Hearkening to His Voice – Nehemiah 9:8

Hearkening to His Voice – Nehemiah 9:8

Genesis 22 describes the episode of the binding of Isaac. We are told that God commanded Abraham to bring his son as a burnt offering and how at the last minute he was told to refrain from killing his son. Then Abraham saw a ram which he offers to God instead of his son. After Abraham offered the ram he is told of all the blessings that he will merit because of this deed.

The fact that Abraham was not told about the blessings until after he brought the ram would imply that the offering of the ram was an integral part of this test. But verse 18 would seem to conflict with this conclusion. In verse 18 we learn that Abraham was blessed because he hearkened to God’s voice, but God never commanded him to bring that ram.

We learn from this that hearkening to God’s voice goes beyond the practical obedience to God’s directives. And it is through the offering of the ram that Abraham showed what it means to hearken to God’s voice.

If Abraham would have approached the situation of killing his son without a complete submission to God he would have never offered the ram. If Abraham would have seen his son as something that belongs to him and that God is trying to take from him then the minute he heard that he need not slaughter his son he would have turned and went with an attitude of relief. But this would not be hearkening to God’s voice.

Hearkening to God’s voice means recognizing that every iota of existence, including our own deepest desires, belong to God. By offering the ram, Abraham showed how his heart had yearned to fulfill the command of the Creator. Abraham showed that he saw the slaughtering of his son in obedience to God’s command as an opportunity to express the submission to God that was in his heart and when he could no longer slaughter his son, he expressed this submission in another way.

This teaches us that hearkening to God’s voice is all about complete and total submission to God. Hearkening to God’s voice is the understanding that we belong to God.

Our sages teach that while Abraham was about to slaughter his son, his heart was brimming with love for Isaac. Abraham did not hear in God’s command to bring his son as an offering a directive to become cruel. Abraham never abandoned his love for his son for an instant, because loving one’s children is part of being a servant of God. But Abraham recognized that he and his son, together with his love for his son, belong totally and completely to the Creator of all.

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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29 Responses to Hearkening to His Voice – Nehemiah 9:8

  1. Tsvi Jacobson says:

    Didn’t Abraham somehow know that God would provide as he had said to his servants “I and the lad will go yonder to worship, and come back again to you? I am not suggesting that we somehow think Abraham’s obedience was some sort of Charade but he seemed to know something about Isaac’s return with him. I believe it has to do with the original promise that in
    Abraham’s seed (includes Isaac) all families of earth shall be blessed. Therefore Isaac did in fact return

    • LarryB says:

      Since Abraham believed that he and his son would return because of the promise he shows his willingness and trust that even when we don’t immediately see the goodness in gods commandments, god can be trusted. In the most uncomfortable of situations, the hardest of times, have faith but also follow his teaching. The charade would have been if god actually killed his son then later brought him back to life. Just kidding. Hmmmmm

  2. Shomer says:

    Evangelicals like the story about “Isaacs offering”, too. Although HaShem teaches Abaraham a clear message, not to commit a children’s sacrifice, Christians assert that He had meant it vice versa; God doesn’t like the sacrifice of a ram (atonement) but rather the sacrifice of his son (Calvary).

    The offering of children goes along with pagan imaginations, Halloween e. g. Thus, we can see how pagan Christian imaginations with the crucifix are.

    • Dina says:

      Christians should learn the opposite lesson: that this story was supposed to teach that Hashem does not desire human sacrifice, in the end.

  3. Concerned Reader says:

    The Christian bible doesn’t necessarily teach that G-d desires a continual human blood sacrifice, or that he desires anyone’s death, so much as it teaches (or is trying to) that G-d himself is willing to give himself once, for all his creations.

    Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. The thing to read with emphasis here is that it says he offered himself. Like Isaac, he’s deemed OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH. It’s Christ’s obedience unto death that is deemed the acceptable sacrifice.

    His blood is the life of his soul. It’s Jesus’ whole example in his service to G-d, and us following in that example that is his sacrifice. It’s crucial to know that not all Christians believe in the ransom theory of the atoning death of Jesus. The Eucharist illustrates this as it is meant to be our living memorial to Christ’s life of obedience unto death, our lifelong reenactment of that sacrifice. This is why Paul says For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 1 Corinthians 11:29 the Eucharist for A wicked Christian accomplishes nothing, just as his death does nothing for a wicked person.

