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The account of Jesus delivering the Canaanite woman’s daughter from a demon has caused many readers to pause and ask themselves the question “why did Jesus call the Canaanite woman a dog”? It’s a difficult passage to grasp and I want to try help you understand it. So let’s work through the passage together.

Then Jesus went from there and departed into the regions of Tyre and Sidon. Matthew 15:21

Tyre and Sidon were Gentile, Phoenician regions. This was gentile territory and Jesus was outside the land of Israel. These regions had always been outside of the land of Israel, even during the reigns of David and Solomon.

In Mark’s account of the story, the woman is identified as a Syrophoenician.

The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Mark 7:26

Interestingly, the only thing Jesus did in the region was heal this women’s daughter, then he left. In other words, the sole purpose of leaving Jewish land and coming to this Gentile region was to heal this women’s daughter. This is not only true in Matthew’s account, but Mark’s also. The story does not appear in the other gospels. So, he obviously cared enough about this woman to go well out of his way to meet her.

There, a woman of Canaan came out of the same regions and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David. My daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” Matthew 15:22

Notice here that this is a Gentile woman, in a Gentile land, and she refers to Jesus as the Son of David. This means that as a Gentile she had knowledge of the Jewish scriptures and recognized Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. This is an important point.

But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Matthew 15:23-25

Jesus tells this woman that he has only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
In response, she, as a Syrophoenician women, now bows and worships Jesus as the King of the Jews and again asks Jesus for help. You have to remember that this women is not a Jew, and her people have their own gods. Her people do not worship the God of Israel.

But He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and to throw it to dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Matthew 15:26-27

The word translated as “dogs” here is the Greek word for puppy. The Jews didn’t keep dogs as pets. Dogs in Israel were wild scavengers, but wealthy Greek families did keep dogs as pets. The children naturally partake of the food first and the dogs ate whatever fell on the floor or was given to them. Now, Jesus wasn’t trying to make the women feel unloved or worthless, he was testing her. He wanted to see if she would accept that the Messiah was sent first to the Jews because they were the people of God and their God was the one true God.

Remember the story of Naaman? He was a great general of the Arameans. He was afflicted with leprosy. He went to Elisha to be healed and Elisha didn’t even come out of his house to meet him and instead Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. Have a look at Naaman’s initial response;

But Naaman became angry and went away and said to himself, “Surely, he could have come out, and stood and called on the name of the Lord his God, and waved his hand over the infected area, and taken away the leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So, he turned and went away in a rage. 2 Kings 5:11-12

Eventually Naaman was convinced to wash in the Jordan River and he was healed, and then he said this.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company. He came and stood before him, and he said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the land, except in Israel. 2 Kings 5:15

By washing in the Jordan River, as opposed to the rivers of Damascus, he was accepting that the God of Israel was the one true God. Furthermore, by Elisha not coming out he was implying that Naaman was not worthy to even meet with a prophet of the one true God. None of us are worthy of God’s mercy and kindness.

In the same way, when this woman accepted that the Children of Israel had priority over the Gentiles, she was acknowledging that the God of Israel was the one true God.

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:28

Because this Gentile women, living in a Gentile land, recognized that the God of the Jews was the one true God, and that she was unworthy of any goodness or grace from the one true God she was considered to have great faith and her daughter was instantly healed. The gods of Africa, Asia, India and Europe are all false gods. The one true God is the God of Israel. That is the God we worship and obey.