A Study Of Matthew 15
In this article we will take a good look at Matthew 15.
We see almost in every chapter of Matthew that God does not favor the Jews any more as a favorite nation, but God is now reaching out to all the world with a Gospel of grace alone. And here in chapter 15 we shall see the second and the third withdrawal of the Lord Jesus away from the land of the Jews. Let us now read Matthew 15, beginning at verse 1.
And the first question that comes up is this:
Who Are Our Enemies? (Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:1-13)
Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
What do we see here?
The leaders of the Jews had come all the way from Jerusalem to Jesus; walking a distance of about 80 miles.
What was their purpose?
They wanted to attack Christ and His disciples. We see in this chapter the enmity of the leaders of the Jews against the Lord Jesus Christ, whereas a Gentile woman shows her faith and trust in Christ. What a contrast!
And who arranged this confrontation by enemies and friends?
Did the Devil do that?
God did that. The sovereign Lord gave the leaders of the Jews the desire to meet Jesus, for the Lord wanted to give His disciples a special training in recognizing who are their enemies, and who are their friends.
And what do we read here?
First the Lord is here accusing the scribes and Pharisees of transgressing the commandment of God by overriding it with one of their traditions.
Why did the Lord focus on this particular sin of not honoring our father or our mother?
He did this to show that the evidence of our love for God is our love for our father and mother. It is a dreadful thing if we do not have the proper respect for our father or mother, for then we have not accepted God’s authority in choosing these parents for us. Secondly, the Lord focuses on the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, for they have invented a rule that served them well, but that violated the commandment of God, and thus they have made the Word of God a thing that can be disputed.
This was how sin came into the world, by Satan whispering into the ears of the woman, “Yea, hath God said?” And as soon as we begin to debate with Satan, we have already lost the battle, for Satan is much smarter than we are. The Pharisees established a law that seemed so holy, apparently for the service of God, but it served only their own selfish desires. Let us now continue to read Matthew chapter 15. And the next question we are faced with is this:
Who Are the Plants that Shall Be Rooted Up? (Matthew 15:10-20, 13:37-39, Mark 7:14-23, Psalm 58:3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-12, Ephesians 2:1-3)
And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.
This was a hilarious situation: The scribes and Pharisees were privately attacking the disciples, for they were afraid to attack Jesus openly. But Jesus turned around and called the multitude. It was as if He was saying, “Hear ye! Hear ye!” And then Jesus proceeded to openly make fun of the religious rulers by telling the multitude a parable about the ridiculous tradition of their religious rulers.
The Lord Jesus was purposely offending them. And then the Lord used this occasion to state a few important doctrines. First, the Lord restated the sovereignty of God in choosing whom He will save; like He did so in the second parable of Matthew 13. As you remember in Parable of the Wheat and the Tares the Lord declared in Matthew 13:37-39 that the wheat was sown by Christ, and the tares were sown by the Devil. God will only save the wheat. The tares are burnt in Hell. And this teaching is clearly what the Lord Jesus had in mind when He said in Matthew 15:13, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up”.
Now, this is a doctrine which may also rattle your cage. I cannot help it. I did not say this; the Lord Jesus Christ said this. We must simply believe everything He has said, for He is the Word of God, and believing it is the faith God has given to all those He intended to save.
Secondly, the Lord indicated that things you eat do not defile a person. You may eat rattlesnakes or termites if you want. You may eat with dirty hands if you want, and thereby risk that you ingest a parasite. This may be stupid, but it does not make you defiled in the sight of Almighty God. What does make you stink in the nose of God is what comes out of your heart. For out of the heart come “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies”. And some of us may say in our heart, “But I do not do those horrible things”. Let me assure you that in God’s opinion we were doing those horrible things, for God says in Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies”.
And God says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
And God says in Romans 3:10-12, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one”.
And God says in Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others”.
You see, the Bible says that everyone, as soon as we are born, we produce evil, and from there it only gets worse every day. This world does not produce good people and bad people. All people start out their life as bad people. Therefore, when God brings us the message of salvation, He brings us the Gospel, which means “the Good News”.
A plan of salvation that does not start with the sinfulness of man is a false gospel. Preachers of such a gospel are the plants that shall be rooted up, and be cast into Hell. Let us now continue with the main theme of this sermon. The next question is:
Who Are Our Friends? (Matthew 15:21-28, 10:5-6, 14:13, Mark 7:24-30)
Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
We see here the second withdrawal of the Lord Jesus, away from the land of the Jews. But His fame has spread far beyond the land of the Jews, Judea and Galilee. Jesus went to the land of the Phoenicians. This is why the woman in the Gospel of Mark is called a Syrophenician woman, for the neighboring region was called Syria. And in this woman we see what the friends of Jesus look like.