    • Dina says:

      Con, these are the kinds of statements that Jews find so strange: “The Christian bible…teaches…that G-d himself is willing to give himself once, for all his creations.” The concept of God sacrificing himself to himself doesn’t strike you as illogical?

      Then you wrote this: “Like Isaac, he’s deemed OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH.” God is obedient to himself? How weird is that? Then you wrote this: “It’s Christ’s obedience unto death that is deemed the acceptable sacrifice.” So who is it, God or Jesus? They’re obviously two separate entities, in the way you write about them.

      This is beside the point that this idea of God sacrificing himself or sacrificing one sinless human for all of creation exists nowhere in the Tanach.

      It just doesn’t make any sense. Respectfully.

      Oh, and one more point, if this is the case: “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins ONCE FOR ALL [my emphasis] when he offered himself,” then what is the purpose of the rebuilding of the Third Temple and the restoration of the sacrificial system?

      • LarryB says:

        So god destroys the world because of wickedness, then later realizes oops, I’ll have to kill myself to make things right. That’s the way to go. Yup.

        • Dina says:

          LOL, Larry!

        • mansubzero says:

          don’t you think there is something very weird about the christian concept of atonement?

          they say jesus perfectly fulfilled the law. they say that human works/deeds do not please god. only a god can appease/please a god.

          so then jesus must have perfectly nailed himself to the cross, right?



          the act of punishing.

          the fact of being punished, as for an offense or fault.

          a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, etc.

          can the romans PERFECTLY punish god? or can only god ,who PUNISHED the people of noah, PUNISH himself/his flesh perfectly WITHOUT blemish?
          that’s why there is distinction between divine punishment and human punishment.
          any christian who denies that god punished himself /self harmed himself are in DENIAL.

          this is the blasphemy they are selling to the people.

          the practice of cutting or otherwise wounding oneself, usually considered as indicating psychological disturbance

  4. Concerned Reader says:

    It doesn’t strike me as any more illogical than a man springing to life from dust, a talking serpent, or as any more illogical than creation out of nothing was to the Greeks. G-d is not limited by human conceptions of reality. Also, we don’t believe G-d ceased to exist, with Jesus’ death. He accomplished the perfect life of obedience that humans have failed to. It doesn’t need to sound logical to you does it?

    • LarryB says:

      I do not find creation illogical, In fact I find creation quite the norm. Us humans can’t get enough if it. In fact some of us have made God into our image just to prove how much he loved us, in human terms as we can best understand it.

      • mansubzero says:

        can you believe the funny talk of these people , “we don’t believe G-d ceased to exist”
        so did he lose his finite life for the weekend? did he experience organ failure? did he lose control of his organs while at the same time his infinite life was infinitely continuing to exist?

        • LarryB says:

          What surprises me is that some think that, and many have said this “He accomplished the perfect life of obedience that humans have failed to.” Like that would be difficult for god to do.

          • mansubzero says:

            i don’t know how a god perfectly doesn’t steal from himself.
            i don’t know how a god perfectly trust, depends, reveres and worships himself.
            none of this seems to make any sense.

          • mansubzero says:

            “He accomplished the perfect life of obedience that humans have failed to.”

            god makes flesh for himself and keeps it under his control? he makes sure that all the choices it makes are the right ones? of course a god can ‘remote control’ his flesh , but the question is, does a god know how to experience trust in himself?

            for example

            the son trusts that the ever living god would raise him from the dead. does the ever living god KNOW through experience the feeling of trusting in himself that he would raise himself from the dead even though he is ever living and has power and control over everything ?

    • Dina says:

      Con, there’s a reason we call God the Creator. We call Him the Creator because he creates. It is logical for the Creator to create man or a talking serpent. It makes no sense, however, for the Creator to sacrifice himself to himself.

      You are arguing basically that since I accept the nonsensical proposition of a Creator God, then I ought to accept anything else that is nonsensical. This is an absurd argument.

      Furthermore, you did not respond to my other point about the Third Temple sacrifices. How about that, eh?

  5. Concerned Reader says:

    I didn’t see it Dina, that’s why I haven’t responded. Jesus is not a part of G-d, as though G-d is a split personality. I responded in kind with the mockery, I apologize. G-d is not killing himself, he is living among us as he wants us to live, leading by example. Not all Christians emphasize a ransom theory of Jesus’ death.

    • Dina says:

      Con, it doesn’t matter what some Christians emphasize or not. I’m arguing against the fundamental belief of the overwhelming majority of Christians: Jesus died to save everyone from their sins, he was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and not only was he the Messiah but also God. If some Christians don’t believe it, that’s irrelevant. My argument is not with them.

      If Jesus was God, why would God sacrifice himself to himself? If he was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, what is the point of God’s promise to restore the Temple and the sacrificial system?

      If you don’t want to answer, just say so, and I’ll stop pressing the issue. But please don’t dodge the questions.

      • Concerned Reader says:

        Dina, your reading assumes that a majority reads the text that way. There are presumably to be sacrifices in the 3rd temple for a perpetual memorial of thanks to G-d for his grace and mercy. When the Orthodox and Catholics celebrate mass, it’s called the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving in Greek, and the name itself goes against the penal substitution divine wrath idea that most Protestants accept.) Communion is a memorial to Jesus’ once for all life of obedience unto death, to the father, and so, for his death to be effective for any Christian, or of any significance, that Christian must follow in Jesus’ footsteps in a worthy manner. If you take the Eucharist unworthily it accomplishes nothing, just like sacrifices in Torah accomplish nothing without Teshuvah. This is classical orthodox Christian teaching. You keep saying why did he have to die! Why does G-d kill himself! We take the life of Jesus in a wholistic fashion, not all Christians read the way you are presenting, not even a majority. Maybe they do in the US, but not the whole religion. John 3:16 explains why Jesus dies. G-d gives himself in his purpose to communion with us. He embraces all of life, from birth to ressurection, showing us the way, truth, and life.

        • Dina says:

          Hi Con,

          Thanks for answering the question. I don’t think you understand my question, however. The majority of Christians believe that Jesus is God. Therefore, how does it make sense for God to kill himself? That was the first question.

          Can you support this notion from Tanach: “There are presumably to be sacrifices in the 3rd temple for a perpetual memorial of thanks to G-d for his grace and mercy.” As opposed to Ezekiel 43, wherein the Prince will offer sin offerings? Or as opposed to all those times the Torah describes it as an eternal law?

          Do Christians believe that God changes His mind?

          • Concerned Reader says:

            Dina, Since Jesus is G-d in Christianity, Christians understand that G-d experienced suffering and death, but he didn’t cease to exist, so It’s right to say, G-d did not die in a sense that we would commonly understand. In fact, the father did not die. An analogy to the Christian idea of G-d’s suffering, is that when Israel suffers in exile, Hashem suffers too.

            The rationale for the death of Jesus is that when G-d created humans, it was his sovereign act alone to do so. It was with the express purpose that humans would take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever to be in obedient loving communion with him. When Adam broke the 1st command, he knowingly walked away from that, and he brought death into the world by his own free choice, and the sentence of death falls on all humans as a result of his action, even if they are the most pious people. No human being, despite their religiosity and G-d’s promise of resurrection to eternal life, has ever risen.

            This is presumably because, only G-d can restore the breach that Adam created. No human in our condition can. No human can, because one must come who possesses and understands the gravity of what Adam initially lost (eternity) but who obeys G-d of his own free choice, in the way that Adam had disobeyed G-d, thereby healing that breach.

            If G-d raised a person to eternity today, who had never known the free gift of eternity, it would be a largely meaningless thing, as would all efforts of piety, because we wouldn’t learn the principle lesson that Adam had failed to learn, which is that sustenance, godliness, and life comes from G-d alone, not from the sweat of our own brow. Before someone asks, why do the commandments then? It’s important to realize that Adam had things to do in the garden before the prohibition. His job was to keep and tend, name the animals, etc. before the prohibition. Why did he do it? For reward? No! For the work itself. For the simple betterment of hashem’s creation.

            If G-d brought eternal life to you or I for our one lifetime of obedience, it would be godly, but meaningless. If I observed just my seven mitzvot, and you observed the 613, the work we both did wouldn’t mean anything, for the simple reason, that we’ve both lived different lives and made different choices at different times. What If I had been an atheist, and did Teshuvah in my last 1 year, but you had been pious your whole life? Ecclesiastes goes into this question a lot. The problem isn’t the concept or necessity of reward and punishment, we obviously need to live holy lives, but if we do such to earn our life, then we don’t know the meaning of godliness for the sake of godliness in the first place, meaning that we don’t know what it means to be created as G-d intended.

            Ramban at the disputation leveled the accusation that Christians didn’t take responsibility for their own actions, choosing instead to grovel to Jesus like frightened children every time they sinned, and he insinuated that this lends Christians to great pessimism, and thus great evil against those with whom they disagree. I accept this stern rebuke from Ramban, and I see godliness in such.

            When I was baptized when I was young, I had an insight into what Christianity meant for ethics in light of the above information, at least as I was taught.

            1. If only G-d alone can save man, then no godly act done by a person may be worn as a badge with which to bash, or exclude others. It however still has a source in G-d whatever G-d’s purpose may have been. In other words, no good deed is ever useless.

            2. If man is a “sinner,” receiving a free gift, then he must give freely to those who do not have the gift, to receive it freely as he had, without boasting or malice.

            3. Doing evil and then hanging onto that “salvation gift” like a lifeboat as if you posses it, will do nothing, in the same way that actively drilling holes into a boat will make it sink. It doesn’t matter if it was a free “guaranteed” gift or not.

            4. The person who actively opposes this free gift for reasons of conscience and good will, is in a far better position than the man who has the “gift”and spurns it. The man who actively drills holes in the boat he is gifted, has no respect for the gift, or the one offered it, but the man who refused the gift of a boat, but built his own boat, shows respect not only for the offered gift, but for the offering party. In other words, if I offer to buy you a present, for free, and you refuse, electing instead to make something yourself, either for yourself, or for me, you demonstrate great care, and respect for me as a person, following in my steps.

            What we call the Son of G-d, is the original planned Adam, called the Second Adam. I know it sounds ridiculous to you, idolatrous, etc. but I’m just trying to explain.

          • Dina says:

            Hi Con,

            Thanks for taking the time to articulate your beliefs. I truly appreciate it. Though these discussions at times get heated, I do believe they help us achieve clarity.

            For me, there is great clarity in what you wrote, the clarity that the Tanach is a stinging refutation to your beliefs.

            Christians believe that Adam brought death into the world, and only by God sacrificing a sinless human being can life be restored (only to those who accept this proposition).

            But the Torah clearly teaches the opposite. The Torah tells us that Adam was supposed to live forever–it tell us nothing about his immortal soul. His physical body was supposed to live forever, but he incurred the sentence of physical death by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. This you will glean from a simple reading of the story in Genesis.

            In fact, just after Adam’s fall, God tells Cain that he can conquer sin (Genesis 4:7). Deuteronomy teaches us that we can choose good or evil, life or death–so we should choose life (Chapter 30:15-16, 19). Ezekiel chapters 18 and 33 tell us exactly what to do to turn away from death and embrace life. Indeed, to obey God and thus to live, to do acts of justice and charity and thus to live, is a refrain that echoes throughout the Hebrew Bible.

            The prophets promise a resurrection of the dead, without the conditions Christians place upon it. That it has not taken place yet does not trouble us; we see it as a promise to be fulfilled at the end of days.

            As for the immortal soul, while Tanach does not mention it directly, it alludes to it many times, such as describing death as being “gathered to one’s people.” Also, the witch of Endor calls up the immortal spirit of Samuel, who then tells Saul that he and his sons will be with Samuel the following day. Ecclesiastes 12:7 is the most explicit Scriptural verse I could find on the subject, telling us that the body returns to the earth but the soul to God.

            So this Christian idea of being saved from death is not only non-Scriptural; it is anti-Scriptural.

            It is a terrible mistake for Christians to say that observance of the mitzvos are meaningless, whether for Jew or gentile. God, our Creator, gave us these commandments. What greater meaning than obeying God? What is more godly than doing as He says? The rabbis taught, long before Jesus, that greater is he who observes the commandments out of love of God rather than out of desire for reward or fear of punishment. But that does not make it meaningless.

            You wrote “it would be godly but meaningless.” How can you say that? How can something that is godly be meaningless?

            Besides, if my kids do their chores happily, that is wonderful. But if they did their chores well, only because they don’t want to face the consequences, that still means something. It’s not meaningless at all!

            If I give charity only because I want to be rewarded, it won’t be meaningless to the widow who receives it, don’t you think? (I hasten to add that I don’t know anyone, Jew or gentile, who gives charity for that motivation.)

            You wrote that if someone doesn’t accept the gift because they want to make their own way, that’s acceptable. That would be a very nice notion, but there is one problem with it. Your own scriptures, addressing specifically the Jews, tells them exactly what will happen if they don’t accept the “gift,” and it isn’t pretty.

