Matthew 12

The Pharisees Take Counsel Against and Seek to Destroy Jesus SUMMARY OF MATTHEW 12: Jesus Accused of Sabbath Breaking. The Son of Man Lord of the Sabbath. Healing the Withered Hand. The Pharisees Take Counsel to Destroy Jesus. The Tenderness of Christ. A Dumb and Blind Demoniac Healed. Accused of Help from the Devil to Cast Out Demons. A Divided Kingdom. Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit. Shall Give Account for Idle Words. The Sign of Jonah. The Queen of the South. His Mother and Brethren. Who Are My Mother and Brethren?.

At that time. Compare Mr 2:23-28 Lu 6:1. About the time when grain begins to ripen in Judea, that is, not far from the first of May.

Through the corn fields. Wheat or barley. The paths, the only roads, led and still lead through the grain fields in Palestine.

Began to pluck. Permitted by Moses (De 23:25).
But when the Pharisees saw [it].

See PNT Mt 3:7. Some of the sect were in attendance on the watch for a ground of accusation.

Not lawful to do upon the sabbath. They did not object to taking the ears of corn, but to gathering, rubbing out the grains of wheat in the hand, and eating them on the sabbath. To understand their position, it must be noticed that after the Law had said that the Jews were "to do no manner of work" on the Sabbath, the "Tradition of the Elders" had laid down thirty-nine principal prohibitions, which were ascribed to the authority of the Great Synagogue, and which were called "abhoth", "fathers", or chief rules. From these were deduced a vast multitude of "toldoth", "descendants", or derivative rules. Now, "reaping" and "threshing" on the Sabbath day were forbidden by "abhoth"; and by the "toldoth" it was asserted that plucking corn-ears was "a kind of" reaping, and rubbing them "a kind of" threshing. The vitality of these artificial notions among the Jews is extraordinary. Abarbanel relates that when, in 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain, and were forbidden to enter the city of Fez lest they should cause a famine, they lived on grass; yet even in this state ``religiously avoided the violation of their Sabbath by plucking the grass with their hands.'' To avoid this they took the much more laborious method of groveling on their knees, and cropping it with their teeth. We give one more example of their Sabbath requirements from "Milman's Jews" (Vol. 2, p. 480): ``If on the Sabbath a Jew put out a lamp from fear of the Gentiles, or robbers, or on account of an evil spirit, he was guiltless; if to save oil, he was guilty.''
Have ye not read. The Lord answers them by citing the case of David, who, under necessity, took, ate, and gave to his followers the show bread which it was lawful for priests only to eat. Necessity rose higher than ceremonial. See 1Sa 21:1-6. Entered into the house of God. The tabernacle at Nob (1Sa 21:1). The temple had not been built.

The shewbread. Twelve loaves placed upon a table in the holy place as a symbol of the communion of the twelve tribes, and a type of the Bread of Life to be given to the whole world. They were kept a week, renewed, and the old loaves eaten by the priests. If David could take these under necessity, so could Christ's disciples pluck corn under necessity.
The priests . . . profane the sabbath. The Sabbath was the busiest day of the week for the priests in the temple service. In this they rightly broke the ordinary Sabbath law, because the temple service set aside the law. Compare Joh 7:22,23. But I say unto you, etc. The thought is: If priests in the service of the temple can break the letter of the law and be blameless, how much more can the disciples of him who is the Lord of the temple do so in his service and by his authority? But if ye had known what [this] meaneth. They ought to have known, for they professed to be interpreters of the law.

I will have mercy, and not sacrifice. The argument is that mercy toward these hungering disciples was more acceptable to God than sacrifices at the altar, though sacrifice was the crown of the Jewish rites. The quotation is from Ho 6:6, and is also quoted in Mt 9:13. It shows that all our forms, rites and ceremonies are worthless before God unless we have kind and merciful hearts.
For the Son of man is the Lord even of the Sabbath day. Because the Sabbath is made for humanity, the Lord of humanity is the Lord of the Sabbath. Observe, "is" the Lord of the Sabbath. He does not, then, abolish it, but has the right to make any change in it, in the interest of mankind, that seems to him wise. Neither Moses, nor any other mortal, ever claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. This is a declaration of Divinity. He went into their synagogue. Evidently he, his disciples and these Pharisees, were on the way to it when the conversation took place. It was probably at Capernaum. A man which had [his] hand withered. That is, dried up from a deficient absorption of the nutriment. Luke says his "right hand" (Lu 6:6). The disease here indicated results in a loss both in size and in power of the arm; for it there is no remedy known to man. Compare Mr 3:1-6 Lu 6:6-11.

And they asked him. Luke says it was the scribes and Pharisees.

Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath? In the opinion of the Pharisees, to kindle or extinguish a fire on the Sabbath was a great desecration of the day, nor was even sickness allowed to violate rabbinical rules. It was forbidden to give an emetic on the Sabbath, to set a broken bone, or put back a dislocated joint. Of course, they had added all this to the law of Moses.

That they might accuse him. Not in the conversation merely, but before the local judge, the officers of the synagogue, or the council.
What man . . . shall have one sheep? etc. Such an act of mercy to a beast was allowed and usual then. How much then is a man better than a sheep? If sheep can be lifted out of its suffering on the Sabbath, why not much more a man?

Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. If the Sabbath day would preclude one from doing good, then it would be an evil.
Stretch forth thine hand. As the cure is wrought only by a word, the Pharisees have no ground of accusation. Then the Pharisees went out, etc. Their real motive was hatred of the Lord, while their pretext was that he had broken the Sabbath. While professing to be very religious, they were really the servants of the evil one. Jesus . . . withdrew himself from thence. Left Capernaum for the time. He avoided needless danger until his earthly ministry was accomplished, and the bitter opposition of the Pharisees admonished him to temporarily withdraw. Charged them. Those healed. To note about his cures now would intensify the hate of his enemies. That it might be fulfilled. Thus it was fulfilled.

Esaias the prophet. See Isa 42:1-4.
Behold my servant. Christ took the form of a servant.

I will put my spirit upon him. Compare Mt 3:17.

He shall shew justice to the Gentiles. Announce himself as judge of the Gentiles. Compare Mr 3:8.
He shall not strive, nor cry. He shall be modest, retiring, and not a brazen, noisy declaimer. A bruised reed shall he not break. The reed, a hollow cylinder, if bruised has its strength destroyed. It thus becomes the symbol of the bruised spirit. The tender Savior will not break, but heal.

Smoking flax. The wick of the lamp that had ceased to burn clearly. The violent would put it out and fling it away. The Lord does not use such violence with those disciples who give forth some light, even if it is imperfect.

Till he send forth judgment. Till he shall sit in power and triumph on the throne of judgment.
In his name. In him as the Messiah.

Shall the Gentiles trust. He shall be the "Christ of the world", and not of the Jews alone. Compare Joh 4:42. The prophets clearly and many times declare that the Messiah shall be, not a Jewish, but a world's Savior. The Jews strangely overlooked this.
One possessed with a devil.

See PNT Mt 8:28. Compare Lu 11:14.
Is not this the Son of David? The promised Messiah King who was to be the Son of David, according to the prophets (Isa 11:10 2Sa 23:5). The Pharisees heard [it]. Compare Mr 3:22-27. Mark says that some of these Pharisees were scribes who had come from Jerusalem. The ecclesiastical authorities at Jerusalem were now keeping their watch on Jesus.

Doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub.

See PNT Mt 10:25. Beelzebub, the prince of devils, meant the same as Satan. The Pharisees assert that the Lord's miraculous power is due to the aid of the devil.
Knew their thoughts. They had not made this charge to Christ, but to the multitudes.

Every city or house divided against itself. A general truth is stated. Most states and kingdoms fall, not by the power of foreign enemies, but by the weakness due to divisions.
If Satan cast out Satan. If demons were cast out by the aid of Satan, then Satan was fighting against his own servants. His kingdom was divided against itself. By whom do your children cast [them] out? There were Jewish exorcists who professed to cast out demons. Josephus tells of one named Eleazar, whom he says did cast them out. Christ does not say whether they did or not, but argues: "If I, by Satan, cast out demons, by whom do your own exorcists, whom you assert have this power, cast them out"? Compare Ac 19:13. If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, etc. If it is the power of God manifest in me, then it demonstrates that I am the expected Messiah King, the Son of David, of whom the multitude spoke. See Mt 12:23. How can one . . . spoil his goods, etc.? No one can enter a man's house and take his goods unless he has first conquered him. If I am not the Messiah, stronger than Satan, how could I spoil him? He that is not for me, etc. The two kingdoms of Satan and of Christ are opposed. No neutrality is possible. He that is not for me is against me. The blasphemy [against] the [Holy] Ghost shall not be forgiven. Compare Mr 3:28 Lu 12:10. Much discussion has arisen concerning the nature of sin against the Holy Spirit, and nothing is plainer. Mr 3:30 explains it. It was ascribing Christ's works to demoniac influence. These works were wrought by the power of the Spirit. Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man. Personal injuries will be forgiven on repentance. Christ prayed for his persecutors. Every sin can be forgiven but that against the Holy Spirit.

Speaketh against the Holy Ghost. Perversely ascribe the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.

