Chrys.: Now this is the same publican who is named by all the Evangelists; Matthew by Matthew; simply Levi by Luke; and Levi, the son of Alphaeus, by Mark; for he was the son of Alphaeus. And you may find persons with two names in other parts of Scripture; as Moses’ father in law is sometimes called Jethro, sometimes Raguel.
Bede, in Marc., 11: So also the same person is called Levi and Matthew; but Luke and Mark, on account of their reverence and the honour of the Evangelist, are unwilling to put the common name, while Matthew is a just accuser of himself, and calls himself Matthew and publican. He wishes to shew to his hearers that no one who is converted should despair of his salvation, since he himself was suddenly changed from a publican into an Apostle. but he says that he was sitting at the ‘teloneum,’ that is, the place where the customs are looked after and administered. For ‘telos’ in Greek is the same as ‘vectigal,’ customs, in Latin.
Theophylact: For he sat at the receipt of custom, either, as is often done, exacting from some, or making up accounts, or doing some actions of that sort, which publicans are wont to do in their abodes, yea this man, who was raised on high from this state of life that he might leave all things and follow Christ. Wherefore it goes on, “And He saith to him, Follow Me, &c.”
Bede: Now to follow is to imitate, and therefore in order to imitate the poverty of Christ, in the feeling of his soul even more than in outward condition, he who used to rob his neighbour’s wealth, now leaves his own. And not only did he quit the gain of the customs, but he also despised the peril, which might come from the princes of this world, because he left the accounts of the customs imperfect and unsettled. For the Lord Himself, Who externally, by human language, called Him to follow, inflamed him inwardly by divine inspiration to follow Him the moment that He called him.
Pseudo-Jerome: Thus then Levi, which means Appointed, followed from the custom-house of human affairs, the Word, Who says, “He who doth not quit all that he has, cannot be My disciple.”
Theophylact: But he who used to plot against others becomes so benevolent, that he invites many persons to eat with him.Wherefore it goes on: “And it came to pass, that as Jesus sat at meat in his house.”
Bede, in Marc. i, 12: The persons here called publicans are those who exact the public customs, or men who farm the customs of the exchequer or of republics; moreover, those also, who follow after the gain of this world by business, are called by the same name. They who had seen that the publican, converted from his sins to better things, had found a place of pardon, even for this reason themselves also do not despair of salvation.
And they come to Jesus, not remaining in their former sins, as the Pharisees and Scribes complain, but in penitence, as the following words of the Evangelist shew, saying, “For there were many who followed Him.”
For the Lord went to the feasts of sinners, that He might have an opportunity of teaching them, and might set before His entertainers spiritual meats, which also is carried on in mystical figures. For he who receives Christ into his inward habitation is fed with the highest delights of overflowing pleasures.
Therefore the Lord enters willingly, and takes up His abode in the affection of him who hath believed on Him; and this is the spiritual banquet of good works, which the rich cannot have, and on which the poor feast.
Bede: If by the election of Matthew and calling of the publicans, the faith of the Gentiles is expressed, who formerly were intent on the gains of this world; certainly the haughtiness of the Scribes and Pharisees intimates the envy of the Jewish people, who are vexed at the salvation of the Gentiles. It goes on: “When Jesus heard it, He saith unto them, They that are whole need not the physician, but they that are sick.”
He aims at the Scribes and Pharisees, who, thinking themselves righteous, refused to keep company with sinners. He calls Himself the physician, Who, by a strange mode of healing, was wounded on account of our iniquities, and by His wound we are healed. And He calls those whole and righteous, who, wishing to establish their own righteousness, are not subject to the righteousness of God. Moreover He calls those rich and sinners, who, overcome by the consciousness of their own frailty, and seeing that they cannot be justified by the Law, submit their necks to the grace of Christ by repentance. Wherefore it is added, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, &c.”
Mar 2:15 And it came to pass, that as Jesus sat at meat in his house,…. In the house of Levi; not in the custom house, or toll booth, for that he left; but in his house in the city of Capernaum, where he had him, and made an entertainment for him, in token of gratitude, for the high favour bestowed on him:
many publicans and sinners sat also together, with Jesus, and his disciples; being invited by Levi, and not objected to by Christ; See Gill on Mat_9:10.
for there were many, and they followed him; either Christ whom they had observed to have called Matthew, and had heard preach by the sea side; or else Matthew; and so the Persic version renders it, “for many followed Matthew”. The Ethiopic version reads the words, “and they were many”, that is, publicans and sinners, “and the Scribes and Pharisees followed him”; mentioned in the next verse, from whence it seems to be taken; though true it is, that not only a large number of publicans and sinners followed Christ, but also many of the Scribes and Pharisees; yet with a different view from the former, not to get any advantage to themselves, but, if they could, an advantage against Christ.
Mar 2:15 Many publicans and notorious sinners sat with Jesus – Some of them doubtless invited by Matthew, moved with compassion for his old companions in sin. But the next words, For there were many, and they followed him, seem to imply, that the greater part, encouraged by his gracious words and the tenderness of his behaviour, and impatient to hear more, stayed for no invitation, but pressed in after him, and kept as close to him as they could.
Sat at meat in the house – The words “at meat” are not in the original. The phrase means “as he reclined at his meal,” or “as he was eating.” This feast was made by Matthew in honor of the Saviour. See Luk_5:29.
Publicans – See the notes at Mat_5:47.
Sinners – Sinners of abandoned character – of the same character that publicans commonly sustained – fit companions of publicans – great sinners.
There were many – That is, many “disciples.” Their following him, leaving their homes, and going with him from place to place, was proof of their attachment to him. There is no doubt that our Saviour, in the early part of his ministry, was extremely popular. Multitudes of the common people attended him, and gave conclusive evidence that they were his real disciples, and it was only after much opposition from the rich and the great that he ever became unpopular among the people. Perhaps no preacher has ever attracted so universal attention, and produced so decisive effects upon mankind, as did our Lord in his personal ministry.
Sinners – By αμαρτωλοι, the Gentiles or heathens are generally to be understood in the Gospels, for this was a term the Jews never applied to any of themselves, See the note on Mat_9:10.
How is it that he eateth – Some very good MSS., several versions, with Chrysostom and Augustin, read, Why doth Your Master eat?
The scribes of the Pharisees (hoi grammateis ton Pharisaion). This is the correct text. Cf. “their scribes” in Luk_5:30. Matthew gave a great reception (dochen, Luk_5:29) in his house (Mar_2:15). These publicans and sinners not simply accepted Levi’s invitation, but they imitated his example “and were following Jesus” (kai ekolouthoun autoi). It was a motly crew from the standpoint of these young theologues, scribes of the Pharisees, who were on hand, being invited to pick flaws if they could. It was probably in the long hall of the house where the scribes stood and ridiculed Jesus and the disciples, unless they stood outside, feeling too pious to go into the house of a publican. It was an offence for a Jew to eat with Gentiles as even many of the early Jewish Christians felt (Act_11:3) and publicans and sinners were regarded like Gentiles (1Co_5:11).
Not they who are in health need a physician It is evident from Christ’s reply that the scribes erred in two ways: they did not take into account the office of Christ; and, while they spared their own vices, they proudly despised all others. This deserves our particular attention, for it is a disease which has been always very general. Hypocrites, being satisfied and intoxicated with a foolish confidence in their own righteousness, do not consider the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world, and do not acknowledge the depth of evils in which the human race is plunged, or the dreadful wrath and curse of God which lies on all, or the accumulated load of vices which weighs them down.
