The Sabbath played a big role in the worsening relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees. Matthew gives us only these two stories. By the end of the second story, we learn that Pharisees are planning to kill Jesus partly because of his views on the Sabbath.
After Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach the gospel and warned them that they would face hostility and persecution (Matthew 10), Matthew begin focusing on how the Jewish people responded to Jesus.
Even John the Baptist was confused because Jesus was not acting like the Messiah he expected. Jesus pronounced woes on some Galilean cities because they failed to repent even though they saw more of his teaching and miracles than any other place. Then Jesus invited the weary and burdened to follow him (Matthew 11).
Matthew 12 continues to highlight the growing hostility of the Pharisees toward Jesus.
- The Sabbath tradition goes back to creation with God resting on the 7th day.
- After the Babylonian exile, the children of Israel wanted to avoid another exile, so they started a serious attempt to keep the law, including the Sabbath.
- Following the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Pharisees developed a rigorous code of regulations and restrictions governing the Sabbath. They considered this oral law as binding as the written law.
- The word “Sabbath” is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew word for rest.
- By the time of Jesus, a rabbi’s views on the Sabbath were a kind of litmus test similar to the way a politician’s views on abortion can be a litmus test today.
- Compare with John 5:16-18.
1At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:1-8
- As the disciples travel from town to town following Jesus, they do not have time to prepare for the Sabbath.
- By plucking heads of grain, the disciples could be accused of breaking the Pharisee’s rules against reaping, winnowing, threshing and preparing a meal.
- Jesus refers to 1Samuel 21:1-6. David has been anointed the next King of Israel, but Saul is on the throne. David fled Saul’s court in fear for his life without any provisions. His first stop is the tabernacle at Nob. The only food available is the holy bread or shewbread (Leviticus 24:5-9).
- David is the anointed king in exile and his men are following him. They are on a mission for God and it is more important that they obey God than that they obey the religious rituals of the Sabbath. The priest gave David the bread and Jesus commends his understanding.
- Jesus, the Messiah and the true Davidic king, is here but he does not yet have his throne. Like Saul, the Pharisees are seeking to have him killed. Like David, Jesus is waiting for God to fulfill his promises and fully grant his kingship.
- Just as the priest recognized the unique place of David and gave him food and protection, the Jewish leaders ought to recognize Jesus’s unique role as the Messiah, the true Davidic king, and offer him food and protection.
- The same God who said don’t work on the Sabbath told the priests to work on the Sabbath. Like David, the priests in the temple are doing something that is more important than keeping the Sabbath rules.
- It is more important that the disciples learn from and follow the Messiah than that they go home and rest on the Sabbath.
- Jesus also quotes Hoses 6:6 in Matthew 9:13.
- This word mercy is the Hebrew word hesed.
- If you understood Hosea, you would recognize that it’s more important to be faithful to God than to follow the rules. It’s more important that Messiah continue his mission and his disciples with him, than that they keep the rules of the Sabbath.
- Compare with Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-6.
- As the Messiah, Jesus can explain to us what the Sabbath means and what we are suppose to learn from it.
Healing on the Sabbath
9He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. – Matthew 12:9-14
- Compare with Mark 3:1-6.
- The Pharisees ask Jesus if it’s lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus restores life while the Pharisees plot to kill him.
- Rabbinical law made exceptions to their rules when a life was in danger, but exactly what constituted enough danger was debated.
- Jesus says, if one of your sheep fell into a pit on the Sabbath, of course you would lift it out. Imagine that sheep was one of your neighbors. A man’s life is of much more value than a sheep’s life. Of course, you’d help your neighbor out of a pit. It’s always lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
- Jesus heals the man without moving a muscle, and therefore breaks none of their laws. He speaks only a word.
Jesus’ Bible Study
- Jesus says “have you not read” (Matthew 12:3).
- The Pharisees built their understanding of the Sabbath by looking only at individual passages that give rules about it.
- Jesus says in order to understand why God gave the Sabbath and therefore how to keep it, you can not look only at the command itself. You must also understand the command that required the priests to work on the Sabbath. You must understand the story of David and the shew bread. And, you must understand the prophet Hosea.
- As bible students, this tells us that the methodology that grabs a verse here and there or plucks a phrase out of context is lacking.
- Instead, we must understand the verse in context and we have to understand the context in the whole of Scripture.
Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.
Previous: 62 Matthew 11:25-30 Take my yoke
Podcast season 20, episode 22