Matthew 12:2
But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) When the Pharisees saw it.—In the position in which the narrative stands in the other two Gospels, the Pharisees would appear as belonging to the company that had come down from Jerusalem to watch and accuse the new Teacher (Luke 5:17). He claimed the power to forgive sins, He ate and drank with publicans and sinners. Now they found that He was teaching men to dishonour the Sabbath, as He had already taught them in Jerusalem (John 5:10; John 5:16).

Matthew 12:2-4. The Pharisees said, Thy disciples do what is not lawful — The law of Moses so expressly allowed the plucking ears of corn as one passed through a field, that, malignant as they were, they pretended not to find fault with the action itself, (see Deuteronomy 23:25,) but they were perverse enough to think this to be a kind of reaping and dressing the grain, which was indeed forbidden on the sabbath. But he said — Have ye not read what, in a case of like necessity, David did, and his followers? and his necessity was a sufficient plea for his transgressing the law in a higher instance. How he entered into the house of God — Into the tabernacle: the temple not being yet built. The meaning cannot be, that David himself went into the very tabernacle, for none but priests could go in thither: but it was into the house or chamber of the high-priest that he entered, situated beside the tabernacle, and called the house of God on that account. See note on 1 Samuel 21:3-6. Thus the apartment in which the High-priest Eli and his servant Samuel slept, is called the house of the Lord, 1 Samuel 3:15. And did eat the show-bread — Gr. τους αρτους της προθεσεως, the bread of exhibition, or, the bread set forth. The Hebrew expression,

לחם פנים, is literally, the bread of the face, or, of the presence, so called, because it stood continually before the face, (so to speak,) of Jehovah; that is, before the ark, where God was peculiarly present. It consisted of twelve loaves, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and was set every sabbath day, by the priest who served that week, on the golden table that was in the holy place of the tabernacle or temple. When the new loaves were brought, the stale ones were taken away, but were to be eaten by the priests only. See notes on Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:6-9.

12:1-8 Being in the corn-fields, the disciples began to pluck the ears of corn: the law of God allowed it, De 23:25. This was slender provision for Christ and his disciples; but they were content with it. The Pharisees did not quarrel with them for taking another man's corn, but for doing it on the sabbath day. Christ came to free his followers, not only from the corruptions of the Pharisees, but from their unscriptural rules, and justified what they did. The greatest shall not have their lusts indulged, but the meanest shall have their wants considered. Those labours are lawful on the sabbath day which are necessary, and sabbath rest is to froward, not to hinder sabbath worship. Needful provision for health and food is to be made; but when servants are kept at home, and families become a scene of hurry and confusion on the Lord's day, to furnish a feast for visitors, or for indulgence, the case is very different. Such things as these, and many others common among professors, are to be blamed. The resting on the sabbath was ordained for man's good, De 5:14. No law must be understood so as to contradict its own end. And as Christ is the Lord of the sabbath, it is fit the day and the work of it should be dedicated to him.Upon the Sabbath day - The Pharisees, doubtless desirous of finding fault with Christ, said that in plucking the grain on the "Sabbath day" they had violated the commandment. Moses had commanded the Hebrews to abstain from all servile work on the Sabbath, Exodus 20:10; Exodus 35:2-3; Numbers 15:32-36. On any other day this would have been clearly lawful, for it was permitted, Deuteronomy 23:25. 2. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day—The act itself was expressly permitted (De 23:25). But as being "servile work," which was prohibited on the sabbath day, it was regarded as sinful. So saith Mark, Mark 2:24, only he puts it into the form of a question. Luke adds nothing, Luke 6:2, but saith, certain of the Pharisees. They granted the thing lawful to be done another day, but not on the sabbath day. How blind is superstition, that they could think that it was contrary to the will of God, that his people should fit themselves for the service of the sabbath by a moderate refreshment! Some of the Pharisees ordinarily attended Christ’s motions, not to be instructed by him, but (as is afterward said) that they might have something whereof to accuse him. What a little thing do they carp at! Wherein was the sin? The plucking of a few ears of corn, and rubbing them, could hardly be called servile labour, especially not in the sense of the commandment, which restrained not necessary labour, but such labour as took them off from the duties of the sabbath; but their tradition had made this unlawful, as it was a little reaping and a kind of threshing. Hypocrites and formalists are always most zealous for little things in the law, or for their own additaments to it.

But when the Pharisees saw it,.... Who went along with him, or followed him, being employed to make observation on his words and actions,

they said unto him; Luke says, "unto them", the disciples: it seems, they took notice of this action both to Christ and his disciples, and first spoke of it to the one, and then to the other, or to both together:

behold thy disciples do that which it is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day! they mention it with astonishment, and indignation. What they refer to, is not their walking on the sabbath day: this they might do, according to their canons, provided they did not exceed two thousand cubits, which were a sabbath day's journey (f) nor was it their passing through the corn fields; though, according to them (g),

"it was not lawful for a man to visit his gardens, "or his fields", on the sabbath day, to see what they want, or how the fruits grow; for such walking is to do his own pleasure.''