The consequence is, that they are too stupid to feel the miseries of men, or to think of a remedy. While they flatter themselves, they cannot endure to be placed in their own rank, and think that injustice is done them, when they are classed with transgressors. Our Lord glances at this second error by replying, that they who are in health have no need of a physicianIt is an ironical admission, and is intended to show that they are offended when they see sinners, because they claim righteousness for themselves. Because you are in health, (he says,) you despise the sick, are offended at them, and cannot endure the sight of them: but a physician ought to be affected in a very different manner. He afterwards points out that he must discharge the duties of a physician, because he has been sent by the Father to call sinners
Though Christ begins with reproof, yet if we desire to make progress in his doctrine, what he has put in the second place must receive our first consideration. He came to quicken the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were polluted and full of uncleanness, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, to renew to a blessed immortality those who were debased by disgusting vices. If we consider that this was his office and the end of his coming, — if we remember that this was the reason why he took upon him our flesh, why he shed his blood, why he offered the sacrifice of his death, why he descended even to hell, we will never think it strange that he should gather to salvation those who have been the worst of men, and who have been covered with a mass of crimes.
He whom you detest appears to you to be unworthy of the grace of Christ. Why then was Christ himself made a sacrifice and a curse, but that he might stretch out his hand to accursed sinners? Now, if we feel disgust at being associated by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with vile men, and regard our connection with them as a sort of stain upon us, we ought immediately to descend into ourselves, and to search without flattery our own evils. Such an examination will make us willingly allow ourselves to be washed in the same fountain with the most impure, and will hinder us from rejecting the righteousness which he offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation which he offers to the lost.
To repentance – This is omitted by ABDKL, twenty-seven others; both the Syriac, Persic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Gothic, Vulgate; six copies of the Itala; Euthymius and Augustin. Griesbach has left it out of the text; Grotius, Mill, and Bengel approve of the omission. See on Mat_9:13 (note). I leave it as in the parallel place above quoted. Properly speaking, the righteous cannot be called to repentance. They have already forsaken sin, mourned for it, and turned to God. In the other parallel place, Luk_5:32, all the MSS. and versions retain μετανοιαν, repentance.
Gloss.: As above, the Master was accused to the disciples for keeping company with sinners in their feasts, so now, on the other hand, the disciples are complained of to the Master for their omission of fasts, that so matter for dissension might arise amongst them. Wherefore it is said, “And the disciples of John and the Pharisees used to fast.”
Chrys.: The disciples of John, therefore, and of the Pharisees, being jealous of Christ, ask Him, whether He alone of all men with His disciples could, without abstinence and toil, conquer in the fight of the passions.
Bede: But John did not drink wine and strong drink, because he who has no power by nature, obtains more merit by abstinence. But why should the Lord, to whom it naturally belonged to forgive sins, shun those whom he could make more pure, than those who fast? But Christ also fasted, lest He should break the precept, “He ate with sinners,” that thou mightest see His grace, and acknowledge His power. It goes on; “And Jesus said unto them, Can the children, &c.”
Theophylact: We must also understand that every man whose works are good is the son of the Bridegroom; he has the Bridegroom with him, even Christ, and fasts not, that is, does no works of repentance, because he does not sin: but when the Bridegroom is taken away by the man’s falling into sin, then he fasts and is penitent, that he may cure his sin.
Bede: But in a mystical sense, it may thus be expressed; that the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, because every man who boasts of the works of the law without faith, who follows the traditions of men, and receives the preaching of Christ with his bodily ear, and not by the faith of the heart, keeps aloof from spiritual goods, and wastes away with a fasting soul. But he who is incorporated into the members of Christ by a faithful love cannot fast, because he feasts upon His Body and Blood.
It goes on, “No one seweth a piece of” rough, that is, “new, cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filleth it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.”
Bede: For He compares His disciples to old bottles, who would burst at spiritual precepts, rather than be held in restraint by them. But they will be new bottles, when after the ascension of the Lord, they are renewed by desiring His consolation, and then new wine will come to the new bottles, that is, the fervour of the Holy Ghost will fill the hearts of spiritual men. A teacher must also take heed not to commit the hidden things of the new mysteries to a soul, hardened in old wickedness.
Theophylact: Or else the disciples are likened to old garments on account of the infirmity of their minds, on which it was not fitting to impose the heavy command of fasting.
Bede: Neither was it fitting to sew on a new piece; that is, a portion of doctrine which teaches a general fast from all the joy of temporal delights; for if this be done, the teaching is rent, and agrees not with the old part. But by a new garment is intended good works, which are done externally, and by the new wine, is expressed the fervour of faith, hope, and charity, by which we are reformed in our minds.
Then come to him the disciples of John.Luke represents the Pharisees as speaking: Mark appears to connect both. And, indeed, there is no room to doubt that the Pharisees maliciously endeavored, by this stratagem, to draw the disciples of John to their party, and to produce a quarrel between them and the disciples of Christ. A resemblance in prayers and fastings was a plausible pretext for associating at this time: while the different manner in which Christ acted was an occasion of enmity and dislike to men whose temper was unamiable, and who were excessively devoted to themselves.
This example reminds us, that prudence and caution are necessary to prevent wicked and cunning men from sowing divisions among us on any slight grounds. Satan has a wonderful dexterity, no doubt, in laying those snares; and it is an easy matter to distress us about a trifle. But we ought especially to beware lest the unity of faith be destroyed, or the bond of charity broken, on account of outward ceremonies. Almost all labor under the disease of attaching undue importance to the ceremonies and elements of the world, as Paul calls them, (Gal_4:3; Col_2:8;) and accordingly they do not hesitate, for the most part, to prefer the merest rudiments to the highest perfection. This is followed by another evil arising out of fastidiousness and pride, when every man would willingly compel the whole world to copy his example. If any thing pleases us, we forthwith desire to make it a law, that others may live according to our pleasure.
When we read that the disciples of John were caught by these snares of Satan, let us first learn not to place holiness in outward and indifferent matters, and at the same time to restrain ourselves by moderation and equity, that we may not desire to restrict others to what we approve, but may allow every one to retain his freedom. As to fasting and prayers, it ought to be understood, that John gave his disciples a particular training, and that for this purpose they had stated days for fastings, a settled form, and fixed hours of prayer. Now, I reckon those prayers among outward observances. For, though calling on God holds the first rank in spiritual worship, yet that method of doing it was adapted to the unskilfulness of men, and is justly reckoned among ceremonies and indifferent matters, the observance of which ought not to be too strictly enjoined. Of the reason why John’s discipline was more severe than that of Christ we have already spoken, and a more convenient opportunity for treating of it will again occur.
saying, why do we, and the Pharisees, fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? Not that they wanted to know the reason why they and the Pharisees fasted; that they could account for themselves, but why Christ’s disciples did not: and this is said not so much by way of inquiry, as reproof; and their sense is; that Christ’s disciples ought to fast, as well as they and the Pharisees, and not eat, and drink, and feast in the manner they did. The fastings here referred to are not the public fasts enjoined by the law of Moses, or in any writings of the Old Testament; but private fasts, which were enjoined by John to his disciples, and by the Pharisees to their’s; or which were, according to the traditions of the elders, or of their own appointing, and which were very “often” indeed: for besides their fasting twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, Luk_18:12 they had a multitude of fasts upon divers occasions, particularly for rain (c). If the 17th of Marchesvan, or October, came, and there was no rain, private persons kept three days of fasting, viz. Monday, Thursday, and Monday again: and if the month of Cisleu, or November, came, and there was no rain, then the sanhedrim appointed three fast days, which were on the same days as before, for the congregation; and if still there was no rain came, they added three more; and if yet there were none, they enjoined seven more, in all thirteen, which R. Acha and R. Barachiah kept themselves (d). Fasts were kept also on account of many other evils, as pestilence, famine, war, sieges, inundations, or any other calamity; sometimes for trifling things, as for dreams (e), that they might have good ones, or know how to interpret them, or avoid any ill omen by them; and it is almost incredible what frequent fastings some of the Rabbins exercised themselves with, on very insignificant occasions. They (f) say,
“R. Jose צם תמניי צומין, “fasted fourscore fasts” to see R. Chiyah Rubba; at last he saw, and his hands trembled, and his eyes grew dim: –R. Simeon Ben Lakish צם תלת מאוון צומין, “fasted three hundred fastings” to see R. Chiyah Rubba, and did not see him.”
