At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.Matthew 12:1-2
The initial purpose of the sabbath was to give man rest so that he could work the other six days of the week. This basic meaning and purpose must not be overlooked.
We first see the Sabbath presented very early in the Bible in the book of Genesis.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.Genesis 2:1-3
We know that Jesus declares that his Father and He are still working but the idea is that God rested from a particular work. In this case, creation.
Exodus 20:8-11 includes honoring the Sabbath as part of the Ten Commandments. But even before the law was given, the Sabbath was observed as a day of rest, one day in every seven. In Exodus 16, it was observed by gathering a preparing enough manna for two days on the sixth day. The intent was to rest from servile work on the seventh.
We also find the concept of rest regarding fields for harvest in Leviticus 25. Here the land is worked for six years and allowed to rest for one.
There are several other Sabbath observances mentioned in the old law, but each time we see the word “Sabbath” we find the common theme of rest. Man needs rest, therefore as Jesus said, God made the Sabbath for man, not man for the sabbath (Mark 2:27).
Man needs rest.
The Pharisees had so corrupted the observance of Sabbath days to the point of replacing the much needed rest with a stringent “no work” policy. This policy was so detailed and threatening that it gave no liberty and therefore, no rest.
It is this perversion of the Sabbath that is the central point of many of the confrontations between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees.