Jesus’ Disciples Pick Ears of Grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5)

One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were walking on a path leading through grainfields in Galilee. The hungry disciples, in keeping with a provision of the law, began picking some ears (either of barley or wheat), rubbing them in their hands, and then eating the grain. (Deuteronomy 23:25) Observing this, certain Pharisees objected, viewing their activity as harvesting and threshing and, therefore, unlawful on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1, 2; Mark 2:23, 24; Luke 6:1, 2)

In response, Jesus reminded the Pharisees of what David had done when he and the men with him were hungry. He accepted shewbread from the priest at the sanctuary, which bread, according to the law, only priests were entitled to eat. Jesus then called attention to the fact that the priests at the temple worked on the Sabbath and yet remained innocent of wrongdoing while carrying out their sacred duties. The Pharisees knew that, outside the temple area, the kind of activity in which priests and Levites engaged on the Sabbath would have been a violation of the law. With reference to himself, Jesus told them, “Something greater than the temple is here.” As the promised Messiah, the unique Son of God, Jesus was greater than the temple, and he did not consider what the disciples did as wrong. Their hunger was real, and human need took precedence (as the case of David illustrated). Stressing the spirit of the law, Jesus added, “If you knew what this means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent ones.” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 12:3-7; Mark 2:25, 26; Luke 6:3, 4)

A day of rest served to benefit man. It was not a matter of man being created for the purpose of observing a day of rest. Again calling attention to his identity, Jesus said, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” As Lord of the Sabbath, it was at his disposal for doing positive good, and no one had the authority to condemn his disciples for any activity that he deemed appropriate on that day. (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27, 28; Luke 6:5)


According to 1 Samuel 21:2-6, David obtained the shewbread from Ahimelech. The extant text of Mark 2:26 mentions Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech. It should be noted, however, that Mark 2:26 does not say that Abiathar gave the shewbread to David. This did take place during the general period in which Abiathar served as high priest, for King Saul had Ahimelech executed shortly after David received the shewbread and Abiathar escaped being massacred along with his father and other priests. (1 Samuel 22:11-23)

The extant Septuagint text of Hosea 6:6 is the same as the quotation in Matthew 12:7.