Why was gathering firewood on the Sabbath a capital offense?

Numbers 15:32. A man gathering sticks. A man gathering sticks. The man gathering sticks on the Sabbath is an example of intentional sin, for which there is no sacrifice (atonement or forgiveness; Num 15:30–31).


Furthermore, the act of gathering sticks on the Sabbath teaches us something else. Sticks are used to start fires, something that the Torah commands us not to do on the Sabbath—especially if it relates to our work, business or secular activities such as building the tabernacle (Exod 35:3 cp. vv. 4–35 or cooking food, see Exod 16:23).

A fire is a biblical metaphor for strife and division, which is usually caused by the misuse of the tongue (Prov 16:27; 26:20–21; Jas 3:5–6). Those who stir up the fires of strife and division must be put out of the camp, even as the man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath to build a fire had to be put out of the camp of Israel.

Similarly, Paul gives instructions about putting individuals outside of the camp or congregation of redeemed Israel in several places (Rom 16:17–18; Tit 3:10 cp. 1 Cor 5:9–11 in reference to a reviler).

Why should such individuals be treated as a pariah to the congregation of the righteous? Simply this, with smooth words and flattering speech they will deceive the hearts of the simple (Rom 16:17–18) and destroy the congregation. Paul calls such individuals who use their tongues to draw a following grievous or savage wolves and perverse men (Acts 20:29–30).


Share your thoughts...