This event in the grain fields is an illustration of the new that the Lord has come to bring. There is freedom to pick and eat from the ears on the sabbath. He is there. The sons of the wedding hall are free to enjoy the blessings of the land on the sabbath.
Once again the Pharisees make themselves heard because they see something that is not in accordance with their conceptions of the law. That is what they are after, they are searching for it. Tirelessly, they will point out anything that contradicts their conceptions which belong to the old garment and the old skins. They appeal to the Lord about the behavior of His disciples.
It is clear that there is no law that forbids eating on the sabbath from the grain of the field; on the contrary (Lev 23:2222‘When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.’”). Their disapproval is based on a law they have made themselves. Legalism always makes the law heavier than God has said. It adds human opinions to God’s law, paying attention only to outer things and making a system out of them. This is a danger to which man is constantly exposed. Those who are guilty of this show their complete ignorance of God, Who is out to show grace.
In His answer the Lord appeals to their knowledge of Scripture. The history to which He refers is from the time when David, God’s anointed king, was still rejected and fleeing from Saul. At that time David suffered want, and so did those who were with him. This is exactly what the Pharisees now see before them in the true David with His disciples. They are also hungry.
The Pharisees have, of course, read this history many times, but they have never read it properly and therefore have not really understood it. They have never seen its true meaning. The true meaning stands for them in the Person of Christ, but they are blind to it because they behave like Saul.
Could it have been God’s intention to let His anointed king die of hunger by His precepts, together with those who were with him? God did not give His precepts for this. If people had kept them, this situation would never have happened. Now that His anointed king was being persecuted, sticking to His precepts had not the least value for Him.
The showbread that represents God’s people in their unity before Him (Lev 24:5-95“Then you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it; two-tenths [of an ephah] shall be [in] each cake.6You shall set them [in] two rows, six [to] a row, on the pure [gold] table before the LORD.7You shall put pure frankincense on each row that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, [even] an offering by fire to the LORD.8Every sabbath day he shall set it in order before the LORD continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel.9It shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the LORD’s offerings by fire, [his] portion forever.”) had lost that value for Him, because the people had turned away from Him. This showbread no longer had any symbolic meaning for God. By rejecting His anointed king, God did not limit the eating of the showbread to the priests, but allowed it to be eaten by David and his men. David was called to a service by God, but was on the run. He was holy, that is to say, separated for God to serve Him, and so were his men, through which they could eat of this holy bread (1Sam 21:1-61Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?”2David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’3Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.”4The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.”5David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels [be holy]?”6So the priest gave him consecrated [bread]; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread [in its place] when it was taken away.).
The sabbath should be looked at in the same way. The sabbath was not meant to be a means of aggravating the suffering of poor people. It was meant as a blessing. The sabbath was not a day to reign over man, but for the welfare and rest of man, to direct his thoughts through that day to something higher than the work of his hands. The Pharisees had made the sabbath a yoke, whereas God had intended it as a blessing. Under the law there are precepts attached to the sabbath celebration, but the Lord restores the sabbath to its original, true meaning.
The sabbath is based on two great divine truths: creation and the law. Both events are of great importance to man and to Israel. But the Christian belongs to neither. He is not bound to the old creation, for he is a new creation, and he is not bound to the earthly Israel, but to the heavenly church. For the Christian, therefore, the first day of the week is the day of remembrance, for then Christ rose from the grave and opened the new world with a new state of affairs.
To the Pharisees, who have falsified the meaning of the sabbath, He lets it be known that He is the “Lord also of the sabbath” and not they. The Person of Christ is above all institutions. The name “Son of Man” shows the glory of His Person as the rejected, suffering Man. As such, and not only as God, He is exalted above the sabbath: He is Lord of the sabbath. This will become visible when the great sabbath for creation comes when He accepts His reign, which is at the introduction of the millennial realm of peace. Then His people, all who belong to Him, will share in it.
The question is whether God can act in grace and bless in sovereignty among His people. Should He submit Himself to the authority of people who, while turning against His goodness, make false appeals to His institutions? Or can He do good according to His own power and love as the One Who is above all things? Will God allow Himself to be limited by man in the work of His goodness, which in truth is the new wine that the Lord Jesus brings to man?