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“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.”
“And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.”
“And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.”
“And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.”
Numbers 15:32-35

On the surface, this story seems to tell that an otherwise innocent person happened to be on a nice Sabbath afternoon walk and picked up a few sticks and, for such a simple act, was stoned to death.

But as we study the Scriptures carefully, we realize that God had already made it clear that a direct violation of the Sabbath was punishable by death. “Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death” (Exodus 35:2).

The context of this event is that it comes directly after God’s instructions relating to presumptuous sin. The dictionary defines presumption as “to undertake without leave or clear justification, to dare.” God said, “The person who does anything presumptuously … that one brings reproach on the Lord, … he shall be cut off from among the people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment” (Numbers 15:30, 31).

This man clearly knew God’s command and yet defiantly broke the law. He clearly and openly rebelled against God’s instruction, setting a dangerous example of disobedience that had to be immediately arrested. Under the theocracy of Israel, God ruled over the people directly. Knowing the hearts of all, the Lord instructed immediate punishment for flagrant acts of disobedience.

Some believe that if Sabbathbreakers were stoned to death in the Old Testament, then the Sabbath must not be in force today since stoning for breaking it is not in force. But note that not only Sabbathbreakers were stoned, but adulterers (Leviticus 20:10) and blasphemers too (Leviticus 24:16). No one feels that these sins are any less wrong today simply because they aren’t punishable by death.

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