Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.” Numbers 15:35
From time to time there are people who claim to take the Bible literally. It is unclear what taking means. Does it mean believing that every word of scripture was personally uttered by God? Does it mean that they live according to the letter of the law themselves? Does it mean the Bible is the operation manual for life on earth—just follow the instructions and all will be well? More often than not, “taking the Bible literally” means picking and choosing passages of scripture that confirm a bias or further an argument. In truth, no one lives his or her life strictly adhering to each command of the Bible. If we did, the vast majority of Christians—and Jews for that matter—would either be dead or incarcerated for murder.
In this passage of scripture, a man was put to death for doing work on the Sabbath. A man was caught picking up sticks, and his life came to an end when his community started throwing stones in his direction. Imagine being condemned to death for missing church or for taking children to soccer practice or for doing bills on a Sunday afternoon? If a person does any work on Sunday, they are breaking the commandment to rest and keep the Sabbath holy. Scripture cannot be lived literally, but it can be taken seriously. While the Bible may not be a step-by-step manual for living, it can be a centrally important guide for our lives. The Bible is a living document, which is meant to be continually reinterpreted through the leading of the Spirit and our own life experience. For instance, breaking the Sabbath may no longer be an offense punishable by death, but forgetting our call to Sabbath can still rob us of life.
How do you decide what commands you will obey?
Lord, Holy Scripture is both disturbing and enlivening. It is amazing how the same words that Moses spoke thousands of years ago can speak to me today—even, or perhaps especially, if those words trouble my spirit. The application of scripture may be different in our culture, Lord, but the truth of Your word remains constant. Help me to know how to faithfully interpret all that You have said and continue to say. In Jesus’ holy name, I pray. AMEN.