Elsewhere it is said, that R. Ase fasted “thirty days” to see the same person, and saw him not (g). Again (h),
“R. Jonathan fasted every eve of the new year, R. Abin fasted every eve of the feast of tabernacles, R. Zeura fasted “three hundred fasts”, and there are that say “nine hundred fasts”.”
This may serve to illustrate and prove the frequency of the Jewish fastings. Luke represents this question as put by the Pharisees, which is here put by the disciples of John: it was doubtless put by both agreeing in this matter; and which shows that John’s disciples were instigated to it by the Pharisees, who sought to sow discord between them, and to bring Christ and his disciples into contempt with them.
(c) Misn. Taanith, c. 1. sect. 4. 5, 6. & c. 3. sect. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. (d) T. Hieros. Taanlot, fol. 65. 2. & 66. 4. (e) T. Bab. Sabbat. fol. 10. 1. Maimon Taaniot, c. 1. sect. 12-14. (f) T. Hieros. Cilaim, fol. 32. 2. & Cetubot, fol. 35. 1. (g) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 79. 1. (h) lb. Nedarim, fol. 40. 4. & Taanioth, fol. 66. 1.
John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting (esan hoi mathetai Ioanou kai hoi Pharisaioi nesteuontes). The periphrastic imperfect, so common in Mark’s vivid description. Probably Levi’s feast happened on one of the weekly fast-days (second and fifth days of the week for the stricter Jews). So there was a clash of standpoints. The disciples of John sided with the Pharisees in the Jewish ceremonial ritualistic observances. John was still a prisoner in Machaerus. John was more of an ascetic than Jesus (Mat_18:1.; Luk_7:33-35), but neither one pleased all the popular critics. These learners (mathetai) or disciples of John had missed the spirit of their leader when they here lined up with the Pharisees against Jesus. But there was no real congeniality between the formalism of the Pharisees and the asceticism of John the Baptist. The Pharisees hated John who had denounced them as broods of vipers. Here the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees (hoi mathetai Ioanou kai hoi mathetai ton Pharisaion) join in criticizing Jesus and his disciples. Later we shall see Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, who bitterly detested each other, making com- mon cause against Jesus Christ. So today we find various hostile groups combining against our Lord and Saviour. See notes on Mat_9:14-17 for comments. Matthew has here followed Mark closely.
15. Can the children of the bridegroom mourn?Christ apologizes for his disciples on the score of the season, alleging that God was still pleased to indulge them in joyous feelings, as if they were present at a marriage: for he compares himself to the bridegroom, who enlivens his friends by his presence. Chrysostomthinks that this comparison was taken from the testimony of John the Baptist, He that hath the bride is the bridegroom,(Joh_3:29.) I have no objection to that view, though I do not think that it rests on solid grounds. Let us be satisfied with Christ’s declaration, that he spares his disciples, and treats them with gentleness, so long as he is with them. That none may envy them advantages which are of short duration, he gives warning that they will very soon be treated with greater harshness and severity.
The apology rests on this consideration, that fasting and prayers are adapted to sorrow and adversity: extraordinary prayers I mean, such as are here mentioned. Christ certainly intended to accustom them, by degrees, to greater patience, and not to lay on them a heavy burden, till they gained more strength. Hence we ought to learn a twofold instruction. When the Lord sometimes endures the weakness of our brethren, and acts towards them with gentleness, while he treats us with greater severity, we have no right to murmur. Again, when we sometimes obtain relief from sorrow and from vexations, let us beware of giving ourselves up to enjoyments; but let us, on the contrary, remember that the nuptials will not always last. The children of the bridegroom, or of the nuptial bed, is a Hebrew phrase, which denotes the guests at a marriage.
Can the children of the bride-chamber – Νυμφωνος. Or, νυμφιου, bridegroom, as the Cod. Bezae and several versions have it. These persons were the companions of the bridegroom, who accompanied him to the house of his father-in-law when he went to bring the bride to his own home. The marriage-feast among the Jews lasted seven days; but the new married woman was considered to be a bride for thirty days. Marriage feasts were times of extraordinary festivity, and even of riot, among several people of the east.
When the bridegroom shall be taken from them, etc. – There was one annual fast observed in the primitive Church, called by our ancestors the spring fast, and, by us, Lent; by the Greeks τεσσερακοϚη, and by the Latins, Quadrigessima. This fast is pretended to be kept by many, in the present day, in commemoration of our Lord’s forty days’ fast in the wilderness; but it does not appear that, in the purest ages of the primitive Church, genuine Christians ever pretended that their quadrigessimal fast was kept for the above purpose. Their fast was kept merely to commemorate the time during which Jesus Christ lay under the power of death, which was about Forty Hours; and it was in this sense they understood the words of this text: the days will come, etc. With them, the bridegroom meant Christ: the time in which he was taken away, his crucifixion, death, and the time he lay in the grave. Suppose him dying about twelve o’clock on what is called Friday, and that he rose about four on the morning of his own day, (St. John says, Early, while it was yet dark, Mat_20:1), the interim makes forty hours, which was the true primitive Lent, or quadrigessimal fast. It is true that many in the primitive Church were not agreed on this subject, as Socrates, in his Church History, book v. chap. 22, says, “Some thought they should fast one day; others two; others more.” Different Churches also were divided concerning the length of the time, some keeping it three, others five, and others seven weeks; and the historian himself is puzzled to know why they all agreed in calling these fasts, differing so much in their duration, by the name of Quadrigessima, or forty days’ fast: the plain obvious reason appears to me to have been simply this: They put Days in the place of Hours; and this absurdity continues in some Christian Churches to the present day. For more on fasting, see Mat_6:16.
The sons of the bridechamber (hoi huioi tou numphonos). Not merely the groomsmen, but the guests also, the paranymphs (paranumphoi of the old Greek). Jesus here adopts the Baptist’s own metaphor (Joh_3:29), changing the friend of the bridegroom (ho philos tou numphiou) to sons of the bridechamber. Jesus identifies himself with the bridegroom of the O.T. (Hos_2:21), God in his covenant relation with Israel (Swete). Mourning does not suit the wedding feast. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all give the three parables (bridegroom, unfulled cloth, new wineskins) illustrating and defending the conduct of Jesus in feasting with Levi on a Jewish fast-day. Luk_5:36 calls these parables. Jesus here seems iconoclastic to the ecclesiastics and revolutionary in emphasis on the spiritual instead of the ritualistic and ceremonial.
