Sticks and Stones

What do you do with the story of the guy who was stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath?  I taught on this in Sunday school this past week.

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses (Numbers 15:32-36).

The people know the guy has done something wrong.  That’s why they bring him to Moses and Aaron.  But they just aren’t sure how to punish him.  What will YHWH say?  There are at least four options:

1) Have him put the sticks back and tell him not to do it again.
2) Get him to repent then show him mercy.
3) Ostracize him.  Send him back to Egypt, or forward to Canaan.
4) Kill him.  By stoning.  With the entire community (get the whole family involved).

Why does YHWH pick option #4?  If someone asked you about this story what would you say?  In the next blog, I’ll discuss your answers as well as my own.  So, make some comments. 

No cheating, if you’ve read God Behaving Badly.  I’m not even going to tell you where I discuss this story.

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  1. Can we contrast that Scripture with this one?
    (Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5)

    1At that time Jesus walked through the grain fields on a Sabbath.[a] His disciples became hungry and began picking heads of grain to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”

    3But he said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4How is it that he went into the house of God and ate the Bread of the Presence, which was not lawful for him and his companions to eat but was reserved[b] for the priests? 5Or haven’t you read in the law that on every Sabbath[c] the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath[d] and yet are innocent?[e] 6But I tell you, something greater than the temple is here! 7If you had known what ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice’[f] means, you would not have condemned the innocent, 8for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”5

  2. I figure God must have put a very high premium on His Sabbath and I know Moses’ Law had already been given in Exodus prohibiting work on the Sabbath – otherwise a sentence of death was invoked; so God’s people knew better. Plus Sabbath resting even today, as part of our biological rhythm, is a great blessing in disguise just as God intended it. The OT Sabbath seems to be fulfilled in Christ who is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4) so we have no need to stone anyone to death for working on a Sunday, but it puts the fear of God in your heart knowing that God takes His laws so seriously.

    I do find it amazing how the biblical writers and characters don’t seemed that shocked at the harshness of God’s rules and actions the way we get shocked. Maybe our moral sensibilities are somehow misdirected or misfocused. Is it possible that our problems with passages like these owe more to the pluralism of our day than to any ostensible superiority in moral judgment? Is it possible that at least part of our shock owes something to our inability (or refusal) to look at sin from God’s perspective?

  3. I still think it was cruel and unusual punishment to get a whole group to stone to death a single person no matter what he did. I could never participate in stoning even a serial killer.

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