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A Moment with the Bible

Matthew 12:1-8, #1

In the Old Testament, there were three passages that defined restrictions concerning work on the Sabbath: Exodus 20:8-11, “You shall not do any work;” Jeremiah 17:21-24, “Carry no burden;” Exodus 35:3, “Kindle no fire.” In this text, the Jews have accused Jesus’ disciples of violating the command against work. It is interesting that Jesus constantly challenged the Jews concerning the understanding of the Sabbath command. The Pharisees found it necessary to specifically define every imaginable Sabbath violation. If a woman left a needle in her garment and took more than two steps, it was determined that she violated the Sabbath. They had turned the Sabbath command into something oppressive, instead a day of rest and worship.

We must also note that the disciples had not gone into the fields to reap, but to glean. In other words, if they had been reaping a crop, they certainly would have been violating the Sabbath. But gleaning was different. Under the law, the poor were allowed to glean. This would include picking from the corners of the field or gathering that which was dropped by the harvesters. However, Jesus does not use this argument in defending His disciples. Instead, He quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” If they had known what this meant, they would not have condemned the innocent. So, in context, what did the Hosea passage mean?

First, we should note what it did not mean. God was not saying, “All I want from you is compassion, I don’t want you to offer sacrifices.” That would contradict all the direct commands for animal sacrifices. In the context of Hosea, the people had decided to return to God in a superficial way. Their lives had been filled with immorality and decadence and God had been sending partial judgments against them. Their solution was to offer a few sacrifices, and by the third day, God will make everything better. But the God was angry with their attitude. Their goodness, He said, was like a morning cloud that went away. It was only a false promise of righteousness. Therefore, God’s rebuke meant, “I desire compassion (Hebrew: steadfast love and from-the-heart service), not simply animal sacrifices. The principle is timeless. God wants no less from us. Just “going to church” is not going to cut it. He requires a complete from the heart service.