Something that I have been a little stuck on recently is the story of the Canaanite woman. The first example of this story is in Matthew 15:21-28. In the story it has Jesus comparing the woman to a dog.
First I want to talk a little about the woman. Mark describes her as Phoenician. From some research on this, the Phoenician people were known to have practiced some things that the Israelites would have to oppose, such as temple prostitution, child sacrifice and worship of other Gods.
Next, here are the gospel accounts of what happened according to Matthew and Mark:
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
According to Matthew, Jesus said that it is not right to take bread from the children and give it to the dogs. The woman responded about why it was right, and Jesus commended her faith and granted her request. Mark says that Jesus also said that you first feed the children until full, adding that it isn’t right to take from the children and give to the dogs. This indicates that Jesus is saying the dogs must wait their turn. Her response showed an understanding of her situation and did not show offense from being told she was less than the Israelites whom Jesus was sent to address.
Jesus makes a reference to dogs and pigs earlier in Matthew 7:6.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Dogs do what they must to survive. They will eat both clean and unclean food, cleanliness of the spirit makes no difference to them. What is sacred is only meant for priests and their families in the Old Testament. I believe the reference to dogs here means that we shouldn’t bring people to the dinner table who don’t care about their spiritual condition. At this dinner table, we are not feeding them literal food, but rather spiritual food. In Exodus 22:31, God tells his people to be holy and to not eat meat from an animal torn by wild beasts and instead throw it to the dogs. What is holy or clean should be eaten by his people, and what is not should be provided to the dogs so they too have something to eat. The dogs will eat anything. This does not mean that effort should not be expended for the dogs, but that our focus should be elsewhere, such as feeding the children of God what they need to grow in their faith.
“You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.
Additionally the Matthew 7:6 verse speaks about pigs, with Jesus saying, “do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
The pig was considered an unclean animal. Pigs care nothing about the value and beauty of pearls. The pigs spoken of here were also wild animals and when provoked will attack. Wild pigs, unlike domesticated dogs, will not hold any loyalty to their master. These pigs were not treated as pets as some are now, they were kept outside and meant only for food, sacrifices to other Gods, and other pagan rituals. They were not food for God’s people, but food for those who rebelled against God.
Dogs and pigs have a violent side, they both will eat whatever is provided to them. Dogs are more easily trained to follow the rules of the household (this is not an intelligence assessment).
The reason the Canaanite woman was referred to as a dog was because she was not a sheep or a pig. A pig comparison would be a person who follows no rules or completely rejected God. She was from a place with religious beliefs containing some similarities to the Israelites. This indicates a level of ability to follow laws of the land. Her people were not docile and clean like sheep. They did not care about the cleanliness of the food they ate. Pigs and dogs go where their instincts tell them to go. Sheep go where the shepherd directs them to go.
This is very similar to what is expected of military service members; they aren’t supposed to consider how they feel about the orders provided to them, they are expected to do as instructed. We, as sheep, are expected to do the same except we are allowed to investigate what God is telling us. All of us have to decide what animal we want to be.
So when he referred to her as a dog, in her response, she showed an understanding that proved she was not a dog. What happened here was not for her benefit, or for the benefit of Jesus, but for those around them to hear and see and for us to read. Your understanding and search for the truth grows your faith. A person without faith in Jesus would not have been able to respond the way she did. A person without faith in Jesus would have taken offense to being called a dog, and proved the statement correct.