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God’s Word for You

Numbers 15:32-36 An unbeliever stoned

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Sabbath-Breaker Put to Death

32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 The people who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and the entire community. 34 They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done with him.

We don’t know precisely when this happened, but Moses relays the story here as a follow-up to the law just presented by God in the case of an intentional sin by someone who was unrepentant. The identity of this man is never given, but the matter became a test-case later in the history of Israel. Uncertain of what should be done, the people who found him put him in custody. It’s most likely that they simply tied him up and put him in a tent under guard while they discussed the matter with an elder (Exodus 18:21-22), and then they took him to Moses to find out what they should do.

35 The LORD said to Moses, “The man must certainly be put to death. The entire community is to stone him outside of the camp.” 36 The entire community brought him outside of the camp and stoned him to death, just as the LORD commanded Moses.

Moses inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him. The verdict was guilty, there was no question about that. But the sentence was death by stoning. Normally, stoning involved the accusers dropping large stones on the guilty man from above, such as from a knob or protrusion of a nearby hill. Then everyone else would throw rocks, usually larger than what we would think of as softball-sized, and continue until the man was dead. It was a horrible, hideous way to die, worse than hanging, worse than a firing squad. Perhaps only burning to death and crucifixion would be worse. I don’t know. Surely the public nature of this execution was meant to deter similar behavior.

When Jesus objected to the way that the Jews applied the Sabbath laws, which went far, far beyond anything Moses commanded, the Jews wanted to stone Jesus (John 5:18). This would have been their reference point for such an act. The abuse of God’s word to bring about man’s sinful desires is a long-standing problem in the church, not only for the Old and New Testament Jews, or for the Crusades-era Christians, but in the present time as well. When I was a boy and Roe vs. Wade was a brand-new judgment, misguided Christians and others began to burn and even bomb clinics where abortions were carried out. Doctors and nurses were threatened. But one sin does not justify another. We are not called on by God to take the law of our country into our own hands. Any rhetoric about standing up for what is right is nonsense when it circumvents the government God made. “He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:2). No human government is ideal, but God commands us to obey. Paul obeyed the Roman government which imprisoned and eventually executed him for his faith. So did Peter. So did many others along the way. The key to this passage and to the law which precedes it (Numbers 15:30-31) is the tragedy of the loss of the soul of the man who committed this trespass. He died without faith; he rejected God. His was a lost soul; he was in every sense a damned sinner. What God would have us do is win hearts for Christ, not kill or injure those who are trying to kill or injure others. When Peter tried to defend Jesus with a sword, Jesus said, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51).

Whatever injury a Christian plans or plots to try to force people from behaving more like Christians or to try to take it on himself to save threatened lives by killing, those words still ring in the air: “No more of this!” How many times did King Saul try to kill David? This got to be so common that it’s even part of the musical heading of a Psalm (Psalm 59:1).

Have I spent too much time talking about this? The point is that the New Testament Church is no longer subject to the laws of Moses, and we do not carry out judgments in this way. But we preach the gospel with urgency, because God’s final judgment is more severe than any earthly or human judgment could ever be. That final judgment is brought on by unbelief. So we keep preaching Christ crucified. How many ways does the Holy Scripture say it? Christ redeemed us by becoming the curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). Christ gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2) and laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). He died for us (Romans 5:8) and what is more, he was raised to life for us (Romans 8:34). He rescued us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). This is the message that we share. We pray that no one would be caught sinning with atheism and unbelief in their hearts. We all have sinned, and we keep sinning throughout this lifetime. But thanks be to God that Jesus has covered over the guilt of our sins, pouring out his blood over them. “I, even I,” Jesus says (Isaiah 43:25), “am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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