Syrophenician Woman

INTRODUCTION: This is an interesting account because Jesus went into a territory that was not part of Israel, and he answered the request of a Gentile woman made by faith in behalf of her daughter. This study looks at the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark. Some background about Tyre and Sidon can add to the significance of this account. Between the Old and the New Testaments, Zidon and Sidon designate the same place.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the American King James Bible.


A - TYRE AND SIDON IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

2 Chronicles 2 "11 Then Huram the king of Tyre answered in writing, which he sent to Solomon, Because the LORD has loved his people, he has made you king over them. 12 Huram said moreover, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, that made heaven and earth, who has given to David the king a wise son, endued with prudence and understanding, that might build an house for the LORD, and an house for his kingdom. 13 And now I have sent a cunning man, endued with understanding, of Huram my father's, 14 The son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre, skillful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of engraving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him, with your cunning men, and with the cunning men of my lord David your father."

1 Kings 17 "8 And the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9 Arise, get you to Zarephath, which belongs to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain you." In passage of time, Elijah entreated the LORD to bring back life in the widow's son. "22 And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother: and Elijah said, See, your son lives. 24 And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."

Ezra 3 "7 They gave money also to the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, to them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia."

COMMENTS: From the time of King David there were some in Tyre and Sidon who had very high respect for the God of Israel. According to the first passage above, King Huram of Tyre sent one of the key craftsmen for construction of the temple Solomon built for the LORD, and that craftsman's father was of Tyre and his mother was of the tribe of Dan. Much later, Elijah stayed with a widow in the territory of Sidon during the reign of Ahab in Israel, and he had very strong influence on the widow who the LORD had arranged to provide his lodging. In both of those passages the Gentiles used the name Yahweh (LORD) to make a clear reference to the God of Israel. Centuries later, and after the seventy year period of captivity in Babylon, Cyrus of Persia was moved by the LORD to allow Jews to return to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the temple. The passage from Ezra shows that as with the temple built by Solomon, materials were once again provided from Tyre and Sidon, making those people very aware of the temple of the LORD.


B - TYRE AND SIDON IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Mark 3:8 And from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came to him.

Acts 21 "2 And finding a ship sailing over to Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth. 3 Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden. 4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem."

Acts 27 "2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us. 3 And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go to his friends to refresh himself. 4 And when we had launched from there, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary."

COMMENTS: Tyre and Sidon were ancient cities about 25 miles apart in the area known as Phoenicia during the time both were very significant centers of commerce and art. Over the centuries they were dominated by major powers such as Babylon, Persia, and Rome. During the earthly ministry of Jesus, there was still much interchange between those territories and that of Israel. Though Jesus performed many miraculous signs in Israel for over three years, most of the Jews failed to believe that he was the promised Messiah. The passage from Mark reveals that people from Tyre and Sidon were among the crowds of people who sought after him because they heard of the many great things he did. The first passage from Acts indicates that Paul met with believers in Christ Jesus at Tyre on his last trip to Jerusalem. In the second passage, he was permitted to greet believers at Sidon as a prisoner on his way to Rome, thus showing changed hearts among people in those areas.


C - JESUS WENT INTO THE TERRITORY OF TYRE AND SIDON

Matthew 15 "21 Then Jesus went there, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried to him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, you son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and sought him, saying, Send her away; for she cries after us."

Mark 7 "24 And from there he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. 25 For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she sought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter."

COMMENTS: Jesus had been preaching to large crowds in the district of Galilee before he traveled west to the territory of Tyre and Sidon. Based on the phrase "would have no man know it" in Mark 7:24, it may have been that Jesus was seeking some time away from the crowds. An earlier passage in Mark shows that the crowds around Jesus at times became very large. Mark 1 "41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and said to him, I will; be you clean. 42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. 43 And he straightly charged him, and immediately sent him away; 44 And said to him, See you say nothing to any man: but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them. 45 But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, so that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter. 2:1 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And straightway many were gathered together, so that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word to them."

