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Friday, November 13, 2009

The healing of the Withered Right Hand:
Jesus Heals on Shabbat

Among the healings that the Lord and Savior did, recorded by eyewitnesses, a few are described in detail, and a few receive a mere mention. A few are mentioned only once in one Gospel, and others have detailed parallel descriptions in all three of the synoptic Gospels each adding a little more detail (although never contradictory). The great healings, attended by many, have been repeated over and over both from scripture and in story form, such as raising Lazarus from the dead, or the Madmen of the Gadarenes, or Jairus' daughter. Among the healings that the Lord performed in his earthly ministry though, several have the distinction of having been performed on Shabbat {the Sabbath}, and the one in our current study, is the healing of the man with the withered hand.

Healing and Shabbat

Jesus had already well begun his teaching, preaching and healing, when one Shabbat he enters a Synagogue and encounters a man with a withered hand. Just prior to his encounter with this man, he has already healed a man with palsy, and encountered some Pharisees on another Shabbat who question why he allowed his disciples to pluck ears of corn to eat while walking through a corn field, on this day of convocation. The Old Testament was filled with God's commands regarding what was right to do on Shabbat and what was not allowed. Work on any day of 'holy convocation' was to cease, especially on Shabbat, to point to the work of God ceasing in Creation on the 7th day, the Sabbath or Shabbat of God, the 'Seventh Day Rest' which would point forever to His Messiah and Savior, our sabbath rest.

Through the years though, one rabbinical scholar after another sought to define what constituted 'work' and what did not, forgetting the gift of rest and peace, and instead trying to add man made ordinances regarding what was acceptable behavior and what was not. Some of the strictest extra-biblical requirements were policies of not eating an egg layed on the 7th day, or even traditions today among Orthodox groups regarding not wearing fragrances, or certain types of clothing on certain holy days.

As Jesus was walking though, through the corn field with his disciples just a short time before this healing, he began to bring forth correct teaching on Shabbat, a teaching which this generation has too often ignored: it was not in any way to be done away with, or ignored, nor was it to become a legalistic burden, but it was to be a day of quiet restful time with the Lord and with others, studying the Word, worshipping, and gaining peace. Jesus taught the arguing Pharisees, beginning with an exception to tradition, the story of David and his men eating the shewbread, which was normally forbidden, in order to sustain life for God's purpose. His central teaching on the second of three shabbats used to teach, was:

Luk 6:5-And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

The Third Shabbat, Another Synagogue

On this third Shabbat in a row, though, in Synagogue, the issue of the Shabbat arises again, only this time, the question becomes whether one can heal on the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples are in a Synagogue, and they encounter a man with a withered hand. The Greek word for the adjective 'withered' is 'xeraino', and it is quite literal, carrying with it descriptors of 'shriveled' rigid, dired up, or 'pineth away'- in short the hand is not able to be used because of some form of atrophy.

There is another aspect though of this healing that makes it a little unique compared to some, that it is the man's 'right hand'. In the Holy Scriptures there are many references to the 'right hand': it is a reminder of power and authority, or 'rightness' of designation, so for the right hand to be withered, and as most are right-handed, the condition means the man is quite incapacitated, and without power.

The day that Jesus encounters the man, he is in the house of God teaching. Note that there a number of healings that take place in the synagogue or just after, and it is often with Jesus teaching in the Synagogue. That is rather curious to some, as we so often picture him wandering the Judean mountains, with crowds flocking around, but on the Shabbat, Jesus was found teaching in synagogue. No sooner does the man with the withered hand come forth, but the Pharisees begin to object:

LUKE 6:7
And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him. Luke 6:7

Mark 3:2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.

MATTHEW 12:10 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.

Isn't it a characteristic, even today, of legalistic people that they never watch themselves so closely as they watch other people, waiting with baited breath to catch an error that they might condemn them, all the while seeing it as 'exhortation'. One need not be unsympathetic. Often when we begin our Christian walk, in an effort to closely obey the Lord we love, we fall into a pit of legalism where we try to obey every 'jot and tittle' of the Law, and then we try to obey it for those around us! It is also difficult to find a balance because many feel that anyone who holds tight to the Word is a legalist, and that is simply not true: the commands of God while not 'buying' or 'earning' Salvation, are there for a reason, and not to be ignored. The two most common errors are to walk in to the house of God with 'lists' and 'inspect' whether all are following, or on the opposite extreme to gloss over all God's teaching and commands with an 'it doesn't matter, I'm forgiven.' Neither is a correct position. These Pharisees, and many of the Pharisees which were encountered in the New Testament were not all the ones that condemned Jesus and wished him dead, but some, as in this healing were people whom he worshipped, fellowshipped and ate with. Most mentioned though, were quick to ask why he did every little thing the way he did it, and most, as we see in this passage, had the motive of trying to find fault.

