Matthew 12
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.
1. began to pluck the ears of corn] The Pharisees, who seem to have been watching their opportunity, make the objection as soon as the disciples began what by Pharisaic rules was an unlawful act.

Ch. Matthew 12:1-13. The Observance of the Sabbath

1. The disciples pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath. 2. A man with a withered hand cured on the Sabbath.

St Mark 2:23-28; Mark 3:1-5; St Luke 6:1-11.

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.
2. that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day] This prohibition is a Pharisaic rule not found in the Mosaic Law. It was a principle with the Pharisees to extend the provisions of the Law and make minute regulations over and beyond what Moses commanded, in order to avoid the possibility of transgression. To pluck ears of corn was in a sense, the Pharisees said, to reap, and to reap on the Sabbath day was forbidden and punishable by death. These regulations did in fact make void the Law; e. g. the result of this particular prohibition was to contravene the intention or motive of the Sabbath. If sabbatical observances prevented men satisfying hunger, the Sabbath was no longer a blessing but an injury to man.

But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;
3. Ahimelech, the priest at Nob, gave David and his companions five loaves of the shewbread (1 Samuel 21:1-7).

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?
4. the shewbread] Literally, bread of setting forth, i. e. bread that was set forth in the sanctuary. It was also called “continual bread” as being set forth perpetually before the Lord, hence the Hebrew name, “bread of the presence.” Twelve loaves or cakes were placed in two “piles” (rather than “rows,” Leviticus 24:6) on the “pure table” every Sabbath. On each pile was put a golden cup of frankincense. See Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:6-8; Josephus, Ant. iii. 10. 7.

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?
5. the priests in the temple profane the sabbath] by labour in removing the shewbread, preparing fire for the sacrifice, and performing the whole temple service. “Not merely does the sacred history relate exceptional instances of necessity, but the Law itself ordains labour on the Sabbath as a duty” (Stier).

But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
7. I will have mercy, and not sacrifice] Quoted a second time, see ch. Matthew 9:13. There is something more binding than the Law, and that is the principle which underlies the Law. The Law rightly understood is the expression of God’s love to man. That love allowed the act of David, and the labour of the priests. “Shall it not permit My disciples to satisfy their hunger?”

For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.
And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:
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.
10. his hand withered] i. e. paralysed or affected by atrophy. St Luke has “his right hand.”

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?
11. In the other Synoptic Gospels the argument is different. “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life or to kill? St Matthew states the argument that bears specially on the Jewish Law. St Luke, however, mentions the application of the same argument by our Lord on a different occasion, ch. Matthew 14:5. Our Lord’s answer is thrown into the form of a syllogism, the minor premiss and conclusion of which are left to be inferred in St Luke loc. cit.

How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
12. How much then is a man better than a sheep?] Cp. “ye are of more value than many sparrows,” ch. Matthew 10:31.

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 the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.
14–21. The Pharisees plot against Jesus, who retires

Mark 3:6-12; Luke 6:11-12.

14. held a council against him] St Mark adds that the Herodians joined the Pharisees.

how they might destroy him] By argument and other means, if necessary by force.

But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;
15. he withdrew himself from thence] See ch. Matthew 10:23. Jesus follows the principle which He laid down for His disciples’ guidance.

And charged them that they should not make him known:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
17. spoken by Esaias the prophet] Isaiah 42:3. The original is not accurately followed; the words are probably quoted from memory.

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.
18. my servant] Israel as a nation is called the servant of Jehovah, Isaiah 41:8. Here the same title is given to Jesus, as the representative of the nation.

judgment] The Hebrew word is used in a wider sense to denote “religion as the rule of life;” hence judgment may mean (1) “the law of Christ,” “the Gospel,” or (2) adhering to the strict meaning of the Greek word, “the divine sentence or decree.”

to the Gentiles] Possibly our Lord in His retirement addressed Himself more especially to the Gentiles—the Greeks, Phœnicians, and others, settled near the Lake. “They about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, … came unto him,” Mark 3:8.

He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.
19, 20. These verses describe the gentleness and forbearance of Christ. He makes no resistance or loud proclamation like an earthly prince. The bruised reed and the feebly-burning wick may be referred to the failing lives which Jesus restores and the sparks of faith which He revives.

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.
20. till he send forth judgment unto victory] Until He shall make (1) the Gospel or (2) His judgment victorious.

And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.
21. in his name] The original Hebrew has “in his law.”

shall … trust] Rather, shall hope.

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.
22, 23. Cure of a Blind and Dumb Man

Luke 11:14-16.

And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.
24–30. The Charge, “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub.” The Answer of Jesus

Mark 3:22-27; Luke 11:17.

24. Beelzebub] See ch. Matthew 10:25.

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:
25. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation] Not that civil disputes destroy a nation, but a nation disunited, rent by factions, in the presence of a common enemy must fall. Here Satan’s kingdom is regarded as warring against the kingdom of God.

And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?
And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.
27. by whom do your children cast them out?] The children are the disciples of the Pharisees, who either really possessed the power of casting out evil spirits, or pretended to have that power. In either case the argument of Jesus was unanswerable.

But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
28. is come unto you] Literally, surprised you by coming, came upon you unawares.

