Dogs and pigs were disgusting to the Jews of Jesus’ time. There were street dogs in those days. The street dogs are not your pretty, clean, bathed, and shampooed dogs. They are the dirty, ugly, and smelly dogs. These wild dogs go around the city in packs and eat garbage. (MacArthur) They would also growl at people feeding them. (Keener) Also, the pigs are unclean for Jews.
In Matthew, the word, “dogs,” refers to Gentiles. Matthew 15:21-28 reads,
22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Gentiles are people who are outside the line of Abraham. But this Canaanite woman, believed in Jesus. In her case, there was reception of Christ, not rejection. On this note, Matthew believes that many Gentiles will follow Christ in Gentile nations (Matt. 28:18-20).
But the dogs and pigs of Jesus are anything but receptive. Jesus said, “Lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matt. 7:6). These dogs turn and attack you. These pigs trample your pearls underfoot. The dogs reject your holy food. The pigs reject your pearls. Thus, one mark of dogs and pigs is rejection of precious things.
Matthew writes more about reception and rejection of the kingdom in Matthew 10:5-6, 11-14.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
Jesus sends the twelve apostles to preach the Gospel of the kingdom to the Jews only, not the Gentiles. But He tells them that there will be rejection. Look at v. 14—“if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words.” There will be people who will not listen to your message of the kingdom, Jesus said. That’s rejection.
How did the Jews reject Jesus? They scorned His teaching. They accused Him of blasphemy. They told lies about Him. They insulted Him, spit on Him, and nailed Him on a cross. Psalm 22:16 reads, “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.” In this Messianic Psalm, the Jewish accusers are called dogs.
We go back to our question. Who are the dogs in Matthew that reject the holy food? Who are the pigs in Matthew that reject the pearls? They are Jews that reject Christ. They are people who reject the message of Christ.