Prove. Reprove. Improve.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
This account of the Canaanite woman is one of the best stories in the Bible for disheartened believers. Don’t let God’s silent delays defeat us. Learn from this lady. Her faith started weak and wrong, but ended great and strong. Our text gives a front-row seat to see how Jesus proved, reproved, and improved her faith.
Matt. 15:23b (Holman) So His disciples approached Him and urged Him, “Send her away because she cries out after us.”
The Twelve, finding Jesus’ silence to be distressing and perplexing, decided to interrupt it. Silence is not always a bad thing. It can be a deep well of blessing.
Often one of the best things we can do in prayer is to meditate, ponder, sit, move past noise, be still. Don’t always interrupt silence with accusing questions like, “Where are You? What’s wrong? Are You mad at me? Do You even exist?”
God’s silent delays are not refusals to answer us. Our text did not say Jesus did not hear; it says He did not speak. Here’s what we know to be true at all times.
God always hears His children’s prayers, always cares, always deliberates, and always takes time to decide. When God is silent, He is not dead bolting the door. He is saying pray on. He is proving, reproving, and improving us.
In prayer we speak to God to let Him know what our desires are. God often responds by using silence to let us know what His desires are. If we want God to know what we want, we must allow time for Him to let us know what He wants.
Silent delay has always been a common way God deals with us. Abraham and Sarah had to wait decades to have a baby. Jacob had to wait years before God let him come back home. Joseph was separated from his family for 13 years. Moses waited in the wilderness 40 years. David waited years to become King.
A quiet Heaven is not a freak of nature. When God is silent, don’t panic. This is normal fare. You are being treated as the rest of God’s children often are.
We scurry, but God never has to be in a hurry. To illustrate God’s attitude toward time and our lives, Francis Schaeffer used a line circumscribed by a circle.
The line represented time; the circle eternity. God views our lives (the line) from the vantage point of eternity (the circle). He watches us and knows us from every direction, including the future. Our perspective is very limited. We see only the present and the past, and often our perception and understanding of these is skewed and wrong. Wisely give God time. He sees it all, and can act accordingly.
The Twelve were remarkably like us, impatient, perturbed at Jesus’ inaction. To them, this lady was a nuisance, an embarrassment. To them the solution to the problem was obvious. Get rid of her. “Send her away” they dictated to Jesus.
No compassion here. It’s all about them, their ease. Beware professional religionists. We can be obnoxious, prejudiced, legalistic, gloomy, and cold.
We can be confident this lady for sure felt the chill. She could have let their disdain wither her, but she decided she wasn’t dealing with them. Hurray for her. Don’t let hypocrites drive us away. Our dealings are first and foremost with Jesus.
Matt. 15:24 He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Jesus was not answering the Twelve here. He was as silent to their request as He was to hers. I’m sure we all say things sometimes that are so outlandish and stupid that Jesus’ response is to look at an angel, roll His eyes and shake His head.
Jesus’ words were tough. Why is He speaking so bluntly to this poor sad woman? What is He thinking? He is proving her, assessing her. He is reproving her, every trace of pride must go. He is improving her, moving her to great faith.
Jesus was being straightforward, but not arbitrary. His words were relevant to her situation. While on Earth, Jesus had to focus the lion’s share of His efforts with Israel. The good news was ordained to come to Jews first, and through Jews to Gentiles. Israel was God’s chosen instrument for saving the world (JN 4:22).
Due to the ocean of love in Jesus’ heart, He couldn’t help but cast a look of pity across the border of Israel toward this Gentile lady. But Jesus did not want to cast more stumbling blocks before the Jews. They were struggling already. An all-out mission to the hated Gentiles would have led to full rebellion against Jesus.
While helping others, Jesus refused to send the wrong signal to His own people. He did not slight the Jews. Their favored position was fixed. They had the first option to receive or reject Messiah. Many rejected. Many received.
Every New Testament writer, except for Luke, was a Jew. All the disciples were Jews. God’s specially ordained Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, was a Jew.
In Israel, Jesus prepared a nucleus of followers who would be discipled, trained, honed, and prepared to carry out the mission of God’s Kingdom. Gentiles would flood in later, but in Jesus’ day, the kingdom was still in the era of the Jews.
This initial focus on the Jews was a matter of concentration for the purpose of better diffusion later. What Jesus might have gained extensively through an earlier mission to Gentiles at large He would have more than lost intensively. He needed one strong foothold on which to plant His machine for changing the world.
Matt. 15:25a But she came, knelt before Him, . . .
Keep your eyes on this woman; we can learn from her. She is being proved, reproved and improved, moving her toward great faith. Follow her pilgrimage.
She refused to give up on Jesus. He was proving her. He also assesses us. Don’t ever let go of Jesus. However distant or silent He seems, pray on.
The Canaanite lady let herself be reproved. She did not disparage the Lord, as if He were the problem. She suspected the delay must be her problem, her fault. Maybe her first appeal was not humble enough, reverent enough, earnest enough.
Her willingness to be humbled improved her reverence. To show more respect and earnestness, she collapsed on her knees before Jesus.
The main lesson the Canaanite lady taught us here was, she refused to quit praying. She would not give up. Learn. If Jesus looks stern, become more urgent. If He hides His face, cry louder. If He seems unconcerned, kneel more humbly.
Jesus liked her bulldog persistence. He loves it when we pray. Our prayers are, to God, worship beautiful unto Himself. The Bible pictures the prayers of God’s saints as being fragrant to Him, as pleasing to Him as a refreshing incense.
God delights in hearing us pray. My granddaughter, 19 months old, is perfect in every way. She mispronounces words, but her error does not make me want to hear her less. I will repeat a question again and again to hear her answer it in her totally unique way. To me her words are precious. Maybe the Lord likes what we say, and wanting to hear it again and again, uses His silence to egg us on.