The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 12

Mat 12:1

Cp Deu 23:25: Gleaning was permissible.

ON THE SABBATH: "On the second sabbath after the first" (Luk 6:1, KJV, but phrase omitted in some mss): Prob the Sabbath which concluded the feast of Unleavened bread, 7 days after Passover sabbath (Lev 23:8) (WGos 149).

HEADS OF GRAIN: The month "Abib" (or Nisan) sig "early grain", ie spring.

Mat 12:2

WHEN THE PHARISEES SAW THIS: Luk 6:2 has "some of the Pharisees", impl two different attitudes now discernible among the Pharisees.

WHAT IS UNLAWFUL ON THE SABBATH: By rabbinical tradition, eating corn on Sabbath was lawful, but "harvesting" and "threshing" were forbidden.

Mat 12:3

Key point: David was the "anointed one" who came "on king's business"!

Mat 12:4

THE CONSECRATED BREAD: "Shewbread" (AV), "bread of the presence" (RSV).

Mat 12:5

DESECRATE THE DAY: By doing "work", such as offering sacrifice (Num 28:9), and baking shewbread (1Ch 9:32).

Mat 12:6

ONE GREATER THAN THE TEMPLE: And thus those "priests" who serve Christ -- just like those Levitical priests who serve the Temple (v 5) -- are not bound by the Sabbath Law (cp Joh 2:19-21: Jesus compares himself to the Temple).

Mat 12:7

// Mat 23:23; 1Sa 15:22.

I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE: "I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual."

Mat 12:8

THE SON OF MAN IS LORD OF THE SABBATH: The Sabbath was designed for positive good (vv 10-13); it should have been a blessing, not a burden.

Israel was not to be a "slave" to the Sabbath, but to be made free by it.

Jesus is the king of the future "rest", the true "Sabbath"!

OF: Or "on".

Mat 12:10

Cp 1Ki 13: Jeroboam stretches out his arm -- withered -- then restored. The outcome: altar was destroyed, sacrifice ceased.

HAND: "Arm" (NEB).

Mat 12:11

A SHEEP... FALLS INTO A PIT ON THE SABBATH: This is eventually what the Pharisees contrived to have happen to Jesus, the "lamb of God" -- and they did nothing to help him!

But they were silent: Mar 3:4.

Mat 12:13

"Jesus looked": vv 5,34; Mar 5:32; 6:41; 7:34; 8:33; 11:11.

Mark's account says they were all silent (Mar 3:4).

THEN: "He looked around at them in anger" (Mar 3:5).

STRETCH OUT YOUR HAND: An act of faith. As the lame man stood up to walk, so the man with a withered hand stretched it out! To "stretch out hand" is to seek fellowship with Christ. See Isa 35:3.

HAND: "Arm" (NEB).

RESTORED: Isa 35:3.

OT //: Jeroboam stretches out arm, which is withered, then restored. Outcome: the altar destroyed, and sacrifice ceased.

Mat 12:14

Long or repeated conferences. All plots and attempts to get rid of Jesus: Joh 5:16; Mar 3:6; Luk 4:29 ("common people"); Luk 11:54; Joh 7:19-21,25; 8:59; Luk 13:31; Joh 10:31,39; 11:8,16,44-54; Luk 20:14-26; Mat 26:3-5,16. OT prophecies: Psa 140:2; 59:3; 10:9; 71:10,11; 41:7.

PHARISEES: Prob, Jews of influence who favored the rule of Romans and Herod. The aristocracy.

HOW THEY MIGHT KILL JESUS: The downward path of Pharisees -- they question inwardly (Mar 1:27), they ask his disciples (Mar 2:16), they openly accuse (Mar 2:24), and finally they plot (Mar 3:6).

So, evidently, it is wrong to heal someone on the Sabbath, but not wrong to plot a murder!

Mat 12:15

Jesus needs solitude for thought and prayer (cp Isa 50;4; Psa 119:147,148). A list of "solitude passages": Mar 1:35-37; 3:7,9,20,21; 4:35-38; 6:31; 7:17,18,24; 8:10,11,27; 9:30; 10:32; 14:32.

WITHDREW: A word implying "flight" (cp Mat 2:12,14,22).

AND HE HEALED ALL THEIR SICK: Including Gentiles (vv 18,21).

Mat 12:16

Silence was his settled policy for most of his ministry (Mat 9:30; 17:9; 12:16; Mar 1:34; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; Luk 5:14), with one notable exception (Mar 5:19 -- Legion with his family). But in last days of ministry, a change of course (Mat 21:1-11; Joh 7:37; 9:3; 11:4).

Mat 12:18

WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN: Or "separated"; cp "withdrew" (v 15).

IN WHOM I DELIGHT: At baptism also: Mat 3:17.

Mat 12:19

HE WILL NOT QUARREL OR CRY OUT...: So as to fulfill v 16: Christ desired to be something other than a notorious miracle-worker.

NO ONE WILL HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS: Most of Jesus' preaching was done on mountains or at the seashore.