But this they knew was not the case of Christ, and his disciples, who were not proprietors of these fields: nor was it merely their plucking the ears of corn, and rubbing and eating them, which were not their own, but another man's; for this, according to the law, in Deuteronomy 23:25 was lawful to be done: but what offended the Pharisees was, that it was done on a sabbath day, it being, as they interpret it, a servile work, and all one as reaping; though, in the law just mentioned, it is manifestly distinguished from it. Their rule is (h).

"he that reaps (on the sabbath day) ever so little, is guilty (of stoning), , and "plucking of ears of corn is a derivative of reaping";''

and is all one as its primitive, and punishable with the same kind of death, if done presumptuously: so Philo the Jew observes (i), that the rest of the sabbath not only reached to men, bond and free, and to beasts, but even to trees, and plants; and that ' , "it was not lawful to cut a plant, or branch, or so much as a leaf", on a sabbath day: and it may be what might make this offence of the disciples the more heinous was, that they plucked these ears, and ate them, and so broke their fast before morning prayer; for a man might not eat any thing on a sabbath day until morning prayers were ended in the synagogue, nor indeed on any other day; for they used not to eat bread till after they had offered the daily sacrifice, which was about the third hour of the day, or nine o'clock in the morning; nor did they eat till the fourth hour, or ten o'clock (k).

(f) Ib. c. 27. sect. 1.((g) R. Moses Kotzensis Mitzvot Tora prec. neg. 65. (h) Maimon. Hilch. Sabbat, c. 8. sect. 3. & 7. 1.((i) De Vita Mosis, 1. 2. p. 657. (k) Vid. Targum in Eccl. x. 17. Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 6. sect. 4.

But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 12:2. ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστιν π. ε. σαββάτῳ. The emphasis here lies on the last word. To help oneself, when hungry, with the hand was humanely allowed in the Deuteronomic law (Deuteronomy 23:25), only to use the sickle was forbidden as involving waste. But according to the scribes what was lawful on other days was unlawful on Sabbath, because plucking ears was reaping. “Metens Sabbato vel tantillum, reus est” (Lightfoot rendering a passage from the Talmud). Luke adds ψώχοντες, rubbing with the hands. He took the offence to be threshing. Microscopic offence in either case, proving primâ facie malice in the fault-finders. But honest objection is not inconceivable to one who remembers the interdict placed by old Scottish piety on the use of the razor on Sabbath. We must be just even to Pharisees.

2. that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day] This prohibition is a Pharisaic rule not found in the Mosaic Law. It was a principle with the Pharisees to extend the provisions of the Law and make minute regulations over and beyond what Moses commanded, in order to avoid the possibility of transgression. To pluck ears of corn was in a sense, the Pharisees said, to reap, and to reap on the Sabbath day was forbidden and punishable by death. These regulations did in fact make void the Law; e. g. the result of this particular prohibition was to contravene the intention or motive of the Sabbath. If sabbatical observances prevented men satisfying hunger, the Sabbath was no longer a blessing but an injury to man.

Matthew 12:2. Ἰδοὺ, κ.τ.λ., behold, etc.) They mean to say, “The Master ought to be accountable for what the disciples do in His very presence.” Behold! They wish Him to issue an immediate prohibition.—ὁ οὐκ ἔξεστι, that which is not lawful) They do not put the matter doubtfully, and they are therefore rebuked severely in Matthew 12:3; Matthew 12:5; Matthew 12:7. The proposition [may be put either affirmatively or negatively], “It is lawful,” or “It is not lawful.” A false reproof was more common at that time, than a true one is now.—ποιεῖν, to do) referring not to the eating, but the plucking.—ἐν σαββάτῳ, on a Sabbath) The subject of the Sabbath occupies great part of the Evangelic history.

Verse 2. - But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him. The Revised Version (but the Pharisees, when they saw it, said unto him) retains the simple order of the Greek, which more vividly represents the Pharisees as a party opposed to him. Behold. They suggest that he had not noticed it. Were the disciples behind him (cf. Matthew 8:23)? Thy disciples. Notice that all the accusations brought against the disciples in this Gospel concern food: Matthew 9:14, as regards abstaining from it upon fixed days; Matthew 15:2, as regards eating it without taking extreme precautions against ceremonial pollution; in the present passage, as regards avoiding any profanation of the sabbath for its sake. Do. At this moment. That which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day (ver. 1, note). Matthew 12:2What is not lawful

"On any ordinary day this would have been lawful; but on the Sabbath it involved, according to the Rabbinic statutes, at least two sins, viz., plucking the ears, which was reaping, and rubbing them in their hands (Luke 6:1), which was sifting, grinding, or fanning. The Talmud says: 'In case a woman rolls wheat to remove the husks, it is considered as sifting; if she rubs the heads of wheat, it is regarded as threshing; if she cleans off the side-adherencies, it is sifting out fruit; if she bruises the ears, it is grinding; if she throws them up in her hand, it is winnowing'" (Edersheim, "Life and Times of Jesus").

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