(St. Matt. xv.29-31; St. Mark vii 31-37; St. Mark viii.22-26; St. Matt. xi.27-31.)
If even the brief stay of Jesus in that friendly Jewish home by the borders of Tyre could not remain unknown, the fame of the healing of the Syro-Phoenician maiden would soon have rendered impossible that privacy and retirement, which had been the chief object of His leaving Capernaum. Accordingly, when the two Paschal days were ended, He resumed His journey, extending it far beyond any previously undertaken, perhaps beyond what had been originally intended. The borders of Palestine proper, though not of what the Rabbis reckoned as belonging to it, were passed. Making a long circuit through the territory of Sidon, He descended - probably through one of the passes of the Hermon range - into the country of the Tetrarch Philip. Thence He continued through the midst of the borders of Decapolis,' till He once more reached the eastern, or south-eastern, shore of the Lake of Galilee. It will be remembered that the Decapolis, or confederacy of the Ten Cities,' was wedged in between the Tetrarchies of Philip and Antipas. It embraced ten cities, although that was not always their number, and their names are variously enumerated. Of these cities Hippos, on the southeastern shore of the Lake, was the most northern, and Philadelphia, the ancient Rabbath-Ammon, the most southern. Scythopolis, the ancient Beth-Shean, with its district, was the only one of them on the western bank of the Jordan. This extensive Ten Cities' district was essentially heathen territory. Their ancient monuments show, in which of them Zeus, Astarte, and Athene, or else Artemis, Hercules, Dionysos, Demeter, or other Grecian divinities, were worshipped. Their political constitution was that of the free Greek cities. They were subject only to the Governor of Syria, and formed part of Coele-Syria, in contradistinction to Syro-Phoenicia. Their privileges dated from the time of Pompey, from which also they afterwards reckoned their era.
It is important to keep in view that, although Jesus was now within the territory of ancient Israel, the district and all the surroundings were essentially heathen, although in closest proximity to, and intermingling with, that which was purely Jewish. St. Matthew gives only a general description of Christ's activity there, concluding with a notice of the impression produced on those who witnessed His mighty deeds, as leading them to glorify the God of Israel.' This, of course, confirms the impression that the scene is laid among a population chiefly heathen, and agrees with the more minute notice of the locality in the Gospel of St. Mark. One special instance of miraculous healing is recorded in the latter, not only from its intrinsic interest, but perhaps, also, as in some respects typical.
1. Among those brought to Him was one deaf, whose speech had, probably in consequence of this, been so affected as practically to deprive him of its power. This circumstance, and that he is not spoken of as so afflicted from his birth, leads us to infer that the affection was - as not unfrequently - the result of disease, and not congenital. Remembering, that alike the subject of the miracle and they who brought him were heathens, but in constant and close contact with Jews, what follows is vividly true to life. The entreaty to lay His Hand upon him' was heathen, and yet semi-Jewish also. Quite peculiar it is, when the Lord took him aside from the multitude; and again that, in healing him, He spat,' applying it directly to the diseased organ. We read of the direct application of saliva only here and in the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. We are disposed to regard this as peculiar to the healing of Gentiles. Peculiar, also, is the term expressive of burden on the mind, when, looking up to heaven, He sighed.' Peculiar, also, is the thrusting' of His Fingers into the man's ears, and the touch of his tongue. Only the upward look to Heaven and the command Ephphatha' - be opened' - seem the same as in His every day wonders of healing. But we mark that all here seems much more elaborate than in Israel. The reason of this must, of course, be sought in the moral condition of the person healed. Certain characteristics about the action of the Lord may, perhaps, help us to understand it better. There is an accumulation of means, yet each and all inadequate to effect the purpose, but all connected with His Person. This elaborate use of such means would banish the idea of magic; it would arouse the attention, and fix it upon Christ, as using these means, which were all connected with His own person; while, lastly, the sighing, and the word of absolute command, would all have here their special significance.
