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 Main Index : Commentaries : PNT : PNT Vol. 1 : Matthew : Chapter 12

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The Pharisees Take Counsel Against and Seek to Destroy Jesus.

Bible Version
Cross Reference
Matthew Henry
JFB Commentary
Wesley's Notes
Peoples New Test.
Geneva Study Bible
Darby's Synopsis

SUMMARY.--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?

      1. At that time. Compare Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1. About the time when grain begins to ripen in Judea, that is, not far from the first of May. Walked through the corn fields. Wheat or barley, for which the general word, "corn," was used. When maize was discovered by the Europeans in America they called it "Indian corn," because it was a food grain like wheat, rye and barley. We now apply to it exclusively the designation of "corn." The paths, the only roads, led and still lead through the grain fields in Palestine. Began to pluck. Permitted by Moses (Deut. 23:25).

      2. But the Pharisees saw it. See note on Matt. 3:7. Some of the sect were in attendance on the watch for a ground of accusation. Not lawful on 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. "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."--Milman's Jews, Vol. 2, p. 480.

      3. 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 shew bread which it was lawful for priests only to eat. Necessity rose higher than ceremonial. See 1 Sam. 21:1-6. [69]

      4. Entered into the house of God. The tabernacle at Nob The temple had not been built. The shew bread. Twelve loaves placed upon a table in the holy place as a symbol of the communion of the twelve tribes with God, 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.

      5. 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 John 7:22, 23.

      6. But I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple. 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?

      7. 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 Hosea 6:6, and is also quoted in Matt. 9:13. It shows that all our forms, rites and ceremonies are worthless before God unless we have kind and merciful hearts.

      8. For the Son of man is Lord 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.

      9. 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.

      10. A man which had his hand withered. That is, dried up from a deficient absorption of the nutriment. Luke says his "right hand." 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 Mark 3:1-6 and Luke 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. [70]

      11. And he said, What man . . . shall have one sheep? etc. Such an act of mercy to a beast was allowed and usual then.

      12. 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 good on the Sabbath days. If the Sabbath day would preclude one from doing good, then it would be an evil.

      13. Stretch forth thine hand. As the cure is wrought only by a word, the Pharisees have no ground of accusation.

      14. Then the Pharisees . . . held a council . . . destroy him. 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.

      15. Jesus withdrew 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.

      16. Charged not to make him known. Those healed. To noise about his cures now would intensify the hate of his enemies.

      17. That it might be fulfilled. Thus it was fulfilled. Esaias the prophet. Isa. 42:1-4.

      18. Behold my servant. Christ took the form of a servant. I will put my spirit upon him. Compare Matt. 3:17. He shall shew justice to the Gentiles. Announce himself as judge of the Gentiles. Compare Mark 3:8.

      19. He shall not strive nor cry. He shall be modest, retiring, and not a brazen, noisy declaimer.

      20. 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. [71] 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.

      21. 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 John 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.

      22. Was brought him one possessed with a devil. See note on Matt. 8:28. Compare Luke 11:14.

      23. 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; 2 Sam. 23:5).

      24. The Pharisees hearing it. Compare Mark 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. He casteth not out devils but by Beelzebub. See note on Matt. 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.

      25. Knowing their thoughts. They had not made this charge to Christ, but to the multitudes. Every kingdom 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.

      26. If Satan casteth 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.

      27. By whom do your sons 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 Acts 19:13.

      28. If I 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 verse 23.

      29. How can . . . 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? [72]

      30. 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.

      31. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven. Compare Mark 3:28 and Luke 12:10. Much discussion has arisen concerning the nature of sin against the Holy Spirit, and nothing is plainer. Mark 3:30 explains it. It was ascribing Christ's works to demoniac influence. These works were wrought by the power of the Spirit.

      32. Whoever speaketh 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. Speak against the Holy Spirit. Perversely ascribe the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Neither in this world nor that to come. Judgment shall overtake him both here 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.

      33. Either make the tree good, and the fruit good. The principle is announced in Matt. 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.

      34, 35. 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."

      36. 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!

      37. By thy words shalt thou 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 (Rom. 10:9) shall be saved; those who deny him will be lost. Words have a weighty influence on our eternal destiny. [73]

      38. Master, we would see a sign from thee. Compare Matt. 16:1 and Luke 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.

      39. 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. The sign of Jonah. See next verse.

      40. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish. See Jonah 1:17. The great fish was probably not a whale, the Greek is "sea monster," but a white shark, which abounds 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 (Matt. 16:21) that he will "be raised again the third day." 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 Matt. 16:21, Mark 8:31, 2 Chron. 10:5 and 10:12, Esther 4:16, Gen. 7:4, 12, Exod. 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.

      41. 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 stand up 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.

      42. The queen of the south. Of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1), supposed to be Sabæa in Southern Arabia. From the ends 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.

      43-45. When the unclean spirit, etc. The application of these three verses is found in "even so it shall be unto this wicked generation," the Jews. With an occasional tendency to repentance, as under [74] 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.

      46, 47. His mother and his brethren. On the brethren of the Lord, see note on Matt. 13:55. Compare Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19, 21. His brethren did not yet believe in him.

      48, 49. Who is my mother, and 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.

      50. 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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