I understand from Matthew 7:6 and 10:5–7 why the Lord did not immediately respond to this Canaanite woman’s initial appeal. But He did eventually respond to her as verses 25–28 describe. So in view of this I would like to know two things: (1) what is the basis upon which a Gentile could be dealt with in God’s program with Israel; and (2) exactly what was it that made the Lord eventually respond to the Canaanite woman? Was it something she did? Or was it His compassion? Or what?
First off we need to have a basic understanding and appreciation for the most fundamental and primary means by which God designed for Israel to make a positive impact upon the nations of the earth. Then we also need to take note of the fact that there are some other things that God did and put into place in the course of Israel’s history, (especially leading up to the time when the climactic stage in their program would occur), which also figure into the issue of them making a positive impact upon the Gentiles; including even allowing the Gentiles to be benefited in certain ways. And though there is certainly more that could be looked at, the gist of these two matters will at least provide us with a basic understanding of the general issue of how the Gentiles were dealt with in the “time past” portion of God’s program with Israel, and also for the particular issue of the Canaanite woman and her situation in Matthew 15.
Briefly put, the primary means by which God designed for Israel to make a positive impact upon the nations is set forth in Deuteronomy chapter 4. As Israel prepared to enter their promised land and to establish themselves in it as God’s nation, Moses declared to them,…
5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. (Deuteronomy 4:5–6)
Now without going into any real detail, this is the basic issue of Israel’s designed positive impact upon the nations once they got established in their land. By it God established Israel as ‘the light of the world’ and as ‘the salt of the earth.’ Simply stated, by functioning as such Israel was designed first of all to appeal to those within the nations who were individually responding positively to the fundamental light of God-consciousness; i.e. recognizing the truth of who the living and true God really is, in contrast to the “lie” and idolatry of their own nation. Then Israel also was designed to be able to provide for a further witness for God, by which positive responding Gentiles could be further impacted with more of the truth, and even benefited.
So then once Israel was established and functioning in their land this was the primary means by which she positively impacted the nations. Hence it was the most fundamental basis upon which any positively responding Gentile would approach Israel.
However as the books of Judges and following relate, Israel failed to consistently function as she should, and as such her designed impact upon the Gentiles was seriously compromised. But even though she failed to faithfully fulfill this function, (and even produced a negative impact upon the nations that actually grew worse and worse as time went on), God Himself did certain things from time to time that provided for this basic positive impact upon the nations to occur in spite of Israel’s rebelliousness and contrariness. In fact at the time when Israel’s rebelliousness caused God to send the people out of their land and into the Assyrian/Babylonian captivity, God set in motion a series of things that not only supplied for a continuing positive impact upon the nations at that time and beyond, but He also did some special things that would even prime and/or prepare the nations as a whole for the specific time when He would directly deal with them as prophesied about in the final part of the climactic stage in His program with Israel.
Therefore with God having designed for Israel to be ‘the light of the world’ and ‘the salt of the earth’ once they took possession of their land, this basic function, (whether it was properly produced by Israel, or whether it was supplied for by God by other things in spite of their rebelliousness), was the fundamental thing to which positively responding Gentiles would respond and would then come to Israel.
Now regarding the Canannite woman in Matthew 15, it was not that she ‘did anything for or to Israel’ that prompted the Lord to eventually deal with her. Nor was it sheer compassion on the Lord’s part. Rather it was the issue of her positive response both to the things that God had set in motion previously, and also to the things that were particularly in motion when Christ was here, that prompted the Lord to eventually deal with her as He did. In fact by what she says to the Lord from the time that she first approaches Him, and then by what she does and says in response to everything she experiences in her encounter with Him, she sets before the Lord a full and proper response to those aforementioned things that God had set in place and in motion. So once again it is because she possessed a full and proper response to these things that the Lord eventually responded to her and so honored her with the healing of her daughter.
