Don’t Misunderstand the Law or Sabbaths | Mark 2:23–27
23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
We rarely experience any real concern of finding a snack with convenience stores and fast food on every corner. While sampling the fruit at the supermarket would be theft, God allowed travelers to eat the growing produce in the fields, as long as they weren’t using tools and filling bags (Dt 23:24–25). A few grapes or pieces of grain could mean life or death for a those whose road is long.
Neither walking nor snacking on the Sabbath violated the Law of Moses. The reason the Pharisees take issue at this point does not come directly from the Law—it came from a violation of their traditions. They wanted to ensure the sanctity of the Sabbath by adding several fence laws around it to ensure people never came close to violating it.
God commanded that they not work on the Sabbath, taking time to rest and worship the Lord (Ex 20:8–11), and the rabbis and Pharisees had created numerous laws to define exactly what should be prohibited. Eating was okay, but plucking grain for a snack could be considered harvesting, a violation of the fourth commandment. So, the Pharisees had forbidden what was otherwise permissible just in case it was not.
The Law is given for man. The parable Jesus tells is of a direct violation of God’s Law. The bread of the presence that David and his men ate was only for the priests (Ex 25:30; Lv 24:5–9), but David and his men weren’t in sin (1 Sm 21:15) and needed food for the journey. The summation of the Law is supposed to be love for neighbor (Mt 22:40; Gal 5:14), so Jesus condemns the Pharisees applying the Law so as to crush those it came to guard (Mt 23:4; cf. Gal 3:24).
The ultimate conflict here is with the authority of Christ. The Sabbath rest points to Christ, and He is the Lord of the Sabbath as v. 28 says. We’ll study that next time.