It has been seen that the Passover, being the third since the commencement of our Lord’s ministry, was close at band, at the time of the recent transactions. But Jesus did not go to Jerusalem at this Passover. The reason that He did not think it proper to proceed to Judea, but remained, even till the autumnal Feast of Tabernacles in Galilee, is that “the Jews sought to kill Him.” The ruling Jewish authorities at Jerusalem, had definitely concluded to take advantage of his expected visit to the city at this Passover, to accomplish his destruction; and as Jesus saw that absence presented the only natural means of prolonging his ministry to its due period, He postponed the lesser to the greater obligation.
Even in Galilee He seems rather to have shunned observation; and we find Him appearing successively in the remote and less populous parts of the country. He had heard, doubtless, that Herod’s attention had been drawn towards Him, which, if He moved about with crowds attending his steps, might render Galilee as unsafe to Him as Judea had already become; and there was still reason to apprehend, that in some moment of excited enthusiasm, the people might take up their former intention of setting Him at the head of a popular insurrection, a danger He seems to have dreaded more than any other, for although this could not eventually frustrate the purpose which He came to accomplish, it might have left a stain and a suspicion upon his name and objects, of which the enemies of his cause in all ages would not have failed to take advantage.
Thus we find Him further to the west than, as far as we know, He had yet been—even to the borders of Phoenicia. He reached a place where he wished to remain unknown, and “entered a house” there with his disciples. “But He could not be hid.” The fame of Him had reached this remote quarter, and had penetrated into heathendom. A woman of that country learned that He had come into these parts, and having a daughter who was a demoniac, she would not be deterred by the consideration that He was a Jew, and she a heathen, from seeking his assistance. She sought the place where He dwelt, and seems to have applied in the first instance to the apostles to be admitted to their Master; and on being repulsed by them, as one not entitled to any share in the blessings He could confer—and to them, indeed, the idea of any but Jews being entitled to share in them was distasteful—she concluded to await his coming forth. When she beheld Him, she cast herself at his feet, imploring Him to heal her daughter. But He answered her not a word. This was doubtless in part to try her faith, as in the case of the two blind men, who had, in like manner, been at first unheeded; and, seeing that his personal mission was to the house of Israel only, and the great commission of the Gospel to the heathen was not to be opened till after his ascension, it seems to have been expected by Him, that the most signal faith should be manifested to enable Him to infringe this rule of his own conduct; and it would be still more needed to explain and justify this in the eyes even of his own disciples, who had deep prejudices on this point, and to whom, as well as to others, it was very desirable to show the strong constraint which the woman’s faith laid upon Him. He saw that she had faith—He knew its exact measure; and his conduct was framed to bring out its strongest manifestations. The silence of their Master, so very different from his usual pitying tenderness towards the distressed, was gratifying to the disciples, and suited the harsh temper with which, as Jews, they regarded all the heathen, calling them “dogs” and the like, as the Mohammedans now call Christians. Still, they required more active austerity towards this poor creature, and begged their Lord to send her away altogether. He then did speak, saying to her, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This was a further triumph to the disciples, who must have heard these words with great approbation. And the woman—what could she reply? Nothing. Yet there was that in what she had heard of Him, and in what she saw if Him now, which told her heart that He was not so harsh as He appeared; that He could not, so far as He seemed, have shut up his sympathies within the narrow bounds of Jewish exclusiveness. She therefore only bowed herself low before Him, and in the deep anguish of her spirit, groaned forth, “Lord, help me!” But again He said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it unto the dogs.” This was exceedingly severe; yet it struck her ears less harshly than it strikes ours. She knew that, in comparing the Jews to the children of God’s family, and the heathen to the dogs without, He simply used the comparison and statement common among his people, as expressing the relation between them, without meaning to give personal offence—just as at present a Moslem will call one “an infidel,” to his face, without meaning to be personally offensive, or even uncivil.
