But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.—Yet a third argument follows from the Old Testament (Hosea 6:6). The teachers or interpreters of the Law had failed to catch the meaning of the simplest utterances of the prophets. “Mercy and not sacrifice,” moral and not positive duties, these made up the true life of religion, and were alone acceptable to God. It was because they had inverted the right relation of the two that they had, in this instance, condemned those whom our Lord now declares to have been in this respect absolutely guiltless.Matthew 12:7-8. But if ye had known what that meaneth — If ye had known the intent of that scripture, Hosea 6:6, I will have mercy, &c. — That is, I always prefer acts of mercy before matters of positive institution, when in any instance they interfere with each other; and even before all ceremonial institutions whatever; because these being only means of religion, are suspended, of course, if circumstances occur wherein they clash with love, which is the end of it: ye would not have condemned the guiltless — As you have now done, merely for rubbing out a handful of corn to refresh themselves in my service. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day — The law enjoining the observation of every seventh day as a day of holy rest, as all other laws, is in my power, and may be altered, enforced, or dispensed with, as I see good. My disciples, therefore, are guiltless, were it only on this account, that they act by my authority, and attend on me in my ministry, as the priests attended on God in the temple. This expression, is Lord even of the sabbath, evidently implies, that the sabbath was an institution of great and distinguished importance. It may, perhaps, also refer to that signal act of authority which Christ afterward exerted over it, in changing it from the seventh to the first day of the week. If we suppose here a transposition of the seventh and eighth verses, then the eighth verse is a proof of the sixth.Matthew 12:7 to a passage he had before quoted (See the notes at Matthew 9:13), showing that God preferred acts of righteousness, rather than a precise observance of a ceremonial law.
Mark adds Mark 2:27 "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." That is, the Sabbath was intended for the welfare of man; it was designed to promote his happiness, and not to produce misery by harsh, unfeeling requirements. It is not to be so interpreted as to produce suffering by making the necessary supply of wants unlawful. Man was not made for the Sabbath. Man was created first, and then the Sabbath was appointed for his happiness, Genesis 2:1-3. His necessities, his real comforts and needs, are not to be made to bend to that which was made "for him." The laws are to be interpreted favorably to his real wants and comforts. This authorizes works only of real necessity, not of imaginary wants, or amusements, or common business and worldly employments.
ye would not have condemned the guiltless—that is, Had ye understood the great principle of all religion, which the Scripture everywhere recognizes—that ceremonial observances must give way before moral duties, and particularly the necessities of nature—ye would have refrained from these captious complaints against men who in this matter are blameless. But our Lord added a specific application of this great principle to the law of the sabbath, preserved only in Mark: "And he said unto them, the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mr 2:27). A glorious and far-reaching maxim, alike for the permanent establishment of the sabbath and the true freedom of its observance.Hosea 6:6; we met with it before quoted by our Saviour, Matthew 9:13. The meaning is, that God prefers mercy before sacrifice. Where two laws in respect of some circumstance seem to clash one with another, so as we cannot obey both, our obedience is due to that which is the more excellent law. Now, saith our Saviour, the law of mercy is the more excellent law; God prefers it before sacrifice; which had you well considered, you would never have accused my disciples, who in this point are guiltless. Hosea 6:6
I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; of the sense of which, see Gill on Matthew 9:13.
ye would not have condemned the guiltless. Our Lord taxes the Pharisees both with ignorance of the Scriptures, in which they pretended to be very knowing, and took upon them to be the interpreters of; and with inhumanity, for condemning innocent persons, the apostles, for rubbing a few ears of corn, for the refreshment of nature; which they would never have done, had they understood the word, and will of God; who prefers acts of humanity, compassion, and mercy, to the observance of rites and ceremonies; or had they the common affections of human nature, and those bowels of compassion which one man ought to show to another.But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 12:7. After this defence of His disciples, He shows the Pharisees that in judging them as they had done they were animated by a perverse disposition. He shows how they were destitute of the compassionate love which God requires in Hosea 6:6, while their thoughts were exclusively directed to sacrifice and ceremonial religion generally. From want of ἔλεος, which would have disposed them to regard the conduct of the hungry ones in a totally different light, they, i.e. those ceremonialists, had condemned the disciples. See, besides, note on Matthew 9:13.Matthew 12:7. he principle of human need stated in terms of a favourite prophetic oracle (Matthew 9:13).—εἰ δὲ ἐγνώκειτε … οὐκ ἂν κατεδικάσατε: the form of expression, a past indicative in protasis, with a past indicative with ἂν in apodosis, implies that the supposition is contrary to fact (Burton, N. T. Moods and Tenses, § 248). The Pharisees did not know what the oracle meant; hence on a previous occasion Jesus bade them go and learn (Matthew 9:13). If their pedantry blinded them to distinctions of higher and lower in institutions, or rather made them reckon the least the greatest command, minutiæ testing obedience, it still more deadened their hearts to the claims of mercy and humanity. Of course this idolatry went on from bad to worse. For the Jews of a later, templeless time, the law was greater than the temple (Holtz., in H.C., quoting Weber).—ἀναιτίους: doubly guiltless: as David was through imperious hunger, as the priests were when subordinating Sabbath, to temple, requirements.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?”Matthew 12:7. Ἐγνώκειτε, ye would have known) The pluperfect tense.—ἔλεον, mercy) See ch. Matthew 9:13. The disciples accorded mercy to themselves, and the Pharisees had violated it by their rash judgment.—θυσίαν, sacrifice) More sacred than the Sabbath. See Matthew 12:5.—οὐκ ἄν κατεδικάσατε, ye would not have condemned) Rashly, quickly, cruelly. By this argument an answer would have been given, if any one had doubted whether it were lawful to pluck the ears before the Passover.
 Imitating David in this respect.—V. g.
 By indulgence in condemning thoughts, one often falls into sin himself unawares, whilst he is arraigning another as guilty of sin.—V. g.Verse 7. - Matthew only. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I wilt have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless (on the quotation, see Matthew 9:13, note). Had you learned the simple Bible truth that God places the exercise of your moral faculties, particularly those of kindness, above merely external observances, you would not have committed this sin of taking up the position of wrong judges. He traces their error up to its true source, ignorance of the first principles of religion, ignorance of what God really desires. Condemned. Formally and officially (καταδικάζω). The guiltless. As were the very priests (ver. 5).
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