Why did God ordain stoning as a punishment in the Old Testament?

By Tim White

This is truly a difficult one and challenging question, one of which I have spent many hours investigating. It is all too easy to read the law given to Israel as a nation and contemplate about what it means in our society, with our understanding and in our situation. For instance, it is unimaginable that parents would be willing to stone their children when the child was disobedient and dishonoring towards them (Exodus 21:15, 17, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and 27:16). However, in the context of ancient Israel, the harshness was successful for the purpose of God.

I remind you that children are shaped in character in their earliest formative years (from birth to age six, if I remember my classes correctly). The Jews were instructed to begin reading the law to the children. From their earliest days, they remember hearing, "Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death. Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:15-18).

Part of their instructions were these:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
The law also included issues of sexual immorality and idolatry. Such was not supposed to be found in the land. The easiest way for such to come into the land was through the permissiveness of a family. Therefore, the Law was given and read to young children to fortify barriers to keep a nation pure from generation to generation. Therefore, to shape the children, the Law was written as a relentless standard.

The Apostle Paul in his letters to the Churches presented the Law in such terms, particularly in Romans. "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). The Law was not given to justify (which is the weakness of the law, or actually the weakness in humanity). It was given as a barrier for those who were raised in it against the sins of the rest of the world.

Since all have sinned (Romans 3:9:23), mankind needs a redeemer. Since even the most model Jew in Old Testament days failed and would need redemption, the Saints of the Old Testament longed for a redeemer promised to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15), Abraham (Genesis 12:1-2 22:14), Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6) and the prophets. He would be one who would redeem the people of God.

The temptation would be to stop believing that there would be some kind of Savior or redeemer. However, those who continued to believe were given the grace of God. Their faith in the coming Savior saved them, not the Law (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6). The Law was given as an unrelenting, condemning reminder that they needed a redeemer and a shaper of the character to one which would recognize the need for forgiveness.

Today, the Law still condemns all of us, showing us the uncompromising standard of God (Romans 3:19-20).

Paul wrote to the Galatians:
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. Galatians 3:22-26
A weak law would not bring us to Christ. We wouldn't see the need. The Law shows us the perfect standard and holiness of God, but the sacrifice and forgiveness of Jesus Christ shows us the perfect compassion and love of God. Both of these demands were met through Jesus Christ.

Image Credit: Yamanaka Tamaki; "holding stone"; Creative Commons

TagsControversial-Issues  | God-Father  | Sin-Evil

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Published 3-3-15