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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 12

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.

In this chapter Matthew treats at length the opposition Jesus encounters in His ministry. Here Matthew especially draws his reader’s attention to the Pharisee’s complaint of Sabbath violation.

In order to understand the accusation of the Pharisees, we must first comprehend the nature of the Sabbath. The Sabbath concept is first found in Genesis 2:3. There, after creating the heavens and the earth in six days, God "blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work." At Sinai many years later, God gives the seventh day to Israel as a special time of rest and worship. Its observance becomes incorporated into the requirements of the Ten Commandments and becomes an integral part of Jewish life (Exodus 20:9-11).

While no work is to be done on the Sabbath and while severe penalty results from violation (Exodus 20:10; Exodus 31:12-18; Exodus 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36), the Sabbath is never designed to burden God’s people. It is given in celebration of God’s goodness and as a time of remembrance and rest. Like so many of God’s gifts, however, this one is eventually perverted with Jewish tradition and man-made regulations. MacArthur notes that by Jesus’ day few Jews have any idea as to the original intent of the Sabbath because of the thousands of man-made restrictions regarding it. He observes that the Sabbath is more tiresome than the six days devoted to one’s occupation. He says, "It was harder to "rest" than to earn a living" (281).

History not only records that Sabbath observance has become a burden but that it is dangerous as well. The apocryphal books of 1 Maccabees tells of a group of Jews who, in the days of Judas Maccabaeus, refuses to defend themselves on the Sabbath against the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanes and are slaughtered. The text records that the Jews "did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding places"…but died …"with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of a thousand persons" (1 Maccabees 2:34-37). In his Antiquities the Jewish historian Josephus also tells of a similar incident that leads to the capture of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey.

The exaggerated views of the Rabbis and their endless, burdensome rules about the Sabbath are taught in the Mishnah and in the Jerusalem Talmud (Edersheim, Appendix XVIII, Life and Times). One such rule deals with travel on the Sabbath. Under normal circumstances, one is not to travel any farther than 2000 cubits from his dwelling (about three quarters of a mile). The Rabbis, however, devise a way around this regulation. If on Friday a man deposits food for at least two meals at the edge of that boundary, then he might consider that food an extension of his dwelling and then travel an additional 2,000 cubits. Another question on which the rabbis deliberate is that of carrying loads. It is agreed that one should not carry any "burden" equaling or exceeding the weight of a dried fig. But what if "half a fig" is carried at two different times? Does this constitute one action thereby violating the Sabbath rule? Another discussion of the Rabbis revolves around food. The standard measure for "forbidden food" is the size of an olive, just as that for carrying burdens is the weight of a fig. But if a man eats "forbidden food" the size of half an olive, finds it distasteful and spits it out, he cannot eat a second portion for the two half portions, when combined, form one "olive size portion." Edersheim says, "He would be guilty, because the palate had altogether tasted food to the size of a whole olive" (App XVII, p 779).

Another rule discussed is whether or not an object thrown into the air with one hand and caught with the other constitutes "work." The answer is yes unless it is caught with the same hand "in which case it is not work." Furthermore, if that object is caught in the mouth and eaten, it was not "work" because the object in question no longer exists since it had been consumed.

Baths cannot be taken for fear that water might spill, thereby leading to "mopping" the floor. A tailor is not to carry a needle on the Sabbath lest he be tempted to mend a garment and thereby perform work. Chairs cannot be moved lest dragging them created a furrow in the ground thereby constituting planting. A woman is not to look in a mirror because she might be tempted to see a gray hair and pull it out. False teeth are not worn for their weight exceeds the limit for burdens. On and on go the tiresome burdens and this background sets the stage for two controversies Jesus encounters in this chapter (12:1-8, 9-14).

