I came across this passage this morning:
“When the Israelites were in the desert, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and the entire community. They placed him in custody, because it wasn’t clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses: The man should be put to death. The entire community should stone him outside the camp. The entire community took him outside the camp and stoned him. He died as the Lord had commanded Moses.” – Numbers 15:32-36
This troubled me when I read this. We don’t know why he was doing what he was doing. But my first thoughts were, “what wrong was this man doing? He obviously was gathering wood to build a fire. What if he needed to cook? What if was trying to feed his family?”
When he was found committing a religious crime, he was brought to the agents of God. They would know what to do. But, they didn’t. They probably figured, the fair penalty for this crime – this rebellion against God’s command – could be minimal….depending on his intent.
So they took the case up to God, and God decided the penalty for the crime: death. I don’t know how they reacted, but I can only guess they were saddened…saddened that this guy rebelled, and saddened that he will now receive penalty of death due to his disobedience.
Unlike capital punishment where the agents of the state performs the execution, God commands that the community take part in it. They take this man whose crime was collecting wood on the wrong day, and everyone picks up a rock and stones the man to death. He dies just as how God wanted him to die.
To be fair, this man should have known what to expect. There are various passages of God’s command during the Exodus about keeping the Sabbath holy. It was a time of rest (Ex 20:8–11), where no work was to be done, including making a fire (Ex 35:13)! And as for food, they were to prepare in advance so they would have food (Ex 16:22–30). If they didn’t keep these commands, they were warned of the death penalty that would come (Ex 31:14–16).
So, if the man knew, and the community for sure knew, and they all knew what the leaders knew. Why did the leaders hesitate to bring the harsh punishment? In the past, when the Israelites rebelled and kindled God’s righteous anger, Moses intervened and successfully argued with God to relent. And lives were saved because of him.
Moses seemed more compassionate, often standing in between a holy God and a rebellious people. And, I think it is here where he was hoping God would not do with what He said he would do. That he would save a man from the wrath of God. But, not this time.
If only Moses had said something. If only Moses had once again pleaded with God like he had before. I believe, by Moses’ intervention, God would have relented and given the disobedient man a chance.
And this makes me wonder, is Moses a type of Jesus? Does Jesus stand in between a holy God and a rebellious people? If so, thank you Jesus for averting the wrath of God that I so deserve!