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On the sabbath day through the cornfields (τοις σαββασιν δια των σποριμων). This paragraph begins exactly like Matthew 11:25 "at that season" (εν εκεινω τω καιρω), a general statement with no clear idea of time. So also Matthew 14:1. The word καιρος means a definite and particular time, but we cannot fix it. The word "cornfields" does not mean our maize or Indian corn, but simply fields of grain (wheat or even barley).
Thy disciples do (ο μαθητα σου ποιουσιν). These critics are now watching a chance and they jump at this violation of their Pharisaic rules for Sabbath observance. The disciples were plucking the heads of wheat which to the Pharisees was reaping and were rubbing them in their hands (Luke 6:1) which was threshing.
What David did (τ εποιησεν Δαυειδ). From the necessity of hunger. The first defence made by Christ appeals to the conduct of David (2 Samuel 21:6). David and those with him did "what was not lawful" (ο ουκ εξον ην) precisely the charge made against the disciples (ο ουκ εξεστιν in verse Matthew 12:2).
One greater than the temple (του ιερου μειζον). Ablative of comparison, του ιερου. The Textus Receptus has μειζων, but the neuter is correct. Literally, "something greater than the temple." What is that? It may still be Christ, or it may be: "The work and His disciples were of more account than the temple" (Plummer). "If the temple was not subservient to Sabbath rules, how much less the Messiah!" (Allen).
The guiltless (τους αναιτιους). So in verse Matthew 12:5. Common in ancient Greek. No real ground against, it means αν + αιτιος. Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 here as he did in Matthew 9:13. A pertinent prophecy that had escaped the notice of the sticklers for ceremonial literalness and the letter of the law.
Lord of the Sabbath (κυριος του σαββατου). This claim that he as the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath and so above the Pharisaic regulations angered them extremely. By the phrase "the Son of man" here Jesus involves the claim of Messiahship, but as the Representative Man he affirms his solidarity with mankind, "standing for the human interest" (Bruce) on this subject.
Is it lawful? (ε εξεστιν). The use of ε in direct questions is really elliptical and seems an imitation of the Hebrew (Robertson, Grammar, p. 916). See also Matthew 19:3. It is not translated in English.
How much then is a man (ποσω ουν διαφερε ανθρωπος). Another of Christ's pregnant questions that goes to the roots of things, an a fortiori argument. "By how much does a human being differ from a sheep? That is the question which Christian civilization has not even yet adequately answered" (Bruce). The poor pettifogging Pharisees are left in the pit.
Stretch forth thy hand (εκτεινον σου την χειρα). Probably the arm was not withered, though that is not certain. But he did the impossible. "He stretched it forth," straight, I hope, towards the Pharisees who were watching Jesus (Mark 3:2).
Took counsel against him (συμβουλιον ελαβον κατ' αυτου). An imitation of the Latin concilium capere and found in papyri of the second century A.D. (Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 238.) This incident marks a crisis in the hatred of the Pharisees toward Jesus. They bolted out of the synagogue and actually conspired with their hated rivals, the Herodians, how to put Jesus to death (Mark 3:6; Matthew 12:14; Luke 6:11). By "destroy" (απολεσωσιν) they meant "kill."
Perceiving (γνους). Second aorist active participle of γινωσκω. Jesus read their very thoughts. They were now plain to any one who saw their angry countenances.
That it might be fulfilled (ινα πληρωθη). The final use of ινα and the sub-final just before (verse Matthew 12:16). The passage quoted is Isaiah 42:1-4 "a very free reproduction of the Hebrew with occasional side glances at the Septuagint" (Bruce), possibly from an Aramaic collection of Testimonia (McNeile). Matthew applies the prophecy about Cyrus to Christ.
My beloved (ο αγαπητος μου). This phrase reminds one of Matthew 3:17 (the Father's words at Christ's baptism).
A bruised reed (καλαμον συντετριμμενον). Perfect passive participle of συντριβω. A crushed reed he will not break. The curious augment in κατεαξε (future active indicative) is to be noted. The copyists kept the augment where it did not belong in this verb (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1212) even in Plato. "Smoking flax" (λινον τυφομενον). The wick of a lamp, smoking and flickering and going out. Only here in N.T. Flax in Exodus 9:31. Vivid images that picture Jesus in the same strain as his own great words in Matthew 11:28-30.
Is this the Son of David? (μητ ουτος εστιν ο υιος Δαυειδ?). The form of the question expects the answer "no," but they put it so because of the Pharisaic hostility towards Jesus. The multitudes "were amazed" or "stood out of themselves" (εξισταντο), imperfect tense, vividly portraying the situation. They were almost beside themselves with excitement.
The Pharisees (ο δε Φαρισαιο). Already (Matthew 9:32-34) we have had in Matthew the charge that Jesus is in league with the prince of demons, though the incident may be later than this one. See on Matthew 10:25 about "Beelzebub." The Pharisees feel that the excited condition of the crowds and the manifest disposition to believe that Jesus is the Messiah (the Son of David) demand strenuous action on their part. They cannot deny the fact of the miracles for the blind and dumb men both saw and spoke (Matthew 12:22). So in desperation they suggest that Jesus works by the power of Beelzebub the prince of the demons.