Let us try to realize the scene. They have heard of Him as the wonder-worker, these heathens in the land so near to, and yet so far from, Israel; and they have brought to Him the lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others,' and laid them at His Feet. Oh, what wonder! All disease vanishes in presence of Heaven's Own Life Incarnate. Tongues long weighted are loosed, limbs maimed or bent by disease are restored to health, the lame are stretched straight; the film of disease and the paralysis of nerve-impotence pass from eyes long insensible to the light. It is a new era - Israel conquers the heathen world, not by force, but by love; not by outward means, but by the manifestation of life-power from above. Truly, this is the Messianic conquest and reign: and they glorified the God of Israel.'
From amongst this mass of misery we single out and follow one, whom the Saviour takes aside, that it may not merely be the breath of heaven's spring passing over them all, that wooeth him to new life, but that He may touch and handle him, and so give health to soul and body. The man is to be alone with Christ and the disciples. It is not magic; means are used, and such as might not seem wholly strange to the man. And quite a number of means! He thrust His Fingers into his deaf ears, as if to make a way for the sound: He spat on his tongue, using a means of healing accepted in popular opinion of Jew and Gentile; He touched his tongue. Each act seemed a fresh incitement to his faith - and all connected itself with the Person of Christ. As yet there was not breath of life in it all. But when the man's eyes followed those of the Saviour to heaven, he would understand whence He expected, whence came to Him the power - Who had sent Him, and Whose He was. And as he followed the movement of Christ's lips, as he groaned under the felt burden He had come to remove, the sufferer would look up expectant. Once more the Saviour's lips parted to speak the word of command: Be opened' - and straightway the gladsome sound would pass into his hearing,' and the bond that seemed to have held his tongue was loosed. He was in a new world, into which He had put him that had spoken that one Word; He, Who had been burdened under the load which He had lifted up to His Father; to Whom all the means that had been used had pointed, and with Whose Person they had been connected.
It was in vain to enjoin silence. Wider and wider spread the unbidden fame, till it was caught up in this one hymn of praise, which has remained to all time the jubilee of our experience of Christ as the Divine Healer: He hath done all things well, He maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.' This Jewish word, Ephphatha, spoken to the Gentile Church by Him, Who, looking up to heaven, sighed under the burden, even while He uplifted it, has opened the hearing and loosed the bond of speech. Most significantly was it spoken in the language of the Jews; and this also does it teach, that Jesus must always have spoken the Jews' language. For, if ever, to a Grecian in Grecian territory would He have spoken in Greek, not in the Jews' language, if the former and not the latter had been that of which He made use in His Words and Working.
2. Another miracle is recorded by St. Mark, as wrought by Jesus in these parts, and, as we infer, on a heathen. All the circumstances are kindred to those just related. It was in Bethsaida-Julias, that one blind was brought unto Him, with the entreaty that He would touch him, - just as in the case of the deaf and dumb. Here, also, the Saviour took him aside - led him out of the village' - and spat on his eyes, and put His Hands upon him.' We mark not only the similarity of the means employed, but the same, and even greater elaborateness in the use of them, since a twofold touch is recorded before the man saw clearly. On any theory - even that which would regard the Gospel-narratives as spurious - this trait must have been intended to mark a special purpose, since this is the only instance in which a miraculous cure was performed gradually, and not at once and completely. So far as we can judge, the object was, by a gradual process of healing, to disabuse the man of any idea of magical cure, while at the same time the process of healing again markedly centered in the Person of Jesus. With this also agrees (as in the case of the deaf and dumb) the use of spittle in the healing. We may here recall, that the use of saliva was a well-known Jewish remedy for affections of the eyes. It was thus that the celebrated Rabbi Meir relieved one of his fair hearers, when her husband, in his anger at her long detention by the Rabbi's sermons, had ordered her to spit in the preacher's face. Pretending to suffer from his eyes, the Rabbi contrived that the woman publicly spat in his eyes, thus enabling her to obey her husband's command. The anecdote at least proves, that the application of saliva was popularly regarded as a remedy for affections of the eyes.
Thus in this instance also, as in that of the deaf and dumb, there was the use of means, Jewish means, means manifestly insufficient (since their first application was only partially successful), and a multiplication of means - yet all centering in, and proceeding from, His Person. As further analogies between the two, we mark that the blindness does not seem to have been congenital, but the consequence of disease, and that silence was enjoined after the healing. Lastly, the confusedness of his sight, when first restored to him, surely conveyed, not only to him but to us all, both a spiritual lesson and a spiritual warning.
3. Yet a third miracle of healing requires to be here considered, although related by St. Matthew in quite another connection. But we have learned enough of the structure of the First Gospel to know, that its arrangement is determined by the plan of the writer rather than by the chronological succession of events. The manner in which the Lord healed the two blind men, the injunction of silence, and the notice that none the less they spread His fame in all that land, seem to imply that He was not on the ordinary scene of His labours in Galilee. Nor can we fail to mark an internal analogy between this and the other two miracles enacted amidst a chiefly Grecian population. And, strange though it may sound, the cry with which the two blind men who sought His help followed Him, Son of David, have mercy on us,' comes, as might be expected, more frequently from Gentile than from Jewish lips. It was, of course, pre-eminently the Jewish designation of the Messiah, the basis of all Jewish thought of Him. But, perhaps on that very ground, it would express in Israel rather the homage of popular conviction, than, as in this case, the cry for help in bodily disease. Besides, Jesus had not as yet been hailed as the Messiah, except by His most intimate disciples; and, even by them, chiefly in the joy of their highest spiritual attainments. He was the Rabbi, Teacher, Wonder-worker, Son of Man, even Son of God; but the idea of the Davidic Kingdom as implying spiritual and Divine, not outwardly royal rule, lay as yet on the utmost edge of the horizon, covered by the golden mist of the Sun of Righteousness in His rising. On the other hand, we can understand, how to Gentiles, who resided in Palestine, the Messiah of Israel would chiefly stand out as the Son of David.' It was the most ready, and, at the same time, the most universal, form in which the great Jewish hope could be viewed by them. It presented to their minds the most marked contrast to Israel's present fallen state, and it recalled the Golden Age of Israel's past, and that, as only the symbol of a far wider and more glorious reign, the fulfilment of what to David had only been promises.
Peculiar to this history is the testing question of Christ, whether they really believed what their petition implied, that He was able to restore their sight; and, again, His stern, almost passionate, insistence on their silence as to the mode of their cure. Only on one other occasion do we read of the same insistence. It is, when the leper had expressed the same absolute faith in Christ's ability to heal if He willed it, and Jesus had, as in the case of those two blind men, conferred the benefit by the touch of His Hand. In both these cases, it is remarkable that, along with strongest faith of those who came to Him, there was rather an implied than an expressed petition on their part. The leper who knelt before Him only said: Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean;' and the two blind men: Have mercy on us, Thou Son of David.' Thus it is the highest and most realising faith, which is most absolute in its trust and most reticent as regards the details of its request.
But as regards the two blind men (and the healed leper also), it is almost impossible not to connect Christ's peculiar insistence on their silence with their advanced faith. They had owned Jesus as the Son of David,' and that, not in the Judaic sense (as by the Syro-Phoenician woman ), but as able to do all things, even to open by His touch the eyes of the blind. And it had been done to them, as it always is - according to their faith. But a profession of faith so wide-reaching as theirs, and sealed by the attainment of what it sought, yet scarcely dared to ask, must not be publicly proclaimed. It would, and in point of fact did, bring to Him crowds which, unable spiritually to understand the meaning of such a confession, would only embarrass and hinder, and whose presence and homage would have to be avoided as much, if not more, than that of open enemies. For confession of the mouth must ever be the outcome of heart-belief, and the acclamations of an excited Jewish crowd were as incongruous to the real Character of the Christ, and as obstructive to the progress of His Kingdom, as is the outward homage of a world which has not heart-belief in His Power, nor heart-experience of His ability and willingness to cleanse the leper and to open the eyes of the blind. Yet the leprosy of Israel and the blindness of the Gentile world are equally removed by the touch of His Hand at the cry of faith.
The question has been needlessly discussed, whether they were to praise or blame, who, despite the Saviour's words, spread His fame. We scarcely know what, or how much, they disobeyed. They could not but speak of His Person; and theirs was, perhaps, not yet that higher silence which is content simply to sit at His Feet.