This passage sounds harsh to modern ears.
32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and the entire community. 34 They placed him in custody because it had not been decided what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD told Moses, “The man is to be put to death. The entire community is to stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the entire community brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Killed. Stoned to death. For picking up wood on the Sabbath. Not only did the Lord command it, the assembly did it. Each person – the entire community – took him outside the camp (where the trash is, where the dead bodies are). Each person picked up a stone and threw it at him, until he died. That isn’t one stone. That is thousands of them. Each person did this.
Can you imagine being one of those people in the crowd? Can you imagine looking around for a stone? Everyone else around you is doing the same thing. Are there enough stones for everybody? Do you pick up a big one, or a pebble? Something with a nice heft to it, or something inconsequential?
You have to pick up a stone in this story. If you don’t, you are disobeying a command from God. This person has violated the Sabbath by working. This person has broken a law that keeps the community going. This person has to be removed, or the infection will spread – and make no doubt about it, law-breaking is an infection. If one person gets away with it, then more will. Then there won’t be a reason for the rules anymore, because everyone will be doing their own thing. There won’t be a community anymore. There won’t be a thing called “Israel” anymore.
Maybe you know this guy. Maybe you’ve talked to him. Maybe you’ve seen him while you were out gathering your daily allotment of manna. Maybe he’s in your tribe, and you’ve carried the tent poles of the Temple with him. Maybe he’s sat around your campfire at night. Maybe he’s closely related to you. Maybe he is your uncle. Or father. Or son.
Do you still pick up a stone?
If so, how hard do you throw it?
What are the “sins” today? What “stones” do we throw? They might not kill the body, but they surely kill the spirit.
Is throwing stones our job anymore? What does Jesus say?
John 8:2-11 (HCSB)
2 At dawn He went to the Temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
It isn’t our job to cast stones, or to point out sin in others.