Picking Grain on the Sabbath.
1#Matthew here returns to the Marcan order that he left in Mt 9:18. The two stories depend on Mk 2:23–28; 3:1–6 respectively, and are the only places in either gospel that deal explicitly with Jesus’ attitude toward sabbath observance. At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath.#a. [12:1–8] Mk 2:23–28; Lk 6:1–5. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads#The picking of the heads of grain is here equated with reaping, which was forbidden on the sabbath (Ex 34:21). of grain and eat them.#b. [12:1] Dt 23:26. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” 3He said to them,#See 1 Sm 21:2–7. In the Marcan parallel (Mk 2:25–26) the high priest is called Abiathar, although in 1 Samuel this action is attributed to Ahimelech. The Old Testament story is not about a violation of the sabbath rest; its pertinence to this dispute is that a violation of the law was permissible because of David’s men being without food. “Have you not read what David#c. [12:3–4] 1 Sm 21:2–7. did when he and his companions were hungry, 4how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering,#d. [12:4] Lv 24:5–9. which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? 5#This and the following argument (Mt 12:7) are peculiar to Matthew. The temple service seems to be the changing of the showbread on the sabbath (Lv 24:8) and the doubling on the sabbath of the usual daily holocausts (Nm 28:9–10). The argument is that the law itself requires work that breaks the sabbath rest, because of the higher duty of temple service. If temple duties outweigh the sabbath law, how much more does the presence of Jesus, with his proclamation of the kingdom (something greater than the temple), justify the conduct of his disciples. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent?#e. [12:5] Lv 24:8; Nm 28:9–10. 6I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. 7#See note on Mt 9:13. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’#f. [12:7] Hos 6:6. you would not have condemned these innocent men. 8#The ultimate justification for the disciples’ violation of the sabbath rest is that Jesus, the Son of Man, has supreme authority over the law. #g. [12:8] Jn 5:16–17. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
The Man with a Withered Hand.
9#h. [12:9–15] Mk 3:1–6; Lk 6:6–11. Moving on from there, he went into their synagogue. 10And behold, there was a man there who had a withered hand. They questioned him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?”#Rabbinic tradition later than the gospels allowed relief to be given to a sufferer on the sabbath if life was in danger. This may also have been the view of Jesus’ Pharisaic contemporaries. But the case here is not about one in danger of death. so that they might accuse him. 11#Matthew omits the question posed by Jesus in Mk 3:4 and substitutes one about rescuing a sheep on the sabbath, similar to that in Lk 14:5. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable a person is than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees#See Mk 3:6. Here the plan to bring about Jesus’ death is attributed to the Pharisees only. This is probably due to the situation of Matthew’s church, when the sole opponents were the Pharisees. went out and took counsel against him to put him to death.#i. [12:14] Jn 5:18.
The Chosen Servant.
#Matthew follows Mk 3:7–12 but summarizes his source in two verses (Mt 12:15, 16) that pick up the withdrawal, the healings, and the command for silence. To this he adds a fulfillment citation from the first Servant Song (Is 42:1–4) that does not correspond exactly to either the Hebrew or the LXX of that passage. It is the longest Old Testament citation in this gospel, emphasizing the meekness of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, and foretelling the extension of his mission to the Gentiles. 15When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many [people] followed him, and he cured them all,#Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees’ plot and his healing all are peculiar to Matthew. 16but he warned them not to make him known. 17This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
18“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,#j. [12:18–21] Is 42:1–4.
my beloved in whom I delight;
I shall place my spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19He will not contend#The servant’s not contending is seen as fulfilled in Jesus’ withdrawal from the disputes narrated in Mt 12:1–14. or cry out,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.
21And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”#Except for a minor detail, Matthew here follows the LXX, although the meaning of the Hebrew (“the coastlands will wait for his teaching”) is similar.
Jesus and Beelzebul.
