God’s Law and Mercy

Photo credit: under the Creative Commons license, by rogerimp.

In , David takes the “holy bread,” i.e. the Bread of the Presence (see ), and eats it. In fact, the priest even gives it to him. He doesn’t steal it; Ahimelech offers it as food. On the surface of things, David is doing something that is directly contrary to the Law of God.

Jesus discusses this very situation in . The Pharisees were accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath by eating from a grainfield. Jesus retorts them like so in and 4:

Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

Jesus then points out, implicitly referencing , that even the priests have to break the Sabbath in order to bake the bread of the Presence! In he quotes Hosea, saying that what the prophet wrote explains why David, the priests, and the disciples were not, in fact, sinning.

And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.

Jesus says that mercy is more important that sacrifice. This is surely not a license to sin. It is a principle. Mercy trumps sacrifice every time. The Law is never to be broken … unless there is another law that must be kept. The law of mercy.

Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord’s food offerings, a perpetual due.”

12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:

24:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly. Outside the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, Aaron shall arrange it from evening to morning before the Lord regularly. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. He shall arrange the lamps on the lampstand of pure gold before the Lord regularly.

“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord’s food offerings, a perpetual due.”

10 Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, 11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. 12 And they put him in custody, till the will of the Lord should be clear to them.

13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. 21 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” 23 So Moses spoke to the people of Israel, and they brought out of the camp the one who had cursed and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses.

And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord.

2 thoughts on “God’s Law and Mercy”

  1. I should clarify my clumsy expression. When I say that “The Law is never to be broken … unless there is another law that must be kept. The law of mercy.” – I do not mean that the law of mercy as described here is something above, or apart from, God’s Law. It is one and the same.

    1. Insightful post Simon. This topic brings us to the mercy of God as seen in the gospel. God’s law demanded that we be punished because of our transgressions and He had full right to instantly remove Adam and Eve from existence when they sinned. Then comes the law of mercy: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved” ().

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