In Matthew the text states that "a woman of Canaan" came out of the same territory to seek Jesus. Canaan, the cursed grandson of Noah (Genesis 9:20-27), was the father of all Canaanites, and Sidon was his first born son who was the father of the Sidonians. All of them were Gentiles because they were not in the line of Shem and successively down through Jacob who became Israel. When the Syrophenician (or Greek) woman heard Jesus was in a house there, she went to him to make her request. Syrophenicia was a large territory that included Tyre and Sidon in the west along the Mediterranean coastline. Greek was the common language throughout Israel and all of the surrounding areas under Roman control at that time, and Jews made general reference to non-Jews by calling them Greeks.

This unnamed woman was making a fervent request as she was "crying out," and she called Jesus Lord, and son of David. These two designations about Jesus seemed to have special significance to her as she was there without her daughter, but was asking for a miraculous act from Jesus. Though the word translated as Lord in the text can be applied to a man in authority without designating God, this woman apparently knew something of Jewish tradition about the son of David. Mark's record states that she fell at his feet, which was a sign of deference or homage by a servant to a master. . Jesus at first did not answer the woman, and his disciples asked him to send her away.


D - THE GENTILE WOMAN WAS PERSISTENT WITH HER PLEA

Matthew 15 "24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. 28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, O woman, great is your faith: be it to you even as you will. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."

Mark 7 "27 But Jesus said to her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs. 28 And she answered and said to him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. 29 And he said to her, For this saying go your way; the devil is gone out of your daughter. 30 And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid on the bed."

COMMENTS: When Jesus told the woman he had been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, according to Matthew, the woman showed further homage as she took a position of profound reverence (worship) and addressed him as Lord as she asked him to help her. The next comment from Jesus seems harsh as he told her that it was not right to give the children's bread to dogs. The woman then showed extreme humility and even wisdom, to admit that she had no merit in herself for her request. She showed complete dependence upon grace and mercy from Jesus. When she said even the dogs get the children's crumbs that fall from the table, there was no inhibition from pride that kept her from accepting the characterization as a dog. She did not want equality with the children, and showed respect for Jesus as the master at the table. Jesus told the woman she had remarkable faith, and that her request was granted. The woman returned home and found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid on the bed.

There is a passage earlier in Matthew 8:5-13 that describes a centurion who had faith to believe that Jesus could heal his servant from a distance just by giving a command. The response from Jesus about this centurion was "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." Jesus directed his message primarily to the "lost sheep of Israel," and instructed his disciples in the same manner. Matthew 10 "5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand." In the next passage, Jesus made comparison of how much more readily the Gentiles of Tyre and Sidon would accept the gospel of Christ than would the Jews who the LORD had taken as a nation for himself. Matthew 11 "21 Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you." Though the Gentile woman was not named, her faith that Jesus could heal her daughter with just a command, set her apart to receive a most special blessing from the LORD. Eternal blessing is not earned by being extremely wise or highly religious, especially if pride enters into the heart. That forever blessing by grace from the LORD is reserved for those who know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and the Savior of all who believe on him.

--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

I thank you, LORD, that your Word is so powerful that the evidence of faith in you by the believers in Israel had influence on Gentiles even before you walked among men as the son of man and the Son of God. Though the people of Israel had much advantage with scripture and tradition for their guidance, many of them lost sight of the simple exercise of faith that you desire to come from the heart of those who trust you completely. May I keep in my mind and heart the example of the humility this woman demonstrated as she made a request by faith, believing that you had the power to fulfill it, and the mercy to grant it to her. She made her request for something she knew she could not find in any other way for the daughter she loved, and her act of faith also brought glory to you, LORD. May I be very careful not to reject those who may have a strong desire to receive a blessing from you, even if they appear to me in a similar manner to the way your disciples first reacted to this woman. Help me, LORD, to bring requests to you with a concern for others, and to return praise each time you answer. I praise you my LORD and master that your abundant grace and mercy reached beyond Israel to allow me to come into the Kingdom of God by faith. Hallelujah, Amen.

Published 12 April 2014