Knowing their thoughts (ειδως δε τας ενθυμησεις αυτων). What they were revolving in their minds. They now find out what a powerful opponent Jesus is. By parables, by a series of conditions (first class), by sarcasm, by rhetorical question, by merciless logic, he lays bare their hollow insincerity and the futility of their arguments. Satan does not cast out Satan. Note timeless aorist passive εμερισθη in Matthew 12:26, εφθασεν in Matthew 12:28 (simple sense of arriving as in Philippians 3:16 from φθανω). Christ is engaged in deathless conflict with Satan the strong man (Matthew 12:29). "Goods" (σκευη) means house-gear, house furniture, or equipment as in Luke 17:36 and Acts 27:17, the tackling of the ship.
He that is not with me (ο μη ων μετ' εμου). With these solemn words Jesus draws the line of cleavage between himself and his enemies then and now. Jesus still has his enemies who hate him and all noble words and deeds because they sting what conscience they have into fury. But we may have our choice. We either gather with (συναγων) Christ or scatter (σκορπιζε) to the four winds. Christ is the magnet of the ages. He draws or drives away. "Satan is the arch-waster, Christ the collector, Saviour" (Bruce).
But the blasphemy against the Spirit (η δε του πνευματος βλασφημια). Objective genitive. This is the unpardonable sin. In Matthew 12:32 we have κατα του πνευματος του αγιου to make it plainer. What is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? These Pharisees had already committed it. They had attributed the works of the Holy Spirit by whose power Jesus wrought his miracles (Matthew 12:28) to the devil. That sin was without excuse and would not be forgiven in their age or in the coming one (Matthew 12:32). People often ask if they can commit the unpardonable sin. Probably some do who ridicule the manifest work of God's Spirit in men's lives and attribute the Spirit's work to the devil.
Ye offspring of vipers (γεννηματα εχιδνων). These same terrible words the Baptist had used to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism (Matthew 3:7). But these Pharisees had deliberately made their choice and had taken Satan's side. The charge against Jesus of being in league with Satan reveals the evil heart within. The heart "spurts out" (εκβαλλε) good or evil according to the supply (treasure, θησαυρου) within. Verse Matthew 12:33 is like Matthew 7:17-19. Jesus often repeated his crisp pungent sayings as every teacher does.
Every idle word (παν ρημα αργον). An ineffective, useless word (α privative and εργον). A word that does no good and so is pernicious like pernicious anaemia. It is a solemn thought. Jesus who knows our very thoughts (Matthew 12:25) insists that our words reveal our thoughts and form a just basis for the interpretation of character (Matthew 12:37). Here we have judgment by words as in Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus presents judgment by deeds. Both are real tests of actual character. Homer spoke of "winged words" (πτεροεντα επεα). And by the radio our words can be heard all round the earth. Who knows where they stop?
A sign from thee (απο σου σημειον). One wonders at the audacity of scribes and Pharisees who accused Jesus of being in league with Satan and thus casting out demons who can turn round and blandly ask for a "sign from thee." As if the other miracles were not signs! "The demand was impudent, hypocritical, insulting" (Bruce).
An evil and adulterous generation (γενεα πονηρα κα μοιχαλις). They had broken the marriage tie which bound them to Jehovah (Plummer). See Psalms 73:27; Isaiah 57:3; Isaiah 62:5; Ezekiel 23:27; James 4:4; Revelation 2:20. What is "the sign of Jonah?"
The whale (του κητους). Sea-monster, huge fish. In Jonah 2:1 the LXX has κητε μεγαλω. "Three days and three nights" may simply mean three days in popular speech. Jesus rose "on the third day" (Matthew 16:21), not "on the fourth day." It is just a fuller form for "after three days" (Mark 8:31; Mark 10:34).
In the judgment (εν τη κρισε). Except here and in the next verse Matthew has "day of judgment" (ημερα κρισεως) as in Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:22; Matthew 11:24; Matthew 12:36. Luke (Luke 10:14) has εν τη κρισε.
They repented at the preaching of Jonah (μετενοησον εις το κηρυγμα Ιωνα). Note this use of εις just like εν. Note also πλειον (neuter), not πλειων (masc.). See the same idiom in Matthew 12:6 and Matthew 12:48. Jesus is something greater than the temple, than Jonah, than Solomon. "You will continue to disbelieve in spite of all I can say or do, and at last you will put me to death. But I will rise again, a sign for your confusion, if not for your conversion" (Bruce).
Into my house (εις τον οικον μου). So the demon describes the man in whom he had dwelt. "The demon is ironically represented as implying that he left his victim voluntarily, as a man leaves his house to go for a walk" (McNeile). "Worse than the first" is a proverb.
His mother and his brothers (η μητηρ κα ο αδελφο αυτου). Brothers of Jesus, younger sons of Joseph and Mary. The charge of the Pharisees that Jesus was in league with Satan was not believed by the disciples of Jesus, but some of his friends did think that he was beside himself (Mark 3:21) because of the excitement and strain. It was natural for Mary to want to take him home for rest and refreshment. So the mother and brothers are pictured standing outside the house (or the crowd). They send a messenger to Jesus.
Aleph, B, L, Old Syriac, omit this verse as do Westcott and Hort. It is genuine in Mark 3:32; Luke 8:20. It was probably copied into Matthew from Mark or Luke.
Behold my mother and my brothers (ιδου η μητηρ μου κα ο αδελφο μου). A dramatic wave of the hand towards his disciples (learners) accompanied these words. Jesus loved his mother and brothers, but they were not to interfere in his Messianic work. The real spiritual family of Jesus included all who follow him. But it was hard for Mary to go back to Nazareth and leave Jesus with the excited throng so great that he was not even stopping to eat (Mark 3:20).
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 12". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany