We read next of the King’s rebuke of many who were opposed to His claims as Lord and the kingdom He announced. There was a remnant whose hearts were opened to the truth and who gladly received our Lord as the promised Messiah. But it was difficult for many to see in this quiet, lowly Man of Nazareth that which answered to their expectations of a great world ruler who would deliver the Jewish nation from the Roman yoke and make them again a great people, such as they were in the days of David and Solomon. Their conceptions of the kingdom were utterly carnal, because they were merely natural men who knew nothing of spiritual realities. Consequently, they failed to realize that before the prophecies of a restored Israel would be fulfilled there must be repentance on the part of the nation and a definite return to God individually and collectively.
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, 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. 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. (vv. 1-11)
The question raised by His critics had to do with a certain ceremonial baptizing of the hands, which all orthodox Jews were supposed to go through before partaking of food. This was something far more than simply cleansing the hands in order that they might be free of impurity as one was about to sit down to a meal; it involved quite a lengthy ceremony, and so the Pharisees put the question, “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” That is, they ignored their regulations. As was so often His custom, the Lord answered by putting a direct question to them, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” He then cites that commandment of the law which begins, “Honour thy father and mother” and also the judgment of the law concerning those who cursed father or mother as found in Exodus 21:17. While professing to honor the Word of God, they really made it of no effect whatever by one of their own traditions, whereby they made it possible for a man to ignore the needs of his parents and refuse to be responsible in any way for their support, if he dedicated his goods to Jehovah by saying to his parents, “It is Corban”—that is, “a gift.” Then the parents were supposed to have no claims upon the goods, thus they were dishonored rather than otherwise, and so the commandment of God was made of no effect. It was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “This people draw near me with their mouth [they made a great profession of faith in Jehovah], and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (29:13). They did not yield heart allegiance to Him. That worship which they professed to give to Him was empty and formal, for instead of obeying the Word of God they substituted the commandments of men.
Turning from the Pharisees to the multitudes who were gathered about and had heard His words to those who were seeking to find fault in Him, Jesus addressed the larger throng, bidding them give special attention to the fact that one is not defiled by what he eats. It is not food going into the mouth that makes one unclean, but that which comes out of the mouth, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). Unclean and unholy words defile the speaker, not mere neglect of regulations concerning one’s preparation to partake of food. It is evident that the Pharisees were very indignant at the way in which the Lord had dealt with them, but instead of toning down the truth in any way, the Lord Jesus only affirmed more definitely that which He desired to impress upon them.
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. (vv. 12-20)
It was undoubtedly a disappointment to the disciples to have the Pharisees, the religious leaders, scandalized by the teaching of their Master. They probably hoped that these men had come as honest inquirers, who might be led to receive and enter into the kingdom. They were people of importance in the community, and it must have seemed a pity to some of the apostolic band that such should be stumbled and turned away, but the Lord answered, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” In other words, only those who were subject in heart to God and His Word would abide as disciples of the Lord. The rest, no matter how encouraging their attitude might be at first, would eventually turn away. As to these one could only let them alone; they were determined upon their evil course and could be considered only as blind leaders of the blind. Those who followed them, accepting their teaching, would be destroyed with the teachers themselves in the day when God dealt with them.
Peter raised a question regarding what the Lord had already said about defilement. With his natural Jewish prejudices, he had doubtless thought more of physical defilement than of that which was spiritual, and so he besought the Lord, saying, “Declare unto us this parable.” He considered the words of Christ to be parabolic rather than literal. Jesus explained very definitely the meaning more fully, while gently reproving Peter for his lack of understanding. He pointed out that no man’s soul is defiled by that which he eats. Food passes through the process of digestion in the body, but does not affect the spirit or the soul of the man. On the other hand, those things that come from the heart which are expressed often in speech do indeed defile the man, for they have to do with his whole course of thinking and, therefore, make his very mind and spirit unclean. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts.” It is these unholy things which defile a man; merely eating with unwashed or unbaptized hands could not defile anyone. The Lord thus traces everything back to its source. We read in the book of Proverbs, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (4:23). “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
Following this conversation, first with the Pharisees and then with Peter, Jesus left that particular scene, and went up into the northern part of the land to the very border of Gentile territory. Here a notable miracle was wrought on the daughter of a Gentile woman.