Now verse 24 confronts us with a puzzling question:
What business did Jesus have in the land of the Gentiles if He came specifically for the house of Israel?
We have seen this problem before in Matthew 10:5-6 where Christ says, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.
Did the disciples know who the lost sheep of the house of Israel were?
They assumed that Jesus meant the Jews. But the words “lost sheep” means that they will be found.
But only a small, fraction of the Jews came to believe, and thus how could the disciples know which people are going to believe, for they are the lost sheep of the house of Israel?
As a matter of fact, this was the second time that Jesus withdrew from the land of the Jews and He went to the land of the Gentiles. The first time was in Matthew 14:13, where Jesus “departed thence by ship into a desert place apart”, where He healed all those who were sick, both Jews and Gentiles. From there He went to the land of Gennesaret, which was also a Gentile country, and where He healed all those who were diseased, both Jews and Gentiles.
And now He was in the land of the Phoenicians, and there He healed only one person, which was the daughter of the woman who besieged Him, and then He left that country.
And so, what business did Jesus have in the land of the Phoenicians?
He came specifically to meet the Syrophenician woman and to heal her daughter. And so, we sense that in God’s terminology there is a great deal more hidden in the words “the house of Israel”. We must remember that we are now entering into the secrets of New Testament terminology.
And so, continuing on the words of Matthew 15:24, let us ask ourselves another question:
Who Is the New Testament House of Israel? (Matthew 15:24, 2:15, 2 Peter 1:21, Hebrews 8:8-10, Acts 2:36)
But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
So far, we know already five meanings of the name “Israel”.
First, Jacob was named Israel when He wrestled with God at the Jabbok River.
Secondly, all the descendants of Jacob when they came out of Egypt were called Israel.
Thirdly, when the kingdom of Solomon was split the northern kingdom was called Israel.
Fourthly, When the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians a remnant fled into Judah, and for about 100 years the southern kingdom was called Judah as well as Israel.
Fifthly, when the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity in 458 BC the nation was called Israel. But now, in the New Testament, we have to add two more meanings to the name Israel.
Sixthly, we have seen from Matthew 2:15 that the Lord Jesus is also called Israel. Seventhly, since God teaches us in the New Testament that all those whom He came to save were “in Christ” from before the foundation of the world, we must conclude that all those who are “in Christ” are also called Israel.
And thus, when we read in the Bible about “the house of Israel”, we must let the context define which of the seven meanings is in view. And since the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed, we must go back into the Old Testament and reinterpret all those places where we see types and figures of the New Testament Israel. We will not do that now, but I would like us to be familiar with a number of verses in the New Testament where God is redefining the concepts of “New Testament Israel”, and “New Testament Jews”, and “His people”, and “Mount Sion”, and “New Jerusalem”.
First of all, we must solidly come to grips with the fact the Bible is the Word of God.
God speaks in 2 Peter 1:21 about the Bible being the inerrant Word of God. The purpose of the Bible is not to make people more sociable toward one another. The purpose of religion is not to make this earth a more hospitable place. The purpose of knowing Jesus is not so that we may love one another. But the purpose of the Bible is to know God, so that we may know what Christ has done to let us have peace with God, so that we may escape the condemnation of Hell that is upon the whole human race, for “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). Let us hear now what first step God has done to allow us to make peace with Him, from 2 Peter 1:21,
2 Peter 1:21
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
In other words, God says here that the entire Old Testament, or more properly speaking, the entire Bible which is called “the prophecy”, did not come out of the minds of men, but holy men of God spoke and wrote the words that God the Holy Spirit inspired them to write. All the words of the Bible, as written in the original Greek and Hebrew, are words from God. And thus we may not call God a liar by claiming that two passages contradict each other. If we do find those apparent contradictions, the fault is not with God but with us; with our interpretation of these verses. This is very important; your salvation depends on it.
What has God done for His people when the Old Testament turned into the New Testament , when Christ died on the cross?
Who are now His people?
When we read Hebrews 8:8-10 we understand that in moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament God made a change in His definition of who are the people of His covenant. We read in Hebrews 8:8-10,
For finding fault with them (referring to Old Testament Israel), he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
In other words, God is done with Old Testament Israel, and now He has a new covenant with New Testament Israel, which consists of all those for whom Christ died, which is a remnant from the Gentiles as well as from the Jews. And God specified here what the nature is of these New Testament Israelites. God says: “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people”.
