The Faith of the Woman of Canaan
Address by Pastor Henry Sant given at a Prayer Meeting at Salem Strict Baptist Chapel, Portsmouth on Thursday 10th January 2019
O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
Let us consider the faith of this Canaanitish woman who came to Christ. “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.” (verse 22.) This was her request, and in verse 28 we see how the Lord eventually responds, and says “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” “Great is thy faith,” says the Lord Jesus. Regarding the faith of this woman, I shall divide what I’m going to say into two parts: first of all to say something with regards to the trial of her faith, and secondly the triumph of her faith.
Remember how Peter speaks of the trying of our faith, “being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire” that it “might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). And how sorely this woman’s faith was tried from the very beginning. As soon as she comes out of that region, the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, as she approaches the Lord Jesus, as she comes to him with this request, how her faith is being tried. First of all, she was ignored, and she seems to be refused, the Lord doesn’t really answer the request that she is making concerning her daughter, “... he answered her not a word” (verse 23). How strange is this response on behalf of the Lord Jesus. I’ve recently been reading sermons of Samuel Rutherford on this portion of Scripture - and the parallel passage in Mark 7:24-30 - some 27 sermons in total, in his book entitled “The Trial and Triumph of Faith.” And in remarking on the words “... he answered her not a word,” Rutherford says, “Christ was seeking her, yet fleeth from her.” I find Rutherford very quotable, and he certainly opens up something of the mystery of the ways of the Lord when he is dealing with needy souls. Another thing that struck me in reading him was words in which he speaks of the way in which God, when he begins with his people, brings them under such conviction that he seems to be thrusting them away from him, but really he is drawing them to him. Rutherford says of God, “He breatheth the smoke and the heat of the furnace of hell on the soul, when peace, grace and heaven is in his heart.” When the Lord intends to do a gracious work in calling the sinner to himself, how strange are his ways. He brings that person under such conviction of sin even to think that there can be no hope at all for them, and yet there is mercy and grace towards them in the heart of the Lord. This is certainly the case with regards to Christ’s dealings with this woman. We know that the Lord in all his ministry never behaves in any capricious fashion, he doesn’t just take up people and use them as playthings, he is God and he is good. The Psalmist declares it, “Thou art good and doest good” (Psalm 119:68). And here the Lord Jesus Christ would do good to the soul of this woman, and yet initially, she seems to be so ignored, even refused, “... he answered her not a word.”
Historically there was a reason for that, Christ’s own ministry was very much confined to Palestine. He answers the woman here in verse 24 by saying “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Also when he sends out the twelve, he tells them that they are not to preach to the Gentiles, rather must they go to the lost sheep of Israel. “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Chapter 10:5-6). Remember how under the Old Testament God’s purpose was very much confined to Israel. “You only have I known” he says, “of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In the past I have referred to those words that we find at the end of the book of Psalms, “He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath no dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 147:19-20). Under the Old Testament dispensation God’s purpose was that his grace was confined to ethnic Israel, but Paul declares “... they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). They were simply a typical people, but there was the true spiritual Israel there in the midst of that ethnic nation. “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and like unto Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9). And ultimately there would be the calling of sinners out the Gentile nations, and this is oft times referred to in the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, even as they’re ministering to the kingdom of Israel. For example in Isaiah 49:6 “... he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” This was God’s eternal purpose of grace, to be fulfilled after the Lord Jesus Christ came in the flesh. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his name” (John1:11-12). Israel rejected the Messiah, and we’re told in Romans 11 how that the Gentile nations must be brought in, grafted into the olive tree. And the mystery of that calling of the Gentiles is very much unfolded in the ministry of the Apostle Paul, he was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. In Ephesians 3, which we’ve referred to in the past, Paul speaks of the revelation of that mystery, which was hid in the eternal purpose of God, but was to be fulfilled after the death and the resurrection of Christ. However what we read here of this woman occurred before Christ had accomplished his great work of redemption, and this woman is a Gentile. In Mark’s account she is spoken of as a Greek (Mark 7:26). She was actually a woman of Canaan; she was not Grecian; but the term "Greek" is often used simply in reference to any Gentile. Here is this woman and the Lord deals with her in a certain fashion, and there is a reason; it is according to the Old Testament dispensation. So he ignores her, and refuses her request.