At another place in Scripture, it notes that the wrath of man will praise God. Why would these Pharisees, in this culmination of God's plan on earth, be constantly examining Jesus for error and fault? The answer lies in his role as Passover Lamb: before a Lamb was declared the excellent sacrifice it needed to be for Passover, it had to be inspected by the priests to determine that it had no flaw nor imperfection and that it was the 'right kind of Lamb' (see Leviticus). Without knowing it, those these and other Pharisees bore him ill will, they were at the same time 'inspecting the lamb': they questioned his healings, his teachings, his doctrine, his companions and even his food.

The Healing

God often has a way of using the wrath of man, though to the benefit of those who believe, and it was even moreso with Jesus in his earthly ministry. The Pharisees intent on detecting error, actually gave witness from the opposition to the veracity of the healings and 'perfection' of the Lamb. If none of the Pharisees had seen this or other healings, they could have denied the healings with some degree of latitude, since healings were not abounding in the first century until Jesus came. Seeing though, the healings in front of their eyes, and in the case of the withered hand, directly, in a house during or after a dinner, the local members of the sect could no longer deny the power of God attendant on Jesus' healing of the man.

How does Jesus react? Instead of what we would do, going into a diatribe about how we shouldn't be too legalistic, or some such thing, he begins to teach: he seldom returns even a rebuke when teaching is still a possibility. Luke 6:8 notes that he perceives their condemnatory musings, even before they speak:

"But he knew their thoughts...."

and in Mark, though it is not stated, it is implicit that he knew because he questions them immediately after the healing. It is part of the prophetic nature to as Jesus himself puts it, "know what was in a man", although it was more true with Jesus than any merely human prophet. In Matthew, we see a parallel of Mark's rendering.

Matthew 12:11-2Mark 3:4Luke 6:9,3-5
And he said unto them, What man shall thou be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fell into a pit on the Sabbath Day, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out?

How much more then is a man better than a sheep?

Wherefore it is lawful then to do well on the Sabbath Days.

Jesus asks," Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath Day or to do evil: to save life or to kill?
(They held their peace)

Then said Jesus unto them, Is it lawful on the Sabbath Days, to do good or to do evil? to save life or destroy it?

[The sheep in the pit is not here, but in 6:3 before the healing]

Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungered, and they which were with them; 4 how he went into the House of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?

5 And he said unto them, That the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.

Another note, and a mistake often made, it does not appear that this is the SAME Sabbath as the one on which the corn was plucked, but most probably the same Pharisees. Luke 6:6 shows that Jesus taught at the Synagogue the day of the healing

...he entered into the synagogue and he taugh: and there was a man whose right hand was withered.

Before describing the healing, there are two things about this passage that seem eminent: 1) it is a right hand which is withered, and 2) it is a 'withering' or condition in which the limb has become fruitless.

The Right Hand

The fact that the man's hand which is healed on Shabbat was the right hand may indeed be seen as significant, as the right hand in the Scriptures is denoted as a place of authority, power, and favor.
God's right hand gives the Law, or Torah (Deuteronomy 33:2)-a fiery Law, and the

Anointing of a High Priest, the blood covering is of the right hand/thumb as in Leviticus 14:25-8; 14:7, 14:14; 8:23 and Exodus 29:20.

The Power of God is denoted as at the Right Hand in Exodus 15:6. and

Protection of God in the same passage.

Joseph receives the Right Hand of blessing in Genesis 48:17 and Sisera is killed (and Israel delivered) by Jael's Right Hand in Judges 5:26.

The AUTHORITY of God is at his Right Hand in 2 Kings 23:13, (and in Messiah's position in the Godhead), and

Salvation of God by his Right hand is seen, e.g. in Psalm 17:7, 18:35, 20:6 and 44:3, 138:7 and 139:10.

In Psalm 21:8, the Right Hand finds out enemies, and in Psalm 26:10 is associated with 'all righteousness', and inversely, shows 'terrible things'.

