Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

I Ain’t Gatherin’ No Sticks

12 Comments

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 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

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

                                                                                                            ~Mark 2:23-28 


Ya know I’ve always thought that Jesus was hard on the Pharisees because they made rules that overreached the law. They added to it and in Jesus words:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.                  ~Luke 11:37-46

 It’s not that I disagree with Jesus words here,  maybe the Pharisees were greedy and wicked. Power does breed corruption.  But what if it didn’t start out that way?  What if they added to the law out of fear?  Isn’t that what a lot of our Church by-laws do?  No dancing, no drinking, no playing cards, and for heaven’s sake don’t roll any dice! The Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us not to do any of those things, but the fear that a drunkard won’t inherit the Kingdom of God….well…doesn’t it stand to reason we should just avoid alcoholic beverages all together?  And the dancing,  my goodness, we all know what that leads to!  So better off just not imbibing in the temptation, right?  You get my point I’m sure.

Here’s the thing that’s been rolling around in my head about the first two passages of scripture:  What if the Pharisees/Priests started out adding to the law because they feared stoning?  What if the the man who was picking up sticks in the wilderness was their friend?  Surely he was their neighbor, and we all know how Jesus feels about our neighbors.  Stoning couldn’t have been a choice way to go for the people carrying it out, nor the one being stoned.  It’s a pretty brutal act and most certainly not an instant death, but a slow agonizing process.

The sheer fact that “the LORD” commanded the Israelites via Moses to stone a man to death just for picking up a few sticks on the Sabbath would’ve been enough to scare them into stringent and strict enforcement of the law even surpassing it in an effort to keep people from crossing that magic line where punishment was sure to be carried out.

The LORD of the Old Testament was so serious about the Sabbath that what seemed like a small infraction was worthy of death.  Yet Jesus comes on the scene and tells them that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around.  Huh?!?  No wonder they were confused.  Quite frankly so am I.

We get no more information about the man.  Was he an otherwise law abiding citizen of the wilderness?  Was he sick the day before so wasn’t able to gather these sticks?  What was he gathering the sticks for?  Who cares?  It didn’t matter to the LORD.  What mattered was he was doing it on the Sabbath.  And we wonder where legalism comes from?

The stoning of the man gathering sticks seems so savage. Jeez, where’s the “justice and the love”?  Is God a savage?  Is He abusive?  Does this seem like an act of an all-loving God?  All I know is I ain’t gatherin’ no sticks on the Sabbath!
              

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12 thoughts on “I Ain’t Gatherin’ No Sticks

  1. I'll try not to be too exegetical here. Numbers was put into written form and edited by the Priestly tradition in and around the end of the Babylonian exile. They did this anticipating a return to Jerusalem. Their problem was a people who had lived 400 years in exile and had become accustomed to other gods and rituals. It is the scripture that Ezra read upon the return to Jerusalem. When you read Numbers in context you see that the people were in rather constant rebellion against Moses and God as well. So the passage in question serves to:Revive the importance of the Sabbath to a people who may have lost touch with it through 400 years of exile. A story in which God orders death for failure to observe serves that purpose, and it also serves in the greater story of the exodus experience that Moses (who was touted as the writer of the Pentateuch) was to be believed and followed explicitly as God's representative. My take on the Pharisees is that they didn't so much add to the law as they interpreted it in upmost strictness. In other words , they were the first fundamentalists. While the passage from numbers mightsuggest the Sabbath is for worship of God, there is nothing implicit in the passage to that effect. The Pharisees were so strict with levitacal compliance, that few people, especially the country folk who were poor, could comply even with the best of intentions. They were thus ritually unpure adn kept from temple worship.Jesus point was that in observing the "letter" of the law, the Pharisees often missed the point of the law–to bring people closer to God and to forge a community. Jesus suggests thus that the Sabbath is not for God, but for humanity. And similarly about food issues. The poor often couldn't pick and choose among "kosher" food. They had to eat what was available. Anyway, that's the way I see it. The Pharisees are often improperly portrayed as those who preached what they didn't practice. The opposite is really true. They just were utterly caught up in the minutia, and missed the trees.

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  2. Yes, Sherry. I see your point about the passage in Numbers and what it serves to do. I also know that when Ezra read that passage upon the return to Jerusalem that emphasis was placed on returning to strict observance of the law. The Jewish men divorced their pagan wives and sent them away along with their children(nice, right?).I also know that by the time Jesus enters the picture the Jews are under Roman authority even though they are allowed to maintain some of their autonomy as a people. However under Roman rule they were also heavily Hellenized. the prescription up to that point when the Israelites were loosing their Jewish roots was a strict return to observance of the Torah. My point still remains that while I understand the Pharisees were guilty of interpreting the law in utmost strictness, up until the time Jesus enters the picture that had been God's command from the beginning: to observe Torah with utmost strictness. So I still see it as a stark contrast that at the very least would have been confusing to the Pharisees and other observers of the law. I realize that Jesus was after getting to the "heart", not just the outward observance, however those laws were still of vital importance to God, of so much importance that failure to comply often resulted in death. I still see the stoning of the man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath as an extreme punishment. If a leader, even Moses himself, were here today, we would never condone such a brutal abuse of authority. We would consider that leader militant and barbaric and revolt under such extremism. And the grace and mercy of God would have nothing to do with our seeing it that way.