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn: The time of the first Sabbath controversy (12:1-8) is seen from the maturity of the grain field. The standing grain places this event sometime between Passover and Pentecost. Lenski identifies the time as April, near the Passover, a year before Jesus’ death (460). Barnes believes the month to be that of Abib (Nisan), which corresponds to our March/April (126). Keil and Delitzsch note that "in the warmer parts of Palestine the barley ripens about the middle of April and is reaped in April or the beginning of May, whereas the wheat ripens two or three weeks later" (Pentateuch II, 439). The word "cornfields" in this instance probably refers to either barley or wheat (Robertson p 93).

and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.

The occasion of Jesus and his disciples passing through the fields is not unusual in light of near eastern custom. Among the Jews, land is not always separated by fences but is marked by stones set up as landmarks at various intervals (Broadus 257). Roads, or foot paths, run through these fields and the grain grows right up to the edge. Thus, as Jesus walks ahead, the disciples might easily reach out and take hold of the grain that bends toward the path.

Verse 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.

But when the Pharisees saw it: Here again the Pharisees seem to have nothing better to do than to spy on the Lord and his disciples. One wonders how much time these hypocrites spend shadowing the Master. Such obsession reveals the diabolical mind set of these religious leaders.

they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day: Contrary to this accusation, neither Jesus nor his disciples are in violation of the Sabbath. Exodus 34:21 forbids harvesting, but no reasonable interpreter will classify the disciples’ action as such. In fact, the Law allows a traveler, on any day, to eat his fill of both grapes and grain from a neighbor’s field (Deuteronomy 23:24-25).

The only possible violation is one against the ridiculous Rabbinic tradition that makes the rubbing of grain together in the hands (which the disciples are doing; see Luke 6:1) a form of threshing and the subsequent blowing away of the chaff a form of winnowing. The Talmud says, "If a person rolls wheat to remove the husks, it is sifting. If he rubs the heads of wheat, it is threshing. If he cleans off the side adherences, it is sifting. If he bruises the ears, it is grinding. And if he throws it up in his hand, it is winnowing" (MacArthur 283). However, this "law" is from tradition and not from God.

Verse 3

But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;

But he said unto them: In the next six verses, Jesus meets the Pharisee’s opposition with arguments that consist of four basic points:

1. Argument from David (3-4).

2. Argument from the Temple Priests (5-6).

3. Argument from Mercy (7).

4. Argument from Authority (8).

Have ye not read: By beginning his case with this statement, Jesus takes these Pharisees to the source of all authority—God’s word. Naturally they had read the scripture in question, for they are the "resident experts" on the text. The question no doubt goads them. But Jesus’ point is not one about "knowledge" but one about "understanding." These leaders have a "head" for God’s word but no "heart" in applying it. This fact will be made clear in verse 7.

read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him:

The incident to which Jesus refers is recorded in 1 Samuel 21. There David, in flight from wicked King Saul, comes to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. After lying about his mission and the reason for his lack of provision, David seeks food from the priest. When no "common bread" is found, David and his men enter the "house of God" and eat the holy "showbread."

Verse 4

How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?

How he entered into the house of God: The "house" (Gk: hieron - sacred place) mentioned here does not refer to the "temple" in Jerusalem for it is not built until the days of Solomon. It refers to the "movable tabernacle" and its surrounding, courts which are pitched at Nob. David probably does not enter into the "holy place" proper as this is reserved for the priesthood but into the outer court to make his request.

and did eat the showbread: The bread of the tabernacle consists of twelve loaves, each made with about 6.25 pounds of flour each (Lenski 462). These are set in two rows, six to a row, on the gold covered table in the Holy Place. They are baked fresh every Sabbath with the hot bread replacing the old. When removed, the old is to be eaten only by the priests (Leviticus 24:5-9). Literally the term "show bread" in Hebrew means the "bread of presentation" or "bread of the (divine) face (or presence)" (Alexander 326). It is so called because it is exhibited, and it reminds Israel of God’s sustaining care.

