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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 8: Matthew 11-12, by Kevin M. Williams

The Torah of Genesis through Deuteronomy does not state that it is unlawful to collect grains of wheat on the Sabbath, particularly since what they were gleaning was likely the end rows left specifically for the poor and the travelers to have sustenance along their journey (see Deuteronomy 23:25). The “law” the Pharisees were addressing was oral law, not the written Torah of God.

The whole role of the oral law was hotly debated in religious circles in those days. Even when this torah (little “t”) was codified and recorded in the second century into what we know as the Mishnah (and later the Talmud), differing views were presented from the varying rabbinic schools of thought. Where Yeshua’s theology would land on this issue would help the Pharisees in identifying with which school of thought He was most closely to be identified. Today, we would say they were trying to figure out which denomination He represented.

Yeshua’s answer practically dismisses their question, relegating their torah to a matter of little consequence. What He did do was attempt to answer the question within the question. They really wanted to know if Yeshua was the Promised One. His answer gave them the real answer.

Yeshua reminds them of King David who did break God’s written Torah by taking the consecrated bread and eating it, both he and his men. Yet God was merciful. If God was merciful toward David who was clearly breaking the Holy Torah, then why make an issue over an oral tradition? Clearly what David did was weightier and deserving of capital punishment.

At the same time He is putting their traditions in perspective, He is telling them that He is like David, able to enter where only the priest many enter and eat what is reserved only for the Levites. He is telling them that He is a priest, able to work on the Sabbath just as all Levites must do in the course of their ordained service. And He is telling them, “something greater than the temple is here.” Only one thing could be greater than God’s holy temple, the One who was both priest and king—the Messiah. He gave them an answer within an answer.

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:7-8).

With directness few would use unless they had real authority, Yeshua tells the Pharisees that they had no right to condemn His disciples. In this He once again asserts His identity, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Earlier in the series we demonstrated that “Son of Man” could mean any average Joe or Isaac, or it could equally mean the Messiah. The words themselves were not enough to use as evidence against Yeshua in a court of law, because they could be interpreted either way. Yet they were direct enough that those within earshot could not have mistaken what Yeshua was implying.

And departing from there, He went into their synagogue. (Matthew 12:9).

We do not know what Matthew means by “their synagogue,” but the possessive form could imply that it was the synagogue of those Pharisees. Apparently Yeshua was not done teaching them. Now He would challenge their authority in front of a sacred assembly.

And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they questioned Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—in order that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, “What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” And he stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other (Matthew 12:10-13).

Yeshua had made a remarkable claim standing next to the wheat field. He said that He was “Lord of the Sabbath” and greater than the temple. Now He proves it. Initially the question may have been innocent enough. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” It is doubtful that any of them expected what would happen next, or the embarrassment it would bring upon their heads in the witness of the synagogue’s congregation.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2003

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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