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 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. (vv. 21-28)
Tyre and Sidon were cities upon which God’s judgment had already been poured out because of their wickedness and uncleanness, but they had been rebuilt, in measure, and reinhabited—not exactly the original cities but on contiguous territory. From this region came a Canaanitish woman who had heard of the fame of Jesus and felt sure He would relieve her daughter’s terrible condition. She came crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon.” Doubtless to her surprise, and perhaps to that of others, Jesus made no reply whatever. It was not rudeness on His part, for He was the Holy One of God, but it was in order to teach her a much-needed lesson. As Son of David, He had come to minister to Israel and to reign eventually as King on the throne of David. As such, for the present, a Gentile woman had no claim upon Him, and so He answered her not a word. She continued to plead until the disciples became annoyed and begged Him to send her away. He simply replied, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This must have seemed for the moment a rebuke to the poor, anxious mother, but instead of turning away in despair, she bowed down before Him as a worshiper, pleading, “Lord, help me.” He replied, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs.” It was a hard saying, but it was meant to manifest the true attitude of her soul. She responded in humility and faith, exclaiming, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” “The dogs.” Here she used a diminutive—the little dogs, the puppies. That was all she asked, some few crumbs of blessing which could be well spared since He had dealt so bountifully with Israel.
The heart of Jesus rejoiced to see such an evidence of confidence linked with lowliness of spirit. He granted her request immediately, saying, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” And we are told that her daughter was healed instantly. From that very hour the demon was driven out.
And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them: insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel, (vv. 29-31)
“Jesus… went up into a mountain, and sat down there.” Having completed a circuit from Capernaum through the northern part of Galilee and Iturea (which was the tetrarchy of Philip, the husband of Herodias), Jesus returned to the region of the Sea of Galilee, and ascended a mountain with His disciples.
“Great multitudes came unto Him.” As soon as they knew He was once more in their vicinity, crowds of people thronged the roads and ascended the mount on which He sat, bringing with them their sick and maimed friends. He met them all in grace, and healed every one, thus demonstrating again His messianic authority (Isa. 35:4-6).
“They glorified the God of Israel.” As these country folk saw their friends and relatives delivered from dumbness, lameness, blindness, and various diseases, they were convinced in their own hearts that God had visited His people, and they glorified Him as they recognized in these mighty works the credentials of Him who was to be the Deliverer of Israel. It was the people who felt their need and longed for deliverance from sin and its effects who received with joy the gospel of the kingdom as proclaimed by Jesus.
In the closing part of the chapter we read of another occasion on which the Lord Jesus fed a great multitude with what at first seemed a very small supply. This time it was four thousand men, whereas before there were five thousand, besides women and children.
Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way. And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude? And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full. And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children. And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala. (vv. 32-39)
Once more we see the heart of the blessed Lord going out in compassion to a hungry multitude. On this occasion they had been waiting upon His ministry for three days, in which time they had evidently used up all their own provision. He was disinclined to “send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.” It seems strange, after the former experience, that the disciples should have ever raised the question, “Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” The Lord had already proved His power to multiply loaves and fishes, and one might think that they would have counted on His manifesting the same ability at this time, but strangely enough, they seemed to have forgotten what He had done in the past.
In answer to His question, “How many loves have ye?” they replied, “Seven, and a few little fishes.” As before, He commanded the multitude to sit down upon the ground. Then, taking into His hands the small amount of food which the disciples had, He gave thanks and broke both the loaves and the fish, and distributed to the disciples in order that they might give to the multitude. We read that “they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.” Two different words for baskets are used in the accounts of the feeding of the two groups: in the first instance, where the Lord fed the five thousand, the word translated baskets means a wicker traveling basket, such as people carried with them for small articles when on a journey. The word used here means a hamper, a large market-basket, such as was commonly used by those who went out to buy provision for the household. This time there were seven of these large baskets filled with the broken bread and fish to provide food for the entire apostolic company for perhaps another whole day.
Just how many people partook of the Lord’s bounty that day we have no means of knowing. The records tell us there were four thousand men, besides women and children. There might not have been a great many of the latter classes; yet undoubtedly there would have been a number of women who had come with their husbands and children who had accompanied their parents.
Sending the multitude away the Lord took ship to the coasts of Magdala, the region in which Mary Magdalene had lived and from which she took her name.