Don't Pick It Up!

by Reagan McClenny


Scripture: Num 15:32-33 Jan 14, 2024

God commanded the Israelites to honor the Sabbath day and not work, with harsh punishments if disobeyed; in Numbers 15, a man is stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, showing the danger of presumptuous sins; Jesus condemned sinful attitudes like anger as equivalent to murder, so we must examine our hearts and trust God's commands.


How good it is to be back together this evening. And if you were not with us this morning we studied this morning the idea of just pick it up. The beauty of obeying God's simple commands. And we used three different passages to show that, that we should be, have an attitude that, that we want to obey.

And that God has the right to command us to obey. That God's desire is to bless us and He will bless us. If we have this kind of attitude of simply obeying. Tonight, I want us to study just the opposite of that in many ways. Don't pick it up. And instead of having three passages, I want us to just have one primary passage to examine this concept tonight.

And so if you'll turn to Numbers chapter 15 we're gonna begin reading in verse

This is a passage about the danger of small, presumptuous sins. Don't pick it up. The danger of these small, presumptuous sins. As you're turning to Numbers chapter 15 let me Join with Travis in welcoming those who are here this evening, including a few who are visiting with us. We're grateful for your presence, and it's our desire that God is pleased in the things that we do, and hopefully the things we talk about tonight can be helpful to you in that.

In Numbers chapter 15, we see what could be a troubling account. An account that, in the minds of some, shows the unreasonable harshness of the old law, the law of Moses. This is an occasion where, not to bury the lead, a man was stoned to death for, as some have said, picking up sticks on Saturday. Is that really what's going on here?

Well, let's read together and find out. Numbers chapter 15, beginning in verse 32, if you'll read with me. 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, and they put him under guard.

Because it has 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 the Lord commanded Moses, All the congregation brought him outside the camp. And stoned him with stones, and he died.

Well, that does seem pretty harsh. And in many ways, it is harsh. But, I want to suggest this evening that this is not unfair, or unjust, or even unloving, what God requires of His people in punishment of this man. God is communicating something to His people then, and by extension, He is communicating something to us through this account.

And we must be willing to dig a little deeper if we're going to see what it is God is communicating. How can we say that God's laws are for our good always? And then things like this happen to people? Well, we see other examples of harsh punishments by God as we read through the pages of our Bible. We think about Uzzah and the ark.

We think about Elisha and the she bears. But examining the context of those and other passages, including this one, allows us to see what these passages are really about. And for our text in Numbers chapter 15, there are four contexts that I would like for us to consider as we, as we try and put in the proper perspective what is happening here, and then hopefully at the end of the lesson we can make some right application to our lives and our relationship with God.

The first context that I want us to consider is the context of the Sabbath. Of course, whatever anybody else says, however anybody wants to frame this passage, this guy wasn't just Picking up sticks on Saturday. He was a Jew. Picking up sticks on the Sabbath day. And I'm indebted to a friend of mine, Nathan Ward, who was a classmate at Florida College, who's now a professor there, for the idea for this sermon, and especially this first point of emphasis.

The Sabbath is significant, maybe in ways that we don't always fully appreciate, because we as Christians, under the new covenant, don't keep a Sabbath day. But Hebrews chapter 4 and verse 9 says that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Not a day that we observe, every day of the week. But in that context, the Hebrew writer is referring to the ultimate fulfillment of Sabbath rest, the eternity of God that we will have in heaven, where we will rest and have rest from our labors in His presence.

And so it's not the Sabbath of Moses or the Sabbath of Joshua. But it is the Sabbath rest that is found ultimately in Jesus Christ that we still have today. And as we think about this Sabbath law and its purpose, we know, as Jesus said, that the Sabbath was man was not made for the Sabbath. Let me get this right.

The Sabbath was, man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man. Did I get that right? And so we think about this day as supposed to be beneficial to man. It's something to be helpful to man. It's something that God intended as a blessing. Not as a law to keep man from doing things that he wanted to do or needed to do.

