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Divine Judgment and Traditions: Part 2

Feb 14, 2007

I have heard some people rail against the law on the grounds that, in their opinion, it was a capital crime to gather sticks on the Sabbath. They get this from Num. 15:30-36, where a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath and was stoned for his offense.

However, people should be careful about judging a law without reading its context and getting an honest understanding of Scripture. It is our lack of understanding that causes us to despise God's law like this, and we ought to recognize that God was the Author of this law. So even if it were harsh, it is not the law that we are despising, but its Author that we are saying is unjust or harsh.

A simple look at the context of the story explains why the man gathering sticks was stoned. It was not because he was gathering sticks on the Sabbath, but for sinning "presumptuously" and "because he has despised the word of the Lord." Here is the context:

" (30) But the soul that does something presumptuously, whether he be born in the land or is a stranger, the same reproaches the Lord, and that soul shall be cut off from his people.(31) Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that soul shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him."

It is plain that Moses was setting forth the law on "presumptuous" sin. This is where a person deliberately does something with full knowledge and with the motive of despising the word of the Lord. Such a man "reproaches the Lord," or finds fault with Him and His law.

Hebrews 10:26-29 references this law in the New Testament:

(26) But if we sin willfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, (27) but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries [of God]. (28) He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; (29) Of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith He was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?"

The book of Hebrews was written to cause people to accept the better things of the New Covenant that had been sealed by the blood of Jesus, the true Lamb. The religious leaders recognized Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 21:38), but resisted Him and thus became God's adversaries. Then when Jesus was raised from the dead, they spread the lie that the disciples had stolen His body (Matt. 28:13).

This was presumptuous sin. It was a deliberate rejection of the Messiah and the New Covenant. They sinned willfully after knowing the truth. Their lie has affected millions of Jews since that day. In despising Moses' law, they brought judgment upon themselves and were to be "cut off from their people."

Furthermore, since the sacrificial system in the temple had become obsolete in the eyes of God, there was "no more sacrifice for sin." The only way out was to repent and turn to Jesus, but that was unthinkable to them. Hence, their only acceptable "solution" to their sin was no longer effective in God's eyes.

In applying this law of presumptuous sin to the man gathering sticks, let us go back to Num. 15, where we find that he was given as an example of presumptuous sin.

(32) And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day. (33) And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. (34) And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. (35) And the Lord said to Moses, The man shall be surely put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. (36) And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses.

There was no penalty attached to the violation of the Sabbath. For this reason, the people put the sinner "in ward" (prison) until they could get a Supreme Court ruling from God, telling them how to handle this case. The death penalty was given, not because he had gathered sticks on the Sabbath, but because he had done so presumptuously, willfully, and without repentance.

God, who knows the hearts of men, saw that the man despised His law. His heart was hardened. It was a much bigger case than merely a Sabbath violation. It had more to do with his motive. It was a heart issue. For instance, if his mother had been suffering from the cold, and he needed sticks to keep a fire going to honor his mother and keep her warm, he would not have been executed. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

But when men teach that God is ready to execute any man who does the slightest bit of work on the Sabbath, it is a tradition of men that makes God unjust and harsh. This does not reflect His true character at all. Jews have been kept in bondage to such a traditional view of God. Christians, on the other hand, have been induced to despise the law when convinced that the God of heaven used to be so unjust.

Christians, then, are grateful that Jesus is more loving and just than the God of the Old Testament, not knowing that Jesus was the Author of Moses' law! Exodus 15:2 and Isaiah 12:2, 3 tells us that Yahweh became our Yeshua. It is a prophecy of Yahweh's incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ.

Thus, it makes no sense to think of Yahweh as a vengeful, unloving God, while Jesus was a God of love and forgiveness. It was only men's traditions that turned Yahweh into an unloving God. Such traditions were established by men who did not really know Him at all or who did not understand the intent and purpose behind His law.

A presumptuous sin is best defined in Deut. 17 in the case of contempt of court, which is the same as despising the law. In any biblical court case, the convicted sinner was to submit to the sentence imposed upon him by the judges (vs. 11). Then verse 12 says,

"And the man that will do presumptuously and will not hearken unto the priest that stands to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel."

Presumptuous sin is defined as refusing to pay restitution if the judge says to do so. If a man steals $1000 and refused to repay the $2000 that he owes his victim, he is to be executed--not for theft, but for despising the law and contempt of court. The same applied to the Sabbath law. The man was not executed for violating the Sabbath, but for presumptuous sin.

Let me conclude by saying that this explanation of presumptuous sin is not intended to make everyone feel guilty for deliberate sin. Most overt sins are deliberate. When a man steals from another, it is seldom done in ignorance. But it is not presumptuous until God convicts him in his heart and he continually refuses to repay restitution. God is patient, but the day may come when the Holy Spirit ceases to speak to him and God ceases to discipline him as a son (Heb. 12:7).

That is the point where the sin becomes presumptuous. As long as a man still has a conscience convicting him of sin, and as long as the Holy Spirit works with him, God has not turned the person over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor. 5:5). Such people no longer have a conscience and no longer care. If you care, you are certainly not one of them.


This is the second part of a series titled "Divine Judgment and Traditions." To view all parts, click the link below.

Divine Judgment and Traditions


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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones


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