[quote=“Numbers 15, Knox Translation”]32 It happened once, as the Israelites were passing through the desert that a man was found gathering firewood on the sabbath day. 33 When he was brought before Moses and Aaron and the common assembly of the people, 34 they put him in ward, uncertain what they should do with him. 35 But the Lord said to Moses, His life must pay for it; he must be stoned by the whole multitude, away from the camp. 36 So they took him out and stoned him to death, as the Lord had bidden them.
(My understanding of this passage, contrary to a Seventh Day Adventist declaring God was underscoring how holy the Sabbath was, is that God was underscoring how holy He was, i.e. that mortal sin is a horrendous thing: Reading the chapter in context, it appears to me the point is that he was deliberately disobeying God with full knowledge, rather than that he was merely breaking the Sabbath. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
Reading this passage, I found myself thinking of what it would be like today to actually stone someone to death, i.e. throw rocks at them until they die. It seemed extremely taxing on the executioners, especially if they were friends with the person. I was reminded of my earlier study in social psychology: One reason Hitler introduced the gas chambers was that soldiers tasked with lining up prisoners and shooting them point-blank into ditches was too taxing for them: They were having emotional breakdowns, and refusing to do it. The solution was to divide the task into multiple stages, so that no one person felt personal responsibility (one to load them onto trains, one to bring them into the camp, one to bring them into the room, etc.), and to use a remote mechanism so the person feels more removed from the event.
That was simply pointing a barrel at someone and pulling a trigger with the knowledge of what would happen. Now imagine instead of that quick end, throwing a rock at someone again and again and again. Rather than diminishing the feeling of personal responsibility, God is amplifying it several times! It seems several times worse, to the point of appearing absurd and unrealistic: I can only imagine someone stoning someone to death if they were actually fighting, i.e. if the person was brutally angry, wrathful, “in fight mode”, and the assailant “got lucky” with only a few blows – if it was a ‘neutral’ occasion, or a friend, actually stoning someone seems traumatic as described above, if not impossible.
Why would God require people to go through the trauma of stoning someone else, and how could they actually go through with it? Wouldn’t Jesus instead have commanded a faster, non-traumatic, less painful execution? How many rocks would actually have to be thrown?
If you are going to respond with the simplistic idea, “Things and people were way more brutal back then,” this explanation raises additional questions that you must also answer. For example, why God would pick such brutality as a starting point, and why He would want us today to continue reading about it for 2000+ years until He returns.