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Biblical/Doctrinal Studies:
Focus on Jesus Series

Of Pigs and Cities
Notes on Matthew 8:28-9:1, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39
by Ed Vasicek

Why the Deviled Ham?

The event described below took place in the area around Decapolis. This area was directly Southeast of Galilee, but a gentile region embedded in the Greek culture. Unlike the Jews, these gentiles ate pork in great quantity (they were the precursors to we Hoosiers).

When Jesus freed the demonized man who lived in the region of the Gerasenes, the demons asked not to be sent to the Abyss (the holding area for bound demons who are awaiting the Day of Judgment), but instead to remain in the region of the Decapolis (see below). These evil spirits asked permission to enter the nearby herd of swine. Christ granted them permission to do so, and the herd rushed off the edge of a cliff into the lake and was drowned.

Some have asked the question, "Was it morally right for Christ to allow the demons to do this, since the herd was the property of the swineherd?" Not only were the pigs killed, but the owner lost a lot of money. Mark tells us that there were about 2,000 pigs involved. Although we call this incident "deviled ham," you can be sure it wasn't too funny to those who earned their living raising pigs. This is a legitimate objection, for which we may offer these observations:

  1. Christ did not command the demons to enter the herd—he allowed them to do so.
  2. Christ did not direct the demons to drown the hogs; the demons made this choice. David Stern (Jewish New Testament Commentary) writes, "Some have suggested the demons destroyed the pigs in order to prejudice the owners against Yeshua—which is what actually happened."

Did Christ treat the owners with contempt because he was dealing with gentiles? Certainly not. The Talmud reveals an ethic held by the Jews: "For a Jew to cheat a gentile is worse than cheating a Jew. In addition to breaking the moral law, it brings Jews into a position of contempt."

Taking things a little further, we can conclude the following:

  1. Human life is infinitely more important than animal life; the well-being of one man was worth the loss of 2,000 pigs.
  2. God likewise ALLOWS events in our lives that He does not necessarily command. God allows evil and loss to affect us all, whether by permitting Satan, the world, or our sin natures to run their course. This often does NOT seem fair. When we remember God owes us nothing, then we can try (although not always succeeding) to think this way: God prevents a whole lot of misery on our behalf; each prevention is an act of His grace. Sometimes God is more gracious to us than at other times.
  3. One's blessing can be another's curse; the demoniac's gain was the swineherd's loss. In a sense, the story of the exorcism of this man pictures our unvoiced objections as to how God does things and what He allows. It also demonstrates that He has a right to do as He chooses.

The Decapolis

The Decapolis means the "ten cities" in Greek, and it was the Greeks who set up these Greek "colonies" during the time of Alexander the Great, but reestablished by the Romans under Pompey in 63 B.C. Since Jesus was previously employed as a builder ("carpenter" is not an accurate translation—Jesus probably worked mostly with stone and only somewhat with wood), and since this region was booming in the early first century, it is very possible that Jesus worked in some of the cities of the Decapolis.

Pastor Ed

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Kokomo, Indiana, USA
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