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.
29. Not only is Satan not an ally, but he is an enemy and a vanquished enemy.

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.
30. He that is not with me is against me] The thought of the contest between Christ and Satan is continued. Satan is not divided against himself, neither can Christ be. Neutrality is impossible in the Christian life. It must be for Christ or against Christ. The metaphor of gathering and scattering may be from collecting and scattering a flock of sheep, or from gathering and squandering wealth, money, &c.

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
31–37. Blaspheming against the Holy Ghost

31. Wherefore] The conclusion of the whole is—you are on Satan’s side, and knowingly on Satan’s side, in this decisive struggle between the two kingdoms, and this is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost—an unpardonable sin.

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.
32. whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost] To speak against the Holy Ghost is to speak against the clear voice of the Holy Ghost within the heart—wilful sin against knowledge. Jesus, who saw the heart, knew that the Pharisees were insincere in the charge which they brought against Him. They were attributing to Satan what they knew to be the work of God. Their former attacks against the Son of man had excuse; for instance, they might have differed conscientiously on the question of Sabbath observance, now they have no excuse.

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
33. Either make the tree good, &c.] The meaning and connection are; “Be honest for once; represent the tree as good, and its fruit as good, or the tree as evil and its fruit as evil; either say that I am evil and that my works are evil, or, if you admit that my works are good, admit that I am good also and not in league with Beelzebub.”

O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
34. generation of vipers] Cp. ch. Matthew 3:7.

abundance] The same Greek word is translated, “that which was left,” Mark 8:8. Words are, as it were, the overflow of the heart.

A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
35. treasure] Rather, treasury or storehouse: for a similar use of the Greek word see ch. Matthew 2:11.

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
36. idle] Rather, useless, ineffectual for good. Words must be not only not evil, but they must be actively good. The same principle rules the decisionat the final judgment (ch. Matthew 25:45).

For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
37. by thy words] i. e. thy words shall be the ground of thy acquittal or condemnation. Character shews itself by words. We often say of a friend, “We know what he will say when he hears this or that.”

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
38. we would see a sign from thee] This is the second expedient taken by the Pharisees after their resolution to destroy Jesus.

38–42. The Pharisees ask for a Sign

St Luke 11:16; Luke 11:29-32. St Luke omits, or at least does not state explicitly, the special application of the sign given in Matthew 12:40, to understand which required a knowledge of the Jewish prophets which would be lacking to St Luke’s readers.

But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
39. adulterous] estranged from God; a figure often used by the Prophets to express the defection of Israel from Jehovah.

For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
40. Jonah is a sign (1) as affording a type of the Resurrection, (2) as a preacher of righteousness to a people who needed repentance as this generation needs it.

the whale’s belly] The Greek word translated “whale” means “a sea monster.” The O. T. rendering is more accurate “the fish’s belly” (Jonah 2:1), “a great fish” (Jonah 1:17). It is scarcely needful to note that there are no whales in the Mediterranean.

The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
41. in judgment with] More exactly, stand up in the judgment, i. e. in the day of judgment, beside. When on the day of judgment the Ninevites stand side by side with the men of that generation, they will by their penitence condemn the impenitent Jews.

The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
42. The queen of the south] So correctly and not a queen of the South as some translate. The absence of the definite article in the original is due to the influence of the Hebrew idiom. The queen of Sheba, Southern Arabia, 1 Kings 10:1.

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
43. dry places] The waterless desert uninhabited by man was regarded by the Jews as the especial abode of evil spirits.

43–45. A Figure to illustrate the surpassing Wickedness of the day

Luke 11:24-26, where the connection is different. St Luke, as usual, omits the direct application to Israel.

The connection is not clearly marked. It seems to be this: Christ has been speaking of “this generation;” He now contrasts it with past generations. The Jews of former times were like a man possessed by a demon, the Jews of this day are like a man possessed by many demons.

Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
44. empty] Properly, at leisure. To have cast out a sin does not make a man safe from sin, there must be no leisure in the Christian life.

Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
45. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation] Israel had cast forth the demon of idolatry—the sin of its earlier history, but worse demons had entered in—the more insidious and dangerous sins of hypocrisy and hardness of heart.

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.
46–50. Jesus is sought by His Mother and Brethren. The true Mother and Brethren of Jesus

Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21The account is given with very slight variation by the three Synoptists. But see Mark 3:21; Mark 3:30-31, where a motive is suggested—“When his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself” (Matthew 12:21). Comp. the then=therefore, of Matthew 12:31. It would seem that the Pharisees, on the pretext that Jesus had a demon, had persuaded His friends to secure Him. This was another device to destroy Jesus, see Matthew 12:14; Matthew 12:38.

Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.
47. thy brethren] It is a point of controversy whether these were (1) the own brothers of Jesus, sons of Joseph and Mary, or (2) sons of Joseph by a former marriage, or (3) cousins, sons of a sister of Mary. Their names are given ch. Matthew 13:55, where see note.

But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
49. Behold my mother and my brethren] The new life subverts the old relationships. By the spiritual birth new ties of kindred are established.

For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
50. whosoever shall do the will of my Father] “These which hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

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