Neither in this world, neither in the [world] to come. Judgment shall overtake him both her and hereafter. The Jews divided the two worlds, or, rather, "ages" of the world, by the coming of Christ. This would then mean that there is forgiveness to such a sin under neither dispensation. No passage in the Bible affirms more emphatically the doctrine of eternal punishment. There is a sin that hath no forgiveness.
Either make the tree good, and its fruit good. The principle is announced in Mt 7:20 that the tree is known by its fruits. If his own life and works were evil, then he might be evil and aided by Satan, but if good, then his power was from God. Generation of vipers. Poisonous, evil and dangerous, like vipers.

How can ye, etc.? Their hearts were thoroughly evil, hence they could only speak and do evil, for "out of the good treasure of the heart the mouth speaketh". On the other hand, the "good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things".
Every idle word. If we shall be called on to give account for every idle, rash, inconsiderate word, how much more for such blasphemy as the Pharisees had uttered? How careful, too, should we be to see that our speech is pure! By thy words thou shalt be justified, etc. Acquitted or condemned in the day of judgment. To justify is the opposite of to condemn. Those who confess Christ with the mouth (Ro 10:9) shall be saved; those who deny him will be lost. Words have a weighty influence on our eternal destiny. Master, we would see a sign from thee. Compare Mt 16:1 Lu 11:16,29. They had just seen a miracle, but demand another. Jesus never worked miracles to gratify human curiosity, or to secure popular applause. An evil and adulterous generation. We must keep in mind that the Lord is speaking to his enemies. He compares them to a faithless wife. They were faithless to God. See Mt 16:4.

The sign of the prophet Jonah. See Mt 12:40.
As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly. See Jon 1:17. The great fish was probably not a whale (the Greek is "ketos", "sea monster"), but a white shark, which abounds in the Mediterranean, and is said to swallow a horse whole. The miracle was the preservation of the life of Jonah during his living burial. This was a type of the burial and resurrection of Christ.

So shall the Son of man be three days and three nights. Jesus says that he will "be raised again the third day" (Mt 16:21). Hence, in Jewish usage "the third day" must mean the same as "three days and three nights". It was and is customary with the Orientals to make any part of the day stand for the whole twenty-four hours. Compare Mt 16:21 Mr 8:31 2Ch 10:5 10:12 Es 4:16 Ge 7:4,12 Ex 24:18 34:28. A traveler in the East writes: ``At length the tenth morning arrived--the tenth morning because, though we performed nominally ten days quarantine, yet it was, really, only eight days. We landed at nine o'clock in the evening of the first day, and were liberated at six o'clock in the morning of the tenth day, but it was held to be ten days according to the custom of the East.'' Christ was buried Friday evening, lay in the grave Saturday, and rose Sunday, parts of three days, rose "on the third day", and was in the grave the space of time meant in eastern usage by three days and three nights.

In the heart of the earth. In the sepulcher.
The men of Nineveh. The great capital of the Assyrian Empire, situated on the Tigris river, in its day the greatest city in the world, to which Jonah was sent to warn it of judgment for its sins. It has been for many hundred years a ruin.

Shall rise in judgment. They repented at the preaching of Jonah, but "this generation" of Jews remained impenitent under the preaching of "one greater than Jonah". The example of the Ninevites condemns the Jews.
The queen of the south. Of Sheba (1Ki 10:1), supposed to be Sabaea in Southern Arabia.

From the uttermost parts of the earth. A great distance. On the extreme southern shores of Asia.

A greater than Solomon [is] here. A calm assertion of superhuman majesty and wisdom.
When the unclean spirit, etc. The application of these three verses is found in "even so it shall be unto this wicked generation" (Mt 12:45), the Jews. With an occasional tendency to repentance, as under the preaching of John, they became worse and worse until they crucified the Lord and were destroyed. A man with an unclean spirit, a demon, is chosen to represent them. He goeth out (transient repentance), returns with seven other evil spirits worse than himself (a relapse into sin), and the last state is worse than the first, more wicked and more wretched. So generally with those who dally with sin. [His] mother and his brethren. On the brethren of the Lord, see PNT Mt 13:55. His brethren did not yet believe in him. Compare Mr 3:31-35 Lu 8:19,21. Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? An allusion to his Divine character, which lifted him above the ordinary ties of the flesh. Behold my mother and my brethren! His real relatives are those bound to him by spiritual ties. The same is my brother. Not those with fleshly ties, but those who do the will of his Father in heaven. Such become God's spiritual children, and thus become spiritually related to the Son of God. It will be observed that there is no hint of adoration of Mary, his mother, here, or elsewhere in the Scriptures. That she was immaculately born, as the "Queen of Heaven" and the "Mother of God", is a Catholic fable.
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