In 1 Samuel 21, the writer suggests that David’s eating coincides with the removal and replacement of the old showbread. If so, then David’s act finds yet another similarity to the Lord’s disciples for both acts take place on the Sabbath day; thus, Jesus’ argument from the case of David becomes all the more applicable.

which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Most commentators agree that Jesus sets forth here a "hierarchy of laws" (Barnes, Lenski, Plummer, Ellicott, Alexander, Fowler, Robertson, Coffman, Jacobus, Barclay). Plummer, for example, says, "Every law has its limitations" (172). In other words, rote, mindless compliance to technicalities may not always suffice to fulfill God’s commands.

In the strictest sense of the command, what David does is unlawful. Jesus further affirms this fact in this verse; however, 1 Samuel 22:10 indicates that Ahimelech inquires of the Lord before he gives the bread David. Thus, the priest’s actions are justified and authorized by God. Such authorization does not erase the primary law of Leviticus 24:5-9 but provides an exception to it. Throughout this section, the principle of "higher law" is in view. Strict heartless obedience to raw legal precept without consideration of its exceptions may actually lead to a violation of the rule itself. Even the Mosaic system realizes this fact as demonstrated in verse 5 and 7. Furthermore, verses 11-12 show that God wants more than mindless observance. The Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

One must not, however, take it upon himself to provide his own "exception" to God’s rules. When two biblical precepts seem to collide, it is necessary to "inquire of God" as does Ahimelech. One must search the scripture (God’s word) and interpret scripture in light of scripture. One is not at liberty to array God’s law against itself in support of opinion or human tradition.

At first glance the case of eating grain on the Sabbath seems to suggest that two biblical principles are in conflict and must be harmonized. While Jesus’ defense of his disciples may also suggest this conclusion, in reality two laws are not in conflict because there is no biblical law against eating on the Sabbath. The apostles break "tradition," but they do not break Mosaic Law.

With the case of David, "mercy" is the higher principle (7). Therefore, God authorizes Ahimelech to give holy bread to David. As Keil and Delitzsch put it, Ahimelech "would in such a case of necessity depart from the Levitical law concerning the eating of the shew-bread, for the sake of observing the higher commandment of love to a neighbor" (Samuel 219). Alexander says, "The positive observance, though legitimate and binding, must give way to the necessity of self-preservation" (326). Plummer notes that "ceremonial regulations must yield to the higher claims of charity and necessity" (172). Lenski says, "David’s hunger sets aside even a divine regulation; shall not the hunger of the disciples set aside mere rabbinical notions?" (462).

Verse 5

Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?

Jesus’ second argument is drawn from the practice of the priests themselves. These "law

abiding" servants of God are not only required to "work" on the Sabbath but are to perform extra duties on this day (Numbers 28:1-10; Leviticus 24:8). Two lambs are to be killed in addition to the daily sacrifice. Fires must be kindled to burn the sacrifice: an act that otherwise is forbidden (Exodus 35:3). And many other duties are performed. In reality the day of rest is actually a day of double work for the priests.

Notice again, however, that the "exception" to the Sabbath observance comes from God and not from man. It is not man’s prerogative to develop his own exceptions.

Verse 6

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

This verse contains some difficulty of interpretation. If "greater" (meizon) is taken in the masculine sense, then the correct interpretation is that "Christ" is greater than the temple. In some manuscripts, however, the Greek adjective is neuter and may refer to the entire ministry of Christ—not just Christ himself. McGarvey, Plummer, Lenski, Robertson, and others accept this view.

In either case the meaning is virtually the same. The point is that the Christ and His work supersede the tabernacle and the temple. He is the "true" fulfillment of both.

Verse 7

But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice. This third argument is taken from Hosea 6:6. There the prophet shows that while God does not disdain outward acts of obedience, it is the inner heart that He is ultimately interested in. It is faithfulness that God wants from Israel. The Pharisees offer the correct sacrifices and go through the rituals perfectly, but they have no inkling of their true significance. They do not understand that such devotion must proceed from a correct heart and that such acts of piety ultimately point to the Messiah.

