Uncleanness and the true meaning of what it is to be clean in the eyes of the Lord were behind the controversy between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees recorded in Mark 7:1–23. As we have seen, the scribes and Pharisees erred by exalting traditions such as hand washing above the Word of God, thereby missing the true meaning of cleanness to which the Mosaic law pointed the Jews. Cleanness before the Lord is finally a moral issue and is possible only for the clean in heart. With the coming of Jesus, the regulations regarding ceremonial uncleanness as found in such things as the kosher laws were fulfilled and set aside as binding on God’s people. They pointed to the fact that God is Lord of all of life and therefore that no sinner can hope to meet His perfect standards. Such regulations pointed people to Jesus and did not mean that any food was inherently unclean; thus, when the fulfillment of the law—Jesus—came, the people of God were released from having to follow a specific diet (see Matt. 5:17).
Mark tells us that after this interchange, Jesus and the disciples withdrew from Galilee to the “region of Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 7:24). The evangelist does not explain why Jesus did this, but it is reasonable to speculate that our Lord was seeking to avoid a threat of some kind that would send Him to His death before it was time. One commentator notes that it may be that Herod Antipas, believing that Jesus was his old enemy John the Baptist come back to life, was looking to capture our Savior. In any case, Tyre and Sidon were Gentile regions, so Jesus and the disciples moved into areas that most Jews would have considered unclean. The region in which these cities were located had a long history of paganism and opposition to the Jews. For instance, the wicked queen Jezebel, who incited Ahab to worship the false god Baal and persecuted Elijah the prophet, was the daughter of the Sidonian king (1 Kings 16:31–32).
Galilee, which should have been friendly territory to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, proved hostile because of the influence of the Pharisees and scribes. Tyre and Sidon, which should have been hostile to Christ given the history of God’s people, would be much friendlier to Him. There, we will see, people responded far more readily in faith to Jesus than the Jews did (Mark 7:24–8:10). It remains true that some of the quickest to trust Christ are those whom we might consider the least likely to believe. Such is the wisdom of God.