God’s Law and Mercy

God’s Law and Mercy

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

In 1 Samuel 21:3-6, David takes the “holy bread,” i.e. the Bread of the Presence (see Leviticus 24:5-9), 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 Matthew 12:1-8. The Pharisees were accusing Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath by eating from a grainfield. Jesus retorts them like so in verses 3 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 Leviticus 24, that even the priests have to break the Sabbath in order to bake the bread of the Presence! In verse 7 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.


  1. Simon (Author)

    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.

    • Andrew Courtis

      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” (Eph. 2:4-5).

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