Once again by quoting from God’s Law, Jesus shows that the exception he provides is authorized by God. It is not man’s prerogative to suppose he can determine his own exceptions. Hosea indicates that when a man’s heart is right then the correct actions will follow. The Pharisees have not only disregarded God’s law pertaining to the Sabbath, but have also disregarded God’s law that pertains to one’s attitude toward his fellow man.

ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

The Pharisees accuse and condemn the disciples. But all such attempts at censorship are foolish. The only thing the disciples break is "tradition." They are guiltless, and Jesus says so.

The problem of the ages is here borne out. Man finds it easy to perform while never looking deeper than the ritual itself. God orders sacrifice, but sacrifice alone does not satisfy Him. He wants living hearts filled with devotion to God and man. Cold, mindless, rote, obedience will not suffice. Sacrifices, duties, rituals, and worship are meaningful only because they are the prescribed ways to approach God. In and of themselves they are valueless if not combined with the proper spirit. Jesus says the same to the Samarian woman (John 4:24). Worship must contain both truth and spirit.

Verse 8

For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

This is the concluding and most powerful argument in Jesus’ rebuttal against the Pharisee’s accusation. He saves the best and most conclusive proof until last, and this statement no doubt angers the Pharisee’s the most.

Previously Jesus has goaded the Pharisees by reminding them of the Law in which they view themselves as experts. Now he raises the bar and argues from the authority of the "Law

Giver." The Pharisees know that God is the giver of the Law. They also know that He ordained the Sabbath. Now Jesus equates himself with God as he claims to be "lord of the Sabbath day."

Jesus is not indicating that "as Lord of the Sabbath" he has the right to ignore or violate the day. He, who instituted it, while on earth, also upholds it and walks in accordance to it. Likewise, He commands His disciples to do the same. Lenski notes correctly that as "Lord of the Sabbath," Jesus would have been the first to condemn His disciples had they been guilty (466). But what we see here is the Lord’s reaction to the Pharisee’s interference with the Sabbath. Jesus is "Lord" of the Sabbath. If anyone knows how it should be observed, what can or cannot be done on that day, it is He.

Verse 9

And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:

And when he was departed thence: Verses nine through verse fourteen continue the same theme as the previous section. The setting changes from the grain field to the synagogue, but Sabbath observance is still the issue.

Here the text gives the impression that this event occurs on the same Sabbath. Luke, however, specifically says it is on another Sabbath day (6:6). Here Matthew’s narrative is "thematic" rather than "chronological."

he went into their synagogue: The synagogue here mentioned is probably the one in Capernaum and one to which Jesus often goes. Fowler observes that Jesus, by entering the synagogue, steps directly into the arena with the beasts (623). Jesus is not concerned about controversy. His goal in entering this place of worship is to show respect for the Mosaic system and to find an audience receptive to God’s word—the exact purpose behind synagogue worship in the first place.

Verse 10

And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

And, behold, there was a man: Some suppose this man is been a "plant" by the Pharisees to see what Jesus’ response will be (Edersheim 59). This idea is doubtful, but his presence provides an occasion for the religious leaders to accuse Jesus.

which had his hand withered: Luke says it is the man’s right hand that is withered (6:6). Alexander notes that the term "withered" literally mean’s "dried up" or "pining away from the body" (328). He further believes the problem is not a congenital infirmity but one employed from disease or accident—maybe even a work-related incident. Broadus says the so called "Gospel of the Nazarenes" calls him a stone mason—which, though only a tradition, would illustrate for us the importance of his right hand. (261).

And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? Once again the Pharisees and scribes set the stage for confrontation. Their question, "Is it lawful?" does not stem from a sincere desire to know the law but rather from a desire to entrap Jesus.

Scholars indicate that in Jesus’ day there is some uncertainty among the Jews about the extent of healing that can be done on the Sabbath. Some think that disease of the ear, or throat, or even angina involves danger enough to justify treatment. Others disagree, but the general consensus is Sabbath treatment is to be confined more or less to internal trauma. Minor external wounds are to be left for another day. Even so, certain ridiculous conditions eventually come to be applied.