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  3. When you say "up until that time it had been God's command that Torah be strictly adhered to" do you mean you believe the Bible that God said this or that the writer believed that? I guess that's where discussion bogs down. I get the impression that Jesus is saying, "you've misunderstod God's desire. I"m here to correct that." Do you agree or not with that?

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  4. I do believe that Jesus was trying to correct some misunderstandings. But I also believe that the writer, at least, believed God had spoken to them in that way. Are you saying you don't believe the Bible that God spoke to these individuals?

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  5. Good post D'Ma. I hadn't really considered pre-emptive law making, but that does make sense. I would add to that making laws to fill in the gaps of the God-provided laws as a reason why the Pharisees had made additional laws and legal traditions beyond God's Law.Yet even that is not the complete picture. Remember Matthew 15:1-6 that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not commanding that disobedient children should be stoned to death, as per God's Law. So the Pharisees had liberally reinterpreted and softened God's Law in at least one case.So now you've got a tangled mix of liberal conservatism, or conservative liberalism.If I may add to the @witshadows conversation, I, like you I suspect, believe that God's Law demanded following it to the letter. 7 of the Ten Commandments carry a death sentence. As you aptly point to, just picking up sticks on the wrong day of the week could get you killed. Indeed, in the bulk of the Law, there is very little which could "get you closer to God" aside from mandated festivals and Sabbaths. We all know how effective mandated worship is in inspiring love. 🙂

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  6. Thank you TWF. Certainly the Pharisees had oral traditions that filled in to clarify certain aspects of the law. I had never thought about the preemptive law making until recently. I am just keenly aware of the compassionate side of me. The side that would've said "wait a minute, Moses, are you sure that was God talking?". I'm queasy when I have to kill a snake with a garden hoe. I can't possibly imagine the thought of stoning another person. That would give me pause to become legalistic beyond the law to be sure I never had to do that again. Which I believe might be the reason there is so much legalism today. If you truly believe a person can burn for an eternity in hell for not believing the right things or for "breaking a law" then you'd certainly go above and beyond to make sure that didn't happen to them. See I view legalistic people entirely different than some others do. I'm not sure they intend to be that way because they are holier-than-thou. I think they truly believe that an eternal punishment awaits those who don't live righteously so they set out to force compliance because they can't bear to think of the alternative.Now about that Matthew 15:1-6 passage: I've read that and reread that and I come away with a different perspective than you. I see where you get your perspective, but I always thought Jesus was pointing out to the Pharisees that they were just as guilty at not adhering to the law as anyone else, just for their own reasons. They were actually encouraging people to "tithe" to the neglect of possibly aging parents, thereby not honoring them. It never occurred to me that Jesus was chiding the Pharisees for not stoning them.Mandated worship isn't very inspiring, eh? 🙂

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  7. I think I used a poor word choice. "Disobedient" was not correct, but rather "disrespectful" or "dishonoring" would have been better choices. Doh!Aside from that, I think we are not that different in perspective. I have just focused on the mechanics of what Jesus was saying (God says that parental cursing [which Jesus seems to be extending to disrespect] should equal stoning, but the Pharisees overlook/change that law) while you have focused on the motivations (greed? of the Pharisees/willingness to overlook God's Law when it benefited the Pharisees).I think that, strictly speaking, one must wonder why Jesus brought up the law about cursing the parents anyway. Electing not to give back to your parents may not be respectful, but it does not really seem to be equivalent to cursing them. Yet as I mention in the paragraph above, Jesus does seem to be equating the two, kind of like equating lust to adultery and hate to murder.If Jesus had not mentioned the cursing/stoning law at all, I would completely align with your perspective. And your perspective would not be harmed at all by that omission, making Jesus say only "For God said, 'Honor your father and mother'" when citing God's Law. Then it would simply be about children not honoring their parents, in this case financially.Yet I think that because Jesus "went the extra mile" by quoting the cursing/stoning law, you should add that layer to your consideration with some priority to have the most robust perspective.At least that's my $0.02, which is probably worth what you paid for it. 😉

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  8. Yes I do see that now. I've been back over that passage a few times now trying to look at it with a different lens. I had just never thought about it from the perspective that Jesus was calling them out for not putting to death those who weren't honoring their parents in that way. I was placing more emphasis on the hypocrisy due to the Pharisees' motivation.

