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CHAPTER 12

Mt 12:1-8. Plucking Corn Ears on the Sabbath Day. ( = Mr 2:23-28; Lu 6:1-5).

The season of the year when this occurred is determined by the event itself. Ripe corn ears are found in the fields only just before harvest. The barley harvest seems clearly intended here, at the close of our March and beginning of our April. It coincided with the Passover season, as the wheat harvest with Pentecost. But in Luke (Lu 6:1) we have a still more definite note of time, if we could be certain of the meaning of the peculiar term which he employs to express it. "It came to pass (he says) on the sabbath, which was the first-second," for that is the proper rendering of the word, and not "the second sabbath after the first," as in our version. Of the various conjectures what this may mean, that of Scaliger is the most approved, and, as we think, the freest from difficulty, namely, the first sabbath after the second day of the Passover; that is, the first of the seven sabbaths which were to be reckoned from the second day of the Passover, which was itself a sabbath, until the next feast, the feast of Pentecost (Le 23:15, 16; De 16:9, 10) In this case, the day meant by the Evangelist is the first of those seven sabbaths intervening between Passover and Pentecost. And if we are right in regarding the "feast" mentioned in Joh 5:1 as a Passover, and consequently the second during our Lord's public ministry (see on Joh 5:1), this plucking of the ears of corn must have occurred immediately after the scene and the discourse recorded in Joh 5:19-47, which, doubtless, would induce our Lord to hasten His departure for the north, to avoid the wrath of the Pharisees, which He had kindled at Jerusalem. Here, accordingly, we find Him in the fields—on His way probably to Galilee.

1. At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn—"the cornfields" (Mr 2:23; Lu 6:1).

and his disciples were an hungered—not as one may be before his regular meals; but evidently from shortness of provisions: for Jesus defends their plucking the corn-ears and eating them on the plea of necessity.

and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat—"rubbing them in their hands" (Lu 6:1).

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.

3. But he said unto them, Have ye not read—or, as Mark (Mr 2:25) has it, "Have ye never read."

what David did when he was an hungered, and they that were with him—(1Sa 21:1-6)

4. How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?—No example could be more apposite than this. The man after God's own heart, of whom the Jews ever boasted, when suffering in God's cause and straitened for provisions, asked and obtained from the high priest what, according to the law, it was illegal for anyone save the priests to touch. Mark (Mr 2:26) says this occurred "in the days of Abiathar the high priest." But this means not during his high priesthood—for it was under that of his father Ahimelech—but simply, in his time. Ahimelech was soon succeeded by Abiathar, whose connection with David, and prominence during his reign, may account for his name, rather than his father's, being here introduced. Yet there is not a little confusion in what is said of these priests in different parts of the Old Testament. Thus he is called both the son of the father of Ahimelech (1Sa 22:20; 2Sa 8:17); and Ahimelech is called Ahiah (1Sa 14:3), and Abimelech (1Ch 18:16).

5. Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath—by doing "servile work."

and are blameless?—The double offerings required on the sabbath day (Nu 28:9) could not be presented, and the new-baked showbread (Le 24:5; 1Ch 9:32) could not be prepared and presented every sabbath morning, without a good deal of servile work on the part of the priests; not to speak of circumcision, which, when the child's eighth day happened to fall on a sabbath, had to be performed by the priests on that day. (See on Joh 7:22, 23).

6. But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple—or rather, according to the reading which is best supported, "something greater." The argument stands thus: "The ordinary rules for the observance of the sabbath give way before the requirements of the temple; but there are rights here before which the temple itself must give way." Thus indirectly, but not the less decidedly, does our Lord put in His own claims to consideration in this question—claims to be presently put in even more nakedly.

7. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice—(Ho 6:6; Mic 6:6-8, &c.). See on Mt 9:13.

ye would not have condemned the guiltless—that is, Had ye understood the great principle of all religion, which the Scripture everywhere recognizes—that ceremonial observances must give way before moral duties, and particularly the necessities of nature—ye would have refrained from these captious complaints against men who in this matter are blameless. But our Lord added a specific application of this great principle to the law of the sabbath, preserved only in Mark: "And he said unto them, the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mr 2:27). A glorious and far-reaching maxim, alike for the permanent establishment of the sabbath and the true freedom of its observance.

8. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day—In what sense now is the Son of man Lord of the sabbath day? Not surely to abolish it—that surely were a strange lordship, especially just after saying that it was made or instituted for MAN—but to own it, to interpret it, to preside over it, and to ennoble it, by merging it in the "Lord's Day" (Re 1:10), breathing into it an air of liberty and love necessarily unknown before, and thus making it the nearest resemblance to the eternal sabbatism.

Mt 12:9-21. The Healing of a Withered Hand on the Sabbath Day and Retirement of Jesus to Avoid Danger. ( = Mr 3:1-12; Lu 6:6-11).

Healing of a Withered Hand (Mt 12:9-14).

9. And when he was departed thence—but "on another sabbath" (Lu 6:6).

he went into their synagogue—"and taught." He had now, no doubt, arrived in Galilee; but this, it would appear, did not occur at Capernaum, for after it was over, He "withdrew Himelf," it is said "to the sea" (Mr 3:7), whereas Capernaum was at the sea.

And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered—disabled by paralysis (as in 1Ki 13:4). It was his right hand, as Luke (Lu 6:6) graphically notes.

And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him—Mark and Luke (Mr 3:2; Lu 6:7) say they "watched Him whether He would heal on the sabbath day." They were now come to the length of dogging His steps, to collect materials for a charge of impiety against Him. It is probable that it was to their thoughts rather than their words that Jesus addressed Himself in what follows.

11. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?

12. How much then is a man better than a sheep?—Resistless appeal! "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast" (Pr 12:10), and would instinctively rescue it from death or suffering on the sabbath day; how much more his nobler fellow man! But the reasoning, as given in the other two Gospels, is singularly striking: "But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life or to destroy it?" (Lu 6:8, 9), or as in Mark (Mr 3:4), "to kill?" He thus shuts them up to this startling alternative: "Not to do good, when it is in the power of our hand to do it, is to do evil; not to save life, when we can, is to kill"—and must the letter of the sabbath rest be kept at this expense? This unexpected thrust shut their mouths. By this great ethical principle our Lord, we see, held Himself bound, as man. But here we must turn to Mark, whose graphic details make the second Gospel so exceedingly precious. "When He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, He saith unto the man" (Mr 3:5). This is one of the very few passages in the Gospel history which reveal our Lord's feelings. How holy this anger was appears from the "grief" which mingled with it at "the hardness of their hearts."

13. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth—the power to obey going forth with the word of command.

and it was restored whole, like as the other—The poor man, having faith in this wonderful Healer—which no doubt the whole scene would singularly help to strengthen—disregarded the proud and venomous Pharisees, and thus gloriously put them to shame.

14. Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him—This is the first explicit mention of their murderous designs against our Lord. Luke (Lu 6:11) says, "they were filled with madness, and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus." But their doubt was not, whether to get rid of Him, but how to compass it. Mark (Mr 3:6), as usual, is more definite: "The Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him." These Herodians were supporters of Herod's dynasty, created by Cæsar—a political rather than religious party. The Pharisees regarded them as untrue to their religion and country. But here we see them combining together against Christ as a common enemy. So on a subsequent occasion (Mt 22:15, 16).

Jesus Retires to Avoid Danger (Mt 12:15-21).

15. But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence—whither, our Evangelist says not; but Mark (Mr 3:7) says "it was to the sea"—to some distance, no doubt, from the scene of the miracle, the madness, and the plotting just recorded.

and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all—Mark gives the following interesting details: "A great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things He did, came unto Him. And He spake to His disciples, that a small ship"—or "wherry"—"should wait on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him. For He had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon Him for to touch Him, as many as had plagues. And unclean spirits, when they saw Him, fell down before Him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And He straitly charged them that they should not make Him known" (Mr 3:7-12). How glorious this extorted homage to the Son of God! But as this was not the time, so neither were they the fitting preachers, as Bengel says. (See on Mr 1:25, and compare Jas 2:19). Coming back now to our Evangelist: after saying, "He healed them all," he continues:

16. And charged them—the healed.

that they should not make him known—(See on Mt 8:4).

17. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying—(Isa 42:1).

18. Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles.

19. He shall not strive nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.

20. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory—"unto truth," says the Hebrew original, and the Septuagint also. But our Evangelist merely seizes the spirit, instead of the letter of the prediction in this point. The grandeur and completeness of Messiah's victories would prove, it seems, not more wonderful than the unobtrusive noiselessness with which they were to be achieved. And whereas one rough touch will break a bruised reed, and quench the flickering, smoking flax, His it should be, with matchless tenderness, love, and skill, to lift up the meek, to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, to comfort all that mourn, to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.

21. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust—Part of His present audience were Gentiles—from Tyre and Sidon—first-fruits of the great Gentile harvest contemplated in the prophecy.

Mt 12:22-37. A Blind and Dumb Demoniac Healed and Reply to the Malignant Explanation Put upon It. ( = Mr 3:20-30; Lu 11:14-23).

The precise time of this section is uncertain. Judging from the statements with which Mark introduces it, we should conclude that it was when our Lord's popularity was approaching its zenith, and so before the feeding of the five thousand. But, on the other hand, the advanced state of the charges brought against our Lord, and the plainness of His warnings and denunciations in reply, seem to favor the later period at which Luke introduces it. "And the multitude," says Mark (Mr 3:20, 21), "cometh together again," referring back to the immense gathering which Mark had before recorded (Mr 2:2)—"so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when His friends"—or rather, "relatives," as appears from Mt 12:31, and see on Mt 12:46—"heard of it, they went out to lay hold on Him; for they said, He is beside Himself." Compare 2Co 5:13, "For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God."

22. Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil—"a demonized person."

blind and dumb, and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and the dumb both spake and saw.

23. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?—The form of the interrogative requires this to be rendered, "Is this the Son of David?" And as questions put in this form (in Greek) suppose doubt, and expect rather a negative answer, the meaning is, "Can it possibly be?"—the people thus indicating their secret impression that this must be He; yet saving themselves from the wrath of the ecclesiastics, which a direct assertion of it would have brought upon them. (On a similar question, see on Joh 4:29; and on the phrase, "Son of David," see on Mt 9:27).

24. But when the Pharisees heard it—Mark (Mr 3:22) says, "the scribes which came down from Jerusalem"; so that this had been a hostile party of the ecclesiastics, who had come all the way from Jerusalem to collect materials for a charge against Him. (See on Mt 12:14).

they said, This fellow—an expression of contempt.

doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub—rather, "Beelzebul" (see on Mt 10:25).

the prince of the devils—Two things are here implied—first, that the bitterest enemies of our Lord were unable to deny the reality of His miracles; and next, that they believed in an organized infernal kingdom of evil, under one chief. This belief would be of small consequence, had not our Lord set His seal to it; but this He immediately does. Stung by the unsophisticated testimony of "all the people," they had no way of holding out against His claims but by the desperate shift of ascribing His miracles to Satan.

25. And Jesus knew their thoughts—"called them" (Mr 3:23).

and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand—"house," that is, "household"

26. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?—The argument here is irresistible. "No organized society can stand—whether kingdom, city, or household—when turned against itself; such intestine war is suicidal: But the works I do are destructive of Satan's kingdom: That I should be in league with Satan, therefore, is incredible and absurd."

27. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children—"your sons," meaning here the "disciples" or pupils of the Pharisees, who were so termed after the familiar language of the Old Testament in speaking of the sons of the prophets (1Ki 20:35; 2Ki 2:3, &c.). Our Lord here seems to admit that such works were wrought by them; in which case the Pharisees stood self-condemned, as expressed in Luke (Lu 11:19), "Therefore shall they be your judges."

28. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God—In Luke (Lu 11:20) it is, "with (or 'by') the finger of God." This latter expression is just a figurative way of representing the power of God, while the former tells us the living Personal Agent was made use of by the Lord Jesus in every exercise of that power.

then—"no doubt" (Lu 11:20).

the kingdom of God is come unto you—rather "upon you," as the same expression is rendered in Luke (Lu 11:20):—that is, "If this expulsion of Satan is, and can be, by no other than the Spirit of God, then is his Destroyer already in the midst of you, and that kingdom which is destined to supplant his is already rising on its ruins."

29. Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house—or rather, "the strong man's house."

and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

30. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad—On this important parable, in connection with the corresponding one (Mt 12:43-45), see on Lu 11:21-26.

31. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men—The word "blasphemy" properly signifies "detraction," or "slander." In the New Testament it is applied, as it is here, to vituperation directed against God as well as against men; and in this sense it is to be understood as an aggravated form of sin. Well, says our Lord, all sin—whether in its ordinary or its more aggravated forms—shall find forgiveness with God. Accordingly, in Mark (Mr 3:28) the language is still stronger: "All sin shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme." There is no sin whatever, it seems, of which it may be said, "That is not a pardonable sin." This glorious assurance is not to be limited by what follows; but, on the contrary, what follows is to be explained by this.

but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

32. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come—In Mark the language is awfully strong, "hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation" (Mr 3:20)—or rather, according to what appears to be the preferable though very unusual reading, "in danger of eternal guilt"—a guilt which he will underlie for ever. Mark has the important addition (Mr 3:30), "Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit." (See on Mt 10:25). What, then, is this sin against the Holy Ghost—the unpardonable sin? One thing is clear: Its unpardonableness cannot arise from anything in the nature of sin itself; for that would be a naked contradiction to the emphatic declaration of Mt 12:31, that all manner of sin is pardonable. And what is this but the fundamental truth of the Gospel? (See Ac 13:38, 39; Ro 3:22, 24; 1Jo 1:7, &c.). Then, again when it is said (Mt 12:32), that to speak against or blaspheme the Son of man is pardonable, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is not pardonable, it is not to be conceived that this arises from any greater sanctity in the one blessed Person than the other. These remarks so narrow the question that the true sense of our Lord's words seem to disclose themselves at once. It is a contrast between slandering "the Son of man" in His veiled condition and unfinished work—which might be done "ignorantly, in unbelief" (1Ti 1:13), and slandering the same blessed Person after the blaze of glory which the Holy Ghost was soon to throw around His claims, and in the full knowledge of all that. This would be to slander Him with eyes open, or to do it "presumptuously." To blaspheme Christ in the former condition—when even the apostles stumbled at many things—left them still open to conviction on fuller light: but to blaspheme Him in the latter condition would be to hate the light the clearer it became, and resolutely to shut it out; which, of course, precludes salvation. (See on Heb 10:26-29). The Pharisees had not as yet done this; but in charging Jesus with being in league with hell they were displaying beforehand a malignant determination to shut their eyes to all evidence, and so, bordering upon, and in spirit committing, the unpardonable sin.

33. Either make the tree good, &c.

34. O generation of vipers—(See on Mt 3:7).

how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh—a principle obvious enough, yet of deepest significance and vast application. In Lu 6:45 we find it uttered as part of the discourse delivered after the choice of the apostles.

35. A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things—or, "putteth forth good things":

and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things—or "putteth forth evil things." The word "putteth" indicates the spontaneity of what comes from the heart; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh. We have here a new application of a former saying (see on Mt 7:16-20). Here, the sentiment is, "There are but two kingdoms, interests, parties—with the proper workings of each: If I promote the one, I cannot belong to the other; but they that set themselves in wilful opposition to the kingdom of light openly proclaim to what other kingdom they belong. As for you, in what ye have now uttered, ye have but revealed the venomous malignity of your hearts."

36. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment—They might say, "It was nothing: we meant no evil; we merely threw out a supposition, as one way of accounting for the miracle we witnessed; if it will not stand, let it go; why make so much of it, and bear down with such severity for it?" Jesus replies, "It was not nothing, and at the great day will not be treated as nothing: Words, as the index of the heart, however idle they may seem, will be taken account of, whether good or bad, in estimating character in the day of judgment."

Mt 12:38-50. A Sign Demanded and the ReplyHis Mother and Brethren Seek to Speak with Him, and the Answer. ( = Lu 11:16, 24-36; Mr 3:31-35; Lu 8:19-21).

A Sign Demanded, and the Reply (Mt 12:38-45).