Edersheim notes that a person suffering from a tooth ache might not gargle his mouth with vinegar. However, he might use an ordinary tooth brush and dip it in vinegar (Life and Times 60). Other ways are also developed to evade the "law." For instance, one Rabbi teaches that if a person needs a purgative drink, he might take it only as if for pleasure. If taken for the purpose of healing, it is forbidden (Life and Times 60). Broadus also notes that the Talmud forbids one with a sore throat to gargle with oil. But if he simply swallows oil (for food) and thereby is cured, so be it (Broadus 261). In reality the "Mosaic Law" says nothing about healing on the Sabbath, but many Rabbi’s view it as work.

that they might accuse him: They do not want only to accuse Jesus verbally but to accuse him before the local judges. These judges are likely the same as the elders of the synagogue where local cases are often tried.

Verse 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?

And he said unto them: Mark says Jesus asks the man to step forward (3:3). Perhaps it is so the bystanders may look on him with sympathy (Broadus 262). Having done so, Jesus now masterfully turns the attention to the Pharisees.

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? The question Jesus poses is well understood. Everyone knows that one sheep in a pit, while not so valuable by itself, is of some importance and must be taken care of. It is common sense for a man to preserve a part of his livelihood and property. The obvious answer to Jesus question, "will he not lift it out?" is in the affirmative.

Notwithstanding, certain Rabbinic traditions have evolved. Broadus notes that in the Talmud some Rabbis maintain it is enough when a beast falls into a pit to give it food. Others say that something might be put under it to lie on; and if by this means it climbs out, then so be it. Still others say one might take it out if he has the intention of killing it, even though afterwards he might change his mind and preserve it (Broadus 262).

It then is the evasive nonsense that Jesus is up against in dealing with the Pharisees. The Pharisees have turned God’s morality into a system of tedious rules. Jesus’ statement bypasses all of these perversions and appeals to common sense.

Verse 12

How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

How much then is a man better than a sheep? The crowning jewel of God’s creation is more valuable than a sheep. What Jew in his right mind will dispute this fact? And so, the Pharisees question is a flawed one. They apparently suppose they might turn their backs on one in need and incur no guilt. What Jesus shows is there is no "neutral" response to need. The issue is not "doing vs. not doing" but "doing good vs. doing evil" (Mark 3:4). To do nothing, to pass by without compassion, is actually to "do evil." When it lies in ones power to "do good" and he refuses, he actually does evil.

Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days: Having demonstrated the fact that man is greater than God’s other creations, Jesus pronounces His final verdict. It not only is right to do good on the Sabbath, such action graces the very Mosaic Law in question.

Verse 13

Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand: Mark records that Jesus looks on the crowd with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts (3:5). Afterward he speaks to the man with the withered hand.

And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other: What a marvelous demonstration of the Lord’s power. In the midst of the crowd, the man’s hand extends in front of the Pharisee’s evil eyes and is miraculously healed.

Even the Pharisees must have found it hard to condemn this gracious action. Without a touch or without a direct word of healing, the man’s hand is fully restored. Would they dare to classify this as forbidden work?

Verse 14

Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.

With hearts unchanged by this loving act, the Pharisees seek to destroy Jesus. Luke indicates that they are filled with "rage" (6:11). Mark records the Pharisee’s go out and plot with the Herodians against Him (3:6).

Verse 15

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: Knowing the evil the Pharisee plan, Jesus moves on from Capernaum to the shores of Galilee (Mark 3:7). It will not do for him to remain in the midst of such opposition because it does not further His ministry.

Alexander notes this retreat before His enemies is not prompted by fear but by wise discretion that is necessary for one to accomplish His goal in coming to the earth (330).

and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all: Great multitudes constantly throng Jesus. Mark notes that a boat is kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush him (Mark 3:9). These crowds are composed not only of Galileans but people from Jerusalem, Iduemea, and beyond the Jordan. Jesus shows no partiality and heals them all.

Verse 16

And charged them that they should not make him known:

Realizing He has much work ahead of him, Jesus avoids any unnecessary public notoriety. This is not the first time He commands the crowd to keep quiet (see Matthew 9:30).

Verse 17

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying:

Jesus’ actions fulfill Isaiah 42:1-4. Some 40 times in his gospel narrative Matthew shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of Old Testament scripture. This fact is of special interest to Matthew’s audience who are primarily Jewish. Of Isaiah 42:1-4 Alexander notes:

"The original passage exhibits to our view the servant of Jehovah, as the messenger or representative of God among the nations, and describes his mode of operation as not violent but peaceful, and the effects of his influence as not natural but spiritual" (331).

Verse 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 shew judgment to the Gentiles.

Behold my servant, whom I have chosen: Isaiah calls Jesus a "servant." Paul does the same in Philippians 2:7. Jesus comes to be the suffering servant and to die for the sins of the world. He says, "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: These words, spoken at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) and on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), declare God’s pleasure toward His Son.

I will put my spirit upon him: God pours His Holy Spirit out on Jesus (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22, John 1:32-33). Peter confirms this prophecy by telling Cornelius’ household, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil for God was with him" (NKJV Acts 10:38).

It is Jesus alone who has the seven spirits of God (Revelation 3:1). It is Jesus who has the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). This power Jesus himself claims as He preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19).

and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles:

The word (Gk: krisin—judgment) may be variously translated, but Broadus notes that in this context and in the original Isaiah passage, it refers to the whole body of what God declares to be just and right (264). In other word’s Jesus comes to make known God’s righteousness and man’s responsibility to it.

The Jews want "judgment" to come upon the Gentiles but not the type Jesus has in mind. They want condemnation. Jesus brings hope to sinners. The gospel that Jesus preaches provides a way for all mankind to satisfy God’s requirements.

Verse 19

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

This description stands in stark contrast with what the Jews expect in a Messiah. They look for one with power who will violently relieve them of their Roman oppressors. Jesus’ methods are those of peace (John 6:15).

Jesus does not quarrel or cry out in the public streets where crowds are wont to gather. He is not a trouble maker or an insurrectionist. He raises no army neither does He make a political protest. He is the prince of peace, and as such so are the methods of his kingdom.

Isaiah’s prophecy is picturesque. Here the word "strive" (Gk: epizo) carries the idea of "wrangling or brawling" and "cry out" (Gk: kraugazo) denotes a noisy commotion. MacArthur says "kraugazo" is sometimes used to describe a dog’s barking, a raven’s squawking, or even a drunk’s bawling" (299). Jesus acted as none of these.

Verses 20-21

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.

A bruised reed shall he not break: The reed is a common plant in Israel. They sway in the breeze along the Jordan River, and every Jew has heard the soft music that comes from some

Shepherd boy’s "reed" flute. But when the reed becomes soft or cracked, the instrument is broken and tossed aside.

and smoking flax shall he not quench: The "smoking flax" is also common in everyday Jewish life and has reference to a "lamp wick" made from a strip of linen. When there is insufficient oil in the lamp, and when the lamp is on the verge of going out, the wick will burn dimly and smoke (Broadus 265).

Isaiah uses these two comparatives in reference to people. Like reeds in a tempest, they are bruised, down trodden, and battered by sin. Like smoldering wicks, only a flicker of hope is left. But rather than discard these weary folks, as the religious leaders commonly do, Jesus extends His hand with love and compassion. He heals their physical infirmities and tends their spiritual woes. He brings them victory.

And in his name shall the Gentiles trust: By the good news of the gospel, victory over sin is won. By the message of salvation, Gentiles are brought into the one fold.

Verse 22

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.

