Death by stoning…

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Leviticus 24:11 The Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name in a curse. And… they put him in custody, until the decision of the LORD should be made clear to them. 13 The LORD said to Moses, saying: 14 Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him. 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying: Anyone who curses God shall bear the sin. 16 One who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer.

Blasphemy (the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God) was a serious matter in ancient times, so we have a passage today that describes what God directs be done with blasphemers. They are to be “stoned to death”.

In my mind I’ve often imagined the punishment of stoning to involve people hurling rocks at someone until dead. And though I believe this is one way to carry out a stoning, logic suggests one would have to throw really big rocks very hard for an extended period of time to kill someone. However, in today’s passage there is an important detail included. V.14 says the people were to lay a hand on the head of the guilty party, then stone them. Well, there’s only one way that works. You wouldn’t throw the rock. You would use it like a club, beating someone repeatedly until dead. At least two purposes would be fulfilled in this act.

First, a death sentence would be carried out – by those who testified to the person’s guilt, no less. Second, the experience would likely have served as a deterrent for others. I mean, think about what would happen to you if you were one of those administering the stoning. You’d likely hit the person on the head because body blows would take much longer. When you hit someone in the head with a large rock the person’s head would split. Blood, teeth, brain tissue would get all over you. It’s an experience that would not soon be forgotten.

And think, this was not a punishment dreamed up by people, but directed by Almighty God himself. I’m wrestling this morning with how this passage squares with other places in scripture which describe God as “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”. I don’t know there is a way to reconcile these two dimensions of God’s character. Perhaps we simply have to accept them in tension with one another.

Lord, help us to understand who you are. And give us grace that we might not be guilty of blasphemy ourselves. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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