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Bible read me 2Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 6:1-5

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

 1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” 3And Jesus answered 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 took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” 5And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”


Luke 5 described the start of the Pharisees following and haranguing our Lord. Last week’s post has the relevant links to this particular chapter.

Luke 6 opens with another episode. The heat is now on Jesus and will continue to be. In verse 1, we read that this happened on ‘a Sabbath’. Some translations say ‘On the second first Sabbath’, indicating that it might have been a special Sabbath. Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

This story here has a date, which we had not in the other evangelists; it was on the second sabbath after the first (v. 1), that is, as Dr. Whitby [a renowned Bible scholar whom Henry often cites] thinks is pretty clear, the first sabbath after the second day of unleavened bread, from which day they reckoned the seven weeks to the feast of pentecost; the first of which they called Sabbaton deuteroproµton, the second deuterodeuteron, and so on. Blessed be God we need not be critical in this matter. Whether this circumstance be mentioned to intimate that this sabbath was thought to have some peculiar honour upon it, which aggravated the offence of the disciples, or only to intimate that, being the first sabbath after the offering of the first fruits, it was the time of the year when the corn was nearly ripe, is not material.

Any activity on the Sabbath, outside of going to synagogue and eating, was strictly forbidden. This is still the case today with orthodox Jews. Some predominantly Jewish areas have eruvs, which allow them to take walks with young children or others requiring help; in these areas, enclosed by posts and wire, parents can push prams or wheelchairs and carry necessary items. Exodus 16:29 prohibits leaving the house on the Sabbath. Numbers 15:32 says a man was executed for collecting wood on that day. Jeremiah 17:21-22 and 27 say:

21 thus saith the LORD: Take heed for the sake of your souls, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;

22 neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work; but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers;

27 But if ye will not hearken unto Me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden and enter in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.

In this confrontation the Pharisees interpreted the disciples’ plucking of grain as an extraneous activity (verse 2), possibly farming-related, despite the fact that they were eating it.

Jesus responded (verse 3) by referring to 1 Samuel 21, wherein the priest gave David and his companions holy bread to eat (emphases mine):

David and the Holy Bread

 1 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” 2And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. 3Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” 4And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread— if the young men have kept themselves from women.” 5And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” 6So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

This bread, as Jesus reminded the Pharisees, was for priests only. Yet, Ahimelech, in wisdom and compassion, gave it to David to share with his men. Note how Ahimelech asked if the men were sexually pure before he gave him the bread. We cannot expect to partake of what is consecrated if we are in serious sin. As we see, this has been true since the days of the Old Testament.

Henry offers this analysis and a caution:

4. Ceremonial appointments may be dispensed with, in cases of necessity; as the appropriating of the showbread to the priests was dispensed with, when David was by Providence brought into such a strait that he must have either that or none, v. 3, 4. And, if God’s own appointments might be thus set aside for a greater good, much more may the traditions of men. 5. Works of necessity are particularly allowable on the sabbath day; but we must take heed that we turn not this liberty into licentiousness, and abuse God’s favourable concessions and condescensions to the prejudice of the work of the day.

Jesus wasted no time in establishing His authority on the Sabbath (verse 5). For this, we should be grateful. Imagine living under Pharisaical rules which went much further than Exodus. The Talmud has carried on this tradition, making the Sabbath particularly difficult for young people during the summer, when the days are long. They can only go out to meet with their friends once the sun sets.

Matthew Henry’s commentary notes:

How well is it for us that men are not to be our judges, and that Christ will be our Advocate!

And of the Pharisees:

Many that are themselves guilty of the greatest crimes are forward to censure others for the most innocent and inoffensive actions …

How true.

This story is in the other two Synoptic Gospels in the same sequence. Here is Matthew 12:1-8:

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

 1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, andthey began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Verse 7’s mention of mercy is also in Matthew 9:13, when He rebuked the Pharisees who wondered why He was dining with Matthew and other social pariahs:

13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It comes from Hosea 6:6:

6For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
   the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

This is Mark 2:23-28:

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

John MacArthur explains Jesus’s definitive statement here:

The Greek order is this…The Lord of the Sabbath is the Son of Man…whom He had claimed to be back in chapter 5 verse 24 and is a messianic title drawn from Daniel 7:13. The greater-than-David, He said, “I am the Lord of the Sabbath, I will interpret the will of God on the Sabbath, I will interpret the law of God. I will interpret the Word of God. I will tell you what God means by what He says. I will tell you what the Sabbath is to be and what it’s not to be. You are not in charge of the Sabbath, I am.”

Wow. You don’t rule the Sabbath, you don’t set the standards, I do. Jesus is the great interpreter of God’s law. He’s the great interpreter of God’s Word. He’s the great interpreter of God’s will. And, beloved, I say it to you, you can never ever understand the Old Testament law without the New Testament interpretation of that law by Christ and the apostles who wrote the words that Christ wanted them to write to interpret the truth. Jesus is the interpreter of God’s will, God’s law and God’s Word.

Mark tells us that He also said, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.” The point being, you weren’t designed to somehow conform to some impossible rules, but rather the day was made for you for your benefit, for your blessing, for your joy, for your fulfillment, for your rest and for mercy and for compassion and for doing good. He could have reminded them of Micah 6:8, “What does God require of You but to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God.” They didn’t have any of that; no kindness, no mercy, no compassion.

Jesus indicts them in Matthew 23 in that diatribe against the leaders when He…says about them that they bind on people burdens impossible to bear, Matthew 23:4 and they give them no help carrying them. The legalists knew nothing about grace. The Lord offered only grace. They knew nothing about humility. He came only to the humble. They thought they were righteous and therefore they were the enemies of true righteousness.

To live as a Christian is to live with a God who is merciful. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus said, “I don’t care what your religious system says, you’re not in charge of the truth. I don’t care how you interpret Scripture, you’re not the interpreter, I am…I am Lord of the Sabbath.” And in so saying that He was saying, “I am the Lord of the truth, the true meaning of Sabbath, the true meaning of rest, the true meaning of worship and all that the Law of God describes.”

This is why understanding the New Testament gives us the key with which to unlock the Old Testament.

‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’

Next time: Luke 6:6-11


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