#For the exorcism, see note on Mt 9:32–34. The long discussion combines Marcan and Q material (Mk 3:22–30; Lk 11:19–20, 23; 12:10). Mk 3:20–21 is omitted, with a consequent lessening of the sharpness of Mt 12:48. 22#k. [12:22–24] 9:32–34; Lk 11:14–15. Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. 23#See note on Mt 9:27. #l. [12:23] 9:27. All the crowd was astounded, and said, “Could this perhaps be the Son of David?” 24#See note on Mt 10:25. #m. [12:24] 10:25; Mk 3:22. But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” 25#n. [12:25–29] Mk 3:23–27; Lk 11:17–22. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them,#Jesus’ first response to the Pharisees’ charge is that if it were true, Satan would be destroying his own kingdom. “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand. 26And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people#Besides pointing out the absurdity of the charge, Jesus asks how the work of Jewish exorcists (your own people) is to be interpreted. Are they, too, to be charged with collusion with Beelzebul? For an example of Jewish exorcism see Josephus, Antiquities 8, 2, 5, 42–49. drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28#The Q parallel (Lk 11:20) speaks of the “finger” rather than of the “spirit” of God. While the difference is probably due to Matthew’s editing, he retains the kingdom of God rather than changing it to his usual “kingdom of heaven.” Has come upon you: see Mt 4:17. #o. [12:28] Lk 11:20. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29#A short parable illustrates what Jesus is doing. The strong man is Satan, whom Jesus has tied up and whose house he is plundering. Jewish expectation was that Satan would be chained up in the last days (Rev 20:2); Jesus’ exorcisms indicate that those days have begun. How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. 30#This saying, already attached to the preceding verses in Q (see Lk 11:23), warns that there can be no neutrality where Jesus is concerned. Its pertinence in a context where Jesus is addressing not the neutral but the bitterly opposed is not clear. The accusation of scattering, however, does fit the situation. Jesus is the shepherd of God’s people (Mt 2:6), his mission is to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 15:24); the Pharisees, who oppose him, are guilty of scattering the sheep. #p. [12:30] Lk 11:23. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31#q. [12:31–32] Mk 3:28–30; Lk 12:10. Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit#Blasphemy against the Spirit: the sin of attributing to Satan (Mt 12:24) what is the work of the Spirit of God (Mt 12:28). will not be forgiven. 32And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
A Tree and Its Fruits.
33#r. [12:33–35] Lk 6:43–45. “Either declare#Declare: literally, “make.” The meaning of this verse is obscure. Possibly it is a challenge to the Pharisees either to declare Jesus and his exorcisms good or both of them bad. A tree is known by its fruit; if the fruit is good, so must the tree be. If the driving out of demons is good, so must its source be. the tree good and its fruit is good, or declare the tree rotten and its fruit is rotten, for a tree is known by its fruit. 34#The admission of Jesus’ goodness cannot be made by the Pharisees, for they are evil, and the words that proceed from their evil hearts cannot be good. #s. [12:34] 3:7; 23:33; 15:11–12; Lk 3:7. You brood of vipers, how can you say good things when you are evil? For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. 35A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil. 36#If on the day of judgment people will be held accountable for even their careless words, the vicious accusations of the Pharisees will surely lead to their condemnation. #t. [12:36–37] Jas 3:1–2. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. 37By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The Demand for a Sign.
#This section is mainly from Q (see Lk 11:29–32). Mk 8:11–12, which Matthew has followed in Mt 16:1–4, has a similar demand for a sign. The scribes and Pharisees refuse to accept the exorcisms of Jesus as authentication of his claims and demand a sign that will end all possibility of doubt. Jesus’ response is that no such sign will be given. Because his opponents are evil and see him as an agent of Satan, nothing will convince them. 38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher,#Teacher: see note on Mt 8:19. In Mt 16:1 the request is for a sign “from heaven” (Mk 8:11). we wish to see a sign from you.”#u. [12:38–42] 16:1–4; Jon 2:1; 3:1–10; Mk 8:11–12; Lk 11:29–32. 39He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful#Unfaithful: literally, “adulterous.” The covenant between God and Israel was portrayed as a marriage bond, and unfaithfulness to the covenant as adultery; cf. Hos 2:4–14; Jer 3:6–10. generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 40Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights,#See Jon 2:1. While in Q the sign was simply Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites (Lk 11:30, 32), Matthew here adds Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, a prefigurement of Jesus’ sojourn in the abode of the dead and, implicitly, of his resurrection. so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41#The Ninevites who repented (see Jon 3:1–10) and the queen of the south (i.e., of Sheba; see 1 Kgs 10:1–13) were pagans who responded to lesser opportunities than have been offered to Israel in the ministry of Jesus, something greater than Jonah or Solomon. At the final judgment they will condemn the faithless generation that has rejected him. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. 42At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.#v. [12:42] 1 Kgs 10:1–10.
The Return of the Unclean Spirit.
#Another Q passage; cf. Mt 11:24–26. Jesus’ ministry has broken Satan’s hold over Israel, but the refusal of this evil generation to accept him will lead to a worse situation than what preceded his coming. 43#w. [12:43–45] Lk 11:24–26. “When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. 45Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. Thus it will be with this evil generation.”
The True Family of Jesus.
#See Mk 3:31–35. Matthew has omitted Mk 3:20–21 which is taken up in Mk 3:31 (see note on Mt 12:22–32), yet the point of the story is the same in both gospels: natural kinship with Jesus counts for nothing; only one who does the will of his heavenly Father belongs to his true family. 46#x. [12:46–50] Mk 3:31–35; Lk 8:19–21. While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. 47[Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.”]#This verse is omitted in some important textual witnesses, including Codex Sinaiticus (original reading) and Codex Vaticanus. 48But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”