In other words, God will do the drawing, and God will change their hearts, and they shall be the people of God. God is totally sovereign in all His actions. Now we can also understand the words at the end of the first sermon of Peter when he concluded in Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”.
Let all the house of Israel know this that God has made that same Jesus Lord. But who came to believe that Jesus is Lord?
Only those who became saved believed this. The majority of the nation of Israel remained in unbelief. And yet God says, “Let all the house of Israel know this”. And so, here again the expression “all the house of Israel” refers to all those whom God intended to save. These new concepts trigger a load of questions. For example, we can now ask the question:
How Does God View His People in the New Testament? (Romans 2:25,28-29, 10:1-2, 9:6, Galatians 6:16, Romans 11:26-27, Galatians 4:25, Matthew 8:12, John 1:13, Matthew 15:24, 1:21)
In Romans 2 God introduces us to the pride of the nation of Israel, who were proud that they were children of Abraham. They believed that they without fail would enter into God’s presence, because they were His favorite people. In other words, they were saved from birth; they did not need a Savior. But God says to them:
For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
In other words, “You believe that as long as you adhere to the Law, and are circumcised, you are in the covenant that God made with Abraham. Forget it! In the next five minutes you will be a breaker of the Law, and then your circumcision is made uncircumcision. Then you are no longer a Jew in My sight, but are like an uncircumcised Gentile”. And then God defines who in His sight are truly Jews:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
In other words, God’s New Testament definition of who are Jews in His sight is a matter of the heart, and not a matter of literal descendancy from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. You must be circumcised in the heart, and this is something only God can do for you.
In Romans 10, God again lays down the principle that His definition of New Testament Israel is different from that of Old Testament Israel. The greater part of the nation of Israel remains in unbelief; therefore they are not saved.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
Now harmonize this with Romans 9 where we read, “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel”.
In other words, they who belong to the nation of Israel do not all belong to the Israel of God, whom God mentions in Galatians 6:16.
Let us now look at a puzzling verse in Romans 11.
Many people read in here that God will save the entire nation of Israel so that they will serve Him in the future millennium. But that is not at all what the New Testament is teaching us. In the previous verse God speaks about a time when “the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”. But this is at the end of time when God is finished bringing in all those whom He intended to save. We read in:
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
God says here: in this manner shall all the Israel of God be saved, which is the Israel consisting of the remnant both from the Jews as well as from the Gentiles. For, verse 27 says, they who are in the covenant are they whose sins Christ has paid on Calvary. In Romans 11:26 God is not at all speaking of the nation of Israel. In fact, God states unambiguously that the nation that prides itself in being the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are in the eyes of God no longer children of Abraham.
In Galatians 4, God speaks here about the historical event that Abraham fathered a child with his concubine Hagar. Then God says that He used this situation to show a picture of two covenants that are in force at the present time. The covenant of grace, which is God’s covenant with saved people, is represented by Sarah. On the other hand, those who are in the grip of the Devil are in another covenant, which is represented by Hagar. We read in:
For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
“Jerusalem which now is” refers to present day national Israel. The irony is that national Israel believes that they are descendants of Sarah. But God says here that they are descendants of Hagar, for they do not believe in Christ but in the Law of Moses which was given on Mount Sinai in Arabia. And here God states their condition, when He says, “Jerusalem which now is, is in bondage with her children”.
To be in bondage means to be in bondage to sin and Satan. They are in a covenant, but it is not a covenant that saves; rather they are in a covenant that leads them to Hell. Even stronger are the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 8:12, where He says, “But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
In other words, those who think that they are in the kingdom of God, because they put their trust in being descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, shall be cast out into outer darkness, which is a reference to Hell. And so we have seen that the New Testament is abundantly clear that no one goes to heaven on the coattails of their father or their forefather. And this so beautifully agrees with the statement in the Gospel of John 1:13 where God says, “not of blood”.
No one is saved because of their blood descendancy. And so, when the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 15:24, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, He spoke of the fact that “He came to save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), which means He came to atone for the sins of only those who are His people, and no one else.
We will now turn to Matthew 15, where the Lord Jesus called the woman a dog. We want to know:
Who Are Dogs? (Matthew 15:26-27, 7:6, Mark 7:27-28, Philippians 3:2-3, Psalm 22:16)
Why did Jesus call her a dog?
And who are called dogs in the Bible?
When we search the Old Testament we do not find anywhere that the Gentiles are referred to as dogs. This was a tradition that was ingrained into the lives of the nation of Israel, so that they would not intermingle with the Canaanites or with any other heathen nation.