But to provide for man something that was good. It was part of the Ten Commandments. And those Ten Commandments are, of course, in some ways, a summation of God's expectation for behavior. If the people of Israel were going to have a relationship with Him, they're going to have to keep these laws, these ten specifically, and all of the other ones that flow from it.

And so the Sabbath day was obviously important. It was a symbol of the special covenant that God had with the Israelites. I mean, no other people were commanded to keep a Sabbath, and no other people did keep a Sabbath. And in fact, that caused problems for the Israelites, the people of God, at a number of times throughout history.

And it showed this special covenant relationship in terms of an image. An image of God's rest. In the book of Exodus, it's described as God's rest when He finished His creation. And a promise of their rest and ours, by extension. And in the book of Deuteronomy, it's this image of God's deliverance of His people from slavery.

You were slaves in Egypt, but I've delivered you out of that slavery, and now you rest. seventh day of the week to remind yourself of what I've done for you. So Sabbath begins at creation, finds its special place among the Israelites and their deliverance from Egypt, and, and we see that it is fulfilled ultimately in the new creation with, with God in heaven.

And so breaking this command to keep the Sabbath day and, and make it holy is not some little harmless thing that this man is doing. It's an affront to God, an affront to His creation, in that context of the Sabbath, His deliverance of His people, His provision that He will provide for them even on a day when they're not working, His promises to them, and an affront ultimately to His ultimate reward to the fateful.

And this man, by going out on this day and picking up these sticks, says, Yeah, I don't care. I don't care about any of that. All of that. I don't care. I'm gonna do what I want to do. In a word, it's rebellion. It's disloyalty. And it's lack of faith in God that motivates this action. Loved ones, God's laws are there for a purpose.

And maybe sometimes we don't always see or understand or appreciate what this purpose is. I know for a fact this man didn't appreciate it, because if he truly had, he wouldn't have done what he did. But even if we don't see it or agree with it, we still have the responsibility to obey it. And to trust, by faith, that God knows better than we do.

What we should be doing and, and it is so arrogant and so foolish to think that we know better than God about how to rule our own lives, that, that we can know clearly his will on something and say, well, I'm the exception, or I'm going to make an exception for myself. And understanding the context of this is the Sabbath day on which this man is doing this.

I think helps us to see that. And really this is the second context that I want us to consider. The context of presumptuous sin. If you're still there in Numbers chapter 15, this account isn't placed in where it is in the book of Numbers randomly. Instead, this account, verses 32 through 36, is an example of the principle that is taught in the two verses that precede it.

So if you look there in verses 30 and 31, going all the way back to verse 22, there's a long section on what we might call unintentional sins. So, I didn't mean to do this, I didn't set out to do this, but I did it. I've sinned in some way against God or against my brother. And now, what do I have to do in order to make that right?

And God gives verses 22 through 29 are just one section in Scripture on how you deal with these unintentional sins. You didn't mean to do it. But in verses 30 through 31, we have a much shorter, much more to the point section on intentional, what the text calls presumptuous sins. So read those two verses, if you would, with me.

But the person who does anything presumptuously, so as opposed to unintentionally, here we have this defiant, presumptuous literally it's with a high hand, that I'm haughty and arrogant in doing this. If he 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. What's being described here is the intent with which the sin was committed. You see, our intent matters. Our heart matters when we do the things that we do.

And even in our law system in America today, we see that reality, right? Maybe it's illustrated well in the difference between manslaughter and murder. You know, the end result of that offense is the same. Someone is dead because of my actions, right? But there is a big difference between killing someone accidentally, even if there is some culpability because I was negligent, or because I was careless, or whatever the case might be.

There's a big difference between killing someone accidentally, and killing someone on purpose. And there's even a difference in our law, between killing someone in a moment of passion, versus premeditatedly planning and plotting to kill someone in advance. Intent matters, even if the end result is ultimately the same.