            I’m going back to what you wrote in your first paragraph. Sorry to be so disjointed, but I’m piecing this together whenever I have time (this is a particularly busy week for me). You wrote: “In fact, the father did not die. An analogy to the Christian idea of G-d’s suffering, is that when Israel suffers in exile, Hashem suffers too.”

            If the father did not die, and the son did, and the son is god, then there are two entities here. Whichever way you slice it, there are two entities, because Christians separate the father and the son all the time. That’s one thing.

            Another thing is that the Christian idea of Jesus’s death is not analogous at all to God suffering with His people in exile. Christians believe that God actually became human and suffered real, physical suffering and died a real, physical death. The Jewish idea of God suffering is EMPATHIC suffering (“imo anochi b’tzara” means “I [God] am with him [Israel] in his suffering”).

            I want to focus for a minute on something else you wrote: “This is presumably because, only G-d can restore the breach that Adam created.” And also: “Only G-d alone can save man.”

            I know I said this already, but I think it bears repeating: The Torah teaches us emphatically that our spiritual fate lies firmly in our own hands. The Torah doesn’t use the word “salvation” regarding spiritual salvation. Our own actions, through our own free will, shape our spiritual destiny. See Genesis 4:7, Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Ezekiel Chapters 18 and 33.

            It’s just a crazy, crazy idea that only God can save us from sin, or eternal death. The Torah contradicts it.

            Last point. You wrote: “What we call the Son of G-d, is the original planned Adam, called the Second Adam.” So God created Adam, He created what you call “the Second Adam.” Can you not see the distinction you yourself are making between Creator and created? Can you not see why this is ridiculous to us?

          • Sharbano says:

            Isn’t it a curiosity that all you say regarding Jsus being a god is an antithesis to Judaism and All this was unknown to the Jews of history. Even the prophets of Israel were oblivious to this concept. Yet all of a sudden this is the true nature of your god. As has been stated many times Israel has the One Unique concept of Hashem whereas this idea was not unknown in past religions. But according to Xtianity Israel was given Torah but wasn’t given the understanding, even though Moshe was the Only one who spoke to G-d as one who speaks to a friend. I would say Moshe was much much closer to Hashem than Jsus ever thought of being.

          • mansubzero says:

            “Christians understand that G-d experienced suffering and death”

            you mean god PHYSICALLY experienced pain?
            is the blood he invented for himself a pain killer?

            if god SUFFERED , then the flesh MUST be god.

            definition of SUFFER

            : to experience pain, illness, or injury

            : to experience something unpleasant (such as defeat, loss, or damage)

            how does a being who creates PAIN receptors experience pain, illness and injury?

            how does a being who made and owns everything experience DEFEAT , loss and damage?

            is god PSYCHOLOGICALLY affected and requires therapy?

            Symptoms of kidney failure are due to the build-up of waste products in the body that may cause weakness,shortness of breath, lethargy, and confusion. Inability to remove potassium from the bloodstream may lead to abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death. Initially, there may be no symptoms of kidney failure.

            if jesus had a KIDNEY failure , then that would mean he had no power or control over a failing kidney. if the kidney is NOT part of god , then god does not know THROUGH experience SYMPTOMS of kidney failure.

            is kidney part of god?

  6. Jim says:


    It is an incorrect notion that Jesus was God come among us to live to teach us how to live. It is very obvious why this is a fallacy, so I shall attempt to be brief—not Twitter brief, but brief.

    1. The number of people exposed directly to Jesus’ life is very few. They would be the only ones who could observe his life and deduce from it the correct lifestyle. Everyone else would have to hear it from stories.

    2. Most of Jesus’ life was not reported. This leaves us with a real dearth of information on how to conduct ourselves. For example, if Jesus was a carpenter, we never see how he conducted his business, so his life offers no guidance. Also, how he conducted himself in private is unknown.

    3. Jesus never married or had children. His life can serve as no guide on how one is to conduct himself as a husband or parent. If he had been married, his life would serve as no guide on how to be a wife.

    4. Christians learn more by Jesus’ teachings than his example. This is for an obvious reason. There is much more about what he taught than what he said. Teaching is not example. And the Torah already existed for that.

    5. Jesus’ life could not serve as a guide for the gentile. Jesus was a Jew and bound by Torah. The life of a gentile is a little different, and they would have no guidance in those areas of difference.

    6. Jesus broke the Sabbath. As a Jew, he was obligated to keep it. His violation of the Sabbath should not be emulated.

    7. Jesus did not honor his mother. When he was 12, he goes missing without permission, making her worry. He has not the grace to apologize but answers contemptuously. At Cana, he addresses her disrespectfully. His violation of the commandment to honor one’s parents should not be emulated.