The right hand additionally in the Scriptures is associated with Triumph (Ps 89:42 and Victory Ps 98:1, with Judgment Ps 109:6 and Justice 109:31 (stand at the right hand of the poor), Safety and God's favor: Psalm 110:1,5 (exaltation-'Sit thou at my right hand), Valiance 118:15, Corruption, if bad (Ps 144,18), a right wise heart, as in Ecc 10:2; in Creation and Sovereignty in Is 48:13 (Right Hand hath spanned the heavens), Leadership (Isaiah 63:12 as in the right hand of Moses), and favor as in Hab 2:16. In separation of sheep and goats at the end, the sheep go to the right hand in Matthew 25:3,4 and the Right hand of power is mention in Matthew 26:64. When Satan wishes to do evil or does evil, he is said to stand at the right hand as in Zechariah 3:1. The Right hand is one of righteousness in Is 41:10. The Right hand of the Bridegroom embraces the bride in Song of Songs, 2:6.

While another whole study could be written to understand the depth of the meaning of the mention of the 'Right Hand' either of God or Man in the Scriptures, this should suffice for the moment to show that in this healing, and in God's sovereignty it is no insignificant thing that the withered hand is the right one. (See notes for other attributes of the 'Right Hand').

Withering Heights
'Withered' is mentioned only 25 times in the scriptures, but is also significant. The idea of withering denotes a lack of fruitfulness, a lack of 'works' death, impotence, and a heart that has given up. (e.g. Ps 102:4,11; Is 27:11; Lamentations 4:8, etc). Jonah's gourd withers, and so do believers who have no root and fall on bad ground. The most telling meaning of 'withering' though, is when Jesus curses the fig tree, a clear indication that the 'Gardener' has come looking, in the 3rd season for fruit on the tree of Israel, and finding none, declares it fruitless and of no use.
Mat 21:19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

So we can reason that a 'withered right hand' is not without significance, and refers in this healing not only as the healing of a physical condition, but as a sign to the Pharisees debating healing on Shabbat that their Messiah is the answer to the 'withered right hand' of Israel.

Jesus' Command

This has been a somewhat circumvent route to describe the encounter with the Pharisees at that after Shabbat dinner. The healing though questioned, was at hand and was to the point. Jesus says:

Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. Luke 6:10.
Then saith he unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like the other.
Mt 12:13
And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. Mark

What was Jesus' concern with the Pharisees? Not legalism per se, but the thing it does to the spirit: hardness of heart. And what was the command in healing by the Messiah? Stretch forth thy hand. He commanded a hand in an 'unwhole' and dissensioned state, to be made whole, the aim of all healing. (See Being Made Whole). The man apparently does according to the command, and the hand which was not only incapacitated but showed no seeming chance of recovery, in an instant was made whole, immediate as other healings.

Obedience was the key for the man with the withered hand. When we seek the healing of Jesus, and we wish an immediate healing, we must also anticipate his expectation of immediate obedience.

The Reaction to the Restoration of the Withered Hand

Seeing an unexpected miracle of the first order done right in front of one's eyes one would expect would bring about astonishment and amazement. Instead, for the dinner attendees , self-appointed guardians of tradition and sticklers for uniformity, the reaction was one of madness and vengefulness, two frequent companions. In Luke 6:11 the Madness is noted:

And they were filled with madness and communed with one another what they might do to Jesus

While the intimation of vengefulness against Jesus is seen above, the two parallel verses show the evil intent towards him even more intensely

Mark 3:6 And the Pharisees went forth and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.

Luke 12:14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.

In the second two verses, the language is defined and violent: instead of rejoicing at the wondrous work of God they had just seen, they begin to plot not only among themselves but among others that hate Jesus, to destroy him. It is one thing to act with rage against those who anger us for one reason or another, but it is far more sinister to plot the overthrow of another with painstaking planning. It is alos of note that they sought out the Herodians, the State connection, whom they were certain would also want to get rid of a kind of power they could not fight. Voltaire once said that when it comes to money, all are of the same religion. It appears that when it comes to trying to overthrow the Love and power of God, religion takes a back seat also to the criminal intent.

It is not unknown to Jesus that they intend violence, destruction and overthrow. He leaves this area of Galilee immediately, the hospitality grown cold, and withdraws to the sea. Multitudes though follow, with the expected astonishment and far greater acceptance of this divine Rabbi. He had come to heal the Right Hand of the Withered tree of Israel, and as is taught in scripture, in the third time (millenia) when the first fruits are expected (see Bag L Omer) and when the first fruits are dedicated to the LORD.

We will continue next time in discussing the healings of Shabbat.
more to follow.ekbest
2. 84.