Numbers 15:32

I. THIS DOOM OF DEATH SHOWS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SABBATH IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.

1. There was need of something special to call attention to this point. Those commandments which concerned himself directly he had to fence in a special way. Commandments against filial impiety, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness, these concerned man directly, and through him they concerned God; man, therefore, might be trusted to help in vindicating these commands. But those against polytheism, idolatry, profanity, and Sabbath-breaking concerned God directly and man only indirectly. Man, therefore, might not perceive the hurt, even though it was real and most serious. Thus it became needful for God to deal in a specially stern and impressive way with the Sabbath-breaker. His people must be made to perceive and bear in mind that he meant the seventh day to be a holy day. It was as much sacrilege to spend it in common occupations as it was to defile the ark in the holy place.

2. There was need to arrest the attention of such as kept the Sabbath in a negative rather than a positive way. God gave the Sabbath, not for idleness, but for that most valuable of all rest which is gained in quiet, undisturbed communion with God, and meditation on all his wonderful works. Those who employed the Sabbath in solemn and devout approaches to the God of the covenant were delivered from temptation to break the Sabbath. Filled with the fullness of God, there would be no room for base, transgressing thoughts. But no commandment could bring the unwilling heart to God. It might do something to keep the work of the common day away from the hands; it could do nothing to keep the thoughts of the common day out of the heart. The heart was to be sought; it could not be forced, being in its nature beyond force. Many, therefore, would keep the day negatively, in utter idleness, and this idleness itself tended to disobedience. The doing of little things would seem practically the same as doing nothing. So men had to be taught, by terrible examples, not to trifle with holy things. If a man thoughtlessly touches things dangerous to physical life, his thoughtlessness will not deliver him from fatal consequences. If a man sports with poisons, or moves carelessly among machinery, he is very likely to lose his life; so men who trifled with the Sabbath were in great peril. Safety, progress, approval, blessedness, were for those who obeyed from the heart. But those who through heedlessness of the heart disobeyed with the hand had no right to complain when death outside the camp awaited them.

II. THIS SOLEMN VINDICATION HAS AN IMPORTANT BEARING ON THE CHRISTIAN DAY OF REST. This is not the place to take up even a fragment of the interminable discussion on the obligation of the Sabbath. But is not the very fact of such a discussion evidence that the lapse of the obligation is by no means a tiring clearly and easily to be seen?

1. This solemn vindication hints to us that it is a prudent thing to be on the safe side. Thus we may both escape great dangers and secure great blessings. To spend the day of rest just as we please is a claim, not of conscience, but of self-will. It cannot be pretended that ceasing from work one day in seven is a hurt to one's self or to the world. Practically, all Christians confess the need of a day of rest. If God so blessed one day in seven to those who knew him as he might be known in the obscurities and distances of the Jewish economy, is it not reasonable to expect that in the fuller light and nearer approach of God in Christ Jesus, a seventh day of rest, rightly used, may be the means of the greatest blessing. We are now under the perfect law of liberty; and because it is a law of liberty it is all the more a law to the liberated soul. We use not our liberty for an occasion to the flesh; we ought to use it for an occasion to the Spirit. God blessed and hallowed the seventh day, because in it he rested from his work of creation. What a propriety then in keeping the first day of the week, as that in which the Christian's Master rested from temptation, toil, and his victorious struggle with death and Hades!

2. This solemn vindication should make us considerate of all who are called by the ugly name of Sabbatarian. No doubt with regard to the Sabbath there has been much of bigotry, ignorance, and of melancholy misinterpretations of the Scripture; but the weak brother who reads this narrative of the Sabbath-breaker's doom may well be excused if to stronger minds he seems ridiculously precise. Christ will deal with us as severely as his Father dealt with the Sabbath-breaker if we make one of his little ones to offend. It is necessary above all things to be safe. We must not confound the scrupulosity of the weak with the scrupulosity of the Pharisee. That, indeed, is always abominable - attending to little external things, and neglecting the weightier matters of the law. God's service, after all, whether on week day or Sunday, consists in the things we do rather than in those we refrain from doing. God, we may be sure, will take care that the day of rest is not narrowed out of harmony with the liberty of the gospel. As there were matters of necessity provided for under the law, so there is like provision under the gospel. A man of right spirit will not misinterpret the necessities. Jeremiah Horrocks, the young clergyman who first observed the transit of Venus, is said to have made his discovery on the Lord's Day, without allowing it in the least to interfere with his duties in the church. One of the most important principles of his steam-engine flashed into the mind of Watt as he was walking along Glasgow Green one Sunday morning. And it was one Sunday morning that Carey, entering his pulpit in India, received the new regulation prohibiting suttee. He at once sent for his pundit, and completed the translation into Bengalee before night. - Y.







A man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath.
An Oriental legend tells us that, while Solomon was once on his way to visit the Queen of Sheba, he came to a valley in which dwelt a peculiar tribe of monkeys. Upon asking about their history, be was informed that they were the descendants of a colony of Jews, who settling in that region years before, had, by habitual neglect of the Sabbath, gradually degenerated to the condition of brutes. The story is, of course, a mere fable, but the moral is worth remembering. The ceremonial part of the Sabbath is done away, so that greater liberty is allowed to us than was given to the Jews. Works of necessity and mercy take precedence even of the regularly appointed duties of the day (Hosea 6:6). The moral part is, however, as strongly in force as ever. To have the mind exercised on spiritual subjects, and occupied in advancing the interests of our souls, is an imperative duty. To be guilty of a wilful profanation of the Lord's day is —

I. AN UNREASONABLE SIN. A young man, well off in the world, and an elderly man of business, were riding in a railway carriage together, between London and a country town, when the question of Sunday amusements came up. "I maintain that Sunday ought to be a general holiday," said the younger, in a tone which betokened assurance and presumption, "and the people ought not to be kept out of such places as the Zoological Gardens and the Crystal Palace grounds. I would have Sunday used for recreation." "Recreation!" answered the elder, gravely, "yes, that is the very word. The Sabbath is meant for recreation, and if people were recreated, they would want very little of the so-called recreation which they now make so much of." The conversation on that subject dropped.

II. A PRESUMPTUOUS SIN. The man who was so signally punished, for merely gathering a few sticks on the Sabbath, might have argued that he could only be charged with a very small breach of the Divine law, and that the bundle of faggots was really necessary for his comfort. Such flimsy excuses would be of no avail. His conduct was a decided act of rebellion against God, and he was, in fact, accusing Him with being a hard master, who did not deserve to be obeyed. Those who believe in taking God at His word, cannot doubt that any wilful neglect of His commandments is always followed, sooner or later, by loss! A thrifty merchant remarked to his physician, "Had it not been for the rest which I have enjoyed on the Lord's Day, I should long ago have been a maniac!" Many are the instances of those who have dug their own graves, because they had no Sundays.

(J. N. Norton, D. D.)

This incident has often been quoted as an instance of extreme and intolerable severity, and has been cited against those whose reading of the Scriptures leads them to propose to keep the Sabbath day. The mocker has found quite a little treasure here. The poor man was gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, and he had to forfeit his life for the violation of the law. Had the text read — And a certain man was found in the wilderness openly blaspheming God, and he was stoned to death — we should have had some sense of rest and harmony in the mind : the balance would seem to be complete. But that is the very sophism that is ruining us. We do not see the reality of the case. We think of huge sins; there are none. We think of little sins; there are none. It is the spot that is ruin; it is the one little thing that spoils the universe. Obedience can only be tested by so-called little things. Where one man is called to be a hero on some great scale, ten thousand men are called to be courteous, gentle, patient; where one has the opportunity of being great on the battle-field of a death-bed, all have opportunity of being good in hopefulness, charity, forgiveness, and every grace that belongs to the Cross of Christ; where one has the opportunity of joining a great procession, ten thousand have the opportunity of assisting the aged, helping the blind, speaking a word for the speechless, and putting a donation into the hand of honest poverty. Let us realise the truth of the doctrine that we are not called upon to display our obedience upon a gigantic scale within the theatre of the universe and under the observation of angels — but to go out into the field and work with bent back and willing hands and glad hearts, doing life's simple duty under Heaven's inspiration and encouragement. The man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath day might have been quite a great man on festival occasions when all Israel had to be dressed in its best; he might have been one of the foremost of the show. You discover what men are by their secret deeds, by what they do when they suppose nobody is looking, by what they are about when they are suddenly pounced upon.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I. THE SIN.

