Luke XXII: Lk. 6:1-11
Jesus has been acting the part of a priest and calling men to follow Him. He says He’s come to do something new, and here, He explains a little more of what that means.
Jesus & David
Jesus and his disciples rub a bit of grain together in their hands on the Sabbath as they are passing through a field, and the Pharisees object saying that they are breaking the Sabbath (Lk. 6:1-2). But Jesus defends their actions by referring to David who was the anointed king who had just officially been run out of Saul’s house (Lk. 6:3, cf. 1 Sam. 20-21). David and his men probably arrive at Nob on the Sabbath since Ahimelech has the holy bread, which was replaced by new bread every Sabbath day (1 Sam. 21:6, Lev. 24:5-9). David’s argument is that since he and his men have been kept from women, they are “holy” (1 Sam. 21:5). Apart from being a priest, the only other way someone might be allowed priestly access would have been through some kind of oath or dedication. For example, Samuel was not from the priestly family of Aaron, but his mother dedicated him to service at the tabernacle (1 Sam. 1:28). And he grew up ministering in the tabernacle, clothed with a white linen ephod like a priest (1 Sam. 2:18) and offering sacrifices (cf. 1 Sam. 9:13, 13:8-13). In fact, Hannah dedicated Samuel to priestly service through a Nazirite vow (1 Sam. 1:11, Num. 6). It seems likely that David is telling Ahimelech that he and his men are holy because they have taken a temporary Nazirite vow.
Hands & Houses
A couple other pieces of this background story are important: First, when a priest is ordained, one of the common Hebraic descriptions of the ordination is to “fill the hands” (e.g. Ex. 28:41, 29:29, 29, 22, 35). This is because the job of the priest was to handle the sacrifices, to lift them before the Lord, to sprinkle blood, and to lift their hands in blessing the people. When David arrives at Nob, he asks repeatedly about what is in Ahimelech’s hand (1 Sam. 21:3, 8). Related, is the fact that Ahimelech acts to fill David’s hand with holy bread and Goliath’s sword from behind the ephod (1 Sam. 21:8-9). This is not just any moment in the story of David. This is the moment that he has fled from Saul’s threats to kill him. The first place David goes when his life is in danger is to the tabernacle, and he leaves strengthened with holy bread and a holy sword. The second significant piece of background information is that David’s conversation with Ahimelech represents an eclipse of power in progress. In the next chapter, Saul will order Doeg the Edomite to slaughter Ahimilech and all his family for helping David, with only Abiathar escaping (1 Sam. 22:11-19). While this is an evil act, it is also the fulfillment of God’s promise to Eli that no old man shall remain in his family because of their wickedness and only one shall be spared (1 Sam. 2:30-36). God promised to raise up a new priest and to build him a house (1 Sam. 2:35). All the indications are that He was talking about David (cf. 2 Sam. 7).
A New Priesthood
So when we get to these two episodes in Luke 6, a number of things begin to stand out. First, Jesus is not merely referencing a random story where somebody gets to break the ceremonial rules. He’s referencing a key moment in one of the most significant stories in Jewish history: David’s ascendency. The only way David had access to the holy bread and the holy sword were if he were in some way granted a priestly status outside the ordinary means. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that He has that sort of status too. He’s been anointed, and He’s on His way to the throne. Jesus and his men are on a similar sort of holy mission. This is also indicated by the theme of hands. Jesus and his men are rubbing the grain together in their hands, and in the very next episode, Jesus meets a man with a withered hand (Lk. 6:6). In an interesting contrast, one of the only other stories in the Bible about a man with a withered hand is Jeroboam in 1 Kings 13 who has built a rival altar to God in Bethel (1 Kgs. 13:1). A prophet denounces this disobedient worship, and when Jeroboam orders him to be arrested, his hand withers (1 Kgs. 13:4). Only after the altar has been torn down, does the prophet pray for the king and restores his hand. Given the priestly access theme running through the background of this story, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to see Jesus confronting false worship in the synagogue and working to restore a faithful priesthood. Finally, these episodes indicate that another eclipse of power is taking place. Like Samuel, Jesus is not from the priestly family of Aaron, but He is like a Nazirite on a holy mission calling others to join Him. The implication is that the Pharisees are at best like Eli’s corrupt family, and they are invited to help Jesus like Ahimelech. But at worst, they are like Doeg the Edomite spying on Jesus, the anointed Son, and plotting to destroy him (Lk. 6:11).
Conclusions & Applications
In Revelation, John sees Jesus making war on the nations, riding a white horse, clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the armies of heaven arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, following after Him on white horses (Rev. 19:11-14). And from His mouth comes a sharp sword with which He strikes the nations (Rev. 19:15). If you can see with eyes of faith, you need to see Jesus and His disciples walking through the wheat fields rubbing grain together in their hands as Jesus riding to battle followed by His armies clad in the white linen of the priesthood. And when you begin to see this, you need to begin to see the same thing right in front of you every Lord’s Day when you stretch out your hand and it is filled with a little bit of bread. Your pastors are dressed in white in order to remind you that you are dressed white too.
This could easily seem like a silly fairy tale, some kind of esoteric religious game. But that’s only if we are all playing dress up here and pretending something that isn’t true. If Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, if He is the One who speaks peace and gives true rest, if He restores the broken, and fills the hungry, and if our sins have been forgiven, then we aren’t playing any games and we really have been made a kingdom of priests. Jesus rides to battle with a blood stained robe. Our robes are white because His robe is stained with blood. And therefore we are authorized to share this Sabbath rest with everyone.