21. And no man putteth a piece of fresh cloth.He supports the preceding statement by two comparisons, one of which is taken from garments, and the other from vessels of wine. Those who think that he compares worn-out garments and decayed bottles to the Pharisees, and new wine and fresh cloth to the doctrine of the gospel, have no probability on their side. The comparison is beautifully adapted to the matter in hand, if we explain it as referring to the weak and tender disciples of Christ, and to a discipline more strict than they were able to bear. Nor is it of any consequence that the idea of being old does not agree with scholars who were only commencing: for, when Christ compares his disciples to old bottles and torn garments, he does not mean that they were wasted by long use, but that they were weak and wanted strength. The amount of the statement is, that all must not be compelled indiscriminately to live in the same manner, for there is a diversity of natural character, and all things are not suitable to all; and particularly, we ought to spare the weak, that they may not be broken by violence, or crushed by the weight of the burden. Our Lord speaks according to the custom of the country, when he uses the word bottles instead of tuns or casks.
Mar 2:22 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles,…. As in the former parable, our Lord exposes the folly of the Scribes and Pharisees, in their zealous attachment to the traditions of the elders; so in this, he gives a reason why he did not call these persons by his Gospel, who were settled upon the old principle of self-righteousness, but sinners, whom he renews by his Spirit and grace: for by “old bottles” are meant, the Scribes and Pharisees. The allusion is to bottles, made of the skins of beasts, which in time decayed, waxed old, and became unfit for use: such were the wine bottles, old and rent, the Gibeonites brought with them, and showed to Joshua, Jos_9:4 and to which the Psalmist compares himself, Psa_119:83 and which the Misnic doctors call חמתות, and their commentators (o) say, were נודת של עור, “bottles made of skin”, or “leather”, and so might be rent. Of the use of new and old bottles, take the following hint out of the “Talmud” (p).
“The bottles of the Gentiles, if scraped and חדשים, “new”, they are free for use; if ישנים, “old”, they are forbidden.”
Now the Scribes and Pharisees may be signified by these old bottles, being natural men, no other than as they were born; having never been regenerated, and renewed in the spirit of their minds; in whom the old man was predominant, were mere formal professors of religion, and self-righteous persons: and by “new wine” is meant, either the love and favour of God compared to wine, that is neat and clean, because free from hypocrisy in him, or motives in the creature; to generous wine, for its cheering and reviving effects; and to new wine, not but that it is very ancient, even from everlasting, but, because newly manifested, in the effectual calling and conversion: or the Gospel is signified by wine, for its purity, good flavour, and pleasant taste; for its generous effects, in reviving drooping spirits, refreshing weary persons, and comforting distressed minds; and by new wine, not that it is a new doctrine, an upstart notion, for it is an ancient Gospel, but because newly and more clearly revealed by Christ and his apostles: or the blessings of grace which spring from the love of God, and are manifested in the Gospel, such as pardon of sin, reconciliation and atonement, justifying and sanctifying grace, spiritual joy and peace, and the like. Now as the new wine is not put into old bottles,
else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: so the love of God, the Gospel of the grace of God, and the blessings of it, are not received and retained, nor can they be, by natural men, by self-righteous persons: they do not suit and agree with their old carnal hearts and principles; they slight and reject them, and let them run out, which proves their greater condemnation.
But they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. By “new bottles” are meant sinners, whom Christ calls by his grace, and the Spirit regenerates and renews, who are made new creatures in Christ; who have new hearts, and new spirits, and new principles of light, life, love, faith, and holiness, implanted in them; who have new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with, new feet to walk with, to and in Christ, new hands to work and handle with, and who live a new life and conversation. Now to such as these, the love of God is manifested and shed abroad in their hearts; by these, the Gospel of Christ is truly received and valued, and these enjoy the spiritual blessings of it; and so both the doctrine of the Gospel, and the grace of God, are preserved entire, and these persons saved in the day of Christ.
(o) Jarchi & Bartenora in Misn. Celim, c. 24. sect. 11. & Negaim, c. 11. sect. 11. (p) T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 33. 1.
New wine into old bottles – It is still the custom, in the eastern countries, to make their bottles of goat skins: if these happened to be old, and new wine were put into them, the violence of the fermentation must necessarily burst them; and therefore newly made bottles were employed for the purpose of putting that wine in which had not yet gone through its state of fermentation. The institutes of Christ, and those of the Pharisees, could never be brought to accord: an attempt to combine the two systems would be as absurd as it would be destructive. The old covenant made way for the new, which was its completion and its end; but with that old covenant the new cannot be incorporated.
Christian prudence requires that the weak, and newly converted, should be managed with care and tenderness. To impose such duties and mortifications as are not absolutely necessary to salvation, before God has properly prepared the heart by his grace for them, is a conduct as absurd and ruinous as putting a piece of raw, unscoured cloth on an old garment; it is, in a word, requiring the person to do the work of a man, while as yet he is but a little child. Preachers of the Gospel, and especially those who are instruments in God’s hand of many conversions, have need of much heavenly wisdom, that they may know to watch over, guide, and advise those who are brought to a sense of their sin and danger. How many auspicious beginnings have been ruined by men’s proceeding too hastily, endeavoring to make their own designs take place, and to have the honor of that success themselves which is due only to God.
Theophylact: For David, when flying from the face of Saul [1 Sam 21] went to the Chief Priest, and ate the shew-bread, and took away the sword of Goliath, which things had been offered to the Lord. But a question has been raised how the Evangelist called Abiathar at this time High Priest, when the Book of Kings calls him Abimelech.
Bede: There is, however, no discrepancy, for both were there, when David came to ask for bread, and received it: that is to say, Abimelech, the High Priest, and Abiathar his son; but Abimelech having been slain by Saul, Abiathar fled to David, and became the companion of all his exile afterwards. When he came to the throne, he himself also received the rank of High Priest, and the son became of much greater excellence than the father, and therefore was worthy to be mentioned as the High Priest, even during his father’s life-time. It goes on: “And He said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”
For greater is the care to be taken of the health and life of a man, than the keeping of the sabbath. Therefore the sabbath was ordered to be observed in such a way, that, if there were a neccesity, he should not be guilty, who broke the sabbath-day; therefore it was not forbidden to circumcise on the sabbath, because that was a necessary work. And the Maccabees, when necessity pressed on them, fought on the sabbath-day.
Wherefore, His disciples being hungry, what was not allowed in the law became lawful through their necessity of hunger; as now, if a sick man break a fast, he is not held guilty in any way. It goes on: “Therefore the Son of man is Lord, &c.” As if He said, David the king is to be excused for feeding on the food of the Priests, how much more the Son of man, the true King and Priest, and Lord of the sabbath, is free from fault, for pulling ears of corn on the sabbath-day.
Bede: But in a mystical sense the disciples pass through the corn fields, when the holy doctors look with the care of a pious solicitude upon those whom they have initiated in the faith, and who, it is implied, are hungering for the best of all things, the salvation of men.
But to pluck the ears of corn means to snatch men away from the eager desire of earthly things. And to rub with the hands is by example of virtue to put from the purity of their minds the concupiscence of the flesh, as men do husks. To eat the grains is when a man, cleansed from the filth of vice by the mouths of preachers, is incorporated amongst the members of the Church.
Again, fitly are the disciples related to have done this, walking before the face of the Lord, for it is necessary that the discourse of the doctor should come first, although the grace of visitation from on high, following it, must enlighten the heart of the hearer. As well, on the sabbath-day, for the doctors themselves in [p. 53] preaching labour for the hope of future rest, and teach their hearers to toil over their tasks for the sake of eternal repose.
Theophylact: Or else, because when they have rest from their passions, then are they made doctors to lead others to virtue, plucking away from them earthly things.
