Word for the day by Christian Education Forum

  Sabbath leads to fullness of Creation

Bible portion: 1 Samuel 21:1-9
Verse: “So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.” 1 Samuel 21-9
In 1 Samuel 21, David is on the run from Saul. David comes to the town of Nob, where the tabernacle was, and meets with Ahimelech the priest. Although he didn’t tell the priest there the truth about his situation, he was running for his life. David asks for food, but Ahimelech has nothing but the showbread, which was consecrated for use in the tabernacle. Despite the law that reserved the showbread exclusively for the sons of Aaron (Leviticus 24:9), “the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away” (1 Samuel 21:6). We have to admit right up front that this is not a simple story to interpret. The Old Testament itself never passes judgment on it, either to justify Ahimelech and David or to condemn them. It just tells us what happened.

The issue of David eating the showbread comes up in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath. His disciples had been picking some kernels of grain and eating them as they walked through a field (Matthew 12:1–8; Mark 2:23–28; Luke 6:1–5). The Pharisees objected: “Look!” they said to Jesus. “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:2). In response, Jesus cites 1 Samuel 21: “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests” (Matthew 12:3–4). 

If Jesus had never commented on this incident, there would be little question about David’s actions. In fleeing for his life, he lied to a priest, tricked him perhaps, and ate bread that was not meant for him. While David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), he had many failures and shortcomings. The words of Jesus seem to make clear that David was violating the law by eating the showbread. Jesus says it was unlawful: “He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread” (Matthew 12:4). Taken at face value, these words show that David was a lawbreaker.

The fact is, Jesus rightly and masterfully pointed out the unlawful actions of David to a group of hypocritical Pharisees who apparently had overlooked their beloved David’s blatantly sinful actions in 1 Samuel 21. Yet these same Pharisees wrongly criticized Jesus and His apostles for breaking the Sabbath. In truth, the only “law” Jesus’ disciples broke (at least on this occasion) was the Pharisaical misinterpretation of the law, which seems to have been more sacred to the Pharisees than the Law itself. 

In a parallel passage, Jesus states, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, the Sabbath was designed to serve and benefit man, not the other way around. Caring for human needs takes precedence over keeping the letter of the law. Jesus uses this principle of caring for others as a rationale for healing on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9–14). There’s no need to stand on ceremony when someone is in distress. In the same context, Jesus also points out that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8; Luke 6:5). That is, He is the One who makes the rules.  As Lord of the Sabbath, He can determine what is allowable on the Sabbath. Certainly, God could have granted David special permission to eat the showbread, just as Jesus could grant special permission for the disciples to pick and eat grain on the Sabbath.

But there is another lesson from the Pharisees' point of view that we need to learn, and that is: mere knowledge of Scripture is useless.  Mere knowledge of Scripture is useless, if you do not interpret it correctly and you do not apply it correctly. Here is the heavy import of that principle to us as far as the Pharisees and the Lord were concerned, and the Jews of His day, their interpretation and application of the Sabbath Law was robbing others of joy and satisfaction in God, and it proved that they had gotten it wrong somewhere! We need to understand that, if the interpretation of scripture and application robs us of joy in Christ, we can be sure we've got it wrong somewhere! In Matthew 12:7 Jesus quotes from the Old Testament: “I desire mercy not sacrifice”. This suggests that alleviating human suffering is more important than following the letter of the law. Yes, David broke the letter of the law, but those in need received mercy.

The principal the Lord is giving us here is: every spiritual practice that we are engaged in should be judged upon this principle, is it a benefit or is it a bondage? If it robs us of our joy in God, if it prevents us helping others, that means it has become a bondage not a benefit - and, according to Christ, it has outlived its usefulness. That's the application: spiritual ordinances, spiritual practices are for our benefit, not for our bondage. Indeed, the best way to use sacred things and religious practices is to use them to help men, that's why the sabbath was instituted, that's why every spiritual ordinance is instituted: to help us as believers, and to help even the lost. That, in fact, is the only way that we can really offer up all these ordinances to God: if we are using them to serve others!  ‘The showbread was never so sacred as when it was used to feed the starving men of David. The sabbath was never so sacred as when it was used to help those who needed help. The final arbiter in the use of all things is love, not law’. The things that we do for Him, the practices that we are engaged in: are they for the benefit of others? When they are, then they will be gifts to God.

Lord, help us to understand that your desire for us, is that we show mercy and love to others rather than being mere keepers of the Law. Amen

Thought for the day
"Keeping the Sabbath teaches us to trust God and enjoy Him…It’s God’s way to set us free from worry and anxiety, ambition and adrenaline, self-importance and anger, even loneliness." — Bill Gaultiere

Eapen Kanichukattu
South Florida

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