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Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41)

Many Christian commentators are quick to point out the strict system of justice found within the “Mosaic Law.” Quoting from the book of James, they say, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). According to this understanding, if a person committed even a minor offense, his life was in jeopardy and he should be wary of execution by stoning, or maybe even a stray lightning bolt. If this is the case, then it would seem that the reason punishments under the Mosaic Law were so severe was because breaking a single commandment was the same as breaking all of the commandments at once, rejecting God’s Law in its entirety. Therefore, a modern evangelistic tactic has developed that uses the Torah to point out the fact that we are all sinners. Those who use it point out that if we have broken even one of the commandments, then we stand condemned by “God’s Law” and deserve death. From this position, they then tell the person why they need Yeshua—to forgive them for being a lawbreaker who deserves to die.

But is that really an accurate picture of what we find within the Torah? Is the God of the Hebrew Scriptures a cranky, irritable, vengeful god who is bent on the annihilation of humanity? When we read the incident of the Sabbath Breaker (Numbers 15:32–36) in this week’s Torah portion out of its context, this would seem to be the case: A man is caught gathering sticks on Shabbat and he is put to death. But nothing is mentioned in the Torah up to this point that gathering sticks on Shabbat was forbidden. It seems pretty excessive, right?

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