I desire mercy and not sacrifice
The LORD of the Sabbath
In this next installment of The Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy, there are so many things of prophetic significance packed into Matthew 11:20-12:42 that it is hard to keep up. It really seems as if Matthew wrote his gospel for the purpose of demonstrating fulfilled prophecy in the life of Jesus Christ. We have read this phrase multiple times, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” It seems that Matthew 12:17 lies at the center of this particular passage, but I am going to have to arrange this in three separate posts. Matthew 11:20-24 has much in common with Matthew 12:38-42, so I will wait and deal with that last. The subject of that post will be something like, Past Generations Rise and Testify at the Future Judgment. Matthew 12:1-7 contains a familiar quote from Hosea, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” which is the subject of this post. This leads into the controversial healing on the Sabbath in Matthew 12:9-14. Then that leads into the quote from Isaiah 42:1-4 which I will deal with second.
So for this post, I am focusing on the story in Matthew 12:1-7. In this story, Jesus references two scriptures in his response to the Pharisees concerning their accusation about the Sabbath. Then He proclaims that something greater than the temple is present. He then quotes from Hosea 6:6. Then He proclaims Himself LORD of the Sabbath. I think this alone is sufficient for one post.
Before I get into the substance of this story, I want to preface this post with two basic thoughts. The first comes to us in the passage directly before the story. Jesus has just pronounced condemnation on unrepentant cities such as Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. This is probably directly related to the chastisement that Jesus gave in Matthew 11:16-19. Jesus came performing powerful miracles and they just sat there, unresponsive to the presence of the King. But in the midst of this condemnation of the present generation, Jesus thanks His Father in heaven that the truths He came to teach had been revealed to “little children.” Jesus tenderly calls His disciples “little children” in contrast to the so-called wise and understanding. The religiously schooled could not bring themselves to repent, but these simple men had repented and received revelation from the Father in heaven because of their response to the person of Jesus. Jesus bypassed the old wineskins in favor of the new wineskins that could contain the explosive power of the new wine that He came to give. The invitation for those who labor and are burdened is so often quoted, but let’s get the context correct. Christ promises rest, but within the context of the command to repent and believe the gospel. Some may consider themselves wise and understanding in the scriptures, but a failure to recognize Jesus Christ will mean that those truths are hidden to them. All the while, someone simple in understanding who responds to Christ in faith will have revelation from the Father in heaven. So as Jesus promises rest, now comes a discussion about the Sabbath, which is the day of rest, between the religiously schooled Pharisees and the LORD of the Sabbath Himself.
The second basic thought is that while the Pharisees were religiously schooled, much of what they had learned was not scripture. They had traditions which had been taught to them by their fathers which did not necessarily have any backing in the actual word of God. In fact, they had added so much tradition onto the revealed word of God that much of what they had added contradicted the original scriptures. Matthew includes this conversation between the Pharisees, scribes, and Jesus about tradition versus the scriptures in Matthew 15:1-9. Mark 7:1-13 contains an extended version of this event, with verses 3-4 being especially insightful into the mindset of the Pharisees. I love how Mark 7:8-9 puts it all in perspective, “You reject the commandment of God, and keep the tradition of men!” It is no different as we approach this passage here.
The story finds the disciples walking through a field on the Sabbath day. They are a bit hungry so they take a few stalks of grain in between their hands and rub off a few kernels for a snack. The Pharisees immediately find fault. They publicly denounce the disciples of Jesus as Sabbath breakers. The implication here is that these simple children in understanding just do not understand the scriptures properly otherwise they wouldn’t be breaking the law and sinning on the Sabbath day.
Instead of debating with the Pharisees about whether or not it is lawful to grab a snack in a field on the Sabbath, Jesus turns to the scriptures to disprove their entire way of thinking. Jesus proves that their traditions that they had added onto the word of God will end up contradicting the word of God. A debate between how to interpret different passages would have placed Jesus and the Pharisees on equal ground. That’s your interpretation, but MY interpretation is ___________. Those who are reading this blog post should know that there is no way that the Pharisees and Jesus were ever on equal ground. Jesus appeals to the scriptures in a superior way, see Matthew 7:29.
