A Remarkable Reply
Text: Matthew 12:1-14
Jesus’ reply to the criticism of the Pharisees is most remarkable for a number of reasons. Let us take time to ponder what He said to them.
“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?”
1. The Appeal to Scripture versus the Oral Tradition
Jesus was well aware of the influence of the oral tradition, especially among the Pharisees. They tended to be more inclined to cite the authority of the oral tradition than the authority of the Scripture.
a) Authority of the Oral tradition
Jesus refused to acknowledge the oral tradition as being on par with the sacred Scripture. While oral tradition may have some value, it does not have the same authority.
b) The authority of the Scripture
The Pharisees actually acknowledged that the written word had authority! Jesus pointed out their error in not appealing to the Scriptures for reference. Had they not been reading the Scriptures?
c) Citing the Scriptures
Jesus then went on to cite the appropriate passage (Cf. 1 Samuel 21). He showed familiarity with the way the Pharisees studied Torah. They would study a topic, for example, The Keeping of the Sabbath. Then they would listen to their teacher comment on the topic. He would cite case after case, example after example to illustrate his teaching points.
However when Jesus taught, He cited the Scriptures instead. He showed tremendous familiarity with the sacred writ. If the Pharisees were not too familiar with the sacred text, then they would not dare to make a reply!
2. Citing the Example of David
Jesus cited an amazing example. David was fleeing from the wrath of king Saul. He and a group of his loyal friends were faint with hunger on one occasion. They came to the priest Ahimelech who looked after a place of worship in the city of Nob.
Ahimelech had nothing to give to David and his men except the sacred showbread. The bread symbolized Israel’s dependence upon the Lord for daily
food. (Cf. Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16; Leviticus 24:5-9).
“And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it.
Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake.
You shall set them in two rows, six in a row,
on the pure gold table before the Lord.
And you shall put pure frankincense on each row,
that it may be on the bread for a memorial,
an offering made by fire to the Lord.
Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the Lord continually,
being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.
And it shall be for Aaron and his sons,
And they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him
from the offerings of the Lord made by fire,
by a perpetual statute.”
a) David ate holy bread meant only for the priests!
b) Technically, he would have been found guilty of having committed a great sin!
c) However, he was not punished in any way! None of the men with him were disciplined in any way by God for eating the showbread!
What do these facts mean? Should not the answer be obvious to the Pharisees? There were exceptions to the rule! The Sabbath law must not be applied in the rigid wooden-literal manner the Pharisees were doing.
A FURTHER ARGUMENT
Jesus went on to make an extended argument. This time round He made mention of the Temple.
“Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath
the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath,
and are blameless?”
1. A general reference to Temple practices
Priests ministered and worked hard in the temple of God. They have to work on the Sabbath too. There were perpetual sacrifices to be made – on a daily basis.
2. The priests are blameless
The priests of course would have to be declared “blameless” when they “broke” or “profaned” the Sabbath!
We have another example of “an exception to the rule”. Rules are not unimportant. However, they cannot be so rigidly enforced after the manner of the Pharisees.