We have been with the Lord in Capernaum. He went now with His disciples to the borders of Phoenicia the land of Tyre and Sidon. The people of this land were not Jews, and did not believe in the God of Israel, they were much despised by the Jews who often called them "heathen dogs." The people had heard of the wonderful works that the Lord had done and a woman of that country came to Him and begged Him to cast the evil spirit out of her daughter.
At first the Lord seemed not to hear her. She did not come to Him at first as to her God, but only as to someone who had power to heal, and by His answer the Lord showed that in that way she could not be helped. How different it was, and how quickly the Lord helped her, when she was really humble and spoke of herself as a dog under the table waiting to be fed with the children's crumbs.
The Lord and His disciples left Phoenicia and going southeast crossed the Jordan, and came to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. While in the country east of the Jordan He did many wonderful works of healing; one of which is told us. A man, deaf and with an impediment in his speech, was brought to Him. This time the Lord did not "say the word only," but took the man aside from the multitude and when they were alone He put His fingers into the deaf man's ears, and touching his tongue with water from His lips, and then looking up to heaven, He cried, "Be opened," and his ears were opened and his tongue loosed and he both heard and spoke.
We read of so many miracles of healing which the Lord did that it is hard for us to realize what each one must have meant to the person healed. How eagerly the Phoenician woman must have hastened home to see if it could indeed be true that her daughter was well. How earnestly this poor man must have watched every motion of the Lord's, his eyes following His as He looked up to heaven; and as he watched the blessing came, and instead of his being alone in his silent world of deafness, and unable to make the people understand his needs, he was like other men and could both hear and speak. The Lord charged them to tell no man, for the healing was not the great work which the Lord came into the world to do, and the people in their excitement were forgetting the heavenly blessings which He came most of all to give them.
Our lesson takes us away from the Sea of Galilee. We journey north through a country of fine hills and deep valleys. From the hilltops we have grand views of Mount Hermon white with snow, and soon also of the still higher Lebanon. We turn more westward, and having journeyed some four or five days from the Sea of Galilee, we look down from the hills upon the Mediterranean Sea. A low, green plain with a sandy margin stretches along the shore, and a point of land, larger at the end, reaches out into the sea. On this is a little town, the remains of Tyre. In the very old time the city stood on the shore, and this point was a rocky island. Later, palaces and temples were built upon the island, and ships found shelter between it and the busy wharves along the shore. The ships from Tyre went through all the Mediterranean Sea and far along the coasts of Africa and Europe, and brought home precious things to trade. Further up the shore was a sister city, Sidon, under the slopes of Mount Lebanon.
In old days Tyre was wonderfully rich and beautiful. Read about it in Ezekiel 27. Remember in the days of Solomon how Hiram, King of Tyre, sent him cedar wood from Lebanon, and workmen to help in the building of the temple; and remember how Hiram's sailors went with those of Solomon to distant lands. (1 Kings 5; 10:22) The island city was very strong. It resisted one siege of five years, and was taken by Nebuchadnezzar after a siege of thirteen years. And now you wonder why it is no more an island. Alexander the Great, with his army, destroyed the city along the shore, and used its stones to build a way out to the island. The sands have washed in upon the causeway he built, and it is an island no more. All this was long before our Gospel story, but even today you see great columns lying half under water along the shore. The people of Tyre and Sidon were not Israelites, and they did not know the Lord and His commandments. They worshiped idols and the sun and moon and stars, and many evil ways which the Israelites learned were taught them by these people. (1 Kings 16:31)
The Lord came into the borders of the land of Tyre and Sidon, but He was not hid. A woman whose daughter was possessed with a devil, cried to Him to help her. Remember how in those days evil spirits had power over people, but the Lord could drive them out. The woman was a Canaanite; so the people of the lowland by the sea and Jordan were called. She was a Greek, which means a Gentile and not a Jew. She is called also a Syrophoenician. The people of Tyre and Sidon were Phoenicians, but they had planted many colonies in other places on the Mediterranean shore, especially in Africa, so that the name Syrophoenician was used to mean the Phoenicians still living in Syria.
The disciples would have the Lord send her away, and the Lord's own words sounded at first as if He could not help her. We know that the Lord loved the woman and longed to help her, but she must first know who it was that was helping her. She must know that the help came not from a mere man, and not from an idol, but from the Lord, the God of Israel. When she confessed humbly that she looked up to the Lord of Israel as dogs for crumbs from their master's table, then she could receive the help she asked.
The Lord now returned from that region through a country where the people had never seen Him before nor heard His teaching. He passed through the hills close under Mount Lebanon and Mount Hermon, and so down into the country east of Jordan. "Through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis," it says. Decapolis means "the ten cities." It was a league of cities, about ten, which the Jews had not conquered when they came back from captivity in Babylon. They lay to the south of the Sea of Galilee, and all but one of them east of Jordan. That one, Scythopolis, the old Bethshan, was in the valley which runs to the Jordan from the spring of Jezreel. They were heathen cities; the people worshiped idols, and among the ruins are the remains of many heathen temples. This is the first long journey that we read of the Lord's making east of the Jordan, but by and by He spent much time there, and did many miracles and spoke many parables. At this time we are told especially of His healing one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech.
1. Where were Tyre and Sidon? For what were the Phoenicians famous?
2. What miracle did the Lord do in that country?
3. Why did He at first seem reluctant to help the woman? When did He help her?
4. Where do you look for Decapolis?
What prophet of the Lord was received in the Phoenician land when he was not safe in Israel? (1 Kings 17:9) When did the Lord use this to show that Gentiles are more ready to receive Him than many who have better opportunities? (Luke 4:25, 26) This visit of the Lord to the borders of Tyre and Sidon shows His desire to help people in natural, Gentile states.
Phoenicia. The land of Israel represents a spiritual life; neighboring lands represent natural states or faculties which are good if they minister to spiritual life. We have learned that the sea represents an atmosphere of worldly, natural thought and interest. The Phoenicians, the sailors and traders of the world, represent our faculty for gathering in and for imparting all kinds of natural knowledge. This faculty in its right place as servant of spiritual life is represented by Hiram manning Solomon's ships, and furnishing stones and cedar for the temple of the Lord. Then this natural faculty is good and blessed. But when it ministers to selfish pride it is like Tyre adorning the temples of her idols, and is cursed. (Ezekiel 28:3-5; A. 2967; R. 759; E. 236, 840) The Lord in this country teaches the lesson that the faculty for natural learning (and, indeed, every natural faculty) can receive His blessing and be saved from the possessing power of evil only by becoming a servant of spiritual life, and looking up humbly to be taught by Him.
Dogs under the table. All animals represent human affections. Dogs, especially when contrasted with the masters, represent affections of external, natural kinds, sometimes bad and self-indulgent; sometimes kind in a simple, ignorant way. The children represent developments of spiritual life. Can the Lord bless the natural affections? Not unless they become humble servants of spiritual life, and desire to be taught by Him. (A.9231; E.455)
"Deaf and an impediment in his speech." May we call one deaf when his natural hearing is good? He is "deaf to instruction" if he will not learn and obey. "Hear, O Israel, and observe to do." "Who hath ears to hear let him hear." These are charges to attend and obey. (A. 2542) The deaf man in the Gentile country represents those who from ignorance do not obey. Such a one at the same time has an impediment in his speech, for he is too ignorant to teach others, or even to acknowledge and thank the Lord. Such ones the Lord loves to teach, so that they can both obey and acknowledge Him. (E.455; A. 9311)