What does Matthew 12:11 mean?
ESV: He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?
NIV: 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?
NASB: But He said to them, 'What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out?
CSB: He replied to them, "Who among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn't take hold of it and lift it out?
NLT: And he answered, 'If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would.
KJV: 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?
Verse Commentary:
A man with a withered, shriveled hand stands before a crowd at the synagogue. Jesus and the disciples are there, along with a group of Pharisees who hope to catch Jesus breaking a command of the law of Moses. As a teacher might ask a class, they have asked Jesus: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

From the perspective of the Pharisees, the correct answer is "no." It has been decided by their ruling body that anything beyond life-saving care qualifies as work. For them, this means it is forbidden by the fourth commandment about not working on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–10). If Jesus heals this man, they will see it as catching Him in the act of breaking the command. In truth, Jesus would only be breaking their interpretation of the command.

Jesus answers their question with a question of His own: wouldn't you rescue a sheep or other animal if it fell in a hole on the Sabbath?

This question was not mere speculation. Pits were commonly dug as traps for predators, to protect livestock. Sometimes, though, sheep would fall into the pits by accident, perhaps hurting themselves. While some Pharisees would have forbidden the rescue of an animal on the Sabbath, most would not have made this a restriction. Further, most people would act in mercy for the animal instead of leaving it in the pit to suffer.

The point Jesus is leading to is one He has made before in Matthew: How much more valuable are people than animals? If God provides for the birds, He will surely provide for you, because you are far more valuable to Him (Matthew 6:26). If God knows when each sparrow falls, He will surely know when you die because you are more valuable than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29–31).

Jesus' response makes two important points. First, if it's right to show mercy to an animal, how could it be wrong to show mercy to a person? Second, it's clear that God's command about not working on the Sabbath is not aimed at situations like a trapped animal, or some other disaster. Neither is it meant to stop people from doing good.
Verse Context:
Matthew 12:9–14 finds Jesus and His disciples in the synagogue, encountering a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees once again attempt to trick Jesus. They ask if it's lawful to heal on the Sabbath, since healing is "work," and the law supposedly forbids it. Jesus asks if they would leave one of their sheep in a pit if it fell in on the Sabbath, emphasizing that people are more valuable than sheep. Jesus insists that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath and fully heals the man's hand in an instant. The Pharisees walk out and deepen their conspiracy to destroy Jesus.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 12 features confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus over several issues. Among these are working on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, and the source of His power to cast out demons. Jesus counters each argument and rebukes the Pharisees sharply for their obstinate unbelief. He even notes that those who maliciously ascribe His miracles to demons are unforgivable. He warns them, and the rest of their current generation, about the judgment to come. Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers and rejects their demand for another miracle. All they'll be promised is the sign of Jonah. The Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days. Jesus also states that all who do His Father's will are His family.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 11 depicted Jesus preaching and teaching after sending out His chosen disciples in pairs in chapter 10. Chapter 12 immediately picks up with more confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus responds to those criticisms and rebukes their evil hearts as the source of their evil words. In the following chapter, Matthew will shift His focus onto Jesus' parables.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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