1. The transgression of a moral law, which was enforced by the most solemn commands and by the severest penalty.

2. The transgression of this law wilfully.

II. THE ARREST. The offender was seized in the act of transgression, and taken before the judicial authorities.

III. THE CONSULTATION. The direction of the Lord is sought as to the mode by which the sentence of death is to be executed upon him.

IV. THE SENTENCE. This was determined by the Lord. The transgressor must be put to death (Exodus 31:14, 15); he must be put to death by stoning (ver. 35).

V. THE EXECUTION. "And all the congregation brought him without," &c. (ver. 36). The people were the executioners. This would increase the force of the warning which the event gave to the nation.Conclusion:

1. The moral element in the law of the Sabbath is of perpetual obligation. We still rest for body and mind; we still need worship for the spirit.

2. The neglecters of religious duties and privileges will do well to take warning. If any man fails to observe religiously the Lord's day, he does so at his own loss and peril.

(W. Jones.)

1. The perpetration of one particular presumptuous sin, together with its circumstances, as what, where, when, and how. The fact was seemingly but a small matter, namely, gathering a few sticks, &c., and possibly he might pretend some necessity or conveniency to himself thereby, &c., but because really it was done with an high hand, in contempt of God and His law, and a profaning of His holy Sabbath.

2. The punishment for this perpetrated fact of profaning the Sabbath, wherein —

(1)The sinner is apprehended.

(2)Accused.

(3)Imprisoned, because it was not yet known what sentence to pass upon him.For though the matter of the fact was twice doomed with death (Exodus 31:14; Exodus 35:2), yet was it not declared what manner of death such a sinner should die. Therefore God is consulted about this, who expressly declareth it (ver. 35). Besides, though the law be in the rigour of it a killing letter, yet might it admit of some favourable construction from necessity, &c., which might make the offender capable of pardon. So Moses did not rashly doom him; nor ought magistrates be hasty in matters of life and death, as in other cases of an inferior nature. They ought to be wary: God and His Word ought to be consulted.(4) He was condemned, God Himself passing the sentence that he should be stoned (ver. 35). This was the heaviest of all the four kinds of death that malefactors suffered in Israel for capital crimes — some were sentenced to be strangled, others to be slain with the sword, some to be burned, and others to be stoned; the two last were undoubtedly the most painful (because longer in dying), and therefore inflicted upon the grossest offenders. Though in man's judgment this might seem too severe a sentence for such a seeming small offence, yet in God's judgment it is not a light offence to profane the Sabbath by doing needless works upon that holy day. We may well suppose that this sinner (by the connection of ver. 30 with this relation) sinned presumptuously and with public scandal.(5) He was executed accordingly, being carried without the camp, which was a circumstance aggravating the punishment, being a kind of reproach, as the apostle noteth (Hebrews 13:11-13). This was done to the blasphemer before (Leviticus 24:14). This severity doth likewise farther signify the eternal death of such as do not keep the Sabbath of Christ, entering into the rest of God by faith, and ceasing from their own works as God did from His (Hebrews 4:1-11), finding rest for the soul in Christ (Matthew 11:28).

(C. Ness.)

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