The man who gathered sticks
-sticking it to God in presumption
And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.
And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:32-36)
Wow, what was all that about? The passage stood out so as I read Numbers chapter 15. I thought that it sounded like a pretty sever consequence for a man’s seemingly minor act. But I also knew that it was related to the preceding verses of this same chapter detailing the establishment of the Mosaic Law in regards to what were called ‘sins of ignorance’ and ‘sins of presumption.’
A well known scripture, one that I use and quote frequently, instantly came to mind: ‘keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me’, prays the psalmist (Psalm 19:13)
‘Yes, you know, those things that you do rather presumptuously, flippantly, you know, those thingies, keep them from me’, is the way I mentally interpreted it to myself. But something didn’t add up. I had to dig deeper.
And so as I typed in the definition for ‘presumptuous’ the Freedictionary came up with the following:
Presumptuous: (of a person or their behavior) failing to observe the limits of what is permitted or appropriate.
And the synonyms were also rather interesting:
[brazen, overconfident, arrogant, bold, audacious, forward, familiar, impertinent, insolent, impudent, cocky]
Yes, here was my basic understanding of presumption laid out before me.
Then I turned to biblical commentaries on the word presumptuous . This is what I found in succinct form:
The word presumption does not quite mean in Hebrew what it does in English. In English, it simply means “to assume,” to take a matter upon oneself without considering all the factors and doing it. However, in the Old Testament, it carries the idea of acting arrogantly—of rebellion. In fact, it means to do something with audacity or to be headstrong. It refers to those who overstep their bounds or dare to act in a disobedient manner. A willfulness is implied in the word that is not contained in English, making it much more forceful.
In other words, a person who sins presumptuously is fully aware of what he is doing; he is fully educated and not in ignorance either of what he is doing or the potential cost of doing it, and he deliberately sets his mind to do it. It is an act of rebellion, an audacious setting one’s will, despite all he knows, to go ahead and do it anyway.
Interestingly, in the Old Testament the priest could offer an atonement for the person that sinned in ignorance and the act could be forgiven; however, for the person that sinned in presumption there was no atonement offered in the Mosaic Law..
Here then, lay the key to the passage of ‘the man who gathered sticks’. It was included as part of Numbers chapter 15 because, contrary to first-hand appearance, here is a historical account of a man who sinned in presumption. I understand this to be an account of a man who, when the Lord had just recently given the children of Israel the Mosaic Law concerning this very thing, this fellow dares to act in presumption. He is basically giving the finger to the Lord, saying by his actions, screw you God, I don’t care what you say, I’m out to do what I want to do.
Well, the passage plainly shares this man’s fate. He dared to challenge God and because his was a sin of presumption manifest before all, God had to see that his law was carried out for the sake of everybody else, so that all would know that God’s word, His rule is real and there are consequences. Had the Lord done nothing and allowed this man to get away with what was really blatant, premeditated sin, the Lord would have only been encouraging others to do likewise.
With incidents such as this occurring in the Old Testament record, know wonder that Jesus was, at times, accused of breaking the Sabbath laws. It’s a fact that two people can commit the same act; the one can be wrong and the other right in his doing, it’s a matter of the motive surrounding the act. God is always concerned with the motive being right and it’s in this light that we need to view our own acts.
-From In 52 Bible studies series
© Copyright 2012 John Hislop