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Plucking grain on the Sabbath

On the outskirts of the Sea of Galilee, there were many beautiful grainfields. They added to my beauty of the area where Jesus laboured.
This incident I am going to tell you about took place on a Sabbath day in the late spring of a.d. 29.
Let me ask Mark in his gospel to tell you more of what happened:
Mark 2:23 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.
The disciples were not walking through the grainfields, treading it down, but along a path that went through the fields.
Inasmuch as the Pharisees made no objection to the distance covered, it would seem that it was not more than a Sabbath day’s journey, that is, about a kilometer.
Jesus and the disciples began rubbing the barley in their hands to remove the hulls. By the way they ate I could see they were hungry and there is not much of a taste in eating raw grain.
Mark 2:24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
This was Christ’s fourth recorded encounter with the scribes and Pharisees since the opening of His Galilean ministry
Upon any other day of the week than the Sabbath the action of the disciples would undoubtedly have passed unchallenged, for OT law specifically provided that a hungry person could eat of the fruit or grain of a field as he passed.
Listen what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 23:24 “When you come into your neighbour’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container.
Deuteronomy 23:25 When you come into your neighbour’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbour’s standing grain.
Christ’s approval of what His disciples did here, and His own acts of healing upon the Sabbath day, are often misunderstood by modern writers.
They regard it as proof that He neither observed personally nor taught His disciples to observe the OT laws and regulations in regard to Sabbath observance.
Some also assert that the stand Christ took regarding these matters is to be interpreted as a rejection by Him of the fourth commandment. The facts are that Jesus personally adhered to the requirements of the law of Moses and the Decalogue in every respect and taught His followers to do the same.
He repeatedly affirmed the eternally binding nature of the moral law (see on Matt. 5:17, 18; John 15:10; etc.), and recognized also the validity of the ritual law of Moses as applicable to Jews at that time (see on Matt. 23:3). Jesus, of course, was a Jew.
But throughout His ministry on earth Christ was in conflict with the Jewish leaders over the validity of man-made laws and traditions (see on Mark 7:2, 3, 8). Toward these requirements, which apparently many of His contemporaries had come to regard as even more essential to piety than the laws of Moses and the Decalogue, Christ took a position of uncompromising opposition (see on ch. 2:19).
The most cursory, superficial examination of many of these requirements makes their absurdity evident, yet the Pharisees sternly taught that salvation was to be obtained through the rigorous observance of all these rules.
A pious Jew’s life tended to become one endless and vain effort to avoid ceremonial uncleanness, incurred when the least detail of these purely human requirements might have been disobeyed accidently, unintended. This system of righteousness by works was in mortal conflict with righteousness by faith.
The Mishnah lists 39 primary, or major, types of labour prohibited on the Sabbath day (Shabbath 7. 2, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, pp. 348, 349). The first 11 of these were steps leading to the production and preparation of bread: sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting (sorting what was unfit for food from what was fit), grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking.
The next 12 apply to similar steps in the preparation of clothing, from the shearing of sheep to the actual sewing of garments. These are followed by 7 steps in preparing the carcass of a deer for use as food or for leather. The remaining items listed have to do with writing, building, the kindling and extinguishing of fires, and the transportation of articles from one place to another.
These general regulations were further explained in minute detail. In addition to these major regulations there were countless other provisions concerning the observance of the Sabbath.
Most known, perhaps, is the so-called “sabbath day’s journey” of 2,000 cu.— somewhat less than 2/3 mi. (see on p. 50). It was also counted as Sabbath breaking to look in a mirror fixed to the wall (Shabbath 149a, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, p. 759), or even to light a candle.
Yet the same regulations permitted an egg laid on the Sabbath to be sold to a Gentile, and a Gentile to be hired to light a candle or a fire.
It was counted unlawful to expectorate, spit upon the ground, lest thereby a blade of grass be irrigated. It was not permissible to carry a handkerchief on the Sabbath, unless one end of it be sewed to one’s garment—in which case it was no longer technically a handkerchief but part of the garment.
Similarly the regulation concerning the distance one might walk on the Sabbath day could be circumvented by hiding portions of food at appropriate intervals along the way one expected to take. Technically, then, the place where one’s food reposed could be considered as another “home” of the owner.
From each such cache, stockpile of food it was then possible to take another Sabbath day’s journey, on to the next similar cache. Such were but a few of the “heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” (Matt. 23:4) that had been placed upon the pious Jews of Christ’s day.
By thus straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel the Pharisees were continually employing the letter of man-made laws to destroy the spirit of the law of God. The Sabbath, designed originally to afford man an opportunity to know his Maker through a study of the things He had made, and to reflect upon His love and goodness, became, instead, a reminder of the selfish and arbitrary character of Pharisee and scribe. It effectively misrepresented the character of God, by picturing Him as a tyrant.
Nature declares the wisdom, power, and love of God, and it was to these things that the Sabbath was designed in the beginning to direct man’s attention, lest man become so absorbed in his own activities that he forget the One who gave him his being and who constantly exerted divine power for his happiness and welfare.
The problem some modern Christians find in determining what may or may not be appropriate as a Sabbath activity is readily solved once the purpose of the Sabbath is clearly in mind. Whatever draws us closer to God, helps us to understand better His will for us and His ways of dealing with us, and leads us to cooperate more effectively with Him in our own lives and in contributing to the happiness and well-being of others—this is true Sabbath observance (see on Isa. 58:13; Mark 2:27, 28).
I like the way Jesus in which answered and reacted to the criticisms of the Pharisees. Listen to this one:
Mark 2:25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:
Jesus implies that in their study of the Scriptures they missed the lesson implicit in the incident He is about to relate.
When he had need. The sacred laws and things pertaining to the sanctuary had been ordained for the good of man, and if ever these should conflict with his best interests, with that which was most needful for him, they must be subordinated.
Mark 2:26 how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
At the time of the incident here referred to the Temple had not yet been built. The “house of God” still consisted only of the tabernacle, at that time at Nob.
Abiathar was the son of Ahimelech, who was the official high priest at the time this incident occurred (see 1 Sam. 21:1, 6). The words of Jesus seem to suggest that Abiathar was deputy to his aging father and so actually performing at least some of the functions of the high priestly office even during the latter’s lifetime, and under his supervision.
When Ahimelech was slain Abiathar fled to David, carrying with him the sacred ephod, symbol of the high priestly office (see 1 Sam. 22:20). An analogous situation prevailed in Christ’s day, when Caiaphas was high priest, but Annas was recognized by all as being a kind of high priest emeritus (see Acts 4:6; see on Luke 3:2).
Exodus 25:30 And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always.
Elaborate rules for the preparation and use of the “bread of the Presence” set it apart as holy. The old bread, removed from the table of shewbread in the holy place, was to be eaten by the priests within the sacred precincts of the sanctuary.
Let’s ask Moses to give us some more detail:
Leviticus 24:5 “And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake.
Leviticus 24:6 You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD.
Leviticus 24:7 And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD.
Leviticus 24:8 Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.
Leviticus 24:9 And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute.”
None but the priests might eat the consecrated bread.
Mark 2:27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
When was the Sabbath made for all man?
The Christ-centered message of this gift of rest. I trust that you will experience the divine rest when we do the next lecture on something that God regard as holy.

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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