Daily Devotions


Day 184

Another Issue Involving the Sabbath

Text: Matthew 12:1-14

What did the Pharisees learn from their encounter with Jesus concerning the Sabbath? Apparently nothing! Another opportunity presented itself soon after for them to question Jesus.

“Now when He had departed from there, He
went into their synagogue. And behold, there
was a man who had a withered hand. And
they asked Him, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal
on the Sabbath?’ – that they might accuse Him.”
MATTHEW 12:9-10

This time round, the Pharisees did not make the mistake of pointing an accusing finger at His disciples. They asked Jesus to answer their question instead. They knew the answer, they had been taught. No physician would attend to any one who was sick on the Sabbath, unless it was a matter of life and death! This was their interpretation of how the Sabbath should be kept. Their interpretation was not based on what the written Law actually taught. Their understanding was derived from their oral tradition!


Jesus was on top of this situation too! He showed familiarity with the oral tradition of the Jews. His answer showed that to be true.

“Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you
who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath,
will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then
is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good
on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out
your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored
as whole as the other.”
MATTHEW 12:11-13

The oral tradition was unlike the written Law. The following things may be said about the Oral Tradition.

1. Made up of comments by rabbis through the ages

The oral tradition was developed over hundreds of years. At the time of Jesus, the oral tradition had not yet been written down. In time, the oral tradition would become the Talmud, an authoritative source of written tradition.

2. Sometimes contradictory comments

Rabbis made comments on various teachings of the written law. Not all Rabbis agreed with what was taught by rabbis of a previous generation. Some rabbis were known to be strict while others were known to be more liberal. From time to time, conflicts would arise from within the oral tradition itself.

a) The strict traditionalist would not heal on the Sabbath

Healing was essentially work! The sick can surely wait till the next day before attempting to see the physician!

b) The liberal traditionalist would help save his livestock

If an animal would somehow stray and fall into a pit, few would think twice about rescuing it. The act of rescuing would actually constitute “work”. Where was the consistency?

3. The law of mercy

Jesus had appealed to the Pharisees to check up the Scriptures and learn what it means to practise “mercy”.

a) An act of mercy to rescue an animal

Jesus was not against the idea of rescuing an animal in distress. If an animal has fallen into a pit, the effort to rescue it would be called an act of mercy. The Sabbath law would not be considered “broken” if one performed an act of mercy.

b) An act of mercy to heal someone

If saving an animal from distress is considered acceptable (even by the strict traditionalist), surely healing a person with a withered arm would be an act of mercy too!

After having said that, Jesus went on to heal the man who had a withered hand! The healing took place immediately! Jesus wasn’t paid for His work of healing this man on the Sabbath! Could He be charged with having broken the Sabbath at all?

c) The consistency in Jesus’ teachings

The Pharisees practised “casuistry”. They interpreted things based on the individual merit of the case. Instead of working on definite Biblical principles, they would come up with different comments and solutions. In such an approach, one may expect contradictions!

On the other hand, Jesus cited only the written Law. He drew principles from the Law and then practised them consistently. He knew that the written law did not cover many “incidental details of life”. How should He approach these details then? He applied the law of mercy with great consistency!


Once again the Pharisees were defeated. They could not come up with an answer to the logic of Jesus! They had only one reaction.

“Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him,
how they might destroy Him.”