Mat 12:20

Israel (like the menorah, or lampstand) is represented as being in a very low state, spiritually: the reeds (ie tribes) being clogged, and the wicks (ie priests) untrimmed.

TILL: See Lesson, AN, Conditional deferment.

"Some of God's children are made strong to do mighty works for Him; God has His Samsons here and there who can pull up Gaza's gates, and carry them to the top of the hill; He has a few mighties who are lion-like men, but the majority of His people are a timid, trembling race. They are like starlings, frightened at every passerby; a little fearful flock. If temptation comes, they are taken like birds in a snare; if trial threatens, they are ready to faint; their frail skiff is tossed up and down by every wave, they are drifted along like a sea bird on the crest of the billows -- weak things, without strength, without wisdom, without foresight. Yet, weak as they are, and because they are so weak, they have this promise made specially to them. Herein is grace and graciousness! Herein is love and lovingkindness! How it opens to us the compassion of Jesus -- so gentle, tender, considerate! We need never shrink back from his touch. We need never fear a harsh word from him; though he might well chide us for our weakness, He rebuketh not. Bruised reeds shall have no blows from him, and the smoking flax no damping frowns" (CHS).

Mat 12:22

"Demoniacs" suffered from: blindness, dumbness (Mat 12:22; Luk 11:14), insanity, schizophrenia (Mar 3:21; 5:1-5; Joh 10:20), epilepsy (Mar 9:17-27), and arthritis (Luk 13:11-17).

Mat 12:24

BUT WHEN THE PHARISEES HEARD THIS, THEY SAID, "IT IS ONLY BY BEELZEBUB, THE PRINCE OF DEMONS, THAT THIS FELLOW DRIVES OUT DEMONS": Perhaps they took their lead from Christ's own family (Mar 3:21). This campaign continued (Mar 10:25; Joh 7:20; 8:48,52; 10:20).

BEELZEBUB: Lit, Beelzebul = "Lord of the dwelling". Corrupted by the Jews to Beelzebub: "Lord of the flies", and (by implication) "Lord of the dunghill". Irony: it was in fact by the TRUE "LORD" of the TRUE "dwelling" that Jesus did his work!

Background: The Canaanite god most often referred to is Baal, which means "lord" or "master." The word could be used as a title for any person who owned something, or any god considered to be a lord or master. But the word Baal soon became identified with various regional gods that were thought to provide fertility for crops and livestock. As a god who symbolized the productive forces of nature, Baal was worshiped with much sensuality (Num 22:41; Jdg 2:13; 1Ki 16:31,32).

Baal appeared in many forms and under many different names. The Bible often makes reference to the Baalim (the plural of Baal, KJV) or to the Baals (NKJV; Jdg 2:11; 1Ki 18:18; Jer 2:23).

The word Baal was often used in forming names, such as Baal of Peor (Deu 4:3; Baal-peor, KJV). Peor was the name of a mountain in Moab. Baal of Peor was an idol of Moab (probably to be identified with Chemosh) that Israel was enticed to worship with immoral practices. In several passages the idol is simply called Peor (Num 25:18; Josh 22:17).

Baal-Berith, which means "lord of the covenant," is a name under which Baal was worshiped in the time of the judges at Shechem, where he had a temple. In Jdg 9:46 he is called simply the god Berith (El-Berith, NIV).

Baal-Zebub, which means "lord of the fly," was "the god of Ekron" (2Ki 1:2,3,6, 16) -- the name under which Baal was worshiped at the Philistine city of Ekron. The name is probably a deliberate and scornful scribal corruption of Baal-Zebul, "lord prince," another name for the Canaanite god Baal (see below). In the NT, reference is made to Beelzebub, a heathen god considered the chief evil spirit by the Jewish people (Mat 10:25; 12:27; Luke 11:18,19). The Pharisees called him "the ruler of the demons" (Mat 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15), and Jesus called him "Satan".

This word Baal was also used in personal names, but when the worship of Baal became a problem in Israel, Baal was replaced by Bosheth, which means "shame" (probably because it was shameful to have the name of a pagan god as part of one's name and because Baal was a shameful god: Jer 11:13). For instance, Merib-Baal (1Ch 8:34; 9:40), the name of the son of Jonathan, became Mephibosheth (2Sa 9:6–13), and Esh-Baal (1Ch 9:39) became Ishbosheth (2Sa 2:8).

The Canaanite god Baal was known as Baal Zebul ("lord prince") and Aliyan Baal ("strong lord"), as well as by a number of other titles. Baal was considered the god who brought rain and fertility (especially good harvests and animal reproduction). In a number of passages in Canaanite literature he is identified as Hadad, another god believed to bring the rains, storms, and fertility. Hadad is the god Adad of Assyria.

So in reality the Jews were still believing in false gods (even if not worshipping them), since to acknowledge Baal would be therefore to give credit to a false god.

So they not only blasphemed the Holy Spirit in denying the power, but were attributing the power to Baal, thus giving honour to false gods.

