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.
In the previous study we began to look at the third chapter of the Sermon in Matthew. It begins with the well-known text about not judging others.
It has been my sad experience that many who claim to be Christians think that this gives them a right to judge and criticise others, not even realising that by doing so they take themselves outside of the gospel message as delivered by Christ and so place themselves under judgement. This is the plank that Jesus speaks of…
The next verse seems strange at first. It is still under the heading “Judging others” in the NIV, but yet does not seem to belong to that heading. It does not seem to fit with the next section either. And this is why I have chosen to study it on its own. But I would add a strong word of caution here about reading and interpreting the scriptures. It is never wise to take a verse on its own and try to glean concepts or doctrines without also considering the context. It is even worth considering the context of the whole book in which the verse is found, because there is a certain ‘style’ of writing individual to many books, and especially so in the New Testament. And finally, of course, there is the context of the Bible as a whole. But remembering that the Bible is a library of books and not a single book.
We would not, for instance, think about the hidden meanings in a passage from the book Moby Dick by Melville and seek extra insight by comparing it to a passage from The Jungle Book by Kipling. Unfortunately, some bible scholars treat our library like that, but in reality it can only be done so from the point of view that all the authors were dealing with the history of the Hebrews and individuals within it, and were trying to give an accurate report on the divine interaction of God with His people.
Strangely enough, this verse is about judgement and so does fit into the context. But it is about the judgement of wisdom, and not about judgement of character or sin.
Many who use Facebook have found that, should they share something that has been a personal blessing from God, there are those that seem to lie in wait to tear apart the ‘doctrine’ or the ‘revelation’ – and may even go so far as to declare that you are demon-possessed and on your way to hell. Oh boy… And this is a prime example of what today’s text is talking about.
The interpretation of this is going to be uncomfortable. I will be blunt: there is a potentially racist remark here. I am not willing to enter discussion over whether or not Jesus was racist, but on more than one occasion Jesus made a statement that could be interpreted as racist. But in this situation, the people of the place and the time would understand what he was saying.
Another example that bears direct relevance to understanding today’s text is that of the Canaanite woman who approached Jesus. This is also to be found in Matthew’s gospel, and so is even more helpful as it is written by the same person with the same way of thinking. We can find this in chapter 15:25-27
The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.
He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’
‘Yes it is Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’
So who were the Canaanites? In the strictest sense they were the descendants of Canaan, and you can find out more about this by studying the genealogies in the Old Testament. But even in Old Testament times it meant more than this.
Canaan also refers to the Promised Land, which the Jews took by force, and which you can read about in particular in the book of Joshua. Some of the people inhabiting this land were completely wiped out (I don’t want to get into arguments here about how scriptures in this particular book appear to condone genocide, that is a different subject for a different place and time).
Some made treaties with the Hebrews, and some became slaves of the Hebrews (and many were absorbed into and became part of God’s people). So it can certainly be said that Canaanites referred to the descendants of the survivors of the indigenous peoples at the time of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan.
But there is more to it than this. At the time of the captivity, the Assyrians and the Babylonians moved whole populations of people around, including bringing new people into Canaan. It is for this reason that, when some of the Hebrews were allowed to return, and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple began, we read in Ezra and elsewhere of how the Hebrews had to work with a sword at their side to defend themselves from the other people who were living in the land at the time and who may not be so happy at the return of the Hebrews.
These people were never driven out in the manner of the days of Joshua. And then later came the Greeks, and the rulers who tried to enforce their religion on the land. We can read in Maccabees (Apocrypha for the Protestants) how the Hebrews defended themselves against this imposition and gained a level of independence again. Yet even these new people were not completely driven from the land.
So the Canaanites were peoples of mixed heritage. They were not of the Hebrews, but, in the main, had a peaceful coexistence with the Hebrews. Many had their own religion, which came with the people when they first entered the land. Many were converts to Judaism. But many were also accused of corrupting Judaism – as one group in particular of the Canaanites: the Samaritans (who were mostly of Hebrew descent and continued to dwell in the land through the time of the Exile).
Many Canaanites were very spiritual people, trying to please God in their own way. And that is why many would try to listen in on the big gatherings of the great Hebrew teachers and prophets – not only Jesus. But they were not a part of the Hebrews, and many Hebrews resented that they had the same rights in law (of the land, not of Moses) as true Jews. They commonly used the racist slur of calling these people dogs. And the fact that Jesus also chose to use this term on more than one occasion has been the cause of much consternation for some.
However, it does now help to understand what Jesus was talking about in our text – and it is of direct help to you and me in our Christian walk today.
As with the Canaanites of old, there are many ‘spiritual’ people who walk among us today or who even attend the same church as us. But they either bring with them their own religion or have a religion all their own that is a mix of what is preached in your church and their own ideas and interpretations. Some examples of this can be found in those Christians who walk according to the traditions of certain denominations of Christianity with no thought about it, and who will not bend. So, if they are Methodist for example, may refuse to take communion in a church that has real wine as one of the elements.
But, when placed in the context of the Sermon as a whole, it is more a reference to those who work out religion in their own human understanding and strength. And that means, nearly every time, legalism and literalism. And when you share something that comes from the freedom and abundant life that is yours in the gospel of Christ, it is these people who will want to bind you again in chains of bondage, and who will tell you that you are on your way to hell if you do not submit to their interpretation of scripture (and usually in particular the Law and the Prophets). Indeed, some will curse you to hell even for sharing a personal blessing received from scripture if that scripture was not read from the King James version, despite the links with Freemasonry to be clearly found in that translation.
So this verse is a cautionary word from Jesus, and addresses 2 groups of people. The dogs are those who live among the Lord’s people, but whose religion is wrong (the legalists and the literalists). The other group is more obvious and many of us would naturally already have caution. This is the pigs. And this is clearly a reference to those who are not of the Lord’s people. And it means that there is much about spiritual life and revelation that is not only wasted on such people, but would bring you criticism and trouble if you shared it with these people.
I have already stated in a few of these studies about how radically different the teaching of Jesus is. Even those who claim they are Christians will want to cast you out for sharing how the Church should really be operating with regard to the poor and the needy. And in the world in general, there would be some who would be so confused as to think you insane and want you to be committed to an asylum.
Yes, the teachings of Jesus really are that radical! And you will be judged for sharing them by the dogs and the pigs. Beware!
But that does not mean to be silent about the gospel. The wonderful work of the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross of Calvary. People want to work their way into heaven and ask what they should do. But there is nothing you can do. There is no price to pay. You need to die with Christ on that cross.