In fact, she’s not only ignored, she seems to be rejected. “He answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us” (verse 23). Now she is being rejected altogether by the followers of the Lord; they want nothing to do with her, she’s simply a nuisance. She was, as I said, a woman of Canaan, and even in this we see that she was one rejected by God himself. Remember what we’re told back in Genesis 9 after the Flood: “Cursed be Canaan” (Genesis 9:25). O there was so much against this woman, even her very nationality. When the children of Israel are brought out of Egypt, and brought into the land of promise, God would then fulfil his purpose in the destruction of those wicked nations, the Canaanites. And see how the children of Israel are simply God’s instrument. They are told quite plainly, “... thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely...the Canaanites” (Deuteronomy 20:17). And then when we come to the end of the Old Testament, at the end of the book of the prophet Zechariah, “...there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 14:21). How this woman’s nationality so much condemns her. But is she really being altogether rejected? As I have said, the words of the disciples certainly stand against her, they want the Lord to send her away. She is only a nuisance. And the Lord himself, as we’ve seen, answers her not a word. How silent the Lord is; he has nothing to say to her! This is most dreadful, we see how it was a great concern in the prayer of David in Psalm 28. He says, “Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee” (Psalm 28:1-2). How awful it is, when anyone cries to God, prays to him, and there seems to be no answer. Maybe you’ve known something of that. You’ve made a thing a matter of prayer, and yet the Lord seems not to be hearing; there’s no answer comes to your request. O this was the position of this poor woman, she was ignored, she was refused, she was rejected, even the Lord himself was silent unto her. And when the Lord does eventually speak, in a sense it seems it was just to reproach her. As I have said, her faith was so tried. She had come in faith, real faith. We’ll say something about her faith, and the triumph of it just now - but at the present mark how her faith is constantly being tried and tested.
And look at what the Lord says now, in verse 24, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and she is not of Israel, but then he remarks on those who are his sheep. What does the Lord go on to say? “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs” (verse 26). The implication is she is not of the sheep, but rather is she likened unto the dogs. And in the Levitical law a dog was definitely accounted an unclean animal. “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abominations unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 23:18). Here this woman is really being compared to a dog, and yet she overcomes this also. How remarkable is the way in which she responds in verse 27. She says, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” O she had such faith, she could overcome anything and everything. Nothing would really prevent her from ultimately obtaining the thing that she desired of the Lord. Surely this is “... faith of the operation of God” (Colossians 2:12). How the Lord will have his people come to him; he delights to hear their words. So he deals with them in such a way as to make them cry. We’re to take with us words, we’re to “turn to the LORD” and we’re to say “take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” (Hosea 14:2). And this woman will not be denied - how she keeps on persevering, turning to the Lord. But look at what we see concerning her faith, even the humility of it. The Lord had uttered those words in verse 26, comparing her to a dog, and she says “Truth, Lord.” What blessed humility. How she acknowledges herself to be so unworthy of the notice of the Lord. She doesn’t argue with him, she submits to what he has said, even though his words seem to be such hard words. She is ready to acknowledge her own unworthiness. And doesn’t the Lord say how important it is for those who would be his followers to be such as are ready to deny themselves? “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself” (Chapter 16:24). O self must be denied. There has to be that venturing to be naught, “... though I be nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11). We have to see and feel that we are nothing, we have nothing, that we’re all as an unclean thing, “... all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have carried us away” (Isaiah 64:6). We have nothing to bring, nothing to commend us. This woman so willingly submits to the authority of the Word of the Lord Jesus when he utters those awful words in verse 26. “Truth, Lord,” she says, “yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Not just humility, but also the reality of her faith. I like the remark that we have in Henry and Scott’s Commentary; “Faith can find encouragement even in that which is discouraging.” Throughout this whole passage there was so much really to discourage this woman. But her faith is so real. As Isaac Watts says,
Faith has an overcoming power,
It triumphs in the dying hour.
O that is the very property of faith - it overcomes. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1John 5:4). Here is a woman, she has such strong desires, oh she wants to see her daughter healed. The girl is vexed, grievously vexed with the devil, and her mother is looking to the Lord, and in the portion that follows this incident we see how the Lord was performing many miracles, healing the multitudes. How the people wonder when they see the dumb to speak, the maim to be whole, the lame to walk, the blind to see. And they glorify the God of Israel. O this Canaanitish woman has such confidence, such trust in the Lord as she comes. The wise man says in Proverbs, “... to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” (Proverbs 27:7). And see how this woman encourages herself, even when the Lord speaks these bitter words. She acknowledges the truth of what he says, but she will beg a crumb. “The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” The simplicity of her approach is so evident here. What is her prayer? She simply says in verse 25, “Lord, help me”. Such a short prayer and yet this prayer is the evidence of great faith because Christ says to her in verse 28, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” O it takes great faith to make a short prayer, great faith to make a real prayer. May the Lord help us to come as those who would learn from this particular woman.