The occasion of this section was manifestly the same with that of the preceding.

38. Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master—"Teacher," equivalent to "Rabbi."

we would see a sign from thee—"a sign from heaven" (Lu 11:16); something of an immediate and decisive nature, to show, not that His miracles were real—that they seemed willing to concede—but that they were from above, not from beneath. These were not the same class with those who charged Him with being in league with Satan (as we see from Lu 11:15, 16); but as the spirit of both was similar, the tone of severe rebuke is continued.

39. But he answered and said unto them—"when the people were gathered thick together" (Lu 11:29).

an evil and adulterous generation—This latter expression is best explained by Jer 3:20, "Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord." For this was the relationship in which He stood to the covenant-people—"I am married unto you" (Jer 3:14).

seeketh after a sign—In the eye of Jesus this class were but the spokesmen of their generation, the exponents of the reigning spirit of unbelief.

and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.

40. For as Jonas was—"a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation" (Lu 11:30). For as Jonas was

three days and three nights in the whale's belly—(Jon 1:17).

so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth—This was the second public announcement of His resurrection three days after His death. (For the first, see Joh 2:19). Jonah's case was analogous to this, as being a signal judgment of God; reversed in three days; and followed by a glorious mission to the Gentiles. The expression "in the heart of the earth," suggested by the expression of Jonah with respect to the sea (2:3, in the Septuagint), means simply the grave, but this considered as the most emphatic expression of real and total entombment. The period during which He was to lie in the grave is here expressed in round numbers, according to the Jewish way of speaking, which was to regard any part of a day, however small, included within a period of days, as a full day. (See 1Sa 30:12, 13; Es 4:16; 5:1; Mt 27:63, 64, &c.).

41. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, &c.—The Ninevites, though heathens, repented at a man's preaching; while they, God's covenant-people, repented not at the preaching of the Son of God—whose supreme dignity is rather implied here than expressed.

42. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, &c.—The queen of Sheba (a tract in Arabia, near the shores of the Red Sea) came from a remote country, "south" of Judea, to hear the wisdom of a mere man, though a gifted one, and was transported with wonder at what she saw and heard (1Ki 10:1-9). They, when a Greater than Solomon had come to them, despised and rejected, slighted and slandered Him.

43-45. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, &c.—On this important parable, in connection with the corresponding one (Mt 12:29) see on Lu 11:21-26.

A charming little incident, given only in Lu 11:27, 28, seems to have its proper place here.

Lu 11:27:

And it came to pass, as He spake these things, a certain woman of the company—out of the crowd.

lifted up her voice and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked—With true womanly feeling she envies the mother of such a wonderful Teacher. And a higher and better than she had said as much before her (see on Lu 1:28). How does our Lord, then, treat it? He is far from condemning it. He only holds up as "blessed rather" another class: Lu 11:28:

But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it—in other words, the humblest real saint of God. How utterly alien is this sentiment from the teaching of the Church of Rome, which would doubtless excommunicate any one of its members that dared to talk in such a strain!

His Mother and Brethren Seek to Speak with Him and the Answer (Mt 12:46-50).

46. While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren—(See on Mt 13:55, 56).

stood without, desiring to speak with him—"and could not come at Him for the press" (Lu 8:19). For what purpose these came, we learn from Mr 3:20, 21. In His zeal and ardor He seemed indifferent both to food and repose, and "they went to lay hold of Him" as one "beside Himself." Mark (Mr 3:32) says graphically, "And the multitude sat about Him"—or "around Him."

47. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee, &c.—Absorbed in the awful warnings He was pouring forth, He felt this to be an unseasonable interruption, fitted to dissipate the impression made upon the large audience—such an interruption as duty to the nearest relatives did not require Him to give way to. But instead of a direct rebuke, He seizes on the incident to convey a sublime lesson, expressed in a style of inimitable condescension.

49. And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples—How graphic is this! It is the language evidently of an eye-witness.

and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

50. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother—that is, "There stand here the members of a family transcending and surviving this of earth: Filial subjection to the will of My Father in heaven is the indissoluble bond of union between Me and all its members; and whosoever enters this hallowed circle becomes to Me brother, and sister, and mother!"

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