Bede: Again, they walk through the corn fields with the Lord, who rejoice in meditating upon His sacred words. They hunger, when they desire to find in them the bread of life; and they hunger on sabbath days, as soon as their minds are in a soothing rest, and they rejoice in freedom from troubled thoughts; they pluck the ears of corn, and by rubbing, cleanse them, till they come to what is fit to eat, when by meditation they take to themselves the witness of the Scriptures, to which they arrive by reading, and discuss them continually, until they find in them the marrow of love; this refreshment of the mind is truly unpleasing to fools, but is approved by the Lord.
Jesus was walking on the Sabbath It was the design of the Evangelists, in this history, to show partly what a malicious disposition the Pharisees had, and partly how superstitiously they were attached to outward and slight matters, so as to make holiness to consist in them entirely. They blame the disciples of Christ for plucking the ears of corn on the Sabbath, during their journey, when they were pressed with hunger, as if, by so doing, they were violating the Sabbath. The keeping of the Sabbath was, indeed, a holy thing, but not such a manner of keeping it as they imagined, so that one could scarcely move a finger without making the conscience to tremble. It was hypocrisy, therefore, that made them so exact in trifling matters, while they spared themselves in gross superstitions; as Christ elsewhere upbraids them with paying tithe of mint and anise, and neglecting the important matters of the Law, (Mat_23:23.)
It is the invariable practice of hypocrites to allow themselves liberty in matters of the greatest consequence, and to pay close attention to ceremonial observances. Another reason why they demand that outward rites should be more rigorously observed is, that they wish to make their duty toward God to consist only in carnal worship. But it was malevolence and envy, still more than superstition, that led them to this act of censure; for towards others they would not have been equally stern. It is proper for us to observe the feelings by which they were animated, lest any one should be distressed by the fact, that the very Doctors of the Law were so hostile to Christ.
At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath-day through the corn – “The time is determined by Luke in these words, εν σαββατω δευτεροπρωτω, that is, on the Sabbath from the second-first.
“Provision was made by the Divine law that the sheaf of first-fruits should be offered on the second day of the pass-over week, Lev_23:10, Lev_23:11. On the morrow after the Sabbath, the priest shall shake (or wave) it. Not on the morrow after the ordinary Sabbath of the week, but the morrow after the first of the pass-over week, which was a Sabbatic day, Exo_12:16; Lev_23:7. Hence the seventy, επαυριον της πρωτης, the morrow of the first day; the Chaldee, the morrow after the holy day. The rabbins, Solomon and Menachen, have it, On the morrow after the first day of the pass-over feast; of which mention had been made in the verses foregoing.
“But now, from the second day of the pass-over solemnity, wherein the sheaf was offered, were numbered seven weeks to pentecost: for the day of the sheaf, and the day of pentecost did mutually respect each other; for on this second day of the pass-over, the offering of the sheaf was supplicatory, and by way of prayer, beseeching a blessing upon the new corn, and leave to eat it, and to pot in the sickle into the standing corn. Now, the offering of the first-fruit loaves on the day of pentecost, (Lev_23:15-17), did respect the giving of thanks for the finishing and housing of the barley-harvest. Therefore, in regard of this relation, these two solemnities were linked together, that both might respect the harvest; that, the harvest beginning; this, the harvest ended: this depended on that, and was numbered seven weeks after it. Therefore, the computation of the time coming between could not but carry with it the memory of that second day of the pass-over week; and hence pentecost is called the feast of weeks, Deu_16:10. The true calculation of the time between could not otherwise be retained, as to Sabbaths, but by numbering thus: this is σαββατον δευτεροπρωτον, the first Sabbath after the second day of the pass-over. This is δευτεροδευρερον, the second Sabbath after that second day. And so of the rest. In the Jerusalem Talmud, the word שבת פרוטוגמייא shebeth protogamiya, the Sabbath, πρωτογαμιας, of the first marriage, is a composition not very unlike.” Lightfoot.
His disciples were an hungered – Were hungry. The former is a mode of expression totally obsolete. How near does the translation of this verse come to our ancient mother-tongue, the Anglo-Saxon! – The Healer went on rest-day over acres: truly his learning knights hungred, and they began to pluck the ear and eaten – We may well wonder at the extreme poverty of Christ and his disciples. He was himself present with them, and yet permitted them to lack bread! A man, therefore, is not forsaken of God because he is in want. It is more honorable to suffer the want of all temporal things in fellowship with Christ and his followers, than to have all things in abundance in connection with the world.
At that time – Luke Luk_6:1 fixes the time more particularly. He says that it was “the second Sabbath after the first.” To understand this, it is proper to remark that the “Passover” was observed during the month “Abib,” or Nisan, answering to the latter part of March and the first of April. The feast was held seven days, commencing on the fourteenth day of the month Exo. 12:1-28; Exo_23:15, on the “second” day of the paschal week. The law required that a sheaf of “barley” should be offered up as the first-fruits of the harvest, Lev_23:10-11. From this day was reckoned seven weeks to the feast of “Pentecost” Lev_23:15-16, called also the feast of weeks Deu_16:10, and the feast of the harvest, Exo_23:16. This second day in the feast of the Passover, or of unleavened bread, was the beginning, therefore, from which they reckoned toward the Pentecost. The Sabbath in the week following would be the “second Sabbath” after this first one in the reckoning, and this was doubtless the time mentioned when Christ went through the fields. It should be further mentioned, that in Judea the barley harvest commences about the beginning of May, and both that and the wheat harvest are over by the twentieth. Barley is in full ear in the beginning of April. There is no improbability, therefore, in this narrative on account of the season of the year. This feast was always held at Jerusalem.
Through the corn – Through the “barley,” or “wheat.” The word “corn,” as used in our translation of the Bible, has no reference to “maize,” or “Indian corn,” as it has with us. Indian corn was unknown until the discovery of America, and it is scarcely probable that the translators knew anything about it. The word “corn” was applied, as it is still in England, to wheat, rye, oats, and barley. This explains the circumstance that they “rubbed it in their hands” Luk_6:1 to separate the grain from the chaff.
To pluck the ears of corn – They were hungry, Mat_12:1. They therefore gathered the wheat or barley as they walked and rubbed it in their hands to shell it, and thus to satisfy their appetite. Though our Lord was with them, and though he had all things at his control, yet he suffered them to resort to this method of supplying their wants. When Jesus, thus “with” his disciples, suffered them to be “poor,” we may learn that poverty is not disgraceful; that God often suffers it for the good of his people; and that he will take care, in some way, that their wants shall be supplied. It was “lawful” for them thus to supply their needs. Though the property belonged to another, yet the law of Moses allowed the poor to satisfy their desires when hungry. See Deu_23:25.
Mar_2:24.Why do they on the Sabbath what is not lawful? The Pharisees do not blame the disciples of Christ for plucking ears of corn from a field that was not their own, but for violating the Sabbath; as if there had been a precept to this effect, that famishing men ought rather to die than to satisfy their hunger. Now the only reason for keeping the Sabbath was, that the people, by sanctifying themselves to God, might be employed in true and spiritual worship; and next, that, being free from all worldly occupations, they might be more at liberty to attend the holy assemblies. The lawful observation of it, therefore, must have a reference to this object; for the Law ought to be interpreted according to the design of the Legislator. But this shows clearly the malicious and implacable nature of superstition, and particularly the proud and cruel dispositions of hypocrites, when ambition is joined to hatred of the person. It was not the mere affectation of pretended holiness, as I have said, that made the Pharisees so stern and rigorous; but as they expressly wished to carp at every thing that Christ said or did, they could not do otherwise than put a wrong meaning in cases where there was nothing to blame, as usually happens with prejudiced interpreters. The accusation was brought—according to Matthew and Mark—against our Lord, and—according to Luke—against his disciples. But there is no inconsistency here; for the disciples were in all probability so harassed, that the charge was directed chiefly against the Master himself. It is even possible that the Pharisees first wrangled with the disciples, and afterwards with Christ, and that, in the rage of their malice, they blamed him for remaining silent, and permitting his disciples to break the Sabbath.
