Paul the Apostle is often thought of as the chief missionary to the Gentiles because of God’s giving him a special call to minister to Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Yet in ministering to Gentiles, Paul was only following the model of the Savior, for Jesus also went to the Gentiles even though His primary focus was to preach the gospel to the Jewish people. Continuing our look at Jesus’ work among Gentiles that Mark 7:24–8:10 describes, we find in today’s passage the account of Jesus’ healing of the deaf man that took place in the Decapolis. Jesus traveled some 120 miles based on the route described in Mark 7:31 to reach the Decapolis, and what He did there had great significance not only for the deaf man’s health but also for helping us understand Christ’s mission.
Mogilalos, the Greek term used to describe the deaf man’s condition, appears only one other place in the Bible: Isaiah 35:5–6. Isaiah 35 follows a series of oracles in which the prophet proclaims judgment against nations and cities including Tyre (chap. 23), Jerusalem (chap. 28), and Edom (chap. 34). After the destruction of these lands, Isaiah 35 explains, there will be a great restoration accompanied by everlasting holiness and joy. Among the wonders to occur are the healing of the deaf and mute, those who suffered the condition of mogilalos (vv. 5–6). By healing the deaf and mute man, Jesus proved that the era of restoration had come, salvation was at hand, and that God would be restoring all things through His Son.
To heal the man, Jesus placed His fingers in the man’s ears and His spittle on the man’s tongue (Mark 7:33–35). Many have wondered why He did such things in healing the man. Some suggest that it was a sign that gave the Gentile man additional confidence that Jesus was in fact healing him, for Gentiles sometimes employed such methods in their attempts to heal people. Others have said it foreshadows the outpouring of the blood of Christ that will bring full restoration not only to our souls but finally to our bodies in the new heaven and earth. We cannot be certain if either of these suggestions, or any other, is correct. Thus, we do well to follow John Calvin’s comments on the passage: “Readers of sobriety and judgment will be satisfied with this single instruction, that we obtain from Christ, in answer to our prayers, both speech and hearing; for he pours his energy into our tongues, and pierces our ears with his fingers.”