But why did Jesus use this tradition?
He did it for a purpose, but in the end of the story we see that He completely abandoned that concept.
When we search the Bible for the spiritual meaning of dogs, we find some interesting associations. In the Bible certain people are represented as dogs. And the dogs in the Bible are ferocious animals which bite and devour human flesh. We read in Matthew 7:6,
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Here we see one aspect of the dogs in the Bible. These are the same people who are called swine.
And what is that which is holy?
It is the Gospel of salvation.
And what do the pearls represent?
Like-wise they represent the Gospel unto salvation. But in order to evaluate whether someone is in the category of dogs or swine, we need to make a judgment. It means that the first verse in this chapter is not an absolute command. And so, we need to know how we can recognize these dogs.
In the Bible the sect of the Pharisees has shown themselves to be fierce enemies of the Gospel of Christ. Their disciples hunted the apostle Paul relentlessly and they preached among the new Christian converts that if they would not obey the Law of Moses they could not be saved. And so, they tried to persuade the new Christians of Galatia that they must be circumcised.
Here in Philippians 3:2-3 the apostle Paul warned the church for these Judaizers.
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
“Beware of the concision”, which means “beware of the mutilation”. They try to convert you back into the works gospel of the nation of the Jews by obeying the ceremonial law. They are trying to make Jewish proselytes out of believing Gentiles. But the apostle warns them, and he warns us, “We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit”.
We are the real Jews in the eyes of God, and not these Judaizers whose eyes and ears are closed to the true Gospel. And so, through the pen of the apostle Paul God calls these Judaizers “dogs”.
We now move on to Psalm 22.
Although this is a psalm of David, we know that king David was a prophet, which means that God gave him additional insight into the sufferings of Christ on the cross. We have here a Messianic Psalm, which means that this is one of the prayers of Jesus. From Psalm 22:1 we know that this was a prayer of Jesus when He was on the cross. And then we read in Psalm 22:16,
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
Who did compass the Lord Jesus when He hung on the cross?
It was the priests and Pharisees who came to ridicule Him while He hung there in shame and agony. And God calls them dogs. These are the people we should remember to apply in Matthew 7:6. We should not give them the Gospel. We should not welcome them to our church, for their intent is to tear our church apart. Let us turn again to Matthew 15:26-28, where we see that the Lord Jesus called this woman a dog. But now we know that she did not fall into the category of the sect of the Pharisees. The Lord used this terminology to humble her, for this is God’s methodology in getting anyone saved. He first humbles us.
Who Does the Woman Represent? (Matthew 15:26-28, Ephesians 2:8, Mark 7:29-30)
But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
This woman does not have a name. This is a big clue that she represents anyone who becomes saved. This woman represents anyone of us. She was a heathen Gentile, and so were we before we became saved. She besieges the Lord on behalf of her daughter, and so did we besiege the Lord on behalf of someone we love, and we wanted that person to be healed, but especially to be spiritually healed. This woman did not ask for physical healing of her daughter. She asked for the Devil to be cast out of her daughter. If someone is unsaved, that person is essentially possessed by Satan. It takes the power of God to free such a person from the power of the Devil. And so she besieges the Lord Jesus, recognizing that He alone can do it. Look how she addresses Him in verse 22, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David”. The title “Son of David” shows that she believed that He was the promised Messiah.
But then the Lord Jesus said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs”. But listen how she takes this humiliation. Paraphrased she says, “True Lord, but I am one of your dogs. Let me just have the crumbs that the children spill from the Master’s table”.
You see, this is the response of someone whom the Lord has regenerated. Most people would turn away in anger. But she persists in besieging the Lord on behalf of her daughter. And from this we can see that the Lord has already saved her. He has already softened her heart. She has come broken before the Lord, for He was her last resort. There was simply no other option. And this is how God saves people most of the time. He sends disaster into our life, which gives us the impression as if our life has come to an end. And then we give up our pride, and our belief that we can determine our own future. We stop trusting in our own capabilities, and we are willing to listen to what He tells us from the Bible.
Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
Now the key is that we start listening to the Bible, the Word of God. Christ is the Word of God. He alone is the one who can help us in our need. For only when we turn to the Bible are we addressing the true God of the universe. Only then shall we be heard. For if we pray to another god, we are only inviting Satan to accommodate us, and we do not want to return to him again. And so, we will not be stuck up in pride claiming that we have conjured up some faith.
The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8 that true faith is a gift from God. And so, we will be eternally grateful to God for giving us faith, and for giving us salvation by grace through that faith.
By Alfred Chompff