The Syrophoenician Woman: A Woman of Great Faith
“And from thence he arose, and went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 7:24a). Matthew wrote that Jesus “withdrew” (15:21). This was the third time in which Jesus withdrew from Galilee in the gospel of Mark (cf. 4:35; 6:31).
The Lord sought solitude with his disciples, but the text says,
“And he entered into a house, and would have no man know it; and he could not be hid” (7:24b).
He had not gone into Gentile territory to embark on a healing ministry, but his fame had reached beyond the borders of Galilee (cf. 3:8).
During this retreat into a largely Gentile region, a woman approached Jesus for help. Mark introduced the account with a strong adversative conjunction, “but,” (Grk. alla), recording the fact that in contrast to the need for seclusion, a notable scene developed.
Mark 7:25 reveals that when this woman heard that Jesus was in the area, she came immediately and fell down at his feet. The aorist participles indicate that she fell down at his feet when she heard and when she came. Thus, the writer expressed the urgency in this mother’s heart as she unabashedly pursued Jesus — immediately.
Mark explained that she was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race (7:26). She was a Greek speaking lady who was a Gentile. She kept on asking (Grk. imperfect tense) him to cast forth the demon out of her daughter (cf. Demons: Ancient Superstition or Historical Reality?).
Matthew related that her request was formed in this way: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon. But he answered her not a word” (Matthew 15:22-23). So intrusive was this woman that the disciples encouraged Jesus to send her away.
Jesus replied by saying, “I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). “But she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me” (v. 25).
“And he said to her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). Jesus used the diminutive form of the term “dogs” (i.e., the little dogs). D. Edmond Hiebert observed, “Jesus softened the force of the expression with His use of the diminutive, ‘little dogs’. . . Clearly His reference is to the little household pets, which, while not children in the house, yet had a place in the affairs of the household” (The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary, Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 1994, p. 210).
The woman followed the Lord’s parable, acknowledging the distinction implied by his words. Perhaps she saw a glimmer of hope in the word “first,” for Jesus implicitly revealed that while there was a redemptive priority for the Jews, the blessings of heaven did not exclusively belong to them.
With remarkable insight and persistence, she replied, “Yea, Lord; even the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs” (Mark. 7:28). Jesus responded, “For this saying go thy way; the demon is gone out of thy daughter” (v. 29).
“This saying,” (i.e., her reply to Jesus) evidenced great faith on her part. Matthew records the assessment of our Lord: “O woman, great is thy faith” (15:28). Because of her faith, expressed in her thoughtful exchange with Jesus, the Lord granted her request for a miracle. The verb “is gone out,” is in the perfect tense, reflecting the Lord’s control and power. The demon left while they spoke and would remain out.
Consider the following observations about this woman of great faith.
This lady had great spiritual insight. She was not asking the Lord to alter the way he was implementing the plan of God, which would later be carried out by the apostles to the Jew first and also to the Greek. She was simply asking for a “crumb.” Faith is based upon understanding the will of God. It is founded upon knowledge — not mere emotion.
This mother illustrated the connection between faith and unfavorable circumstances. Great faith will rely upon the Son of God. Faith becomes stronger in times of distress for those who tenaciously depend on God (cf. James 1:2-4).
This woman demonstrated that great faith seeks the welfare of others. Those who trust in God will intercede for others. How much more ought we to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of those we love?
The Gentile lady showed the relationship of faith and humility. Her humble disposition complimented her genuine faith. Great faith is seeing one’s complete dependence upon God.
The Syrophoenician woman taught us that great faith endures. She was steadfast and resilient in her request of the Lord. Reminiscent of the woman who pursued the unjust judge, she reminds us to always pray and never give up (cf. Luke 18:1ff).
The distressed mother exemplified that great faith in the Son of God will result in a great deliverance. Although miraculous healings were confined to the first century during the infancy of Christianity (cf. John 20:30-31; see What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?), today everyone who will follow the Lord with obedient faith can be delivered from that which plagues all morally accountable people — sin.
What a relevant message. We need to cultivate great faith so that we may obtain the greater deliverance through the Great Physician — the salvation of our souls.