“While the people of Isra’el 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
Yesterday I began a discussion about the use of TZITZIT in ancient Israel and was planning to continue that discussion today.
However, something came up and we’re going to be revisiting a topic I wrote about a couple of days ago.
Yesterday, I received a new comment from a reader about my post titled “Why Did God Order A Man Stoned To Death For Just Gathering Sticks Of Wood To Start A Fire“.
This person kindly provided me an alternative interpretation that I feel compelled to write about because I feel it more effectively explains something that has troubled me about the story of the man gathering wood on Shabbat for the longest time.
And I suspect you also may have struggled with the same issue.
My challenge with this story can be summed up with the following question:
Wasn’t God being way too severe in sentencing a man to be stoned to death for just gathering sticks of wood to start a fire on the Shabbat?
I don’t know about you but I’ve never really been satisfied with all of the commentary I’ve come across (including what I wrote a couple of days ago) attempting to explain why this man had to be killed for just gathering sticks of wood.
For example, here’s a typical example of what most typical gentile commentators say:
“The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. Violation of its sanctity was an especially heinous offense, punishable by execution at the hand of members of the community of faith. The penalty may seem inordinately severe by modern standards, especially in light of Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath in relationship to human well-being. But this is a pivotal occasion in Israel’s history, during which the Lord is laying a foundation for Israel’s understanding of itself as His Faithful people. He could permit no doubt about the seriousness of His purpose.“-Taken from The Apologetics Study Bible
So basically, this was just a period of time when God had to be much more strict with His People?
Let’s be honest folks.
When it comes to “doing work on the Sabbath“, how many of us have engaged in much more strenuous activity than simply gathering wood to start a fire?
I’m sure many of you have driven on the Shabbat, cooked on the Shabbat, and lifted heavy objects to and fro on the Shabbat?
Do you honestly feel like we should be subjected to the death penalty for doing such things on the Shabbat?
Is this a God of love or really the character of the God we worship.
I don’t think so.
We have to look deeper, so let me share some new insight I’ve received via the comment I received on the previous post I did.
Let me start by asking you do you know which commandment combines both fire and murder?
Recall the following verses from the Book of Leviticus:
“Do not give any of your children
to be sacrificed to Molek,
for you must not profane the
name of your God.
I am the LORD.”
That’s right, offering a child to Molech is a horrific offense that combines both fire and murder.
Now here’s the thing.
Fire in and of itself isn’t really a serious problem.
Furthermore, the Torah doesn’t allow someone to be put to death unless the person in question has him or herself put someone to death.
So here’s the alternative take on this story I received.
The man who was gathering wood had killed his baby and he was in the process of gathering wood so he could start a fire to offer the dead child to Molech.
Some men had followed the man to see what the hell he was doing on the Shabbat and that’s when to their horror they discovered what he had done.
They immediately reported it to Moses who brought the man to the Lord to be sentenced.
Now I know what many of you are thinking.
You’re thinking that this interpretation is pure speculation because nowhere in these passages does it mention anything about a dead baby or Molech sacrifice.
Well, let me quote directly from the comment I received to address this point.
“Molech worship was considered too disgusting to mention outright in the Torah, so it’s implied rather than stated how this child was violated and murdered.”
The author of the comment then goes on to say…
“You have to incorporate principles given elsewhere in the Torah that it says to always keep in mind in order to read these passages properly.”
See, here’s something we have to keep in mind about child sacrifice to Molech.
In the ancient world, this practice was much more common than we’d think.
That’s why God had go out of His way to prohibit it in His Torah.
So seriously, which do you think makes more sense?
That God had a man executed for simply gathering sticks to start a fire?
Or that God had a man executed for gathering sticks because he was going to sacrifice his baby he had killed to Molech?
I don’t know about you but I do feel like the latter interpretation does make good sense.
We have to look at WHY the man wanted to start a fire in the first place and we have to really consider WHY God subjected the man to harshest penalty in the Torah.
The conclusion is a child being sacrificed to Molech fits BOTH the fire and murder charges.