The first example had confused me for many years. It seemed to me that Jesus was saying that David broke the law, so that meant it was acceptable for Him to break the law. This is not the case. The story that Jesus references is found in I Samuel 21:1-6. In this story, David is fleeing for his life to a certain priest. David and his small band of men are hungry. David asks for food and the priest gives him the showbread (shewbread in the OT, KJV), which Ahimelech the priest admits is holy bread. This bread was being taken away from the day before as newly baked bread replaced it. Ahimelech gives David and his men this holy bread.
In his explanation, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Have you not read what David did, how he… ate the bread, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” But the interesting thing is that nowhere in the entire law will you find substantiation for the statement that Jesus makes that it is only lawful for priests to eat this holy bread. What is happening here is that Jesus is using sarcasm to point out how the position of the Pharisees makes David into someone who broke the law. Apparently, the Pharisees had added onto the law some type of statement which forbade anyone besides a priest from eating that holy bread. You can search the old testament all you like, there is nothing that prevents others from eating that holy bread. Ahimelech wanted to make sure that the men who at the bread were not defiled in some way. That was the only prohibition in his mind that would keep those men from eating that bread. Yet the Pharisees thought they knew better than a priest in the days of David. And by their addition to the law, they made David out to be a lawbreaker. It’s like Jesus is saying, “If my disciples are breaking the traditions that you have added onto the word of God, they are in good company because that’s what the men of David did.”
There are two reasons why I believe that Jesus is not stating that David is a lawbreaker. The first reason is that there is no place in the law that states that only priests can eat that holy bread. Leviticus 24:9 could be cited in favor of the Pharisees, but this is not explicitly stated. It was intended for Aaron and his sons, but you have to add on to the law in order to prohibit others from eating it. The second reason is the second example that Jesus gives concerning how priests work on the Sabbath. The two examples should be considered parallels. Jesus is making the same point in both of them. I’m not a big fan of air quotes, but I think if Jesus were speaking today, he would have used air quotes around the words “not lawful” and “profane”. He engages their argument and states, “Okay, if it’s not lawful to break your tradition, then David did what was ‘not lawful’ and the priests end up ‘profaning’ the Sabbath every week. According to your strict interpretation of the law, David himself and every priest that has ever offered up a sacrifice on the Sabbath breaks the law.”
In the second example, Jesus points to the command in the law for priests to offer up sacrifices every Sabbath. Numbers 28:9-10 is the specific place where we find the command for additional offerings to be made on the Sabbath, and this is beside the daily sacrifices which were commanded in the verses just before, see Numbers 28:1-8. So at the very minimum, provided there is not another feast occurring at this time, on any given Sabbath, there would be a lamb offered up for sacrifice in the morning with a grain offering and drink offering, in the evening the same; then two lambs for the Sabbath with another grain offering and drink offering. Here are priests working quite diligently on the Sabbath according to the command of God. When Jesus says that they “profane” the Sabbath, it is obvious that He really doesn’t believe they are Sabbath breakers, but according to the strict definition of the Pharisees, they would have to accuse these priest of being Sabbath breakers if they are going to accuse His disciples of being Sabbath breakers for rubbing a few kernels of grain in between their hands. Incidentally, Deuteronomy 23:25 allowed this, but the issue of the Sabbath is separate. So this is why I believe Jesus is using sarcasm to illustrate His point to the Pharisees. It’s like he is saying, “According to your interpretation of the law, King David and his men are Sabbath breakers along with every priest who ever lived!”
I will have mercy and not sacrifice.
We now arrive at the section where Jesus quotes Hosea. Matthew has already included one story where Jesus quotes this exact same phrase from Hosea. Mark and Luke both share the same two stories, but neither of them include the quote from Hosea in either place. Matthew includes it in both places. I think the Tax Collector had a point that he was driving home to the Pharisees in both instances. In the first instance, it is at his own house. The Pharisees accuse Jesus of associating with tax collectors. Jesus responds by quoting Hosea. Here the Pharisees accuse the disciples of Jesus of being Sabbath breakers or common sinners. Jesus responds by quoting Hosea. Now here the quotation is important, but the way Jesus quotes it gives us a unique application. He states, “If you had known what this means, then you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Basically Jesus is saying, it is because of your lack of understanding the scriptures that you have a faulty accusation. Ouch!
In the other post where Jesus quoted this verse, I examined the whole content of Hosea. I’m going to do that again, this time focusing more on the prophetic aspect of the book. Israel as a whole in the book of Hosea is portrayed as very religious, but very ungodly. They are offering sacrifices, but their hearts are far from God. Hosea 4:6 is a very good summary of where they are at as a people. They had forgotten the law of their God. Hosea 7:2 states that they do not consider that God remembers all their evil. Hosea 7:10 shows how Israel as a nation was not prone to seeking God. Here is that verse:
The pride of Israel testifies to his face;
Yet they do not return to the LORD their God,
Nor seek him, for all this.
