The Syrophoenician Woman
The Syrophoenician Woman
Syrophoenician: Gospel of Mark Bible Study
It is always frustrating when we are trying to explain something to someone, and they just don’t understand. Some people seem to get it and some people don’t. We’re going to look at who Jesus said understood him and those who didn’t. Sometimes it is difficult to understand. It’s difficult to understand what is going on in the world. It is difficult what position to take on a million different issues. That is the world we live in. It is almost like we must decide where we stand or else. It doesn’t have to be that way, we just have to stand with Jesus, we stand with Him and in him. When we stand with Him what comes out of us will be good! One great example of this is in the Gospel of Mark, when the disciples didn’t understand they wanted to send away a Syrophoenician woman who did understand.
Mark 7:14 “Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’” Jesus calls out to us to understand. God has made things understandable. We can’t hide behind the excuse that we don’t understand. It is okay to not understand rocket science or brain surgery. There are certain things that we can understand and need to understand. “But the things that come out of a person are what defiled him.”
He said, “When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus, he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles.”
The Pharisees were trying to trip Jesus up with traditions based on performance. These traditions came from their own interpretations of the Mosaic Law in what was known as the oral law. They were trying to get Jesus to trip up on washing hands and picking grains of wheat on the sabbath and things of that nature. They were going after him. Jesus came back with this rebuttal, “it is what comes out of you.” The disciples did not understand. We could probably say that the disciples didn’t understand because they had always seen the traditions of the oral law in a very positive light, or they just automatically accepted them as right. They did not understand that someone who didn’t wash their hands was not defiled because of that.
In Mark 7:21-22 it says, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” This list describes what is in people’s hearts because of the fall in the Garden of Eden.
Human beings would rather know what God knows without Him than live with Him. This list of evil things defiles a person when they come out. In other words, when these things that are inside, residing in our hearts, born in our thoughts, manifest in our actions, they defile us.
The Syrophoenician Woman Falls at Jesus’ Feet.
Then the star, (besides Jesus) enters the scene. The Syrophoenician woman. What is interesting is that Jesus tried to get away from the people. He went to a gentile region and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. Immediately a woman with a daughter with an unclean spirit fell at his feet. She was a gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth, and begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter, “He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’” Sometimes we ask, “Jesus are you as nice as we say you are?” What are you getting at here calling this person a dog? It seems like a clear insult. But she answered him. “Yet even the dogs under the table, eat the children’s crumbs.”
What is a Syrophoenician?
A Syrophoenician is a person from the region of Syria-Phoenicia, an area that is now part of Lebanon. It was a part of Syria in the Roman Empire.
Did Jesus Really Call the Syrophoenician Woman a Dog?
Let’s look at the background. At the time the Gospel of Mark was written, women were not respected the way they should be. Gentiles were not respected at all. A gentile woman would be a double whammy, that is to say, she had two reasons that a Jewish person would look down on her. This is in addition to the fact that she was causing a bit of a scene while Jesus was trying to spend some time away from people.
The disciples did not understand. All they wanted to do was to send this woman away. Can you imagine if they would have succeeded? She would not have received deliverance for her daughter. Her need would not have been met. She begged him. The Greek tense of the word means to be persistent. It likely means that she kept on begging. She was not casual about it. She was clearly pleading with Jesus to meet her need. Sensing her faith, Jesus was allowing the atmosphere to build.
Jesus is kind, but he is also dramatic. He knew how to pack a punch with climactic build-up. He let her beg. He said to her, “let the children be fed first….” Now, when you study this out, the word ‘dog’ is the word for a pet not for an insult. Sometimes the word was translated “puppy” or “little dog”. Culturally it is still a stretch for many to understand. However, we can probably understand that in Biblical times small dogs were found inside a house. Bigger dogs were normally outside. Jesus likely said it’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies or the pet.
I want to encourage parents to have this kind of persistence in prayer when their child has a need. She was not giving up. She continued to beg. She understood what Jesus said, and she knew who Jesus was.
In this portion of scripture, we see the disciples did not understand, but this Syrophoenician woman did. She answered, “yes lord even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” In her mind, the crumbs were enough. She was saying crumbs are enough because Jesus is enough. When you know there is no other thing greater, crumbs in comparison are better. They are greater. She understood what Jesus was saying. Jesus was saying a parable. Her answer was a parable too.