    8. He stole some pigs.

    9. Upon finding a fig tree devoid of figs (for it was not the season), he selfishly and petulantly shriveled the tree, denying any future fig-seekers the pleasure of finding figs. Neither selfishness nor petulance should be emulated.

    10. Virtually nobody knew that he was God, not even his disciples it seems. Therefore, those who were there to observe him could not have been, at the time, studying his actions carefully to deduce proper action.

    Quick summation:

    Because Jesus was not known to be God, people could not know to carefully observe his behavior. (Not that he was God. Please let no one think such a thing.) His life was not widely observed. Much of it was not observed at all. Most of that was not even recorded. So his example serves little practical purpose. Among that which was recorded are violations of the commandments. So, his life could not serve as an example, both because of the low quantity of his known acts and the low quality of them.


    • Jim says:


      I think you have not seen my above comment, since you have not answered it. Since you continue to argue that one should or could follow Jesus’ example, I wanted to draw your attention to it. In fact, one should not follow his example in the few things known about him.


  7. mansubzero says:

    jesus doesn’t like to treat his neighbors with respect. jesus didn’t know about equal rights.

    I asked ken from biblical criticism and history forum the following questions :

    i assume, with no knowledge of greek, that jesus thinks it is NOT useful/beneficial/PROPER to throw the childrens bread to the ill little dog/gentile dogs. so there must be something special about the BREAD. before jesus says “it is not good…,” the woman kneels and says , ” help me”
    so is jesus saying that it is not useful/beneficial/proper to take the children’s miracles/bread and to cast it to the dogs?
    if yes, does this mean that jesus had absolutely no desire to help her ill daughter?
    mark gives the ‘wait for you turn’ impression(no one knows when that could be ), but matthew seems to take another stance.
    what i don’t get is that if this “compassionate” god could cure the humble woman’s daughter from a distance, why treat her like a dog? why break his silence only when she begs like a dog?

    what is the meaning of , ” it is not good to take the bread of the children and cast it to the dogs” ?
    does jesus think that IT IS not good to give CHILDREN’s miracles /special bread to dogs?
    does he think that there is no good/reWARD/benefit in helping dogs?
    the woman had requested help before jesus responded to her,
    is it clear that according to jesus, his help/bread/miracle is ONLY for the lost house of israel?
    ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’

    Thomas 93:
    “Do not give what is holy to dogs, lest they throw them on the dung-heap. Do not throw the pearls to swine, lest they grind it [to bits].”

    to say “cast it to the dogs” means that the jesus ,according to matthew, thinks that the gentile woman is BENEATH him and his people?


    “Children” are Jews (“children of Israel” was a common self-reference for Jews) and “dogs,” in this context,are gentiles. Dogs were seen as unclean, or at least unfavorably. Pigs, obviously, were the quintessentially unclean animal. Calling gentiles “pigs” and “dogs” was a way to say they were not under the law, they were unclean and should not be “touched” (interacted with).

    Jesus is twice quoted in Matthew (probably from a Q saying omitted by Luke) as saying that he came only for “the lost sheep of Israel,” and he tells his disciples in Matthew 10:5-6, not to go to gentiles or to Samaritans but “only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

    So it is definitely supposed to be negative – Jesus is saying that his mission (in this case his healing power) is only for Jews and should not be wasted on gentiles (in fact, he says this explicitly in 15:24), but then the woman does a jujitzu on him and causes him to change his mind.

    I think Mark (then expanded on by Matthew) was taking some prior tradition that Jesus had said he came only for Jews and to ignore gentiles, and is trying to undo it. He’s creating a story in which Jesus changes his mind and lets gentiles in. Mark is all about making gentiles the true heirs to the Gospel. I think this story reflects tension between earlier Jewish-Jesus sectarians and Pauline gentile converts in succeeding generations. I also think (and this is just my opinion) that this conversation reveals that the original movement probably was exclusively Jewish and even anti-gentile. The original Gospel (in my opinion) was about the impending liberation, vindication and exultation of Israel over the rest of the world, not about the universal salvation of all mankind. That came from Paul.

    • Dina says:


      Just to add to what you said here: Jesus’s contemptuous reference to Gentiles–people created in God’s image–as dogs and swine is disgraceful. Nowhere in Tanach or in the Talmud will you find Gentiles called dogs and pigs.

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