Jesus Defends Disciples Who Pluck Grain on the Sabbath.

(Probably while on the way from Jerusalem to Galilee.)
a MATT. 12:1-8; b MARK 2:23-28; c LUKE 6:1-5.

      b 23 And   c 1 Now it came to pass   a 1 At that season b that he a Jesus went {b was going} on the {c a} b sabbath day through the grainfields; a and his disciples were hungry and began b as they went, to pluck the ears. a and to eat, c and his disciples plucked the ears, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. [This lesson fits in chronological order with the last, if the Bethesda events took place at Passover. The paschal lamb was eaten on the fourteenth Nisan, or about the first of April. Clark fixes the exact date as the 29th of March, in A. D. 28, which is the beginning of the harvest season. Barley ripens in the Jordan valley about the 1st of April, but on the uplands it is reaped as late as May. Wheat ripens from one to three weeks later than barley, and mountain plateaus) is often harvested in June. If Scaliger is right, as most critics think he is, in fixing this sabbath as the first after the Passover, it is probable that it was barley which the disciples ate. Barley bread was and is a common food, and it is common to chew the grains of both it and wheat.]

  c 2 But {b 24 And} c certain of the Pharisees a when they saw it, said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath. b why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? c Why do ye that which it is not lawful to do on the sabbath day? [The Pharisees did not object to the act of taking the grain. Such plucking of the grain was allowed by the law ( Deuteronomy 23:25 ) and is still practiced by hungry travelers in Palestine, which is, and has always been, an unfenced land, the roads, or rather narrow paths, of which lead through the grainfields, so that the grain is in easy reach of the passer-by. The Pharisees objected to the plucking of grain because they considered it a kind of reaping, and therefore working on the sabbath day. The scene shows the sinlessness of Jesus in strong light. Every slightest act of his was submitted to a microscopic scrutiny.]

  a 3 But {b 25 And} c Jesus answering them a said unto them, Have ye not read {b Did ye never read} c even this [There is a touch of irony here. The Pharisees prided themselves upon their knowledge of Scriptures, but they had not read (so as to understand them) even its most common incidents], what David did, b when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him?

  26 How he entered into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, c and took and ate the showbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat {a which it was not lawful for him to eat,} neither for them that were with him, but only {c save} for the priests alone? [Jesus here refers to the incident recorded at 1 Samuel 21:1-6 . Ahimelech and Abiathar have been confused by transcribers. It should read Ahimelech. However, we are not referred David. He went with his followers to the tabernacle at Nob near Jerusalem, and being hungry, asked bread of the priests. There was no bread at hand save the showbread. This bread was called showbread because it was "set out" or "exhibited" before Jehovah. It consisted of twelve loaves, which were baked upon the sabbath, and were placed, hot, in two rows upon the showbread table every sabbath day. The twelve old loaves which were then removed were to be eaten by the priests and no one else ( Leviticus 24:5-9 ). It was these twelve old loaves which were given to David ( 1 Samuel 21:6 ). Since the showbread was baked on the sabbath, the law itself ordered work on that day. The vast majority of commentators look upon this passage as teaching that necessity abrogates what they are pleased to call the ceremonial laws of God. Disregarding the so-called ceremonial laws of God is a very dangerous business, as is witnessed by the case of Uzzah ( 2 Samuel 6:6 2 Samuel 6:7 ), and Uzziah ( 2 Chronicles 26:16-23 ). Christ never did it, and strenuously warned those who followed the example of the scribes and Pharisees in teaching such a doctrine ( Matthew 5:17-20 ). The law of necessity was not urged by him as a justifiable excuse for making bread during the forty days' fast of the temptation. Life is not higher than law. "All that a man hath will he give for his life," is Satan's doctrine, not Christ's ( Job 2:4 ). The real meaning, as we understand it, will be developed below in our treatment of verse 7, which verse refers both to this incident and to the discussion in progress.]

  a 5 Or have ye not read in the law, that on the sabbath day the priests in the temple profane [i. e., degrade and put to common use] the sabbath, and are guiltless? [Having cited a passage from the prophets, Jesus now turns to the law--the final authority. He also turns from a parallel argument concerning sacred food to a direct argument concerning the sacred day. The Sabbath was the busiest day in the week for the priests. They baked and changed the showbread; they performed sabbatical sacrifices ( Numbers 28:9 ), and two lambs were killed on the sabbath in sacrifice. This involved the killing, skinning, and cleaning of the animals, and the building of the fire to consume the sacrifice. They also trimmed the gold lamps, burned incense, and performed various other duties. The profanation of the Sabbath, however, was not real, but merely apparent. Jesus cites this priestly work to prove that the Sabbath prohibition was not universal, and hence might not include what the disciples had done. The fourth commandment did not forbid work absolutely, but labor for worldly gain. Activity in the work of God was both allowed and commanded.]

  6 But I say [asserting his own authority] unto you, that one greater than the temple is here. [The word "greater" is in the neuter gender, and the literal meaning is therefore "a greater thing than the temple." The contrast may be between the service of the temple and the service of Christ, or it may be a contrast between the divinity, sacredness, or divine atmosphere which hallowed the temple, and the divinity or Godhead of Christ. But, however we take it, the meaning is ultimately a contrast between Christ and the temple, similar to the contrast between himself and Solomon, etc. ( Matthew 12:41 Matthew 12:42 ). It was a startling saying as it fell on Jewish ears, for to them the temple at Jerusalem was the place honored by the very Shekinah of the unseen God, and the only place of effective worship and atonement. If the temple service justified the priests in working upon the Sabbath day, much more did the service of Jesus, who was not only the God of the temple, but was himself the true temple, of which the other was merely the symbol, justify these disciples in doing that which was not legally, but merely traditionally, unlawful. Jesus here indirectly anticipates the priesthood of his disciples-- 1 Peter 2:5 .]

  7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. [This passage is quoted from Hosea 6:6 , and is reiterated at Matthew 9:13 . It is an assertion of the superiority of inward life over outward form, for the form is nothing if the heart is wrong. The saying is first suggested by David himself ( Psalms 51:16 Psalms 51:17 ), after which it is stated by Hosea and amplified by Paul ( 1 Corinthians 13:3 ). The quotation has a double reference both to David and the disciples as above indicated. Having given the incident in the life of David, Jesus passes on from it without comment, that he may lay down by another example the principle which justified it. This principle we have just treated, and we may state it thus: A higher law, where it conflicts with a lower one, suspends or limits the lower one at the point of conflict. Thus the higher laws of worship in the temple suspended the lower law of sabbath observance, and thus also the higher law of mercy suspended the lower law as to the showbread when David took it and mercifully gave it to his hungry followers, and when God in mercy permitted this to be done. And thus, had they done what was otherwise unlawful, the disciples would have been justified in eating by the higher law of Christ's service. And thus also would Christ have been justified in permitting them to eat by the law of mercy, which was superior to that which rendered the seventh day to God as a sacrifice.]

  8 For the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath.

  b 27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:

  28 so that the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath. [The expression "Son of man" is used eighty-eight times in the New Testament, and always means the Messiah, and not man generally. The Sabbath was made for man's convenience and blessing, and so Jesus, who was complete and perfect manhood, was Lord of it. But men who were incomplete and imperfect in their manhood, can not trust their fallible judgment to tamper with it. Though the day was made for man, this fact would not entitle man to use it contrary to the laws under which it was granted. As Lord of the day Jesus had a right to interpret it and to apply it, and to substitute the Lord's day for it. In asserting his Lordship over it, Jesus takes the question outside the range of argument and brings it within the range of authority.]