One would suppose this answer enough to crush her hopes altogether But it was not so. She had a faith that could not be discouraged, and would not be repulsed. Her faith was of the sort that conquers. Her reply was prompt and ready, the best absolutely that could be made. She did not dispute—she did not remonstrate—she did not even attempt to turn the edge of this thrust by renewed supplication. She accepted it with open bosom—she acquiesced in it. She and hers were, she admitted it, unworthy; but there might be some ropes and blessings still for even her. She “claims no place within the temple; she is content to remain standing as a doorkeeper in the outer court, and only claiming the grace which befits the occupant of such a station.” Note: Olshausen. “Truth, Lord;” he cried, “yet even the dogs under the table, eat of the children’s crumbs.” To us it requires some reflection to see the exquisite fitness of this rejoinder, and to understand the strength of the faith that could stand up under such reiterated discouragement. But Jesus felt, it all in one moment; and He was all the while, not merely hearing her words, but looking upon her heart. His voice altered, his countenance relaxed, and she beheld the King in all the beauty of his benignity and tenderness. He said to her, “O woman, great is thy faith. For this saying, go thy way; and be it unto thee, even as thou wilt. The devil is gone out of thy daughter.”
We next find Jesus by the shore of the sea of Galilee, where one was brought to Him who “was deaf and had an impediment in his speech.” This shows that he had not been born deaf, or he would not have possessed even the imperfect use of speech; but had either become deaf before the organs of speech had acquired their full strength, or had been so long deaf as to have partially lost, by the disuse of talk, the full command of them. This man Jesus took aside, why, we know not, unless that the mode of operation, intended by Him as a help to the man’s faith, might be desecratingly imitated by others as an efficient instrument of cure. Having the man apart, Jesus put his fingers into his ears, and then touched his tongue with the moisture of his own mouth. These were without doubt symbolic actions intended to call out, in one not accessible to sound, the strongest faith in, and expectation of, the blessings about to be imparted. Our Lord then looked up to heaven, to let the man, already accustomed to the language of action, understand that the power about to relieve him was altogether from heaven, and not in any way of earth; and thus to prevent him from misinterpreting the preceding actions as of themselves helpful to his cure. As He looked, He sighed deeply at the thought of the infinite miseries which sin had brought down upon the race of man, and then He said to the shut ear and the bound up tongue, Ephphatha, “Be opened,” and at that instant the man’s utterance became free, and he heard once more the music of man’s voice.
After this, and being now in the localities familiar with his presence, fresh crowds began to gather to him; and on one occasion He again supplied miraculously with food an assemblage of four thousand persons, besides women and children. This miracle is in its general character like the former—so like, indeed, as to have suggested to some that they are merely different reports of the swine event. But a close inspection discloses essential variations, which show the two transactions to have been really different. On the former occasion five thousand persons were present, but now four; then these persons had only been with Jesus part of one day, but now they had been three days in attendance upon Him. The provision, too, was then only five loaves and two fishes, but it is now somewhat larger, being seven loaves; and the fragments that remained filled in the former instance twelve baskets, but in this not more than seven.
A subsequent visit to Bethsaida is distinguished by the cure of a blind man. In this case also our Lord took the man aside, even out of the town, and touched his eyes, and anointed them with saliva, obviously for the same reason as just noticed in the case of the man deaf and dumb. What distinguishes this miracle most from other cures of blind men, is the progression of the cure. After having once touched his eyes, our Lord asked him if he saw aught. He answered, that he “saw men as trees, walking.” Jesus then touched his eyes again, and when he once more looked up, he saw clearly. Or, it may be, that although his sight was perfectly restored at first, he still wanted that distinctness of visual perception which is usually only acquired by some experience, but which was here imparted by the second touch. It is observable that Jesus did not in the first instance utter any words, such as “Be opened,” which had been an imperative and absolute command. He, therefore, doubtless meant that it should be with the man according to his faith, and that being somewhat weak, sufficed not for his perfect cure; but his faith being strengthened by the attainment of even imperfect vision, the second application became effectual. The man’s observation that he saw men as trees walking, shows he had been born blind. As the figures moved, he concluded they were men; but as the images were indistinct and shapeless, they rather met his idea of trees, and he would have thought them trees but that they walked—a comparison the more proper to his condition, as he could have had little idea of trees but from their trunks, with which he had often come in contact, and among which he had often groped. He had also known, by touch, the height of a man, but could not thus realize the height of a tree, and was therefore not very sensible of the difference between the stature of a man and that of a tree.
When the child whose eyes were couched by Cheselden first saw, “he knew not the shape of anything, nor any one thing from another, however different in shape or magnitude, but being told what the things were, whose form he before knew from feeling, he would carefully observe that he might know them again.”