tyre, to Solomon in building the temple.
In the days of its glory Tyre stood partly on the shore and partly on a rocky island which sheltered the anchorage. But when Alexander the Great took Tyre before the Gospel days, after destroying the city on the shore he used the materials to build a causeway to the island and took that also. Now the sands have drifted in and the modern town of Tyre stands on a little prominence of the shore, broken columns lying partly under water reminding us of greatness gone by. Read what I have said to the little children about this region and the Lord's visit to it. You will add to the thought suggested to them one other reason for the Lord's delay in answering the woman's appeal for help; that it was important before she received help that she should know and confess that the help was not from the idols of her country, but from the true God who was known in Israel.
The story of the second miracle of feeding the multitude you will understand from our study of the other miracle so much like it. Notice the different numbers in the two miracles; it is a good way of distinguishing them. (Matthew 16:9, 10)
1. What kind of washing of hands did the Pharisees require? What kind does the Lord require?
2. Can any outside circumstances keep a man from heaven? What alone can keep him from it?
3. What do we know about Tyre? Did the people of Tyre and Sidon worship the Lord or idols? (1 Kings 16:31) What miracle did the Lord do in that country? Why did He seem to delay to do it?
4. How many times did the Lord feed the multitude? How were the miracles alike? How do you distinguish them?
Some member of the class should make a study for us of the subject of washings, and show us what they represented in the Jewish law, and what washing the Lord requires of Christian disciples. What is this spiritual washing? What is the water by which it is done? What especially is meant by washing the hands and feet? (A. 3147; T. 670-673)
What the Lord says about the powerlessness of natural food to defile the soul applies also to the impressions and thoughts which come to our mind through the senses from the world. They are like food received into the stomach, but are not yet a part of ourselves until we assimilate them by loving them and wishing to do them. Before we do this we should examine them and reject the things that are not good. .(E. 580, 622)
The Lord's visit to the .country of Tyre and Sidon and the miracle done there for the Gentile woman, remind us of His love for Gentile people, and of His pleasure in blessing every simple heart that was open to receive His blessing. Remember the visit of Elijah to this Gentile land and the miracle done there by him, which the Lord also accepted as representative of His ministry. (Luke 4:24-26) In studying this story consider that Israel and the land of Israel represent the spiritual life, and the neighboring nations various natural faculties and states which are blessed by the Lord if they take their true place as subordinate to the spiritual life. This thought explains the Lord's saying that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and His delay in answering the woman, until she humbly acknowledged her position to be like that of the dogs fed from the children's table. The children stand for developments of spiritual life and the dogs for natural affections, simple and ignorant but earnest. (A. 9231; E. 455)
Can we see what natural faculty in particular is represented by this land of Tyre and Sidon and the Phoenician people? They were seafaring people, the famous sailors and traders of the world. The sea represents the department of natural thought and knowledge. Trading by sea represents the gathering in of knowledge. The daughter of the Phoenician woman stands for this affection for natural learning. She was possessed by a devil, for this affection for learning, without the Lord's help, comes under the power of evil. It must take its true position as the humble servant of spiritual life, and must look with devout acknowledgment to the Lord, willing to be taught and led by Him. Then it is restored to health and strength. (A. 2967, 9231)
Like the former miracle of feeding the multitude, the one recorded in this chapter represents the feeding of our souls with spiritual food. The loaves represent the affection for what is good, and the fishes the understanding of what is good, received from the Lord. This miracle represents a deeper, more spiritual feeling of the soul than the other. This is shown by several differences between them. The people in the first miracle had continued with the Lord one day; this time three days. The five thousand and the five loaves represent little reception. The same thought is emphasized by their being spoken of as barley loaves in the first miracle. The four thousand in the second miracle represents a fuller reception, for the number suggests a character developed in both directions of truth and goodness. The seven loaves and the seven basketfuls of fragments represent a deeper, tenderer, holier quality than five and twelve. (R. 905-908; A. 9717; E. 257)