And if you want to talk about big and small sins in the Bible, I think sometimes we fall into that trap of wanting to categorize, Oh, these are big sins over here, but these are more of the respectable sins over here. Usually that amounts to, those are other people's sins. But I think sometimes we fall into that trap that these sins over here are the really bad ones that God doesn't like.

These other sins over here are the not bad ones that God can forgive. And there is a sense in which some sins are greater than others. But you know what the big sins are in the Bible? presumptuous sins where I know it's wrong and I don't care I'm going to do it anyway. Those are the sins that have the harshest punishments in the eyes of God.

Those are the big sins from His perspective. And so I ask you, did this man in verses 32 36, did he know that what he was doing was wrong? I would say yes, absolutely. What did the law say? Well, of all of the laws that we find in the law of Moses, the Sabbath law was the one that was perhaps repeated the most out of any law.

We see this law come up again over and over in Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy. We see this law of the Sabbath. Let me give you a couple of examples of this. Turn to Exodus chapter 31. Exodus 31, beginning in verse 12. Read down through verse 17 with me, if you would, please. Exodus chapter 12.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, Surely my sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. I have set you apart as my special people, and this special day shows that relationship.

You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you, not to all the other nations, but to you. It's holy. It's set apart. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh, seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord.

Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Twice we see this same admonition. You work on the Sabbath, you're going to be put to death. Therefore, the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever.

4. In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and He was refreshed. Over and over and over they'd been told what? You work on the Sabbath? The penalty is to be put to death. But it's interesting, we can get even more specific about what this man was doing here on this occasion if we turn to Exodus chapter 35.

The law is even more specific, verses 1 through 3 of Exodus 35. And again, these are just two examples of this law that are found in the Law of Moses. Exodus 35, beginning in verse 1. Then Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together and said to them, These are the words which the Lord has commanded you to do.

'Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. And then, interestingly, verse 3, 'You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath. Now, this is not the only example that is given of what work might look like on the Sabbath, but it is a very specific example, isn't it?

No work on the Sabbath day, including kindling a fire on the Sabbath day. Why was this guy picking up sticks on the Sabbath day? I grew up out in the country, so maybe this is a country bumpkin thing, I don't know. But anybody in here ever played the game Pick Up Sticks? Pick Up Sticks? A few tentative hands.

You spill a bunch of sticks, they're all on top of one another, and you're supposed to pick them out without making a move, that sort of thing. That's a game that you play, pick up sticks, but why was he picking up sticks? He had a purpose, right? To kindle a fire. That's why he was picking up the sticks on this occasion.

And perhaps this man could have made the argument, Well, I didn't do it. I didn't kindle the fire, at least not yet. And perhaps that's why they brought him to Moses. You know, this guy was about to kindle a fire, but he hasn't done it yet. What do we do with him? But isn't it clear in the text that that is exactly what he is setting out to do in direct violation.

of what was specifically prohibited for him to do on the Sabbath day. And with the righteous judge of all things, we will not get off on such technicalities as, well, I didn't kindle the fire yet. Yeah, it was in my heart. Yeah, that's what I intended to do. Yeah, I was working in order to do that very thing that was specifically commanded not to do.

But hey, I got caught before I actually did it. It really is the opposite of our lesson this morning. God's commands are often so clear and so simple. Just pick it up. And sometimes the things he condemns are so clear and so simple. Don't work. Don't pick it up. Don't work on the Sabbath even to kindle a fire.

And so by picking up these sticks on the Sabbath, this man is saying, I know better than God how to rule my own life. And that kind of attitude will lead to our spiritual death. No matter how damaging the actual offense or rebellion appears to us or others, it will lead to our spiritual death. And that brings us to our next context the context of two bigger rebellions right around what we find here in Numbers chapter 15.

There's a bigger rebellion in Numbers 13 and 14. There's a bigger rebellion in Numbers chapter 16. And it reminds me of the statement of Jesus in Luke chapter 16 and verse 10. There are so many occasions where this statement is appropriate. Jesus says, one who is fateful in very little is also fateful in much.

And one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much. We might paraphrase Jesus to say, one who is rebellious in very little will be rebellious in much. One who is fateful in very little will also be fateful in much. Our attitude is what ultimately leads to our action. And the point of putting this law and the example of the sin of this man where it is, is by the Holy Spirit and by Moses.

is to show that the man picking up sticks on the Sabbath in Numbers 15 is no different than these two accounts of rebellion that surround it. This one man had the same kind of rebellious spirit and heart as the people who refused to enter the promised land of Canaan in Numbers 13 and then presumptuously said, Well, God said not to enter now, so now what are we going to do?

We're going to try and enter it. That same kind of rebellious spirit. I want to do exactly the opposite of what it is God tells me to do. And then the rebellious spirit that we see in Numbers chapter 16 with Korah and his followers, that's the same kind of heart that this man had. And we're more familiar with the earlier account in Numbers chapter 13 and 14, but notice if you turn to Numbers chapter 16.

Turn to Numbers chapter 16 for just a second. In Numbers chapter 16 we see that there is this man Korah and some of his descendants. There are some other leading men. In fact, 250 leaders of the people come to Moses and Aaron and basically say, Hey, why do you think you have the right to rule over us?

We're capable of ruling over ourselves. And some of them were more aggressive or less aggressive than that, but that's basically the attitude. We don't want to submit to your leadership, whether God put you there or not, I don't care. But notice, especially what we see in verse 13 of Numbers chapter 16, the language of some of these men.

Notice verse 13. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness that you should keep acting like a prince over us? That is so insulting, isn't it? How is the promised land, the land that God said He would give to His people, how is it described in a number of places in the Bible?

A land flowing with milk and honey. And yet, what land were they referring to? You said, they said, you brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey. You brought, you had the audacity, the gall, to bring us out, out of slavery in Egypt. That was a land flowing with milk and honey. And now you're acting like a prince over us, which totally ignores the fact who was over them in Egypt?

The princes, the pharaohs. And so their attitude is such that what I had before without the blessings of God was better than what I have now with the blessings of God. And the things that God has promised, He will not fulfill, and I'm better off ruling my own life. What a level of ingratitude and rebellion.

As somehow God and His prophet Moses have robbed them of slavery in Egypt. And God will not provide for our needs. And we need, we need to take matters into our own hands, is what they are saying. God has promised these things, but He's not going to fulfill the things that He has promised. So that's what they were saying.

My question is, what was the man picking up sticks saying by his actions? God will not provide for my needs on the Sabbath day. And I need to take matters into my own hands. He's saying exactly the same thing. And the penalty for the rebellions in chapters 13 the rebellion in chapter 16 was death. Death in the wilderness for the rebellion in chapters 13 and 14 and those 40 years of wandering.

And in chapter 16, the ground literally swallows up those rebels and God Himself puts them to death. The same sin and the same penalty of death. This is just more rebellion against God. And yeah, it looks smaller in Numbers chapter 15, but it's the exact same attitude. Big or small, it is all rebellion against God and God's laws.

And given the opportunity, this man who picked up sticks would have committed bigger rebellions. If he knew he wasn't going to get caught in committing those rebellions. And this is especially pertinent to us when we consider one final context. I'm not a Jew. I'm not under the law of Moses. I'm not bound or obligated to keep the Sabbath day and all of those sorts of things.

But I am under the law of Christ. And my attitude needs to be so much better than the attitude of this man. And so I want us to finally consider the context of Jesus teaching on the heart. Would you turn to Matthew chapter 5? Matthew chapter 5 will be Our last section of scripture that we'll consider in our lesson this evening.

Matthew chapter 5.

Notice beginning in verse 21, Jesus has said, Your righteousness, if you're going to be a kingdom citizen, must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. And they were all about outward acts. All about, what have you done? Doesn't matter what your attitude is. You know, can you find some loophole to, to get around God's law?

That, that was kind of their attitude. And so Jesus hits at the very heart of this poor attitude when he starts talking about some of the, the things that they allowed. And he's showing that these allowances in the heart are no better than the actual sins that might be committed from them. Notice verse 21, first of all.

We'll just give a couple of examples of this. You have heard, Jesus said, that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder. Obviously, the law said you shouldn't murder. And whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

And whoever says to his brother, Raka, shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, you fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.

And what Jesus says is this, this unreasonable Unrepentant anger toward your brother with no good cause is just as bad from the perspective of God as the act of murdering your brother. And so we, again, we come to this idea of big and small sins, right? Well, Jesus says the attitude of the heart is the same.

Now, the consequences are different, the ramifications are different, certainly from a physical perspective. But the attitude of the heart that leads to it is exactly the same. Drop down to verse 27 for another example. You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not commit adultery. Again, the law said that.

But I say to you that whoever looks, looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Again, while the physical consequences and ramifications for adultery are different, spiritually the sin of lust is just as big before God as the sin of adultery. They aren't the same.

But they represent the same kind of heart. And so as we examine this man and what he did and the punishment for his actions in Numbers chapter 15, I think what we need to do is examine our hearts in the same way. What is our attitude toward the laws of God? Is our attitude toward the clear laws of God that these things are for our good always, just as the Sabbath day was for Him?

Not some barrier between me and what I want to do. But ultimately a path that lights my way to what God would have me to be. Is my attitude toward sin, when I commit sin, is it because I fell short? Because I gave in to temptation? And I'm gonna repent and I'm gonna try and do better the next time? Or are there sins in my life where it's like, I know this is wrong and I don't care, I'm gonna do it anyway.

Because that kind of presumptuous sin Really is the biggest kind of sin. And as I think about different sins that are committed, do I realize the importance of the heart in those things as I stand before God? So let me make these three applications as we bring our lesson to a close. Number one, as we look at these four contexts for this short account, Number one, God has good reason for what He commands and condemns.

And our job is to trust Him. To trust and obey even if we don't fully understand. Even if we don't fully see. Even if some things seem harsh. Or some things seem merciful to us. God is the perfect judge. And He has good reason for what He commands and what He condemns. We must trust and obey. Number two, that's the obedience.

If we know what God commands, do it. If we know what God condemns, don't do it. In the words of this Sunday, just pick it up or don't pick it up. And so often, yes, there are times where we are unsure or uncertain about things from God or how to make proper application, but so often, it is clear and simple that this is what God desires and this is what He doesn't.

And so I need to have the kind of heart in those instances where it is clear that I just want to obey Him. And the greatest sin, truly, is when we presumptuously refuse to do God's will. Even when we know it. And then number three, don't fall into the trap of big and little sins from a physical perspective of dignified and undignified sins of respectable and unrespectable sins because it's all a matter of the heart.

Ultimately, is my heart right with God? What was the sin of this man picking up sticks on the Sabbath? Ultimately, it came back to he did not have a heart that wanted to please God. And we need to be the kind of people who love God so much that our first and foremost desire in all things is, does this please God?

Then that is what I want to do. Is my heart right with God? I pray that it is. And I pray that yours is too. I hope your heart is such that it motivates you to action. And if you know things that you need to do this evening, maybe to come to Christ in humble submission, to put Him on in baptism, maybe there's sin in your life that you've committed and you desire the help and prayers of your brothers and sisters in Christ, if we can help you with that, show your good heart this evening by seeking out that help.

And we'll do whatever we can to assist you, to pray for you, and to pray with you. All you have to do is come now while together we stand and while we sing.