The Condemnation of Israel by Hosea
Instead, Israel trusted in their own way, not the way of God, see Hosea 10:13. The ironic thing is that all the while they cried out to God, “We know you!”, see Hosea 8:1-2. Israel had a promising beginning, but then the nation as a whole turned to Baal, which is idolatry, and died, see Hosea 13:1. Hosea compares their state in his day to the state of Israel at Baal-Peor in Numbers 25, see also Numbers 31:1-20. At Peor the children of Israel fell into sexual sin and fell away from God into another form of worship. In Hosea’s day, they had done the same thing as a nation. The significance of the quote by Jesus is that He places the nation of Israel in His day in the exact same situation as in Hosea’s day. Israel still has forgotten the true law of God, all the while crying out that they know God. The Pharisees thought they knew God and the law, but what they really knew was religion, their own religion.
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
Like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
The knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
This is precisely why this quote from Hosea 6:6 is so appropriate. Hosea accuses Israel’s love as being like the morning dew. After a bit, it just goes away. It’s very temporary. Therefore the LORD had sent them prophets to convict them with powerful preaching in order to slay them with the words of their mouth, see Hosea 6:4-5. The reason is that all the while, throughout all their religion, God had desired mercy or steadfast love rather than sacrifice. Some of those Israelites might have objected stating that they had love. So there is a parallel verse immediately after it. God desires the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. The love that God desires must be in accordance with His revealed word. The Pharisees were quick to condemn and slow to show mercy. They had their burnt offerings in order but no true knowledge of God.
The true state of Israel was summed up immediately after the quote in Hosea 6:7. Israel was sinful nation like any other nation. The reason being is that they were composed of sinful people just like any other nation. They had descended from Adam just like the rest. When Adam fell into sin, he transgressed the covenant of God. He dealt faithlessly with God in the garden of Eden. Israel as a sinful nation was just like Adam. They transgressed the covenant and dealt faithlessly with God as well. Now lest we be overly harsh on Israel, there is no nation that has ever done right by God. Every other nation is sinful, full of sinful men, which has excluded them from the covenant plan of God. In Israel, there were individuals who believed, just like there are individuals in nations today who believe, but that is not the same as the nation as a whole being a part of God’s covenant. If you are reading this post, please understand me clearly. All of us are sinful and have dealt with God in a faithless way. We were not born into God’s covenant plan. God as the great Redeemer brings us into His covenant plan through Jesus Christ. It is no different with the nation of Israel.
The Solution for Israel from Hosea
So what was the solution that Hosea proposed to the nation of Israel? God had a contention with His people because they were destroyed for lack of knowledge, see Hosea 4:4-6. They must acknowledge their guilt and seek God’s face, Hosea 5:15. They must return to the LORD, see Hosea 14:1. They must recognize that it is time to seek the LORD, Hosea 10:12. They must confess that from their time in the land of Egypt that Israel as a nation was formed by the hand of the LORD Himself, and there can be no Savior beside Him, see Hosea 13:4. (This echoes passages like Isaiah 43:11, 45:20-21.) Bethel had become a place of idolatry, see I Kings 12:28-33. This was the place where Jacob (Israel) had first encountered the living God, see Genesis 28:10-22. It should have been a place of light and revelation from God, but it was a place of spiritual darkness and evil. In Hosea 12:4-6, he reminds the people of this history and then commands, “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” Sad to say, even in the days of John the Baptist and Jesus, this return to the LORD had not happened.
Prophetic Blessings for Israel foreseen by Hosea
The future promise of Hosea was one of blessing from the LORD. In light of that repentance, Hosea foresaw great things for his people. His nation would be called children of the living God, see Hosea 1:10. All Israelites, both Judah and Israel, would be gathered together with one leader, see Hosea 1:11. There would be no more war, see Hosea 2:18, and Israel would be able to dwell in safety. They would be in a covenant relationship with the LORD, likened to a faithful marriage relationship, see Hosea 2:19-20. They would come to fear the LORD, seeking out the Davidic King, or Messiah, see Hosea 3:5. God would heal them and love them freely, see Hosea 14:4. Israel would blossom like the lily and take root like the towering trees of Lebanon, see Hosea 14:5-7. In contrast to their lack of spiritual growth in Hosea’s day, they would flourish in the most beautiful way at some point in the future after they returned to the LORD.
