I'm going to do a lot of blogs really close together from now on because I'm reading every night and I want to be able to talk about each passage as much as I feel like I need to.
So here's the breakdown of chapters 15-17:
- God tells Moses that when they enter Canaan, they are supposed to present offerings to God, and there are intsructions about how to do that.
- God explains that Israel is to have the same laws for native Hebrews as they have for foreigners who join them (whether temporarily or permanently).
- Then it goes into the difference between unintentional sins and defiant sins. Even though Israel was supposed to be an example of holiness to the other nations, God knew they would mess up even if they had the best intentions, so He specifically gives instructions for how to present a sacrifice to atone for those sins when they happen. However, sins that are "defiant" are a different matter. A person who deliberately broke one of God's laws to blaspheme Him or show blatant disrespect for Him was to be cut off from the congregation.
- Somebody is caught gathering wood on the Sabbath, and God says to stone him.
- A bunch of leaders decide to rebel against Moses because they don't think he should be the head honcho. So Moses says God should decide, and the ground opens up and literally swallows the guys who rebelled.
- Then a bunch of other people blame Moses for the people above dying. God tells Moses again that He'll just kill all the people, Moses says don't, God ends up putting a plague on the ones who are grumbling against Moses.
- To quell any further doubts, God asks Moses to collect the rods of twelve leaders (one from each tribe) including Aaron, and write their names on their rods, and then He'll show which man is chosen for the priesthood. The next day, Aaron's rod has buds, flowers, and ripe almonds on it, so God has Moses save it (it was later placed in the Ark of the Covenant) as a testimony.
"[The author of Hebrews] contrasts the rebellion many Israelites had toward the Sabbath in the wilderness with the rebellion many people in general have toward Grace in the Eternal Now. Those who do not accept God's grace and refuse to take part in the Sabbath rest of Christ will surely perish and be denied God's rest just as the rebellious Israelites were.
Those who reject the grace of God make themselves exempt from it, as God swears they shall never know rest, which is the Sabbath, which is His grace."
Note my friend's word choice - "refuse to take part in the Sabbath rest." You see, the command to keep the Sabbath wasn't given as a burdensome obligation, another check box on the list of do's and don'ts. It was given to man as a gift, a way to commune with God in joy and peace, without distractions. Not participating in the Sabbath is essentially refusing that communion.
I think there was more going on in this story than a guy picking up sticks. The Bible says that the things that happened to Israel in the Old Testament as examples and warnings for us today (1 Corinthians 10:11). I think maybe this event happened as a warning to us today of what happens when we say "no" to the Sabbath, which to us today is a relationship with Christ (read Hebrews 4).
I think I'm going to start taking the spirit of the Sabbath more seriously from now on. By that I mean, I think I really should take one day each week to focus on God and rest. But I also mean that I think I can access that Sabbath rest at all times. Hebrews says that there "remains" a Sabbath rest for us, so I think it's something that is always available, and it should be taken advantage of.