But he said unto them, “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”(Matthew 12:3-4)
Simple truth confounds the mental gymnast. Those who are intoxicated with the exuberance of their own verbosity are silenced by the power of God’s Word. The Pharisees criticized Jesus and His disciples for ‘harvesting and threshing’ grain on the Sabbath by using their warped and convoluted interpretation of Mosaic Law. Jesus vindicated their actions by appealing to God’s grace.
The Sabbath can be defined in the Bible as 1) a weekly day of rest and worship observed on the seventh day of the week beginning at sundown on Friday and ending at sundown on Saturday, and/or 2) the first and seventh day of holy feast days (Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur) and the first and eighth day of Sukkot. It is a sacred observance of rest taken from the creation account when God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3).
The laws of the Sabbath were basic and fundamental, but the letter of the Law did not negate the spirit of the Law. David, running from King Saul, had become tired and hungry. He came to Ahimelech the priest and found only the showbread that was reserved for the priests. He asked him for this bread and ate it contrary to the ‘letter’ of the law (1 Samuel 21:1-7). David, though not the reigning king, had high authority among the Jews. His action was not condemned. It proved that in cases of necessity the Law did not bind a man - a principle which all laws admit.
So, the need of the disciples justified them in doing on the Sabbath what would have been otherwise unlawful. “Not merely does the sacred history relate exceptional instances of necessity, but the Law itself ordains labour (sic) on the Sabbath as a duty” (Stier). This is reflected in the Jewish priesthood which required priests to work on the Sabbath by receiving sacrifices and ministering to the people. They were exempted from the letter of the Law regarding the Sabbath. Why? Out of necessity. The needs of the people to worship through sacrifice negated the restrictions of the Law. Jesus made the point clear that the needs of animals and people are more important than the letter of the Law (Matthew 12:11-12).
“Father, the more I understand the Mosaic Law the more I appreciate its purpose in pointing out how unholy and unrighteous we really are. I also understand how important it is to appreciate Your grace and mercy which keeps me from being condemned by the Law. I thank You that Your Law points to Your grace and mercy, and I thank You for extending that grace and mercy to me. To Your praise and glory I pray, Amen.”