So the rebuke of Hosea to Israel becomes the rebuke of Jesus to Israel. Jesus as the Prophet is standing in their midst telling them that they do not understand this simple six word phrase. God wants mercy and not sacrifice. His authority of the scriptures in this public rebuke is untouchable. They have no intelligent response to His two examples for how they blatantly contradict the scriptures with their interpretation of the law. He further states that something greater than the temple is present. This could be Jesus referring to Himself, or perhaps this is the entire introduction of the gospel of the kingdom first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus. The kingdom of God itself is here, present in the ministry of the Messiah, something greater than the temple. This would be a defense of whom Jesus has chosen to preach this gospel, meaning the disciples were above reproach because they hadn’t broken the law, and they were part of something greater than the temple itself.
Jesus also makes the statement, see Luke 6:5, that the Son of Man is LORD of the Sabbath. The Son of Man is the title that Jesus has been using to refer to Himself. Here He claims authority over the Sabbath itself. Now here is quite a claim. In order to be Lord over the Sabbath, you would have to predate the Sabbath. In order to be Lord over the Sabbath, you would have to be the One who instituted the Sabbath. It’s quite a presumptuous statement for Someone to proclaim Himself as Lord over the creation week itself. I don’t understand why more theologians don’t turn to this passage when looking for examples of Jesus proclaiming His deity.
Before we move into the short story of the controversial healing on the Sabbath, let’s sum up the story thus far. The disciples are getting a snack in a field. The religiously schooled Pharisees publicly accuse these unschooled common folk as being Sabbath breakers. Jesus defends them by publicly denouncing the entire religious system of the Pharisees in relation to the Sabbath. Their application of who can eat holy bread and what can be done on the Sabbath contradicts the scriptures. Jesus proclaims that He and His disciples are part of something greater than the temple itself and that He is LORD of the Sabbath. In the process, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 which condemns the Pharisees as being in the same spiritual place as idolatrous Israel, and the rest of the nation of Israel that did not currently believe in Him as well.
As we transition into the healing story, Matthew 9:9 tells us one thing clearly while another issue is unclear. First off, Jesus enters one of their synagogues. That means this is a synagogue of the Pharisees. Jesus went from synagogue to synagogue teaching and preaching in every city, see Matthew 4:23. Jesus did not purposefully stay away from the Pharisees up to this point. He talked with them, preached to them, healed their sick, and just basically loved them very much. The issue that is unclear is the timing. It almost sounds like the public debate of Matthew 12:1-8 occurs, and then later that day Jesus enters the synagogue. Luke 6:1-11 shows that this was definitely on another Sabbath. So the idea here is that this public debate occurred, the public had time to react, talk about it, question the Pharisees on their stance and how they interpreted the law, question Jesus on His claims, and basically see who the winner of the debate was. Meanwhile, the Pharisees had time to regroup, clarify their position, and determine their strategy in how they would challenge Jesus in the future, because in their minds they obviously couldn’t be wrong. So after some time has passed, Jesus finds Himself in a Pharisaical synagogue in the following situation.
There is a man with a withered hand in attendance on that Sabbath day. Mark 3:2 and Luke 6:7 both state that the scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus to see if He would heal on the Sabbath in order that they might accuse Him. They had no compassion for the man with the withered hand. They only wanted to use him to try to discredit Jesus. Again, God desires mercy and not sacrifice. Now what happens next depends on how you reconcile the different accounts in the gospels. In Matthew, the Pharisees question Jesus, asking whether it was lawful to heal on Sabbath days. In their minds, if Jesus states that someone can heal on the Sabbath, then He has admitted that someone can work on the Sabbath, therefore He is a Sabbath breaker. However, Mark and Luke both state that it is Jesus asking them what the law states because He knew that they were watching Him that they might accuse Him. I suggest that both are correct. I believe the Pharisees waited for an opportunity as Jesus was teaching to bring the subject up. Once the subject of the Sabbath came up, they asked Him if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus responds by answering the question with a question, or series of questions. This was common practice for rabbis, and Jesus used this as well, see Matthew 21:23-27. The answer to their question was actually contained subtly in His question. The question of Jesus is basically, “Is it against the law to do something good on the Sabbath? Is it against the law to save a life on the Sabbath?”
