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Christ heals the man with paralysed hand. Byzantine mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale. - James Tissot (1886-1896)

The Withered Hand - William James WebbeAfter the conflict with the Pharisees in the grain field, Jesus went on from the place. He went into the Pharisees synagogue and a man with a paralyzed, shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, the Pharisees asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

Jesus said to them,

“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”

The man stretched out his hand and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

When Jesus discovered the Pharisees’ plans, he left the place. A large crowd followed him. He continued healing all who were ill but asked them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit in him and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out, no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out until he has brought justice through victory. In his name, nations will put their hope.”

What the story means to us today

Jesus points out Pharisees’ misinterpretation of the Bible – then leaves to avoid persecution

Jesus heals the man with a withered hand - Artist unknownTwo profound events are presented in this story. First, we again see Jesus pointing out to the Pharisees that they misunderstand (or twist) the Bible’s message. Despite being challenged by the Pharisees and potentially set up to breach their Sabbath laws, Jesus again puts the needs of people ahead of ritual observances and bravely does what he knows is right.

When the Pharisees accuse Jesus of “working on the Sabbath”, their argument is that healing is “work” and should not be done on the Sabbath! Jesus cleverly points out the folly of their reasoning. Jesus’ point consolidates one of his primary objectives – to show the Pharisees’ interpretation and understanding of the Bible was flawed. Bravely, Jesus ignored their challenge and despite the inherent danger of the act, healed the man’s withered hand.

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Secondly, we see Jesus, the son of God, flee from persecution. This it the first indication the Pharisees intend to kill Jesus. For nothing more than good deeds towards others, Jesus is forced to “withdraw” and asks those that he helps to keep secret what he has done. Isaiah foresaw this when he wrote of a savior who would be peaceful, humble, and persecuted. But as Isaiah 42:1 predicted, Jesus would not quarrel or cry out to his persecutors – and Jesus would not break. When the Pharisees cunningly ask him about healing on the Sabbath in hopes of trapping him in violation of ritual law, Jesus calmly answers with an important lesson. As Isaiah predicted, in the end, all nations (or “Gentiles”) will indeed put their hope in Jesus.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Did the Pharisees consider healing on the Sabbath a sin?

According to Mishnah, a codification of Jewish rabbinic oral tradition, the Pharisees did not necessarily see healing, or more accurately, medical assistance on the Sabbath as sin – if the victim’s life was in danger. A withered hand did not qualify and thus, they considered Jesus’ healing of the man with a withered hand a violation of their laws. They used this triviality of rabbinic law to place Jesus in a position of either breaking the law (in their eyes) or letting a handicapped man continue to suffer. They of course knew which action the kind and gentle Jesus would take.

Where are the Herodians?

Jesus Heals Man with Withered Hand - Artist unknownScholars note that Mark’s version of events adds an additional twist to the story. In Mark’s version, not just the Pharisees but also the Herodians plotted against Jesus. Mark 3:6 says,

“Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

The reason for Matthew’s omission is clear. Matthew is renowned for consolidating events in his retelling of Christ’s story. The omission of the Herodians is not critically important to the story and thus, Matthew makes no mention of it. We see this consolidation of the story’s events throughout Matthew’s New Testament writings. Regardless, Matthew will make mention of the Herodians in later verses.

Jewish ministers would seek to murder a person?

Matthew tells us that “The Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.” Some translations try to change “kill” to “ban from the synagogue” to avoid portrayal of ancient Jewish leaders as murderers. There is no denying the Pharisees sought to end Jesus’ life.

The Pharisees’ objective was not as much about ending a man’s life for violation of the Sabbath, but more about executing a man who was claiming to be the son of God (and presenting a quite convincing argument to support his assertion). We will see proof of this later during the trials when we witness the Pharisees’ accusations against Jesus. The Pharisees were devious in their intent. No mention is made of Jesus violating Jewish law by working on the Sabbath.

Why would the Son of God flee?

It is heartbreaking to see a man as kind and gentle as Jesus having to fear for his life after helping so many people. But given his peaceful nature, it is not surprising that he would leave the situation and avoid conflict if possible. As we will see, Jesus is aware of his impending death. Jesus did not stop his activities, he merely moved them to a different place and asked others to remain quiet, so he could continue his work as long as possible. Throughout the narrative we see Jesus withdraw when conditions around him grow dire. He continues this behavior until the appointed hour of his death.

The quote from Isaiah 42

Matthew’s quote is based on Isaiah 42:1-4. It is not a direct quote, but a summary. Although the message in Isaiah appears to apply to the servant Israel, Matthew applies the same quote to Jesus. This was a common theme in the New Testament – the presentation of Jesus as the final fulfillment of Israel.

Notes on Biblical translation

In his name the nations will put their hope

Most translations of Isaiah’s quote end with “in his name the nations will put their hope.” The original Greek word for “the nations” can also be translates as “Gentiles” – all non-Israelite people.

Bible Text

Jesus Heals Man with Withered Hand - Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazz Rahib (1684)NIV

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,

the one I love, in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

19 He will not quarrel or cry out;

no one will hear his voice in the streets.

20 A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

till he has brought justice through to victory.

21In his name the nations will put their hope.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Christ heals the man with paralysed hand. Byzantine mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale.The NET Bible

12:9 Then Jesus left that place and entered their synagogue. 12:10 A man was there who had a withered hand. And they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” so that they could accuse him. 12:11 He said to them, “Would not any one of you, if he had one sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, take hold of it and lift it out? 12:12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 12:13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and it was restored, as healthy as the other. 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and

12:15 Now when Jesus learned of this, he went away from there. Great crowds followed him, and he healed them all. 12:16 But he sternly warned them not to make him known. 12:17 This fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet:

12:18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,

the one I love, in whom I take great delight.

I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

12:19 He will not quarrel or cry out,

nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

12:20 He will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a smoldering wick,

until he brings justice to victory.

12:21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

9 Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him.

11 Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value than is a man than a sheep? Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.

14 Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.

15 But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. 16 Yet He warned them not to make Him known, 17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

18 “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,

My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!

I will put My Spirit upon Him,

And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.

19 He will not quarrel nor cry out,

Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.

20 A bruised reed He will not break,

And smoking flax He will not quench,

Till He sends forth justice to victory;

21 And in His name Gentiles will trust.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

Jesus Heals Man with Withered Hand - Artist unknownThe Message

9–10 When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?” They were baiting him.

11–14 He replied, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out and it was healed. The Pharisees walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus.

15–21 Jesus, knowing they were out to get him, moved on. A lot of people followed him, and he healed them all. He also cautioned them to keep it quiet, following guidelines set down by Isaiah.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

9 And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: 10 And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. 11 And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. 13 Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. 15 But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; 16 And charged them that they should not make him known: 17 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 18 Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. 19 He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. 21 And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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