1At 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. 2And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” 3But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how 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?
Mounting opposition to Christ began in the previous chapter and continued in this chapter, where the Pharisees raised their ugly heads. The issue that launched tension between Jesus and the religious establishment in this chapter was the subject of the Sabbath.
Matthew mentions the Sabbath seven times in the first 12 verses (vv. 1, 2, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12). The Sabbath ran from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and was for both celebration and rest. The Sabbath was Saturday—literally, the seventh day.
Jesus used three arguments to refute legalism:
David ate showbread (12:3-4)
Priests worked in the temple (12:5)
Jesus created the Sabbath (12:6)
At that time
This “time” was the time of chapter 11.
Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.
The scene opens with Jesus and His disciples on the Sabbath day picking standing grain.
And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
The Old Testament allowed people to eat grain from anyone’s field so long as they did not use a sickle to get it (Dt 23:24-25). The principle was to allow people to eat small amounts of grain, though they were not to take business advantage of their neighbor’s work.
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
Nit-picking Pharisees engaged Jesus in direct debate. They charged Jesus with a legal issue regarding eating grain on the Sabbath. Since it was legal to eat on the Sabbath if they did not use a sickle, it may be that the disciples rubbed grain in their hands (Lu 6:1) which the Pharisees deemed to be work.
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:
Jesus reminded the Pharisees of an incident from the life of David (1 Sa 21:1-6). This event occurred during David’s rejection as king just as Israel presently was rejecting Jesus. David and his men were on the run.
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?
David and his men ate showbread from the tabernacle. Showbread was 2 consecrated memorial loaves to be eaten only by priests (Le 24:5-9). Priests placed these loaves on the table in the tabernacle every Sabbath. God did not assign blame against David for eating these loaves. David was the first king of Israel and Jesus fell heir to that kingship. Jesus had the same rights as David.
The underlying principle for the Sabbath and grace is liberty.
The Sabbath is the principle of grace. When God rested on the seventh day (the Sabbath or Saturday), He celebrated His finished work of creation. God provided everything that man needed. He did not rest because He was fatigued! He rested because there was nothing else to do; He had completed all His work.
Man made no contribution to creation; he only enjoyed creation. To recall God’s work in creation, Israel celebrated every Saturday (the Sabbath). They also celebrated other kinds of Sabbaths throughout the year.
3For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” Heb 4:3-5
Eventually Israel reduced the Sabbath to taboos destroying the original idea of grace in the Sabbath. The Jewish Mishna and Talmud reveal some of these taboos about the Sabbath. It was unlawful for Jews to carry food from one house to another on the Sabbath. They could not boil an egg by putting it on a hot cloth. They could not move furniture on the Sabbath. It was wrong to wear an ornament because it was construed as work by carrying a weight. They had over 2,000 of these taboos. Legalism is always a burden. Grace is always liberty (Ga 5:1).
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Ga 5:1
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.Col 2:16-17