Home > Bible Study, C. H. Spurgeon, Matthew, S. Lewis Johnson > The “Crumbs” of Scripture

The “Crumbs” of Scripture


Among all the riches of God’s word, sometimes we have to search diligently, exhausting the depth of scripture verses, to find treasures, even to the “crumbs” of God’s word.  Spurgeon used the term in reference to seemingly obscure verses — not the ones we typically remember — that, even so, bring great insights, such as his reference to Ezekiel 16:20-21:

Where we have but little, we must pick up even the crumbs and do as our Master did—gather up the fragments that nothing is lost

Likewise, sometimes Bible teachers will expand on the seemingly trivial pieces of information found in scripture, grasping at the crumbs, as for instance John MacArthur did with the writings about the “12 Ordinary Men” and the “12 Extraordinary Women.”

But now to a particular case in the Bible where someone literally grasped at the crumbs provided in God’s plan:  the Syro-Phoenician woman of Matthew 15:21-28 (parallel passage Mark 7:24-30) who asked for the crumbs that fall from the children to the dogs under the table.  S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series provides some good teaching concerning this often misunderstood incident.

In my early Christian years, the view I heard at church was that Jesus acted as He did to make a point to the disciples who were annoyed at the woman:  first acting like them, then showing them the proper response and to not be so exclusive.  In the more recent church setting, the general emphasis (repeated frequently) is the fact that Jesus called her a dog (with no distinction as to the type of dog), just an unclean wild animal, and how we all are as unclean dogs so unworthy before God.  Such superficial, incomplete (and wrong) conclusions often reflect a person’s own bias rather than a serious look at the text:  the one view from a people-oriented teacher interested in our relationships with one another, the second from one who is not a “people-person” and who has a rather negative and distorted concept of God.

As S. Lewis Johnson noted, this particular incident cannot be understood apart from an understanding of God’s Purpose of the Ages, sometimes referred to as the Divine Purpose, a fundamental aspect of dispensationalism.  The underlying issue here is the priority of the gospel:  as Paul says in Romans, “first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.”  As earlier in Matthew (Matthew 10:5-6), Jesus sent the twelve disciples out — only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.  Christ came into the world, to the Jews first:  to confirm the promises made to their fathers — and then (next in the sequence), in order that the Gentiles would glorify God for His mercy (Romans 15:8-9).

Jesus’ silence towards the woman here is not one of harshness, the type of silence He showed towards His enemies beyond hope of redemption (the Pharisees, Pilate and Herod) but one of serious contemplation over this matter of God’s priority in redemption.  Jesus knew that the woman had faith to receive the healing of her daughter: she called Him “son of David,” (she understood something of the Davidic promise) and showed all the other indications of faith as previously shown in others (Jews) who had been healed.  Yet here he wanted to point out the order of salvation: first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.  The woman — her name according to tradition was Justa, and her daughter Bernice — accepted this.

The parallel account in Mark includes an extra statement, before the line It is not right to take the children’s bread and  throw it to the dogs: “let the children be fed first.”  The woman seized on this “crumb” of truth, recognizing the idea of a “doggie” under the table, which is the type of dog described here (not the wild, wolf-type pack dogs).  We know the rest of the story, that Jesus proclaimed “great is your faith!” and answered her petition.  This woman’s “crumb” turned out to be pretty important after all: the healing of her demon-possessed daughter.

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