Mar 2:24 But when the Pharisees saw it,…. Who went along with him, or followed him, being employed to make observation on his words and actions,
they said unto him; Luke says, “unto them”, the disciples: it seems, they took notice of this action both to Christ and his disciples, and first spoke of it to the one, and then to the other, or to both together:
behold thy disciples do that which it is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day! they mention it with astonishment, and indignation. What they refer to, is not their walking on the sabbath day: this they might do, according to their canons, provided they did not exceed two thousand cubits, which were a sabbath day’s journey (f) nor was it their passing through the corn fields; though, according to them (g),
“it was not lawful for a man to visit his gardens, ושדותיו, “or his fields”, on the sabbath day, to see what they want, or how the fruits grow; for such walking is to do his own pleasure.”
But this they knew was not the case of Christ, and his disciples, who were not proprietors of these fields: nor was it merely their plucking the ears of corn, and rubbing and eating them, which were not their own, but another man’s; for this, according to the law, in Deu_23:25 was lawful to be done: but what offended the Pharisees was, that it was done on a sabbath day, it being, as they interpret it, a servile work, and all one as reaping; though, in the law just mentioned, it is manifestly distinguished from it. Their rule is (h).
“he that reaps (on the sabbath day) ever so little, is guilty (of stoning), ותולש תולדה קוצר הוא, and “plucking of ears of corn is a derivative of reaping”;”
and is all one as its primitive, and punishable with the same kind of death, if done presumptuously: so Philo the Jew observes (i), that the rest of the sabbath not only reached to men, bond and free, and to beasts, but even to trees, and plants; and that ου ερνος ου κλαδον, αλλ’ ουδε πεταλον εφειται τεμειν, “it was not lawful to cut a plant, or branch, or so much as a leaf”, on a sabbath day: and it may be what might make this offence of the disciples the more heinous was, that they plucked these ears, and ate them, and so broke their fast before morning prayer; for a man might not eat any thing on a sabbath day until morning prayers were ended in the synagogue, nor indeed on any other day; for they used not to eat bread till after they had offered the daily sacrifice, which was about the third hour of the day, or nine o’clock in the morning; nor did they eat till the fourth hour, or ten o’clock (k).
(f) Ib. c. 27. sect. 1. (g) R. Moses Kotzensis Mitzvot Tora prec. neg. 65. (h) Maimon. Hilch. Sabbat, c. 8. sect. 3. & 7. 1. (i) De Vita Mosis, 1. 2. p. 657. (k) Vid. Targum in Eccl. x. 17. Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 6. sect. 4
Upon the Sabbath day – The Pharisees, doubtless desirous of finding fault with Christ, said that in plucking the grain on the “Sabbath day” they had violated the commandment. Moses had commanded the Hebrews to abstain from all servile work on the Sabbath, Exo_20:10; Exo_35:2-3; Num_15:32-36. On any other day this would have been clearly lawful, for it was permitted, Deu_23:25.
Have you not read what David did? Christ employs five arguments to refute their calumny. First, he apologizes for his disciples by pleading the example of David, (1Sa_21:6.) While David was fleeing from the rage of Saul, he applied for provisions to the high-priest Ahimelech; and there being no ordinary food at hand, he succeeded in obtaining a part of the holy bread. If David’s necessity excused him, the same argument ought to be admitted in the case of others. Hence it follows, that the ceremonies of the Law are not violated where there is no infringement of godliness. Now Christ takes for granted, that David was free from blame, because the Holy Spirit bestows commendation on the priest who allowed him to partake of the holy bread. When he says, that it was not lawful to eat that bread but for the priests alone, we must understand him to refer to the ordinary law: they shall eat those things wherewith the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them; but a stranger shall not eat thereof, because they are holy, (Exo_29:33.)
If David had attempted to do what was contrary to law, it would have been in vain for Christ to plead his example; for what had been prohibited for a particular end no necessity could make lawful.
Have ye not read what David did – The original history is in 1Sa_21:1-6.
When he was an hungered – Here hearken to Kimchi, producing the opinion of the ancients concerning this story in these words: “Our rabbins of blessed memory say, that he gave him the shew-bread, etc. The interpretation also of the clause, Yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel, is this: It is a small thing to say, that it is lawful for us to eat These Loaves, taken from before the Lord, when we are hungry; for it would be lawful to eat this very loaf which is now set on, which is also sanctified in the vessel, (for the table sanctifieth), it would be lawful to eat even this, when another loaf is not present with you to give us, and we are so hunger-bitten. And a little after, There is nothing which may hinder taking care of life, beside idolatry, adultery, and murder. That is, a man, according to them, should do any thing but these in order to preserve life.” See Lightfoot.
He entered into the house of God – Viz. the house of Ahimelech the priest, who dwelt at Nob, with whom the tabernacle then was, in which the Divine presence was manifested.
And did eat the shew – bread – Τους αρτους της προθεσεως – in Hebrew, לחם פנים lechem panim – bread of the presence, or faces, because this bread was to be set continually, לפני יהוה lipney Yehovah, before the face of Jehovah. See the notes on Exo_25:23, Exo_25:30.
Mar 2:26 How he went into the house of God,…. The tabernacle; for the temple was not yet built: thither David went to get bread for himself and his men, being hungry: so in a spiritual sense, where should such go, who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, but into the house of God? Here is bread enough, and to spare; here is a table furnished with excellent provisions; here the Gospel is dispensed, which is milk for babes, and meat for strong men; here Christ, the bread of life, is set forth, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed; here the ordinances are administered, which are breasts of consolation to the children of God; here is a feast of fat things, all things are ready, and souls are welcome, and therefore it must be right to attend here. And this was on the sabbath day that David went into the house of God: when the showbread loaves were removed, and divided, among the priests, and new ones were placed in their room: and so under the Gospel dispensation, on the Lord’s day, the day set apart for public worship, it becomes the saints to go up to the house of the Lord, and feed upon the provisions of it: they are a royal priesthood, they are priests, as well as kings to God; and their business is in the house of the Lord, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to him; and as the goodness and fulness of his house appertains to them, they do well to attend and partake thereof.
In the days or Abiathar the high priest: and yet from the history it is clear, that it was in the days of Ahimelech the high priest, the father of Abiathar; wherefore the Jew charges (k) Mark with an error, and Matthew and Luke too: whereas the two last make no mention of the name of any high priest; and it might be observed, that in the Persic version of Mark it is rendered, “under Abimelech the high priest”; and in an ancient copy of Beza’s, the whole clause is omitted; though it must be owned, that so it is read in other Greek copies, and in the ancient versions, the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Arabic, and others: wherefore let it be further observed, that the fact referred to was done in the days of Abiathar, though it was before he was an high priest; and the particle επι may be so rendered, about, or “before Abiathar was high priest”, as it is in Mat_1:11. Besides, Abiathar was the son of an high priest, and succeeded his father in the office: and might be at this time his deputy, who acted for him, or he by has advice; and according to a rule the Jews (l) themselves give,
“the son of an high priest, who is deputed by his father in his stead, הרי כהן גדול אמור, “lo! he is called an high priest”.”
