Though Matthew 15:29-31 speaks about the same occasion as Mark 7:31-37, Mark alone records the plight and healing of this deaf-mute man. Evidently it happened just before the feeding of the 4,000. Look at Matthew 15:32-38 and Mark 8:1-9.
Ylvisaker: According to the better manuscripts, Jesus has journeyed farther north along the coast through Serepta to Sidon, after restoring the daughter of the Canaanite woman. Why this journey was undertaken Mark does not say. Possibly Jesus has desired to remain apart with his disciples for a protracted period, and has avoided the regions where He was known for this reason.
Decapolis, ten towns, was a territory east and south of the Sea of Galilee. Before the conquest of Canaan it was in habited by the Amorites. After the conquest it was known as Gilead and was inhabited primarily by pagan Gentiles. It was in this territory where Jesus permitted the unclean spirits to enter the swine and perhaps those who brought this deaf and dumb man were believers but that is not certain.
Hendriksen: In dealing with people the Lord chooses his own methods. Naaman had to learn this lesson (2 Kings 5:10-14). And so did Jacob, much earlier (Genesis 42:36; 45:25-28). So did also Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 50:15-21). And so, later did Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). We should never try to tell God what methods he should use in answering our petitions. . . His own way is always best.
We know not who were the people helping this man. The man could not hear and spoke with great difficulty. He could not hear others express themselves nor could he express himself, or, if he could, it was with great difficulty.
Six actions of Jesus, before He spoke the words of healing, are noted. Three aorist participles are each followed by an aorist verb in verses 33-34, giving us a total of six.
We are not told where Jesus spit. A few think He spit on the man's tongue. Most think Jesus spit on His own finger and then transferred it to the man's tongue. Lenski objects strongly to both. He calls it "sign language." But compare 8:23: "He spit on his eyes." Lenski missed this one.
We note Jesus' compassion for this unfortunate man. He takes him apart from the crowd so that the man would rivet his whole attention on Jesus.
There is nothing in the text which indicates that Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, prayed for strength so that He could perform the miracle. He did look to His heavenly Father but He was also true God.
Why did Jesus sigh? We agree with Luther that the sigh indicated Jesus' compassion for the people on whom Satan had worked so much havoc. Though a different and strong verb is used in the case of Lazarus, John 11:33 and 38, the situation is somewhat analogous. Jesus groaned in spirit because of Satan's strongest tool, death.
Now follows the climax of the account, the opening of ears and loosing of the tongue. "EPHPHATHA" is an Aramaic imperative. At Jesus' word two things happened immediately. Very likely the deaf man heard Jesus say this word. Mark gives the Greek for his Gentile audience. "Be completely opened." When a verb is used in more than one sense, the figure is call zeugma. We have a zeugma here. The two things which happened because of Jesus' word are recounted in the next verse.
When a word is enclosed in the kind of brackets found here in the Greek text, the editors are indicating to the reader that it is difficult to determine whether the word should be read or not. At any rate, we are told that first his ears were opened, and then that which bound his tongue was loosed. The first indicates the completed end of a deed, the second that he began and continued to speak. "He spoke naturally." The word used for his condition in verses 32 and 37 does not necessarily mean that he was totally dumb. NIV: "Could hardly speak." NASB: "Spoke with difficulty." AAT: "Tongue-tied." Very often a tongue-tied person is practically dumb because it is so difficult to understand what he wants to say.
Is Jesus speaking to one or two groups? Are the antecedents the same group of people? We think they are. Because of the parallel passage in Matthew 15:29-31, Bengel distinguishes antecedents for the two "them/they." He says that the first denotes the bearers and the second the spectators. But then, he thinks, the bearers joined the spectators in noising the report abroad. This in ingenious, but can't be proved.
In each case we have an imperfect verb, both denote continued action. Their zeal to broadcast this miracle cannot be called good. They disobeyed Jesus. they were disobedient.
Stoeckhardt: These people had not yet reached the point at which they could correctly give witness about Christ or make His name known . . . Their enthusiasm was simply superficial and soon passed away.
It amounted to momentary enthusiasm.
Lenski: Matthew 15:30-31 reports that Jesus healed many more on this occasion: dumb, cripples, lame, and blind. A multitude was present, as Mark also reports in connection with the healing of the deaf-mute. The command not to report the latter miracle must thus be extended to include also the many others. Since Mark himself records no reason for this command of Jesus, we are left to figure this out ourselves . . . He has only a few months left, and He does not want the excitement to spread far and wide about his being the Messiah. The people generally connected earthly political ideas with that title, the very ideas which Jesus combated. So he did what he could to keep his miracles quiet at this time. But, as in this instance, he did not succeed.
Hendriksen: Many Christ-admirers are lost. The true mark of discipleship is revealed in John 15:14. Compare John 8:31-32. These people were doing just the opposite.
The combination of adverb and verb is very strong. They were deeply moved. Very likely this indicates continued action, and manner. They showed their utter amazement by what they said. The verb they use indicates lasting results. "He is making." This coincides remarkable with the parallel passage in Matthew 15:29-31 where we are told that Jesus healed many sick people on this occasion. Mark gives but one example, but what the people say in 37 indicates that He healed others.
Ylvisaker: By nature, we are all spiritually deaf and dumb. If we are to secure help from Jesus, He must take us apart from the people, He must speak His 'Ephatha' into our hearts.
Lenski: Matthew reports that they glorified the God of Israel, thus indicating that most of these people were Gentiles. . . These people rightly conclude that at any time Jesus can make the deaf to hear and the speechless to speak.
Luther: For that this poor man is hurt in this manner that he can use neither tongue nor ears, like other people, those are blows and thrusts of the accursed devil. Before the world it may seem, and everyone be of the opinion, that they be natural ailments; for the world does not know the devil that he does so much harm, makes the people mad and foolish, inflicts all manner of misfortune upon them, not only in the body, but also in the soul, that they die for terror and sorrow and cannot attain to true joy. But we Christians should deem such defects and infirmities nothing else but blows of the devil; he causes such distress on earth and does damage where he can.
Luther: He refers especially to these two members, ears and tongue; for the kingdom of Christ is based upon the Word, which cannot otherwise be grasped or understood but through these two members, ears and tongue, and it reigns only through the Word and faith in the hearts of men. The ears take hold of the World, and the heart believes it; but the tongue speaks and confesses, as the heart believes. Therefore if the tongue and the ears are removed, there is no noticeable difference between the kingdom of Christ and the world . . . With us, thanks to God, the tongue has gotten so far that we speak plainly, for there are everywhere pious people that hear the Word of God with desire. But aside from this there is also great ingratitude and terrible contempt for the Word of God, yea, secret persecution and secret suffering.