April 29, 2016
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
The scripture we are considering in Wednesday’s and today’s blogs is Numbers 15:32 through 35:
Now while the children 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. And
they put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should
be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must surely be
put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the
In these two blogs we are considering the controversial question: Why would God impose capital punishment on what seems to be a minor offense? Is the God of the Old Testament different (more severe) than what Jesus presented in the New – the God of love and forgiveness? (See John 3:16; Romans 5:8; I John 4:8).
In Wednesday’s blog we looked at the holiness of God (see Leviticus 19:2; Psalm 99:9; 145:17; Isaiah 6:1-3; 57:15; John 17:11; Acts 3:14; Ephesians 4:30 and many other Scriptures). His holiness is considered to be His main attribute! We also looked at mankind’s problem, the seriousness of sin (see Ecclesiastes 7:20; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10, 23 and many other Scriptures). Sin is missing the mark of God’s holy standard! And what is His standard? “…you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). When we compare God’s holiness to man’s innate sinfulness, it begins to make sense why God imposes such a harsh penalty on those who sin! What is that penalty? Ezekiel 18:4 and 20 spell it out: “The soul who sins shall die.” Sin results in physical death (see Genesis 2:17). Although Adam’s body did not immediately die, death came eventually (see Genesis 5:5). But physical disease, suffering and death were introduced into God’s perfect creation upon man’s fall (see Romans 8:20-22; I Corinthians 15:54-56). Sin also results in spiritual death, which is separation from God (see Genesis 3:8-10; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:20, 21; Ephesians 2:1). If that condition is not rectified in this mortal life, such separation will become permanent in hell! As it says in Psalm 9:17, “The wicked shall be turned into hell…” (see also Matthew 7:23; 25:41; Revelation 21:8).
In the case of the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, this was a direct violation of God’s command in Exodus 20:8 through 10 (the fourth of the Ten Commandments):
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and
do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God.
In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your
manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who
is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the
earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore
the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
This is very explicit! And just before the Israelites caught the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath, God had told them:
But the person who does anything presumptuously…that one brings
reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people.
Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His
commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall
be upon him.
This man sinned presumptuously against the Lord! And according to the plain understanding of this Scripture, every one of us who chooses to deliberately sin should be cut off – should die! It is only by God’s mercy and grace that we sinners are not all dead! He gave Jeremiah these words in Lamentations 3:21 (KJV): “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” What He told the Jews in Malachi 3:6 applies to all of us: “For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”
But would we take sin seriously if God had treated breaking His law lightly – if He had said, “Oh, it is a small sin. I won’t punish him for picking up a few sticks on the Sabbath.” When it comes to disobeying God’s command – falling short of His perfect standard of Matthew 5:48 – is there any sin that is ‘small’ before our utterly holy God? He made an example of how serious the offense of one man was so we all would take seriously His holiness and our sinfulness – so we all would not be destroyed!
And God did the same thing in the New Testament! For He is the same holy God and we are still sinners! We will look at two New Testament examples in the next blog. And we will also see how God permanently solved the sin problem for us.