by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Mark 7:31-37 KJV 31 And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. 32 And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. 33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. 35 And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. 36 And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published (it); 37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
Introduction: Jesus had spent some time in Tyre and Sidon—at least the border regions—and had healed a Gentile woman’s daughter by casting out an evil spirit (Mk. 7:24-30). He has come southeast, towards the Sea of Galilee, heading for Decapolis or “the Ten Cities” located on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Some of this land had belonged to Manasseh, Reuben, and Gad back when the land was reclaimed by the Israelites during Joshua’s time. Soon, Jesus is going to be asked to perform another miracle.
I The man with the problem
The deaf have been around for many years. They—the deaf—are first mentioned in Exodus 4:11 where God asks Moses (rhetorically?) “. . .Who made the deaf. . .?” The deaf, as a class (and no negative connotation expressed or implied here) were protected under the Law of Moses in Leviticus 19:14, where Israel was commanded not to curse the deaf.
Some of the deaf have become believers in God and the Lord Jesus Christ but many have not. Some of the reasons why include a difficulty in understanding religious and/or theological terms. While attending a Christian college, which had a group of deaf people attending the college and the church, I read the testimony of a deaf man who had been asked if he was “saved”. He replied that he had money “saved” in a bank. Eventually he was able to understand what “being saved” was all about, and then gave his life to Christ! O that many more might believe in our Lord.
But even worse than being deaf, at least in his day, was the fact that this man was mute. “Dumb” in the King James Version never refers to any person’s mental or intellectual ability. It simply meant the person either could not speak at all, or, as in this case, the speech uttered was hard to impossible to understand. Again, this is not intended to be negative or derogatory. The beautiful thing is that one day, all those who have believed in Jesus will be free from all diseases, pains, problems, and anything else keeping us from what some call a “full and happy” life. The deaf will hear the Lord, the blind will see, and those who are mute will join in the greatest “Hallelujah Chorus” ever to be assembled!
The worst thing of all is the apparent lack of any medical treatment for people with these conditions. Science has made tremendous progress, giving people a chance to hear with hearing aids, cochlear implants, and the like. There are also voice boxes or similar devices where those who may not be able to speak, plainly or not at all due to various problems, can at least literally let their voices be heard.
Yet none of that existed in Jesus’ day. Even so, when the people of “Decapolis (one of the Ten Cities)” heard Jesus was coming, some of them found this man, deaf and basically mute, and brought him to Jesus.
II The Christ Who could heal
When reading Mark’s gospel, I’m puzzled—that may not be the best word, admittedly—by what some of the people ask of Jesus. Here, they “beseech” or earnestly beg Him to “put His hand upon the deaf and mute man (verse 32)”. Why didn’t they simply ask Jesus to heal the man? Yet that was their request and my understanding is the people felt or believed that this “touch” might heal the man with this awful affliction.
So what did Jesus do? Verse 33 says He took the man away from the crowd and then performed a very unusual method of healing: He first His fingers into the deaf man’s ears and then spat. We are not told where Jesus spat. Regardless, Jesus used some of the spittle and placed it—“touched”—the man’s tongue. Among other things, this absolutely proves our Lord had a normal human body, capable of touching, holding, spitting, speaking and listening, and any other bodily functions. This is important to remember because one of the earliest heresies or false doctrines to arise taught that Jesus Christ never had a real human body (Gnostics, Docetics, etc.).
But that isn’t all Jesus did. Mark records that after He touched the man’s ears and tongue, He first looked up to Heaven (perhaps to pray, briefly?) and then, after sighing, spoke the Aramaic word, “Ephphatha” or “be opened”. Some may wonder why He didn’t say something like “Now you can hear!” or “You may speak plainly now!” or “You are healed!” but He didn’t. He simply spoke, “Be opened!” and that was enough.
Mark adds a joyous detail next: he says that “straightway” or immediately the man’s ears were opened and the “string of his tongue (verse 35)” was loosed. We may not know exactly what is meant by the “string of his tongue” but it was something noticeable, and Jesus healed this problem, too, so that the man could speak plainly!
Imagine the reaction when the crowd, who had brought the man to Jesus, saw him coming back. According to verse 36, he must have returned because Jesus tells “them”—I take this to mean the man and the multitude—not to share this event with anybody! What did they do? They promptly ignored or at the least disobeyed this command and began to “publish” or tell everyone they could meet about what Jesus had done.
The end result is that “they” were “beyond measure astonished”—amazed beyond words—and spoke of Jesus saying “He did all things well! He even made the deaf hear and made the mute speak!” What a Healer our Saviour is, and what a Saviour He is, too.
A final word. Even today, there are any number of deaf or hearing-impaired people around the world. Some are believers in Jesus but many are not. A number of churches and other organizations exist to bring the Gospel to the deaf community and may this outreach be increased many times over. Jesus apparently did not heal every person who was deaf, mute, or those with any number of problems—He was limited to a specific region when He was walking this Earth as the Promised Messiah and many didn’t live close to where He served. We do not read of many deaf or mute people being healed in the Book of Acts or the Epistles.
At any rate, the deaf need to become acquainted with the Gospel before they go to a Christless eternity. You or someone you know may be able to make a difference!
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)