Why did Jesus allow His disciples to pluck corn on the Sabbath?


By BibleAsk Team

The Disciples Plucked Corn on the Sabbath

1 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.
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.
3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;
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?
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?
6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

Matthew 12:1-8

People often misunderstand Jesus’ approval of His disciples plucking corn and His healing of others on the Sabbath day. They see it as evidence that He neither observed nor taught His disciples to keep the Old Testament moral laws (Exodus 20:3-17) and regulations in regard to Sabbath observance.

The gospel of Mark gives account to this incident: “And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.  And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?

And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:23-28).

Here, the Pharisees accused Jesus with breaking the Sabbath when His disciples plucked corn. However, what the disciples did was not in violation of the law according to the Old Testament. The law specifically provided that a hungry person could eat of the fruit or grain of a field as they passed through it (Deuteronomy 23:24, 25). The law that the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking was one of their own devising (Matthew 23:2, 4).

Jesus Upheld the Law

In truth, Jesus kept the law of the Ten Commandments (which includes the Sabbath commandment- Exodus 20:8-11) in every way. And He confirmed the binding nature of the moral law when He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18). In addition, Jesus also recognized the validity of the ritual law of Moses as applicable to the Jews (Matthew 23:3).

Traditions of Men

During His ministry, Jesus was in conflict with the Jewish leaders over the validity of man-made laws and traditions (Mark 7:2-3, 8). Many regarded these traditions more important than the laws of Moses and the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees legalistically taught that salvation was to be obtained through an outward observance of these rules. A pious Jew’s life tended to become one endless effort to avoid ceremonial uncleanness. This system of righteousness by works was in complete opposition with righteousness by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Real Obedience

Jesus did not desire a disregard for God’s law in his dealing with the Pharisees. He actually demonstrated that He required more (Matthew 23:25-26). He showed that obedience must be from the heart. He said, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19-20).

God has always desired His people to delight in His law (Psalms 119:174), especially the commandment of keeping His Sabbath day (Isaiah 58:13-14). However, the Pharisees had made it into a system of drudgery and excessive rule keeping. They were more interested in controlling others through their rituals and appearing righteous than genuine obedience (Matthew 23:4-7, 27-28).

Lord of the Sabbath

Some may attempt to use this instance of Christ having His disciples pluck corn to eat on the Sabbath as Him doing away with the law. However, this is not a valid argument. It was lawful for Christ’s disciples to pluck corn and eat as long as they did not harvest it (Deuteronomy 23:25).

Christ, our example, kept the Sabbath day holy as it was his custom to worship in that day (Luke 4:16). He lived out in His life what true observance of the Sabbath commandment looks like. He said, “I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other” (Luke 6:9-10). 

The example that Christ gave shows that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. The son of God created all things (John 1:1-3) including the seventh day Sabbath. It was given at creation as a gift to God’s people as a time of rest and holiness (Genesis 2:2-3). And He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He calls Himself the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). If He is Lord of the Sabbath, it would only make sense that His holy day would remain for all time (Isaiah 66:22-23).

For more on the Sabbath, please check (Lessons 91-102) of the Bible Lessons.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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