So that Abiathar might at this time be called the high priest; and is the rather mentioned, because he was the more eminent and famous man; and whom the Jews call (m) Urim and Thummim, because there was much inquiry made by them; in his and his father’s days, and very little after: to which may be added, that the names of the father and the son are sometimes changed; Ahimelech is called Abiathar, and this Abiathar is called Ahimelech, the son of Abiathar, 2Sa_8:17, and Abimelech the son of Abiathar, 1Ch_18:16. And it seems as if both father and son had two names, and were sometimes called by the one, and sometimes by the other: for as the father is sometimes called Abiathar, the son is called Ahimelech, or Abimelech, as in the places mentioned; and which refer to the times when David was king of Israel, and long after the death of Saul, and consequently long after Ahimelech, and the rest of the priests at Nob, were killed by the order of Saul: wherefore Ahimelech, or Abimelech, in the said places, must be the son of Abiathar; and who afterwards was thrust out of the priesthood by Solomon, for joining with Adonijah in his usurpation, 1Ki_1:25. And from whence it appears, that his father was called Abiathar also, and which some take to be their family name; and if so, then there is no difficulty, and the evangelist rightly says, that this affair was in the days of Abiathar: but be it that he intends the son, what has been before observed is a sufficient solution of this difficulty; for the evangelist does not say that Abiathar was high priest, when David came and eat the showbread; he only says, “it was in the days of Abiathar the high priest”: for certain it is, that this happened in his days; and as certain, that he was an high priest; and Mark might with great propriety call him so, though he was not strictly one, till after this business was over: besides, he was not only the son of an high priest, and it may be his deputy, and some have thought officiated at this time, his father being sick or infirm through old age; but inasmuch as his father was directly killed by the order of Saul, he narrowly escaping, immediately succeeded him in the office of the high priesthood; and therefore his being an high priest so very near the time of this action, without any impropriety and impertinence, and especially without incurring the charge of falsehood, the evangelist might express himself as he does.
And did eat the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? Who not only ate the showbread, which was set before the Lord, and was sacred, and which none but the priests might eat of, after it was removed from the table; but he did this on the sabbath day; and he not only eat of it himself, but the soldiers that were with him: and all this with the knowledge and leave of the high priest: for the Jews (n) have no reason to charge this evangelist and the others with an error, that others besides David ate of the showbread, urging that he came alone to Ahimelech; since it is evident from 1Sa_21:2,
that David had servants in company with him when he fled, though they did not attend him when he went to the high priest; and that he asked bread, and it was given him, not only for himself, but for the young men that he had appointed to be at such a place: and therefore, if this was allowed to David and his men, when hungry, it ought not to be charged as an evil upon the disciples, for plucking and rubbing a few ears of corn to satisfy their hunger, though on a sabbath day; and especially when he, who was Lord of the sabbath, was present, and admitted of it; See Gill on Mat_12:4.
(k) R. Isaac Chizzuk Emuna, par. 9. c. 28. p. 419. (l) Siphra, fol. 17. 2. apud Kidder’s Demonstration of the Messiah, par. 2. p. 73. (m) Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 16. 2. (n) R. Isaac Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 28. p. 420. Jacob Aben Amrara apud Kidder, Demonstr. of the Messiah, par. 3. p. 48.
and did eat the shewbread; for that this is meant by the hallowed bread, in 1Sa_21:6 is certain; though R. Joseph Kimchi (n) thinks it was the bread of the thank offering; to which R. Levi ben Getsom (o) seems to incline: but the general sense of the Jewish doctors (p) is, that it was the showbread; and which is very clear from that text, and is rightly affirmed by Christ;
which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests: see Lev_24:5 and so the Jews say that this bread אסור לזרים, “is forbidden to strangers” (q); that is, to any but the priests, which, after the burning of the frankincense, was divided equally among them: that course of priests that came into the service had six cakes, and that which went out six; though the high priest had a right to half himself, but he did not use to take it, it being judged not to his honour to do so (r). No hint is here given, nor in the history, in 1Sa_21:1 that it was on the sabbath day that David came to Ahimelech, and ate the showbread; but this is observed, and disputed, by the Jewish writers. Some indeed are in a doubt about it; but others (s) readily give into it, that it was on the sabbath day, which he chose to flee in, for the greater safety and preservation of his life: and indeed it seems reasonable it should be on that day; since on that day only the showbread was removed from the table, and other loaves put in the room. One of their writers (t) says,
“that showbread was not to be eaten, but on the day, and night of the sabbath day; and on the going out of the sabbath day; and on the going out of the sabbath David came there.”
Now our Lord’s argument stands thus, that if David, a holy, good man, and, the men that were with him, who were men of religion and conscience, when in great distress, through hunger, ate of the showbread, which was unlawful for any to eat of but priests, the high priest himself assenting to it; then it could not be criminal in his disciples, when an hungred, to pluck, rub, and eat a few ears of corn, which were lawful for any man to eat, even though it was on the sabbath day: and for the further vindication of them, he adds,
(n) Apud R. David Kimchi in 1 Sam. xxi. 6. (o) In ib. (p) T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 95. 2. R. David Kimchi, Abarbinel & Laniado in 1 Sam. xxi. 6. (q) Laniado & Abarbinel in ib. (r) Maimon. Hilch. Tamidin, c. 4. sect. 12. 14. (s) Bemidbar Rabba Parash. 23. fol. 231. 9. Laniado Cli Jaker, fol. 226. 4. & 227. 2, 3, 4. & Jelammedenu in ib. (t) R. Isaiah in 1 Sam. xxi. 5.
The shewbread (τοὺς άρτους της προθέσεως): Lit., the loaves of proposition, i.e., the loaves which were set forth before the Lord. The Jews called them the loaves of the face, i.e., of the presence of God. The bread was made of the finest wheaten flour that had been passed through eleven sieves. There were twelve loaves, or cakes, according to the number of tribes, ranged in two piles of six each. Each cake was made of about five pints of wheat. They were anointed in the middle with oil, in the form of a cross. According to tradition, each cake was five hand-breadths broad and ten long, but turned up at either end, two hand-breadths on each side, to resemble in outline the ark of the covenant. The shewbread was prepared on Friday, unless that day happened to be a feast-day that required sabbatical rest; in which case it was prepared on Thursday afternoon. The renewal of the shewbread was the first of the priestly functions on the commencement of the Sabbath. The bread which was taken off was deposited on the golden table in the porch of the sanctuary, and distributed among the outgoing and incoming courses of priests (compare save for the priests). It was eaten during the Sabbath, and in the temple itself, but only by such priests as were Levitically pure. This old bread, removed on the Sabbath morning, was that which David ate.
Mar 2:27 And he said unto them,…. Continuing his answer to them, and adding, in confirmation of what he had said, and for the further vindication of his disciples,
the sabbath was made for man; for his good, and not for his hurt; both for the good of his soul, that he might have an opportunity of attending divine worship, both in public and private; and for the good of his body, that he might have rest from his labour; and this was the end of the original institution and appointment of it; and therefore works of necessity are not forbidden on this day; such as are for the necessary comfort, support, and preservation of life; or otherwise it would be apparent, that the sabbath was not appointed for the good, but for the hurt of men. By “man”, is not meant all mankind; for the sabbath was never appointed for all mankind, nor binding upon all; only the Jews, who are emphatically called “man”, or “men”; see Eze_34:30, upon which the Jewish writers remark (o), that
“they are called, אדם, “man”; but the idolatrous Gentiles, and nations of the World, are not called “men”;”
but dogs, beasts, &c. Our Lord may here be thought to speak in their language, as he does in Mat_. 15:26; see Gill on Mat_15:26. And that the observation of the seventh day, was only designed for the children of Israel, seems manifest from Exo_31:16, “wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant; it is a sign between me and the children of Israel”; and not between him and the rest of the world: and in Exo_31:14, “ye shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy unto you”: on which the Jews (p) make this remark, עממין לכם ולא לשאר, “to you, and not to the rest of the nations”: nor did they ever think that the Gentiles were obliged to observe their sabbath, only such who became proselytes to their religion; even those who were proselytes of righteousness: for a proselyte of the gate, was not bound to observe it; for so says (q) Maimonides,
“those who take upon them the seven commandments of Noah only, lo! they are as a proselyte of the gate, and they are free to do work on the sabbath day for themselves, openly, as an Israelite on a common day.”