This is why when the Lord does eventually deal with her, He prefaces what He says to her by saying, “O woman, great is thy faith.” Therefore what the Lord responded to, and honored, was not some work that she had done in the past, or some work that she then did. Nor was it simply her pitiful appeal. But instead He responded to, and honored, what she believed. And what she believed was not just one thing. Rather she understood and believed a number of things that not only pertained to her as the Gentile that she was, but that also pertained to her particular situation in view of what was going on at this particular time in God’s program with Israel, and also in view of how Israel was responding to it.
Briefly and simply put, by what this woman of Canaan says when she first approaches the Lord she gives evidence that in her past she had not only already responded positively to the truth of Israel’s God being the living and true God, but she had also responded positively to much more than that. She had evidently already benefited from both Israel’s “light” and “salt” function. For she clearly knows about, and has understood and believed, the Davidic Covenant. For this reason when she appeals to Jesus for her daughter’s sake she addresses Him as “O Lord, thou son of David.”
21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 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. (Matthew 15:21–22)
However the Lord did not respond to her even though she appealed to Him as such.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 15:23–24)
The Lord “answered her not a word,” as it says, and neither would the disciples deal with her when she subsequently made her appeal to them. So even though she was a positively responding Gentile, she did not merit being dealt with at this time on that simple basis. For just as the Lord said, and just as He had previously taught His disciples, the time had not yet come in the climactic stage of Israel’s program for the Gentiles to be dealt with as prophesied. Hence, as the Lord says, He Himself was not sent unto them, and neither had He instructed His disciples to go unto them, or even to think about going unto them, as of yet.
However even though this was the general situation in which the Canaanite woman stood, she understood some other things about her Gentile status; especially some things about provisions that God had made for Gentiles who were being affected by things that were going on in Israel’s program. And in view of this she returned to the Lord and set before Him her understanding of these other matters. Wherefore, as verse 25 states,…
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. (Matthew 15:25)
Now in doing so she appealed to the Lord on the basis of her dismal and grim Gentile status and state. Moreover she made this appeal in accordance with a provision that God had made in connection with the Gentiles’ plight. And to this particular appeal the Lord does respond by actually speaking to her for the very first time. For now her appeal was legitimate. Then by what He says to her in verse 26 the Lord probes the nature of her appeal, and by what He says He makes it so that she can manifest to Him whether her appeal is worthy of being honored at this particular time in Israel’s program.
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. (Matthew 15:26–27)
When, therefore, she responds to the reality of what the Lord says by saying, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table,” she testifies to the fact that her appeal is definitely worthy of being honored. For her appeal is intelligently and faithfully based upon a particular provision and precedent that God had made and set in Israel’s program regarding impacting the Gentiles.
So then when she said to the Lord, “yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table,” she did not come up with some sort of witty or snappy response. Neither did she deliver a ‘come back’ by which she brought to the Lord’s attention something that He had overlooked, which when He gave thought to it made Him see the fairness of what she pointed out, and this then made Him change His mind towards her. No, she did nothing of the kind. Instead she stated her clear understanding of a particular provision and precedent that God had established in Israel, which made it so that the “dogs” were allowed to partake of some of the benefits that Israel received, particularly when those benefits either by design ‘spilled over’ unto them, so to speak, or when they befell to them as the result of carelessness or neglect on Israel’s part. And this she correctly recognized was what was going on in Israel at this time.
Wherefore when this Canaanite woman expressed her understanding and appreciation for this issue, (and by so doing made it evident to the Lord that she was basing her appeal solely upon this), the Lord then says to her,…
28b … O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28b)
Once again the Lord responds to her because her “faith” is “great.” She truly did understand, appreciate, and believe much. And she believed it wholeheartedly, being fully persuaded both of its truthfulness in connection with her as the “dog” Gentile that she knew she was, and of its legitimate and appropriate application to her at that time in the beginning portion of the climactic stage in Israel’s program.
– K.R. Blades