Survival During the Exilic Years
Text: Matthew 12:1-14
How did the exiled Jews survive in Babylon? The Scriptures indicate that many had begun to take an even more serious approach to the study of Torah. Scribes like Ezra arose. Daniel spent much time studying the writings of Jeremiah (Cf. Daniel 9:2). He himself took time to write about his life and his search for the will of God concerning the future of Israel.
The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, at least temporarily. The more spiritually inclined began to take their faith very seriously. New approaches had to be thought out, since religious worship had, at its center, the Temple.
Religious schools arose to teach Torah to Jews scattered abroad. The goal and emphasis seemed to be to rediscover their lost religious and cultural heritage. A fierce sense of nationalism was also built up along the way.
THE ORAL TRADITION
One of the most fascinating things that developed along the way was the “oral tradition”. Torah was taught along two lines. There were of course the written laws of Moses. The second line was done through emphasizing the need to memorize these laws. Teachers took great pains to make their pupils memorize what they had been taught. For centuries on end, oral tradition became a major source of authority for all Jews!
Jesus showed that He was aware of the existence of the oral tradition. He made references to the oral tradition in statements like this one.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old…”
MATTHEW 5:21, 27, 33…
The oral tradition was essentially theological teachings covering many topics. Consider some of the topics listed.
1. Comments on the laws of Moses
2. The doctrine of salvation
3. The sanctification of the nation of Israel
4. Governing of the nation
5. Rites and rituals of purification
6. The place of the Temple in religious worship
7. The keeping of the Sabbath
Needless to say, the oral tradition exerted a tremendous influence upon the nation of Israel. For many, the oral tradition was as important as the written law. Jesus of course resisted this idea and fought to establish a fundamental truth. The only authority was the inspired Scripture, not the man-made products such as the oral tradition.
THE SABBATH CONTROVERSY
Matthew was well aware of the controversial way in which Jesus taught about how the Sabbath was to be kept. Of course, He differed in His opinion concerning the keeping of the Sabbath. He derived His authority from the written law not the oral tradition.
Naturally, those who were brought up in the oral tradition took exception to Jesus’ understanding and practice of the Sabbath. In their opinion, Jesus was a breaker of the Sabbath law. (The bulk of Matthew 12 discusses this important issue of how to understand and keep the Sabbath).
“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.
And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain
and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him,
‘Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do
on the Sabbath!’ ”
The Pharisees seemed to be tracking Jesus in the hope of finding fault with His teachings. They figured that if they watched Him carefully enough, they would be able to find fault with Him one day. No finer opportunity arose than when the disciples of Jesus plucked off some heads of grain for food.
According to their oral tradition, the plucking of heads of corn was essentially the same as harvesting. Work was strictly disallowed on the Sabbath. Harvesting was wrong and therefore they concluded that Jesus’ disciples had broken the Sabbath law. Since Jesus did not control His disciples, He was as guilty as His disciples!
How did Jesus answer this charge made against His disciples? It was important that He had an answer to this accusation of the Pharisees. If He failed to come up with a credible answer, His reputation as a Teacher would be seriously marred.
Jesus was of course unfazed at this charge made against His disciples. He knew that His disciples were hungry. They must have asked His permission as to whether they could pluck the heads of grain for food. What was in Jesus’ mind as He gave them leave to pluck off the heads of grain for a simple meal? The following text reveals what Jesus thought of as He gave His disciples permission to pluck the heads of grain for food.
“But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did
when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:
how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread
which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those
who were with him, but only for the priests?”