Yea, they not only say, they were not obliged to keep the sabbath, but that it was not lawful for them to observe it; and that it was even punishable with death them to regard it; for so they say (r),
“a Gentile that keeps the sabbath before he is circumcised, is guilty of death, because it is not commanded him.”
They judged them unworthy of having this precept enjoined them, as being not men, but beasts, and worse than they, and had not the privilege the ass has: hence one of their commentators (s) says,
“concerning the rest of an ass, thou (O Israelite!) art commanded; but concerning the rest of a Gentile, thou art not commanded.”
And not man for the sabbath; who was in being long before that was appointed and enjoined.
(o) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 114. 2. Zohar in Exod. fol. 35. 4. (p) Zohar in Exod. fol. 26. 4. (q) Hilchot Sabbat, c. 20. sect. 14. (r) Debarim Rabba, sect. 1. fol. 234. 4. (s) Bartenora in Misn. Sabbat, c. 24. sect. 1.
The sabbath was made for man – For his rest from toil, his rest from the cares and anxieties of the world, to give him an opportunity to call off his attention from earthly concerns and to direct it to the affairs of eternity. It was a kind provision for man that he might refresh his body by relaxing his labors; that he might have undisturbed time to seek the consolations of religion to cheer him in the anxieties and sorrows of a troubled world; and that he might render to God that homage which is most justly due to him as the Creator, Preserver, Benefactor, and Redeemer of the world. And it is easily capable of proof that no institution has been more signally blessed to man’s welfare than the Sabbath. To that we owe, more than to anything else, the peace and order of a civilized community. Where there is no Sabbath there is ignorance, vice, disorder, and crime. On that holy day the poor and the ignorant, as well as the learned, have undisturbed time to learn the requirements of religion, the nature of morals, the law of God, and the way of salvation. On that day man may offer his praises to the Great Giver of all good, and in the sanctuary seek the blessing of him whose favor is life. Where that day is observed in any manner as it should be, order prevails, morals are promoted, the poor are elevated in their condition, vice flies away, and the community puts on the appearance of neatness, industry, morality, and religion. The Sabbath was therefore pre-eminently intended for man’s welfare, and the best interests of mankind demand that it should be sacredly regarded as an appointment of merciful heaven intended for our best good, and, where improved aright, infallibly resulting in our temporal and eternal peace.
Not man for the sabbath – Man was made “first,” and then the Sabbath was appointed for his welfare, Gen_2:1-3. The Sabbath was not “first” made or contemplated, and then the man made with reference to that. Since, therefore, the Sabbath was intended for man’s “good,” the law respecting it must not be interpreted so as to oppose his real welfare. It must be explained in consistency with a proper attention to the duties of mercy to the poor and the sick, and to those in peril. It must be, however, in accordance with man’s “real good on the whole,” and with the law of God. The law of God contemplates man’s “real good on the whole;” and we have no right, under the plea that the Sabbath was made for man, to do anything contrary to what the law of God admits. It would not be for our “real good,” but for our real and eternal injury, to devote the Sabbath to vice, to labor, or to amusement.
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man the sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. Some interpreters make these two arguments:
1. The Son of man is Lord of the sabbath; therefore it is in my power to dispense with this action of my disciples, though it had been contrary to the letter of the law: or rather, therefore it is in my power to interpret the law, which I myself made.
2. The sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath. A law made for the good of another bindeth not, in such cases where the observation of it would be evidently for his harm and ruin. The law of the sabbath was made for the good of man, that he might have a solemn time, in which he should be under an obligation to pay his homage unto God; this must not be so interpreted as would tend to the destruction of a man.
I find interpreters divided about that term the Son of man. Some think that it is not to be interpreted, as usually in the gospel, concerning Christ; but of ordinary men, and that man’s lordship over the sabbath is proved by the subserviency of it to his good, to which end also it was ordained. But certainly that is both a dangerous and unscriptural interpretation: dangerous to give man a lordship over a moral law, for it is very improper to call any lord of a thing, because he hath the use of it, and it is for his advantage: I cannot see but we may as well make man lord of the whole ten commandments as of one of them. Unscriptural, for though our Saviour useth this term more than threescore times in the gospel, yet he always useth it with relation to himself, never with reference to any mere man; neither is there any necessity to understand it otherwise here. Christ affirming himself Lord of the sabbath, spake properly enough to the Pharisees’ quarrel; for it must needs then follow, that he had power to dispense with the observation of it at particular times, and much more to give a true and right interpretation of the law concerning it.
Mar 2:28 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. By “the Son of man” is meant, not any man, as some have thought; for no mere man is lord of any law, moral or ritual, natural or positive; or has a power of disposing of it, and dispensing with it at pleasure; but Christ himself; which is the constant sense of this phrase in the New Testament, and is a character of the Messiah in the old, Dan_7:13 who, as he was the institutor of the sabbath among the Jews, that being a ritual, and of mere positive institution, could dispense with it, and even abrogate it at his pleasure. The Jews so far agree to this, that he that commanded the law of the sabbath, could dispense with it; they say (z), that
“the day on which Jericho was taken was the sabbath day; and that though they slew and burnt on the sabbath day, מי שצוה על השבת צוה לחלל שבת, “he that commanded the observation of the sabbath, commanded the profanation of it”.”
And since Christ is greater than the temple, and has all the perfections of the divine nature in him, is equal to the Father in power and glory; and even as mediator, has all power in heaven and earth given him; so as he is Lord of all other things, he is of the sabbath, and has a power of dispensing with it, and even of abolishing it; see Col_2:16 and since the Lord of the sabbath had a power of dispensing with it, and made use of it in the cases of David and his men, and of the priests in the temple formerly; the Pharisees ought not to think it strange, that the Son of man, who is equally Lord of the sabbath, dispensed with it in his disciples now.
(z) R. David Kimchi in Josh. vi. 11.
The Son of man is Lord – See on Mat_12:7, Mat_12:8 (note). Some have understood this as applying to men in general, and not to Christ. The Son of man, any man is Lord of the Sabbath; i.e. it was made for him, for his ease, comfort, and use, and to these purposes he is to apply it. But this is a very harsh, and at the same time a very lax, mode of interpretation; for it seems to say that a man may make what use he pleases of the Sabbath; and, were this true, the moral obligation of the Sabbath would soon be annihilated.
God ordained the Sabbath not only to be a type of that rest which remains for the people of God, but to be also a mean of promoting the welfare of men in general.
The ordinances of religion should be regulated according to their end, which is the honor of God, and the salvation of men. It is the property of the true religion to contain nothing in it but what is beneficial to man. Hereby God plainly shows that it is neither out of indigence or interest that he requires men to worship and obey him; but only out of goodness, and to make them happy. God prohibited work on the Sabbath day, lest servants should be oppressed by their masters, that the laboring beasts might have necessary rest, and that men might have a proper opportunity to attend upon his ordinances, and get their souls saved. To the Sabbath, under God, we owe much of what is requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul.