“While the people of Israel were in the desert, they found a man gathering wood on Shabbat. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moshe, Aharon and the whole congregation. They kept him in custody, because it had not yet been decided what to do to him. Then Adonai said to Moshe, “This man must be put to death; the entire community is to stone him to death outside the camp.” So the whole community brought him outside the camp and threw stones at him until he died, as Adonai had ordered Moshe.-Numbers 15:32-36
In my last post, I finished off by talking about the chilling Biblical concept of KARET.
KARET is a form of divine retribution that means to be “cut off“.
In the other words, the sinner is “cut-off” or completely severed from Israel and from God.
Like many Biblical principles, its meaning and application changed over the centuries.
The way modern Judaism view and apply KARET is quite different than the way the ancients viewed it.
By the 12th century AD (when RAMBAM or Maimonides was active), they believed that KARET included the death of the soul.
The way the modern synagogue practices KARET today is to excommunicate one from the synagogue.
Or if the crime committed is particularly heinous, the accused is subjected to the death sentence.
Either way, KARET as punishment was reserved only for the most high-handed of sins and would you know it right here in Numbers 15 we get a perfect example of a man who was subjected to KARET for his high-handed transgression (a transgression for which no atonement is available) against the Lord.
In verses 32-36, we’re told the story of a man who was arrested for gathering wood on the Shabbat and then at the Lord’s command summarily stoned by the community for his crime.
This particular incident raises the following three important questions:
-What exactly did the man do that so wrong?
-How come Moses didn’t know what do?
-Why was the man executed by the community? If this was KARET, wasn’t it supposed to be a form of divine retribution whereby God Himself would punish the transgressor?
Let’s start with the first question.
What exactly did this man do that was so wrong?
Well, the answer to that question is easy.
All we have to do is look the Sabbath command as contained in the following verses:
“On six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is to be a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest in honor of Adonai. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. You are not to kindle a fire in any of your homes on Shabbat.”-Exodus 35:2-3
Let’s move on to the second question.
How come Moses didn’t know what the proper protocol was right away and had to check in with the Lord?
The reason Moses was confused is because the Torah command says “You are not to kindle a fire in any of your homes on Shabbat”.
However, the man wasn’t kindling any fire.
He was just gathering wood.
Hence, Moses needed some clarification on this point.
Let’s move on to the last question.
Why was the man executed by the community?
Before we even get into the question of why the man had to be executed by the community, the more important question we need to answer first is why in the world did the man have to be executed in the first place?
I mean he was just gathering wood, right?
Well, not so fast.
The seriousness of this issue is connected to the INTENTIONS of the man who was gathering the wood.
The man was gathering wood with the full intention of kindling a fire.
Hence, in God’s eyes, it was pretty much the same thing as having kindled a fire in the first place.
Remember how Yeshua said that if you look at a married woman with the full intention of having sexual relations with her, it was as if you had already committed the act of adultery?
The same principle is at work here.
What’s also interesting to note is that the Jewish sages discovered a clear analogy to the issue of gathering wood for fire to the story of the people gathering the MANNA that fell from heaven.
Remember that the people were told to gather, cook and prepare the MANNA to be eaten on Shabbat BEFORE Shabbat.
In addition, they were commanded to not leave their dwelling places.
They were not to travel anywhere or really make any effort to do anything on the Sabbath.
Do you see the connection?
Gathering Manna on Shabbat was prohibited.
Hence, it would logically follow that gathering wood to start a fire was also prohibited.
Ultimately the actions of gathering wood and kindling a fire are inextricably linked because both of these actions are necessary to get a blaze going.
Let’s not forget that next to Yom Kippur, the 7th Day Sabbath was considered one of the most important observances of God’s specially appointed times.
Let’s move on to why if this was KARET didn’t God carry out the punishment instead of the men who He ordered to do the stoning.
Okay, we learn something interesting in this incident about the man being stoned to death for his high-handed sin.
What do we learn?
We learn that KARET violations involve both a civil aspect and a religious aspect.
Let me explain.
Stoning was the punishment for transgressing a civil law.
And KARET was a divine punishment carried out by God Himself for breaking a religious law.
The fact that this man was stoned shows that some KARET violations involve both one’s physical execution at the hands of men and then afterwards spiritual execution after death.
Hence, we learn that for the most high-handed offenses against the Lord, there is death in this world and then a spiritual death afterwards.
Finally, this brings us the $60,000 question of whether KARET exists for the believer today.
I can’t say for sure.
But there are some verses in the BRIT HADASHAH that seem to hint that the possibility exists.
Check out these chilling verses from the Book of Hebrews.
“For if we deliberately continue to sin
after receiving the knowledge of the truth,
there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
but only the terrifying prospect of Judgment,
of raging fire that will consume the enemies.
Someone who disregards the Torah of Moshe
is put to death without mercy on the word
of two or three witnesses.
Think how much worse will be the punishment
deserved by someone who has trampled
underfoot the Son of God;
who has treated as something common
the blood of the covenant which made him holy;
and who has insulted the Spirit,
giver of God’s grace!”
I don’t know if you realize it but those verses above are simply a reiteration of the Torah concerning intentional or high-handed offenses against the Lord.
Don’t think that in Yeshua’s day, the understanding and application of intentional versus unintentional sins was something long gone.
These concepts were alive and well when Yeshua walked the earth.
Remember the BRIT HADASHAH (New Testament) is ultimately a book written by Jews for Jews.