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Volume 16, Issue 2: Stauron

Feed My Puppies

Gary Hagen

One of the more curious conundrums in Scripture is found in Paul's comment, "They are not all Israel which are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6). The next verse doesn't clarify much, "Neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children, but in Isaac shall thy seed be called." Whenever this is discussed, it is often in the negative. That is, that not all of Abraham's descendants were elect. True enough, but Paul is pointing to the reverse here. Rather than arguing that some Jews would go lost, Paul is building the positive case that non-Jews were also heirs of Abraham. We read, "That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed" (Rom. 9:8). Earlier in Romans Paul referred to the promise given to Abrahamthat his heirs would be among those whose faith counted for righteousness—just like it was with Abraham. Paul's analogy of the engrafted olive branches points to the same thing (Rom. 11:11-24).

But this doctrine was not new to the New Testament. Paul stood solidly on Old Testament prophecy and historic example. Hoseaforetold God's election of Gentile saints, "I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people, and they shall say, Thou art my God" (Hos. 2:23). Indeed, Jesus preached this message to the Assyrian descendants in Samaria, starting with the woman at the well. He also named a Samaritan as a hero of faith in his famous parable. Elsewhere, Christ declared that he had "other sheep" which were not of the Hebrew fold that he would bring into Israel (Jn. 10:16; 11: 49-52 cf. Rom. 2:29).
Christ recognized a provocative history lesson when He saw one. Luke's gospel records the sermon at Nazareth where He taught this global nature of God's grace by reminding the Jews that Elisha had healed only one leper—Namaan, a Syrian four-star general. And Elijah had raised the dead son of a Canaanite widow in the coastal town of Zarephath.1 Now someone greater than Elijah was here. How could the Son of David do less? But the Jews in Nazareth were not about to be confused by the facts. They had their pet understandings to protect, and so they tried to help Christ launch His career in a new direction—straight down a cliff (Lk. 4:16-30).
Given His full-orbed gospel message from the beginning, Jesus's remarks in Mark 7 seem, at first glance, inconsistent. Christ went into Phoenicia in what was then western Syria, near Tyre and Sidon (possibly in Zarephath2). A Syro-Phoenician woman found His hotel and pled with Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. As He would later do with blind Bartimaeus, Christ did not answer immediately.3 It was as if He was quizzing the twelve on their previous lesson, waiting to see what they would suggest.
We have to remember the context. Jesus had just finished teaching (earlier in the same chapter) that no foods are unclean. They had difficulty getting their arms around this truth (Mk. 7:18). Just as Peter would be taught in a vision of unclean foods before preaching to Gentiles in Caesarea (Acts 10),so it seems here that Jesus had decided to follow this lesson with a little lab work on the Canaan coast.
But His disciples wanted this Gentile woman sent away. Christ had already healed the servant of a Roman centurion, and announced that his Gentile faith was beyond that of any Jew. He had taught that Gentiles would sit with Abraham (Matt. 8:5-13). But the twelve just didn't seem to get it.
Thus, we can almost see Jesus roll His eyes upward and sigh as He answered this woman. With pun at the ready, He implied that his gatekeepers' advice was to remain Shepherd just to Israel. She knew her Bible better than that. By faith, she was Israel, and she humbly worshipped him as Messiah repeating the request (Rom. 10:14).
The vocabulary chosen next by Christ is a term employed nowhere else in Scripture (Matt. 15:26-27 cf. Mk. 7:27-29).In both gospel accounts, the word used is a diminutive term for house dogs or small dogs—I would even argue puppies.4 Regardless, He pitched a softball to this woman, and waited for her faith to hit the homerun. He did not say that the bread of life was only for Jews. He said what Paul would later say (Rom. 1:16),that salvation is for the Jew first, and also for the Greek. Mark's account spells this out (Mk. 7:27).Children are fed first, and also the family pets. To have pets seated at the table while children beg from the floor would make for a comical editorial cartoon. Jesus drew the word picture just this way. The woman agreed that heirs sit at the table while pets eat on the floor, but she pointed out that all recipients of the Master's abundance can feast simultaneously by catching what the children miss—just as Jesus had taught in Luke.
As Spurgeon said on this passage, "Faith sees in the dark."5 This woman perceived the light in a dark saying. Matthew Henry said that her faith let her see that at a great man's table, the family pets under foot are fed as surely as the children. After all, the Canaanite woman called it "their master's table." Like the prodigal son, she was content to be as a hired servant, or even a family pet. For in our Father's house there is not only bread enough, but also plenty to spare. It is good to be in God's house, though we lie at the threshold as a doorkeeper (Psalm 84:10) or "under the table."
It would seem simple enough to imagine that as the twelve left this hotel the next morning, the last one out the door tripped over the sign near the front steps. Scratching his head as he picked it back up, he may have seen for the first time, "Welcome. Elijah slept here."6

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