You can search the Mosaic law all you want. You won’t find anywhere a command to not do good things on the Sabbath. The basic commands are, don’t work on the Sabbath, don’t force someone else to work on the Sabbath, and don’t build a fire on the Sabbath, see Exodus 20:8-11, 35:2-3, Deuteronomy 5:12-15. That’s it. But note from above that priests were required to build a fire on the Sabbath in order to offer up sacrifices. The basic idea here is that all your work that you are required to do is to be scheduled and executed on the first six days of the week. Do your work like God does His work, work six days then rest one day. Anything that you might add to the list in scripture may contradict something else in scripture. The above examples that Jesus used are a good start. Another good example is Exodus 23:4-5. The basic premise here is that if you see a good deed that needs to be done, do it right away. If you see an animal belonging to anyone, even someone like an enemy that either hates you or you hate them; if that animal has gone astray, you must immediately bring the animal back to the owner. There is no clarification here that states, unless it’s the Sabbath. Also, if someone’s animal has fallen down or needs rescuing, you must immediately rescue that animal, even if the owner is an enemy. So as Jesus questioned them concerning rescuing an animal on the Sabbath, He was questioning them on their knowledge of the whole law.
In Mark and Luke there is this dramatic pause after Jesus posed His questions to the Pharisees. You see, Jesus had them right where He wanted them. His question directly invoked Exodus 23:4-5. If they stated it was against the law to rescue an animal on the Sabbath, they have now contradicted the law just like their entire system contradicted the law in two different points as Jesus publicly demonstrated earlier. If an animal is allowed to be rescued on the Sabbath, then certainly a human being is allowed to be rescued or healed on the Sabbath. In Mark and Luke the wording of Jesus is such that He asks, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to save life or destroy life?” Now we’re getting somewhere. No matter what day of the week it happens to be, it is always against the law to kill someone or to try to destroy someone. And no matter what day of the week it happens to be, it is always within the scope of the law to save someone’s life. Immediately after Jesus heals the man, the Pharisees are plotting to destroy Jesus, and on the Sabbath day I might add. So who were the real Sabbath breakers? Note that Luke will have much more to say on this subject. The debate is not over as it seems to come up multiple times, see Luke 13:11-17, 14:1-6, and even John 5:1-18. John 5:17 shows that if the Father in heaven didn’t want these people healed on the Sabbath, then they wouldn’t have been healed at all.
What is so appropriate here is a reference to Romans 10:1-5. These Pharisees had a zeal for God, but not according to scriptural knowledge. They were ignorant of God’s righteousness. They just could not understand their need to repent from their sinfulness and believe in someone to save them. So they went about trying to establish their own righteousness by living according to God’s law. In the process, they condemned other people who did not keep the law as good as they did, not realizing they were condemned by the very law they were trying to keep. I feel so bad for so many people who call themselves Christians who do this exact same thing. They have either grown up in church, or started going to church, but have never repented of their sinfulness. They view themselves as being on the inside of God’s plan while other sinful people are on the outside of God’s plan. They too are ignorant of God’s righteousness and are trying to establish their own righteousness. Anytime a self righteous person is confronted with their sin or their sinfulness, they will immediately point to some “good” thing in their lives, whether past, present, or future. It’s either, look at what I’ve done, look at what I’m doing, or I’m about to start doing something. It is never about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or what they have accomplished on our behalf.
Lest I end this post on a negative note, I must turn back to Hosea once more before I close. I believe that there is more to that little quote from Hosea that Jesus shared. In the rebuke from Hosea, Jesus also insinuates that the blessings promised in Hosea would come if only His people would repent. Jesus held out hope for His people that they would one day repent, even if He knew that the present generation must reject Him. He looked forward to the day when His people would embrace Him as their Savior. He promised His disciples that in the regeneration (which basically means New Genesis) that the twelve that He had chosen would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, see Matthew 19:28. Jesus could have chosen any number for His inner circle, but He chose twelve; and for a specific reason. Yes, His generation was being condemned, but Jesus was also doing something new that would endure into the age to come, or the kingdom come, or the regeneration, however you want to term it. According to the words of Christ, that includes the nation of Israel. If you study the scriptures, that includes their repentance as a nation. One day they will return to the LORD and He will heal them, see Hosea 6:1.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman