“While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day…and all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses.” Numbers 15:32,36
How are we to apply this shocking and gruesome Old Testament situation to our own lives in the 21st century? And in particular, how are we to apply the fourth commandment, which states, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”? There are those who hold to this commandment very literally, and continue to strive to keep the seventh day (Saturday) holy. Then also, there are a large number of believers who have transferred the obligations of this commandment, to the first day of the week. And now Sunday is their Sabbath – and they believe that it would be as wrong for them to gather sticks or do any unnecessary work as it was for this Israelite man. Many will not attend a restaurant on Sunday, believing that it would cause work for a “male servant” or “female servant”.
The New Testament never repeats the fourth commandment, nor does it ever explicitly connect the Old Testament Sabbath with the New Testament Lords Day. What is clear is that the disciples met together for worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1Cor. 16:2), because Jesus Christ conquered the grave and rose from the dead on the first day of the week! And believers through the centuries have followed that example.
Perhaps the best question to ask ourselves is: where is our heart on Sunday? Do we delight in worship, or are we eager to get to our “real life” outside of these walls? It would seem that the man in the passage above lived for himself and didn’t trust the Lord to provide. Sometimes, to attend church rather than the alternative, is an act of faith which declares we are trusting in God to provide. Each one of us is called to examine our own hearts before God. Am I trusting Him?
Ultimately the stoning that took place is a reminder that all of us are law-breakers and all of us deserve death – but we find grace in the words of our Saviour to a woman about to be stoned for adultery: “Neither do I condemn thee, go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).