The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the man with the withered hand. Christ's ministry in retirement

(Mat 12:9-21. Mar 3:1-6. Luk 6:6-11)

On the very next Sabbath following,1 therefore on the second of the Passover, Jesus was again obliged to justify His observance of the Sabbath against a false Sabbath sanctity. He had left that neighbourhood where it had been made a crime for His disciples to partake of the pilgrim’s scanty food, the grains from the ears of standing corn. He seems to have repaired again to the sea-shores of His own home in Galilee, where He visited a synagogue,2 where His opposers seem already to have been waiting for Him. We may also conclude this from the circumstance, that at this time the Herodians, apparently the courtiers and dependants of Herod Antipas, began to come forward against Him. In the synagogue there was a man whose hand was withered, or stiffened and shrunken together. The opposers of Christ themselves seem to have drawn His attention to this man; thus wishing to bring about an offence, they propounded to Him the disputed question: ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath-day?’ Jesus answered 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? How much then is a man better than a sheep?’ The Jews had not, then, as yet so entirely lost all proper feeling as not to allow a beast which had fallen into a well on a Sabbath-day to be pulled out; otherwise Jesus could not have appealed to this observance. Afterwards the rules concerning this matter were developed into a yet more rigid spirit of illiberality, and it was commanded that if a man’s beast had fallen into a pit or cistern on the Sabbath-day, he might throw him the necessary food, or even straw for him to lie upon, whereby he might perhaps be enabled to climb out.3 In this way, according to Matthew,4 had His opposers questioned Him, and He had given them a decided answer. A suffering man may at all times be compared to a beast fallen into a pit. His condition is contrary to nature; there is danger in delay; his mind is oppressed; the opportunity to save him may have passed by to-morrow; and even if not, his need is great enough to make present help desirable. If therefore one may deliver an ox from a condition of such pressing need on the Sabbath-day, how much more a man!

After Jesus had thus answered them, He in turn took them to task. He first commanded the man with the withered hand to rise up and stand forth in the midst of the assembly. The man did not allow himself to be withheld from doing so by the displeasure of the hierarchy; he took the bold step; and this circumstance of itself speaks much in his favour. Upon which, Jesus told His adversaries that He wanted to ask them something (τί), to propound to them a little easy question. It was this: ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath-day to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?’ This was apparently an exceedingly easy question. But it contained for them a cutting rebuke; for these adversaries were even now engaged in doing evil on the Sabbath-day, in destroying Him, whilst He sought to do good, to heal and to save human life. The questioned party felt themselves reproved, and were silent. Thus the principle was decided, that it is certainly lawful to do well on the Sabbath-day; which principle Matthew records without relating that it was evolved through a particular discussion. As His adversaries, thus wholly beaten and silenced, and yet in their perversity not one whit turned from their insidious intention to seize Him at this opportunity if they only might, as they thus surrounded Him as a group of hostile spirits, with the consciousness of evil, judged, and yet fanatically litigious, Jesus looked round about upon them with the expression of holy indignation and profound sadness; each face had thrown upon it the brightness of His holy gaze. Upon this He proceeded to act, saying to the sick man: ‘Stretch forth thine hand! And he stretched it out; and his hand was restored, whole as the other.’ Thus does His word likewise again heal the dead hand of the Church (manus mortua), and the dead hand of the beggar, against the will of the hierarchy. The adversaries of Jesus were maddened with rage. They went out and took counsel together how they might bring about His death. The design originated with the Pharisees, but they leagued themselves with the Herodians. Since a short time previously Jesus had gone out of Herod’s way, we may suppose that He had by this even now forfeited the favour of this prince and of his court. But that the Pharisees should already seek to make use of this disposition of the Herodians towards Jesus, is quite in keeping with their character.

Jesus perceived this design, Matthew adds, and left the place where they were thus lying in wait for Him. Great multitudes of people still followed Him, and He healed the sick amongst them. But He found it more and more needful to act with the greatest reserve, and as noiselessly as possible. Therefore He healed the sufferers under the strict condition that they should not make Him known. This silent course of life reminds Matthew of another passage in the prophet Isaiah. If perhaps the Jewish mind would fain ask the Evangelist, How could the Messiah wander so secretly among His own country and people? then he would refer to this passage in the prophet Isaiah, chap. 42:1-4, quoting it from memory, but retaining its meaning: ‘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 show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust.’ The Evangelist quotes these words with the deepest feeling, and the clearest insight into their meaning. He finds this silent walk of Christ in accordance with the spirit of mercy, as the prophet has here described the promptings of this spirit. In accordance with this spirit, it comes to pass that Christ always turns aside from where wicked men wish to strive with Him, from where violent men wish to challenge Him to combat, from where brawlers wish to force Him to answer with high words. He continues to turn only to those ready to receive Him, that is, to the bruised and miserable; and that not in order in this to judge the world punished by the Father, but in order to raise up again, to heal, to save. And in accordance with this mercifulness of His, it will come to pass that the judgment, which from its very nature, in its commencement and continuance, is an incessant conflict of righteousness with the sinner, will issue in victory, even to its own removal in the destruction of the sinner’s guilt, until thus the whole judgment of God which men experience is changed into a victory of love, of mercy. And therefore will the heart of the Gentiles turn gradually with ever-increasing earnestness towards Him. Although it is He who by His word and Spirit proclaims to the Gentiles the judgment of God, yet will the Gentiles ever more and more feel that it is He only who saves them in this judgment, and place their hope in His name.

In this spirit, the Evangelist means to say, does Jesus escape out of the way of His enemies. The time is coming when the providence of God will strike them, when the rustling reed will lie broken by a tempest, when the flaring light will struggle with death as a dying lamp whose life’s oil is spent. Then He will come again, and confront in their sore need these His afflicted enemies.

‘But the bruised reed will He not break, the smoking flax will He not quench.’



St Jerome tells us, that according to the Gospel of the Nazarenes and Ebionites, which he translated, this sick man was a stonemason, who had prayed Jesus to heal him, in order that he might no longer have need to beg.-See Von Ammon, ii. 146; Sepp, ii. 332.



1) [And not on the same Sabbath, as Meyer supposes, and thus finds an inconsistency between the statement of Matthew and that of Luke. Wieseler supposes it was the following day, one of the Sabbaths being a feast-day. There is not ground in Luke s expression for asserting that it was the very next Sabbath. ED.]

2) [There is no sufficient evidence that it was the synagogue of Capernaum, though this has been hastily inferred by some from Mark iii. 1, He entered into the synagogue, i.e., the synagogue before mentioned, of Capernaum. But the absence of the article in the original shows rather that the Evangelist intended another synagogue. Meyer says it was the synagogue of Capernaum, but makes no attempt to prove it. For the expression their synagogue, comp. Matt. xi. 1. ED.]

3) Maimon. in Sbabbath; see Sepp, Leben Christi, ii. 333. [A beast might be pulled out if in danger of drowning, or a man healed if in danger of death. ED.]

4) Mark and Luke pass briefly over this point in the narrative: παρετήρουν αὐτόν, κ. τ. λ.