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  9. I think I used a poor word choice. "Disobedient" was not correct, but rather "disrespectful" or "dishonoring" would have been better choices. Doh!Aside from that, I think we are not that different in perspective. I have just focused on the mechanics of what Jesus was saying (God says that parental cursing [which Jesus seems to be extending to disrespect] should equal stoning, but the Pharisees overlook/change that law) while you have focused on the motivations (greed? of the Pharisees/willingness to overlook God's Law when it benefited the Pharisees).I think that, strictly speaking, one must wonder why Jesus brought up the law about cursing the parents anyway. Electing not to give back to your parents may not be respectful, but it does not really seem to be equivalent to cursing them. Yet as I mention in the paragraph above, Jesus does seem to be equating the two, kind of like equating lust to adultery and hate to murder.If Jesus had not mentioned the cursing/stoning law at all, I would completely align with your perspective. And your perspective would not be harmed at all by that omission, making Jesus say only "For God said, 'Honor your father and mother'" when citing God's Law. Then it would simply be about children not honoring their parents, in this case financially.Yet I think that because Jesus "went the extra mile" by quoting the cursing/stoning law, you should add that layer to your consideration with some priority to have the most robust perspective.At least that's my $0.02, which is probably worth what you paid for it. 😉

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  10. Thank you TWF. Certainly the Pharisees had oral traditions that filled in to clarify certain aspects of the law. I had never thought about the preemptive law making until recently. I am just keenly aware of the compassionate side of me. The side that would've said "wait a minute, Moses, are you sure that was God talking?". I'm queasy when I have to kill a snake with a garden hoe. I can't possibly imagine the thought of stoning another person. That would give me pause to become legalistic beyond the law to be sure I never had to do that again. Which I believe might be the reason there is so much legalism today. If you truly believe a person can burn for an eternity in hell for not believing the right things or for "breaking a law" then you'd certainly go above and beyond to make sure that didn't happen to them. See I view legalistic people entirely different than some others do. I'm not sure they intend to be that way because they are holier-than-thou. I think they truly believe that an eternal punishment awaits those who don't live righteously so they set out to force compliance because they can't bear to think of the alternative.Now about that Matthew 15:1-6 passage: I've read that and reread that and I come away with a different perspective than you. I see where you get your perspective, but I always thought Jesus was pointing out to the Pharisees that they were just as guilty at not adhering to the law as anyone else, just for their own reasons. They were actually encouraging people to "tithe" to the neglect of possibly aging parents, thereby not honoring them. It never occurred to me that Jesus was chiding the Pharisees for not stoning them.Mandated worship isn't very inspiring, eh? 🙂

    Like

  11. Yes, Sherry. I see your point about the passage in Numbers and what it serves to do. I also know that when Ezra read that passage upon the return to Jerusalem that emphasis was placed on returning to strict observance of the law. The Jewish men divorced their pagan wives and sent them away along with their children(nice, right?).I also know that by the time Jesus enters the picture the Jews are under Roman authority even though they are allowed to maintain some of their autonomy as a people. However under Roman rule they were also heavily Hellenized. the prescription up to that point when the Israelites were loosing their Jewish roots was a strict return to observance of the Torah. My point still remains that while I understand the Pharisees were guilty of interpreting the law in utmost strictness, up until the time Jesus enters the picture that had been God's command from the beginning: to observe Torah with utmost strictness. So I still see it as a stark contrast that at the very least would have been confusing to the Pharisees and other observers of the law. I realize that Jesus was after getting to the "heart", not just the outward observance, however those laws were still of vital importance to God, of so much importance that failure to comply often resulted in death. I still see the stoning of the man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath as an extreme punishment. If a leader, even Moses himself, were here today, we would never condone such a brutal abuse of authority. We would consider that leader militant and barbaric and revolt under such extremism. And the grace and mercy of God would have nothing to do with our seeing it that way.

    Like

  12. I'll try not to be too exegetical here. Numbers was put into written form and edited by the Priestly tradition in and around the end of the Babylonian exile. They did this anticipating a return to Jerusalem. Their problem was a people who had lived 400 years in exile and had become accustomed to other gods and rituals. It is the scripture that Ezra read upon the return to Jerusalem. When you read Numbers in context you see that the people were in rather constant rebellion against Moses and God as well. So the passage in question serves to:Revive the importance of the Sabbath to a people who may have lost touch with it through 400 years of exile. A story in which God orders death for failure to observe serves that purpose, and it also serves in the greater story of the exodus experience that Moses (who was touted as the writer of the Pentateuch) was to be believed and followed explicitly as God's representative. My take on the Pharisees is that they didn't so much add to the law as they interpreted it in upmost strictness. In other words , they were the first fundamentalists. While the passage from numbers mightsuggest the Sabbath is for worship of God, there is nothing implicit in the passage to that effect. The Pharisees were so strict with levitacal compliance, that few people, especially the country folk who were poor, could comply even with the best of intentions. They were thus ritually unpure adn kept from temple worship.Jesus point was that in observing the "letter" of the law, the Pharisees often missed the point of the law–to bring people closer to God and to forge a community. Jesus suggests thus that the Sabbath is not for God, but for humanity. And similarly about food issues. The poor often couldn't pick and choose among "kosher" food. They had to eat what was available. Anyway, that's the way I see it. The Pharisees are often improperly portrayed as those who preached what they didn't practice. The opposite is really true. They just were utterly caught up in the minutia, and missed the trees.

    Like

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