The Meaning of Jesus’ Interesting Choice of Words to the Woman.
Jesus’ parable to the Syrophoenician woman meant that Israel receives first from Him. Her answer was that there is still enough for her and her people. She didn’t refute Jesus she humbly replied in a way full of faith in Jesus that showed both her understanding and a way for Jesus to fulfill her need. I believe that was what Jesus was waiting for. This lesson from this wasn’t just for the woman but also for the disciples who didn’t understand. Jesus was simultaneously fulfilling His call to go first to the Jews, as was expected of the Messiah, but even more eager to include the gentiles, to which the Hebrews were called to be a light. Isaiah 49:6.
She said, ‘there is something left.’ It was as if the Syrophoenician woman understood the mission of God more so than the disciples. She knew that the gospel was going first to the Jews and then the gentiles. She understood this parable. Jesus said you may go the demon has left you. In Matthew’s version, Jesus said, “I have not seen such great faith.” Jesus commended her faith because she saw that Jesus was the answer. She acknowledged that she was undeserving, according to Jesus, and asked for what she didn’t deserve. “You can still give me what I don’t deserve, even though I am not a Jew.” She demonstrated incredible humility.
If someone called me a dog, I would be ready to fight. Maybe some of you would at least correct them for rudeness. No, she humbles herself and says, “yes you are right.” It is good when we humble ourselves and say, “Jesus you are right.” She humbles herself and says, “even the dogs get to eat the crumbs” She knew Jesus was the only hope, the only way. Chances are she tried everything else.
What came out of her was faith. What came out of her was trust. What came out of her was humility and the things that should have been coming out of all the disciples after their many encounters with Jesus and the Kingdom he brought. It was beautiful. This faith was what led to her understanding. Jesus commending her for her faith simultaneously condemned those that did not believe. In the Kingdom of God, faith proceeds understanding.
At that point, she knew Jesus was the only way. Her statement was not just about her daughter, she understood the parable. She knew he was talking about Jews being the children and gentiles being the dogs. Jesus was talking about the bigger picture of why he came and she knew the significance.
But she was a woman. A gentile woman at that. The Jews were wrong about how they ostracized people and put them on the outside. Through this one passage, we can see Jesus’ love for the outcast. The boundaries that He set, were not the boundaries the Jews set for him. Jesus was radical. He was willing to break every one of those boundaries that were set up by man. The only boundaries that Jesus didn’t break were the ones set up by God.
The Woman’s Child Was Delivered Completely
She went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. This is the mission of the Kingdom of God. The mission of God’s Kingdom is to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8.
Matthew 12:28,” But if is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus drove a demon out of a Syrophoenician gentile woman’s child, an outcast not in good relations with the Jews. Political enemies. Through this event, Jesus revealed to her the Kingdom of God. He allowed the very Kingdom of God to come upon her and her family. This whole story is a parable showing how Jesus was opening the Kingdom of God for the Gentiles and all nations. If you look closely at many of the passages in the Gospel of Mark you will see this common thread of God’s mission to bring the Kingdom to all nations.
Think about it, the Jews all thought that the Kingdom of God was just for them. They all thought that Israel would be restored to its former glory. Israel would be restored as a sovereign nation. But Jesus brings the kingdom of God to that woman.
Through this woman’s faith, she was cleansed. It is through our faith that we are justified before God. Our faith must be in the truth of who Jesus is—his death, burial, and resurrection. That is what cleanses us, that’s what justifies us, and that’s what sets us free. Allow that to come out of you the next time a bad image pops up on your screen. We have a principle that we should not let in the garbage because it comes out as defiled garbage. Guard against that defilement. When we are born again when the spirit of God is within us, we have a new nature, He makes us a new creation. That list of horrible things. Murder, slander, pride, foolishness. Sometimes those things try to come out still. But it has no power. The Bible testifies that it has been rendered useless and powerless.
My encouragement to you is to be like this woman and keep asking for what you are believing God for. I pray constantly and sometimes I pray the same thing more than once. I am grateful all the while, and I know who the source is. Just like she understood, I want us to understand that He is our source. I want us to understand that every good and perfect gift comes from him. I want us to walk in that and I want us to live that out. I want us to defend ourselves from the defilement that comes from outside of us because if we let it in it will turn to excrement, the ultimate parable of that which is unclean and defiles.