Matthew has already demonstrated Jesus’ power over the satanic realm in Matthew 8:28-34 and in 9:32-34. In the case of the Gergesene demoniacs, the men are only demon possessed. In Matthew 9:32-34 the man is mute. Here blindness is added to the list. Thus, the cure Jesus performs is a "triple" miracle. The demon is cast out, the man’s voice is restored, and his sight is regained.

As in Matthew 9:32-34, bodily afflictions often go hand in hand with demonic possession. It is important, however, to note the difference between natural physical infirmities and those produced by or in conjunction with demon possession. In spite of the skeptic’s charge, it is clear "demon possession" consists of more than simple natural ailments mistakenly attributed to the supernatural by overly superstitious ancients.

Verse 23

And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?

And all the people were amazed: What amazes the common folks angers the Pharisees. Both see the same event, but the religious elite will not so much as admit the healing has any godly connection. The multitudes at least considered the possibility that Jesus was the "Son of David," one of the many titles used for the Messiah (Psalms 89:3; Isaiah 9:6-7).

and said, Is not this the son of David? In the Greek the question seems to beg a negative response. (that is, This could not be the Messiah, could it?). And yet the evidence is powerful. Isaiah prophesies the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped (35:5). But Jesus’ birth, background, and methods do not fit common Jewish expectation. And so the crowds are amazed. The word used to describe the people (existanto - amazed) literally means "stood out of themselves." Robertson notes they are almost beside themselves with excitement (95).

Verse 24

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.

Ever critical of the Master, the Pharisees cannot let the amazement of the people go unchecked. Rather than admit Jesus is from God, they immediately try to discredit Him in the eyes of the people by attributing His miracles to Satan. Mark says these are scribes who have come down from Jerusalem (3:22). Their mission is to spy on Jesus and dissuade the people from believing in Him. By this time the Lord’s popularity is growing, giving the leaders of the Jews great alarm. Alexander suggests Jesus’ words and works are a matter of "highest national importance." He says, "Hence the growing agitation which his ministry occasioned is not regarded as a transient popular disturbance, but as the beginning of a national and spiritual revolution" (334).

This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.

The Pharisees cannot deny the reality of the healing nor can they ascribe it to human power. Clearly a supernatural work has been wrought; thus, the best they can hope for is to attribute Jesus’ actions to Satan.

For a full discussion of "Beelzebub," see notes on Matthew 10:25. The ludicrous charge is that Jesus is in league with Satan. The logic seems to be that Satan plays along with Jesus in order to lead unsuspecting souls astray. This charge is not made of any of Christ’s miracles except casting out demons. But since this miracle involves "demons," the Pharisees hope to confuse the crowd and make them consider the possibility that Satan orchestrates the exorcism.

Verses 25-26

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?

And Jesus knew their thoughts: The fact that Jesus knows their thoughts is proof that He is the Messiah, but this divine knowledge has no impact on the Pharisees. Mark indicates Jesus may have been a distance removed from the situation, for he "called them unto him" and replies to the charge (Mark 3:23).

Had the scribes considered the logical outcome of their statement, they might have been embarrassed to make it. Fowler, however, questions if this is a desperate lie spit out by men who know it to be false or if the scribes are psychologically and ethically incapable of discerning the truth? (662).

The answer is difficult, but it seems likely the scribes know Jesus is from God. Nicodemus says it well, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him" (John 3:2). It is possible, however, that the leaders in this case are not so noble of character or mind. If these evil men are not able to discern between truth and error, it seems clear the condition is self induced. When truth is consistently and constantly rejected the conscience is weakened and destroyed.

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:

Jesus’ argument is "prima fascia." The ultimate exhibition of Satan’s power is demon possession. Why then will Satan cast out his own demons? If there is inconsistency in a kingdom, there will be weakness. Thus, the Pharisee’s charge is absurd.

Verse 27

And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.

