*In a class the other day my prof. brought up this interpretation of Matthew 15 and I thought it was wonderful so I wanted to share it with you.
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy,” (Deut. 7:1-2).
If you’re like me, you probably have read passages like this in the Old Testament and asked yourself something like, “What the hell?!” I mean, we’re so used to hearing about Jesus as this peaceful, subversive person who lays down his life for others…as the lamb before the shearers is silent, right? Then, we read in the OT of genocide and mass murder. How can this be? How can the God we see revealed in Jesus be the same God that we see revealed in the Hebrew scriptures?
The violence in the OT is problematic for many folks, myself included. I used to try and think about it in terms of the fact that the people saying God told them to kill (Israel) were also, conveniently, the authors of the text (and how often have we heard people saying that God is on their side in battle? Dub-ya). So perhaps God didn’t really tell Israel these things. Perhaps this was just their perspective on the issue. However, I’m not sure this really does justice to the Judeo-Christian narrative.
So, what are we to make of this violence then in light of Jesus? Well, I think it’s clear to say that in the light of Christ this sort of thing will never happen again. Christians will never hear the call to violence like we see in the OT because this just doesn’t make sense in light of the Messiah who laid down his life.
Matthew tells the story of a Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Read it and then come back.
Ok, so there are a few things that are interesting here. Jesus says to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Really? This doesn’t sound like Jesus. He came only for Israel? Also, Jesus calls the woman a dog. Bitch. Jesus? One of the things that is most striking about this passage though is that Jesus refers to the woman as a Canaanite. Mark tells the same story and yet he refers to her as a “Syrophoenician woman” (Mk. 7). Why does Matthew call her a Canaanite?
One of the problems here is that there is no such thing as a Canaanite in the 1st century. It would be like someone today referring to someone of Norwegian descent as a viking. We all know that vikings no longer exist. The same was true for Canaanites in the 1st century. There were none. Yet Matthew calls her a Canaanite. Why?
Let’s return to Deut. 7. Israel has just come out of the wilderness and are entering the promised land. They cross the Jordan and enter the land that is unclean which is filled with gentiles. Canaanites. Notice, there are seven people groups named.
Now in Matthew, just before the story of the Canaanite woman, we see the feeding of the five thousand. After this feeding how many baskets are left over? Twelve. How many tribes are their in Israel? Twelve. Jesus is a new Moses and this scene ought to remind us of the manna in the desert. After the feeding of the five thousand Jesus and his companions cross a body of water. Again, here we should be reminded of the Israelites crossing the Jordan prior to entering the promised land, the unclean land of the Canaanites. After crossing the body of water Jesus arrives in Gennesaret, the unclean land of…the Canaanites?
This is where we encounter the Canaanite woman (who isn’t really a Canaanite).
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
“Lord, help me!”
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
“Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table,” (“come on, I know you just had a feast with lots of left overs, can we get some scraps?”).
How does Jesus respond to her? With mercy.
Directly following this encounter Matthew recalls the feeding of the four-thousand (in unclean, “Canaanite”, territory by the way). How many baskets of food are collected at the end? Seven. How many people groups were in the promised land when Israel first entered? Seven.
Do you see what’s happening here?
Jesus changes the story of Israel.
Israel crossed over into the promised land, the land of the Canaanites, and were told “destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”
Jesus crosses into unclean land where he is confronted with a “Canaanite” woman and what does he do? Well if he is to be true to Israels story he ought to kill her. “Totally destroy” her. But what does Jesus do instead?
He shows her mercy.
Jesus changes the story of Israel.
What then can we say about the violence we see in the OT? One thing we can say for certain is that after Jesus such a thing can never occur again. Jesus changed the story of Israel.