Context usually helps in providing answers to questions that people raise concerning the Bible.
Why did God kill a man for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Would Jesus have done the same?
We could say that Jesus did kill the man for picking up the sticks, because He was part of the Godhead. However, this is being a little disingenuous, on the one hand, and reveals ignorance, on the other hand.
Jesus' name means "Savior". So to suggest that the Savior would kill a person rather than saving them is counterintuitive. Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn the world. This is what we read in the Gospel of John:
- For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)
As to why did God kill the man for picking up sticks, the context tells us the reason. In fact, from the same chapter, we find that there is a law for unintentional violation of God's laws and another for presumptuous violation.
- And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the Lord, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them. (Numbers 15:27-29)
- ‘But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.’” (Numbers 15:30-31)
If children abused their parents and they were harshly dealt with as a consequence, they may have thought that unfair. No parents who have raised their children would enjoy any of their children abusing them. Naturally, they are not going to tolerate behavior that would turn the household into a free-for-all. Any child who attempts to do so will be punished. More to the point, any child intentionally abusing privileges, after having been warned, would be harshly punished. How much more recalcitrant adults?
The Sabbath was to be a sign of God's blessing on the nation of Israel and the people were to keep it as evidence of their trust in the Heavenly Father's promises. The Sabbath was a covenant between the Israelites, who had come out of Egypt, and the Lord God, who created the nation. God was to be King. God ruled. The nation was to be a witness to the rest of the world that Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, keeps His word. Anybody who abused the covenant was to be cut off from the people as they were violating the contract, the bond of trust. Hence there was to be a penalty for those who did not keep the contract. In this case, because of what the violation meant, death was the penalty.
Penalty for Violating the Sabbath
- Now while the children 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 under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died. (Numbers 15:32-36)
Since there are two deaths, one temporal and one eternal, God taking the life of a person on this planet is no big deal. At least, this is the case, providing the person has not purposefully challenged the Creator. It may be that mitigating circumstances might save a person from eternal separation from God, even though the person has violated a commandment such as the Sabbath and was ordered to be put to death, as is the case in this incident under discussion.
God searches the hearts of men and women to discern each one's thoughts and intentions. Now if a person does something with intent, then that person can expect God to know. A spur of the moment action resulting from confusion of mind or double mindedness is not something done with the intent of willful defiance.
The situation concerning the individual gathering sticks on the Sabbath, Moses could not adjudicate because he probably felt that he could not determine intent. Consequently, Moses sought God for advice.
Why did God instruct Moses to stone the man?
Either because the man was willfully being disobedient and had no regard for God's covenant or the man was confused, but had set a bad example that needed to be rectified, so people understood God reigns and the covenant is sacrosanct. If the latter is the case, the man could have eternal life. If it is not, he will suffer eternity separated from the presence of God, along with the Devil and his angels, because he chose to challenge and disregard his Creator.
The Ten Commandments Were Designed For You To Enjoy And Possess Life