And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils: Jesus’ second refutation to the Pharisaic charge is one based on inconsistency. If Jesus casts out demons by the power of Satan, then so do the Jewish exorcists.

by whom do your children cast them out: "Children" refers to the disciples and students of the Pharisees. These exorcists are naturally Pharisees because the Sadducees do not believe in the spirit world. Obviously the Pharisees are proud of their student’s and agree with their efforts. The question, however, is whether or not these men are actually able to perform miracles or if they are deceivers.

McGarvey, Barnes, Plummer, Alexander, and others believe Jesus uses this example primarily for the sake of argument. It is "ad hominid" (***spelling!!!!) and is advanced on the basis of Pharisaic inconsistency. Thus, Jesus is not necessarily affirming that demons are actually expelled but rather that the Pharisees are unfair in accepting their own "exorcisms" while rejecting Jesus’.

Broadus notes it is common during this time period for Jews to profess such ability (269). Josephus makes the same observation and lists some of the incantations that accompany them (Ant. 8, 2, 5; Wars 7, 6, 3), as does the apocryphal book of Tobit (6:16; 8:1-4). Furthermore, Luke makes mention of "itinerant" exorcists (Acts 19:13-14). Whether or not the exorcisms are real remains a question. Ellicott and others believe such does occur at the hand of sincere Jews through whom God works. Other commentators disagree.

Verse 28

But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.

But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God: Having exposed the false accusation of the Pharisees, there is but one logical explanation for what Jesus does. His miracles are by the Spirit and power of Almighty God. Luke says Jesus did this "by the finger of God" (11:20). Jesus power was in concert with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

then the kingdom of God is come unto you: The Pharisees have been confronted with the presence and power of God Himself, and their rejection demonstrates their open rebellion against the King of heaven and earth. This rebellion sets the stage for Jesus’ subsequent comment about the unpardonable sin (12:31-32).

The concept of the kingdom "coming upon them" (phthano) seems to indicate the kingdom is already in their midst. Thus, in this place the reference is not to in the "church" but to the overall power of God already present in Christ’s ministry. Lenski says, "The demon expulsions show that the kingdom is not merely on the way but did already reach to you" (480). Fowler says God is taking over from Satan" and Christ’s miracles are tangible evidence of this overthrow. "Satan is being bound even now!" (670).

Verse 29

Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house: This parable is found in fuller form in Luke 11:21-22. The strong man in this case is Satan, but Jesus is stronger and through His ministry He enters into Satan’s realm to destroy him (Matthew 4:1-11)

and spoil his goods: The term "goods" literally means "utensils or implements" as used for cooking, sleeping, etc. in someone’s house. Here it figuratively refers to the demons’ living within the man’s body. These demons are Satan’s implements or tools. By successfully plundering Satan’s goods, Jesus proves He is not in league with the devil but has already overpowered him.

except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house:

The purpose for Jesus’ coming is to bind Satan. Genesis 3:15 prophesies the Messiah will bruise the Serpents head. While not finding its ultimate fulfillment until the resurrection, it is already occurring at this point in Jesus’ ministry. Scripture amply records Jesus comes to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8; 1 John 4:4; Colossians 2:15).

Verse 30

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

He that is not with me is against me: The axiom of this verse stands as true today as it did when Jesus faces the Pharisees. If one is not for Jesus, he is against Him. There is no middle ground. Jesus’ comment is no doubt aimed at the crowd. The Pharisee’s refuse to stand with the Savior, and they openly demonstrate their contempt for Him. But lest the crowd think they might slip silently into the fog of neutrality, Jesus says, "Think again."

and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad: The illustration of "gathering and scattering" may refer to either shepherding, harvesting, or fishing. All will be common to the audience to whom Jesus speaks. It is probable, however, the reference is to sheep. Jesus comes to gather lost sheep into his fold. He is the Good Shepherd. The Pharisees, however, are like ravening wolves and seek to scatter them abroad (see Matthew 7:15; Matthew 9:36; Matthew 10:6; John 10:12).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 12". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-12.html. 1993-2022.
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