Mat 12:25

Vv 25-28: 'If by my works I show my opposition to demons, and since you oppose me, then you must be on the side of Beelzebub!'

Mat 12:29

Quoting from Isa 49:24,25.

A STRONG MAN'S HOUSE: Sig, here, the body of a demoniac, inhabited by Beelzebub. "Beelzebul" lit means "Lord of the house".

AND CARRY OFF HIS POSSESSIONS: That is, cast him out, with all his "goods" or works.

Mat 12:31

Vv 31,32: An enlightened rejection of the truth: testified by Christ through the Holy Spirit. Cp warnings: Heb 6:6-9; 10:28-31. Cp also Act 7:51.

Mat 12:32

// Mar 3:29; Luk 12:10. Example: Act 5:3.

Mat 12:33


Mat 12:34

BROOD OF VIPERS: Cp Joh 8:39,44-48.

Mat 12:35

THE GOOD STORED UP IN HIM: "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old" (Mat 13:52).

Mat 12:36

CARELESS: "Inactive, lazy". Sw Mat 20:3,6 (workers doing nothing!); 1Ti 5:13 (idlers); Tit 1:12 (lazy); 2Pe 1:8 (ineffectual). In this case, every "careless" word spoken against the Holy Spirit (v 32)!

EVERY CARELESS WORD: That is, esp by context, every careless word against the power of the Holy Spirit (vv 31,32). This was the sin of the Pharisees (v 24).

"It comes out the worst when a man is half conscious of having a weak case and is making desperate efforts to convince himself that he does well to be angry. If he believes in the Bible he needs then to remember that all who watch for iniquity and make a man an offender for a word shall be cut off (Isa 29:20). It is usually an easy matter to collect reports derogatory to any man or any body of men. There is quite a temptation to use these 'make weights' in time of controversy, especially if the original cause of dispute is slight. One on the defensive can be kept busy chasing the false reports and unfair interpretations, but never succeeding in catching one before the next is on the wing.

"In a court of law a litigant is tied down to the actual charge. It is useless for him to try to fatten out his suit by all sorts of complaints remote from the original accusation. We are free from any such legal restrictions now, but it is well to remember that we have to go before a judgment seat far more searching than any ever set up by man, and for 'every idle word' that we have spoken we shall have to give account. Do not let us watch for iniquity, then, either in those we accuse of specific errors or in those who accuse us. Such watching inevitably leads to countless idle and evil words" (PrPr).

Mat 12:39

See Lesson, Jonah, sign of.

Mat 12:40

THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS: This is a Hebrew idiom: meaning parts of three day-night periods, reckoned inclusively: Mat 12:40; Luk 24:21; Mat 27:63,64; Luk 22:1,2; 2Ki 18:9,10; Mat 17:1 / Luk 9:28; Jer 34:14; Est 4:16 / Est 5:1. Cp also implications of Luk 22:53.

Mat 12:41

THE MEN OF NINEVEH WILL STAND UP AT THE JUDGMENT: Gentile repentance is a witness to faithless Israel.

"Is it possible to understand a reference like this on the nonhistoric theory of the book of Jonah? The future Judge is speaking words of solemn warning to those who shall hereafter stand convicted at his bar. Intensely real he would make the scene in anticipation to them, as it was real, as if then present, to himself. And yet we are to suppose him to say that imaginary persons who at the imaginary preaching of an imaginary prophet repented in imagination, shall rise up in that day and condemn the actual impenitence of those his actual hearers" (TT Perowne).

THE JUDGMENT: Def article: THE Judgment Seat of Christ.

Mat 12:43

AN EVIL SPIRIT: Sig a wicked thought or teaching, or an evil practice (Eph 2:2,3).

SEEKING REST AND DOES NOT FIND IT: Because the only true rest is to be found in Christ (Mat 11:28-30).

IT: The "evil spirit", and not the man himself.

Mat 12:44

Vv 44,45: Much of the nation had "repented" at the preaching of John the Baptist, but it was not enough! It is not enough to cast out the "demon" of wicked thoughts and actions; the void must be filled with good and positive things. Since "nature abhors a void", then other wicked thoughts and actions will rush in to fill the mind and life of the one who casts out the negative, but does not put the positive in its place.

Mat 12:45


Mat 12:46

Does he know the motives of his brothers? (Mar 3:21).

Mat 12:48

"He said of his father and mother, 'I have no regard for them.' He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant' " (Deu 33:8-10).

Mat 12:50

"An alien to my mother's children": Psa 69:8.

WHOEVER DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER: "Are we doing the will of the Father in heaven? That is the real test. It is not a question of doing what we assume ought to be His will. It is not enough to find in our hearts general desires and aspirations in the right direction. Is the work we are doing now in accordance with the revealed will of God? Are we engaged in the works of love, dispensing the bread and water of life, doing good to all men, especially those of the household of faith? Are we crucifying the flesh by enduring evil treatment without retaliation, leaving vengeance of all degrees to the Lord? It is so easy to be self-deceived in these matters" (PrPr 56). See full article, Lesson, Brethren of Christ do the will of Father.

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