I’ve just listened to an energetic debate between Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson (you can see it here) on whether the authors of the Bible misheard God.
The debate starts around Numbers 15:32-36 with a man being stoned to death for picking up sticks and concludes with a fiery to and fro about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.
Steve argues, essentially, that God doesn’t strike people down and makes his case on his understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus didn’t strike the woman caught in adultery down and because God is unchanging, God can’t have done it before (man with sticks) or afterwards (Ananias & Sapphira). He also charges this God of a more literal view with being terribly inconsistent because, haven’t we all done things like that and neither I nor you know anyone who has been struck down lately.
There are all sorts of problems with this view of scripture, of God and even with Jesus. I think Steve minimises sin to the point of irrelevance, minimises God’s holiness, minimises God’s salvation and redemption through Christ and minimises the point of the cross but let’s take one – the view of sin.
Q: How many sins does it take to fall short of the glory of God?
A: Just one.
Q: How serious does this need to be?
A: All sins are serious.
Is picking up sticks on the sabbath any more or less serious than eating some fruit? It’s hard to see how it is, but if you were told not to, then it’s just as disobedient. Is it worse than a white lie, an angry outburst, a jealous thought, a lustful look, or self-righteous justification of all of the above? Probably not, but just as sinful because it is defiant.
I often ask my kids not to do trivial things because they are irritating, disruptive, silly – the thing in itself is rarely of consequence but after I’ve spoken and it carries on it becomes defiance and disobedience. Of course as a parent it’s frustrating to end up disciplining your child that started out as something silly and pointless but you do it because the point is training your children to function not selfishly but with regard to the family and the rules that we live by.
You get my point. I’m sure God is less worried about the sticks than he is our hearts, hearts that listen and obey.
You should also then read Derek Rishmawy’s thoughts because he makes similar arguments but more cogently.