The Old Covenant Sabbath 

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)

I can understand how you feel because on the surface you seem right, for today we would consider such a thing abhorrent under the new covenant. But what if you lacked information to understand what is really going on about how someone could be stoned to death for working on the sabbath. So read carefully and try to understand what is about to be said.

Of the Ten Commandments nine are moral, but only one is ceremonial—the keeping of the sabbath. If the observance of the sabbath is set aside, it must indicate a change in dispensation: that somehow God’s special relationship with the nation of Israel has been temporarily broken off.

In the Old Testament, the sabbath possessed special meanings: (1) that the keeping of the sabbath was to remember God’s rest, (2) that according to Ezekiel 20.12 the sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant with the children of Israel, and (3) that according to Deuteronomy 5.15 the observing of the sabbath by the Jewish people was to remember how they were redeemed.

For these reasons the Jews placed great emphasis on the sabbath. They regarded it as the sign of God’s covenant with them as well as the remembrance of God’s rest and redemption. If this were shaken, all would be lost.

Let us see what the Scriptures teach about the Sabbath: (1) The first mention of it is found in Genesis 2.3: "God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made." From that time, for the next two thousand five hundred years nothing further was heard about the Sabbath.

(2) After leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, God gave the Sabbath to them in the wilderness: "See, for that Jehovah hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (Ex. 16.29).

(3) The Sabbath became law: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Ex. 20.8-11).

(4) You as the people of God must keep My Sabbath day for this is a sign between you and Me throughout the generations. So instructs the word of God in the Old Testament: "Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily ye shall keep my sabbaths: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am Jehovah who sanctifieth you. . . . It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed" (Ex. 31.13,17)—"Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth them" (Eze. 20.12).

(5) To keep the Sabbath is the salvation of the Jews. It is quite evident that the Sabbath is given to the Jews as a sign.

When Moses brought the Israelites through the wilderness he was commanded by the Lord to warn the people not to work on the sabbath. However, he made no immediate move to deal with the man who was found gathering sticks on the sabbath day because he had not yet received any instruction from God. It was only after the Lord had clearly said to Moses—"the man shall surely be put to death"—that the congregation stoned him to death (Num. 15.32-36). Moses waited for God to tell him what to do before he dared to do anything. He dared not offer his own opinion.

God’s work will be greatly damaged if we are not willing to wait a while. How hasty is our nature. We always feel that the Lord is too slow. We are not able to follow His guidance step by step. We hasten to do what we consider to be good. We unhesitatingly supply where we find something is lacking. We are afraid we may waste our entire life and do nothing if we pause for anything. We forget how blessed are those who can wait before God and then do His bidding.

Conclusion: They did not always enforce this law, but in this once instance it was enforced and a man was stoned to death. Think what would happen if this consequence was not established. The Jews would no longer treat this as a sign of covenant with God and their faith as a people would be lost. Israel could not bring in the Messiah. Some other nation would be needed.

This is how I believe God sees it. It was of utmost importance to bring in the Messiah to save people from their sins and give eternal life.

If you can see this cause and effect result, you might understand being under the law which shows no man can keep the law of the old covenant, showing we are all sinners, sin leads to death and the second death which is Hell. Then we can appreciate the need for a Savior, for only God can forgive sins and only God was able to keep the law perfectly.

Thank you Jesus!