But having said something with regards to the way in which the Lord is testing and trying her faith from the very outset, let’s turn in the second place to say something with regard to the triumph of her faith. Observe three things:
1. First of all, her faith is evident in the fact that she simply comes to the Lord Jesus Christ. “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.” She’s turning her back on Canaan, she’s coming out of those coasts, and she’s coming unto the Lord and she’s crying after him. Here we see her faith and repentance. Notice how the whole scene is introduced to us in verse 22 with the word, “behold.” Here is something to consider, the eye is to be fixed, here is a wonder to behold, that such a woman as this should come and approach the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 25 we read, “...then came she.” O she keeps on coming, and coming is the activity of faith. Isn’t believing likened to coming? The words of the Lord Jesus himself in John 6:35, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” Those are parallel statements, the coming and the believing; that is one and the same thing. There is a real coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is the activity of faith. And how the Lord acknowledges this woman’s faith, though there seem to be many things to repulse her, yet nothing, nothing at all, will prevent her. “Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith.” She was a Gentile, she was a Canaanite, but she was blessed with the gift of faith. Christ says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Previously in chapter 8 we read of the faith of the Roman Centurion, whose servant was sick. And remember what the Lord says concerning that man? “Verily…I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Chapter 8:10). Great faith, demonstrated in the lives of these Gentile people, be it the centurion, be it the Canaanitish woman. O she came to the Lord Jesus Christ, but how does she come?
2. Secondly, we see how in coming she confesses. How does she address Christ? “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David.” She acknowledges Him as the Lord, the Son of David. She is acknowledging that Jesus of Nazareth, is none other than the promised Messiah. This is the Christ of God. Remember what the Lord says to Simon Peter in the very next chapter. In chapter 16 we find Christ asking the disciples what was being said concerning himself and then asking them whom they consider him to be. And it’s Simon Peter who answers and says, “...Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Chapter 16:16-17). O this woman has had a revelation, just as Peter had had, because she is acknowledging that this is the Lord, this is the son of David, this is the promised Messiah, the Son of God. “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?” (Chapter 22:42) is the question that the Lord puts to the Jewish leaders later. Peter confesses that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And this woman is also confessing Christ. She addresses him as the Son of David, but she addresses him also as the Lord. She confesses, she acknowledges, his Deity. Remember the words of John Newton, based upon those words in chapter 22, “What think ye of Christ?”
What think you of Christ is the test
To try both your state and your scheme,
You cannot be right in the rest,
Except you think rightly of him.
And Newton continues:
So guilty, so helpless am I,
I durst not confide in his blood,
Nor on his protection rely,
Unless I were sure he is God.
And this woman is sure. She is confessing Christ. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). This is her confession: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David.”
3. And so, as she confesses, what does she do? She worships. She is acknowledging the Lord Jesus in coming to him, confessing him, and worshipping him: “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord help me” (verse 25). Now this verb “to worship,” literally means “to make obeisance” or “to do reverence.” In Mark’s account it literally says that she “fell at his feet” (Mark 7:25). Wasn’t that John’s experience when he saw the same glorified Christ in Revelation 1? “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead,” says John. “And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:17-18). She’s worshipping just as John would worship there at the beginning, and again at the end of the Revelation, when John would worship the angel, however the angel rebukes him and says “Worship God” (Revelation 22:9). Only God is to be worshipped. Remember how the Lord speaks to Satan back in chapter 4, at the time of his temptations, how he rebukes the wicked one, saying “...thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Chapter 4:10). Yet Christ himself readily receives the worship of these people. We see it previously in chapter 14, the Lord walking on the water, and Peter climbing out of the boat, will walk towards the Lord, but then saw “...the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Chapter 14:30-31). Christ says that this Canaanitish woman had great faith, but there the Lord rebukes one of his disciples, because of his unbelief, “...O thou of little faith.” Might God grant us true faith, praying faith. He that “...cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Concerning the disciples we do read, “When they came into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” But oh that we had the faith of this woman. She was a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And how the Lord acknowledges her faith, and the triumph of it. She desired that there might be healing for her daughter and the Lord says 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.” It’s our privilege to call upon that same name, even as we come now to make our requests known unto God; to come by and through him who is the only Mediator. O we can address our prayers directly to him as the Son of God, “Very God of very God.” We can call upon him to help us, and to save us.
That Christ is God,
I can avouch,
And for his people cares,
Since I have prayed to him as such,
And he has heard my prayers.