Let’s begin by reading Numbers 15:32-36, “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.”  The resulting death of the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath was according to the words of the Law in Exodus 31:14, “Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever DOETH ANY WORK therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” 

Now let’s read Mark 2:23-26, “And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?”  You are correct in pointing out that although the man gathering sticks on the was stoned to death, ‘the disciples did not get the same punishment for picking some ears of corn.’  Why? 

First of all, it was not against the Law to glean some corn from someone else’s corn field when one was traveling.  The Lord, in His Word, made provision for the poor.  We read in Deuteronomy 23:24-25, “When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel. When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn.”  It was not lawful to pick lots of corn, but was okay to get enough corn for the immediate hunger needs.  The intent of the Law was to prevent labor, but to pick some corn to eat when hungry was not against the Law.

Labor was against the Law.  These Pharisaical teachers had strained so greatly at the law, that they taught that the rubbing of the hands in order to eat the corn, or grain, was labor and was prohibited under the Law.  We read of this same incident in Luke 6:1, “And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, RUBBING THEM IN THEIR HANDS.” The Pharisees objected to the plucking of grain because they considered it a kind of reaping, and therefore working on the sabbath day.

To defend the action of His disciples, the Lord referred to a time in the life of David.  1 Samuel 21 tells us of an incident when David was traveling with his men and they were hungry.  He said to Ahimelech, the priest, “Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present. And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women. And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel. So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.” (1 Samuel 21:3-6).  It was on the Sabbath that the shewbread was replaced with fresh bread in the Tabernacle. (Read Leviticus 24:8).  The old bread, which was still considered ‘hallowed bread’ was given to David’s men and replaced with hot bread.  Normally, it would have been contrary to the Law for David and his men to eat this bread because the old bread was given to the priests and their families to eat.  Yet, the Lord did not want these men to starve to death.  So, nowhere in the Bible do we find the Lord condemning this action.  In fact, Ahimelech gave the bread to the men.

Back in Mark 2:27 we find the reasoning of the Lord Jesus.  We read, “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”  The Lord had given man the Sabbath to benefit them.  It was to be a day of rest from all their labors.  The Pharisees had turned the observance of this day into an unbearable burden.  The Lord Jesus, who is “Lord of the Sabbath” completely understood the purpose of the Sabbath and acted correctly.  (412.4)