Bill Maher has argued several times on his show, Real Time, and on debates with Christians, that he doesn’t understand how a book that commands us to kill people for working on Saturday is so revered by the religious.
Exodus 31:15 reads:
15 …whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
The Bible seems pretty serious about this commandment. In Numbers 15:32-36, a man is put to death for collecting wood for fire on the Sabbath.
32 …they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
35 And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall surely be put to death…
36 and [they] stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.
I imagine that something like this is one of the first things Bill Maher found when he searched in the Bible. If that was the first thing you read, you would think that God is an angry being who punishes people severely for minor infractions. I’m sure this early experience in his study of the Bible is what led to his views about the Bible not being relevant to civilized people of today. To him, the Bible is just a book for primitive people.
When I first started reading the Bible, I would get stuck on the verses where sex was described. I imagined men lying with women, as the book frequently related. To “know” somebody in the Bible meant to have sexual relations with them. I would think, “Yeah, he ‘knew‘ her alright. He knew her very well!” You see, I first started reading the Bible from beginning to end when I was a young teen. I would take in such verses as Genesis 6:2-4 (very early early in the Bible):
2 …the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair…
4 …the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them…
They came in unto them, alright! Verses such as this one evoked feelings of jealousy. It felt like the first time I watched a porn. Because of these early experiences with the Bible that stirred my sexual imagination, I struggled a lot with sins like masturbation and lust when I was younger. Much the same way, Bill Maher struggles with thinking that the Bible is too strict and too primitive for modern people. Passages about God putting Sabbath breakers to death is the first thing he read when he opened the book. It is obvious that Bill Maher has never read the whole Bible, otherwise he would fully understand the order and purpose of God’s word.
Let me try to explain why you find Sabbath breakers getting killed in the Old Testament.
First of all, it is true that the ancient Israelites were a primitive people. They needed simple and strict commandments. Primitive commandments. Blar, blar, believe in God or get killed, blar, blar. Moses must’ve sounded like a caveman among many cavemen and cavewomen whom he led. In fact, at some points in history, the Jews of old times were not even tribal. They were desert-dwellers and hunter-gatherers.
God wanted these primitive people to believe in Him. So he commanded them to rest on the seventh day (just like God rested from his work of creation on that day). God wanted people to remember this creation story and keep it in their hearts (at least once a week).
God had to have an example of someone dying because of the Sabbath law. You see, this does something for the Bible reader. When someone reads a passage where someone dies for breaking the Sabbath, if they have a knowledge of God’s love and goodness, they will feel like it is important to praise God at least once a week. But God didn’t necessarily create such a commandment and a corresponding example of punishment for breaking the commandment for most people. He created it for kings.
God knew that kings of Israel would keep a copy of the Old Testament. Most people didn’t know how to read and write back then. Such things were originally only meant to be read by the kings, who knew how to read. Being somewhat secular leaders, God would rely on exaggeratedly harsh examples to impress on the minds of kings that they needed to celebrate the Sabbath. The Sabbath law was very crucial for such a primitive people to believe in God. Without it, they would forget that God existed.
But God also knew that people in modern times would be more literate. He foresaw the invention of the printing press and Bibles being distributed to all people worldwide. He foresaw latter-day Americans, people who were brought up in freedom and who knew how to read and write, studying the Bible. God left the Old Testament as it is, with passages about people dying for breaking the Sabbath (though they are not as relevant for people today), because He knew that people would have access to the whole Bible. They would read it in its entirety.
If you read the whole Bible, you’ll know that God is a loving God. And for Him to command the killing of someone, the matter must’ve been very important. Most Christians, when they read about the stick-collector getting stoned to death by the word of the LORD, just think that praising God on Sunday (the Lord’s day) is very important.
Unfortunately, there’s going to be people like Bill Maher who uses the passage to argue that the Bible is repulsive. Again, God wants you to read more than just the Old Testament. Let me offer a passage from the New Testament to counter the idea that the Bible is full of only foulness.
23 [Jesus] went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
24 And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
27 And [Jesus] said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
Collecting sticks on the Sabbath is no worse than plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath. But these 2 things happened for different purposes. The man collecting sticks who was killed was God’s chosen example to help the ancient Jews remember God. But Judaism had already successfully infiltrated Jewish culture by the time Jesus was born. Jesus and his disciples gathering corn on the Sabbath was to serve as an example that Jesus was God — something the Jews needed to know at that time. The passage from Mark finishes saying:
28 Therefore the Son of man, [Jesus], is Lord also of the sabbath.
Millions of people work on Sunday, the Lord’s day. This replaces Saturday as the Sabbath in Christian religion. Even more people work on Saturday. This is because God wants us to be able to shop on the weekends. If people didn’t work on the weekends, we wouldn’t be able to shop. The Sabbath was made for man to enjoy, as verse 27 teaches. Only practicing Jews still refrain from working on Saturday like God originally commanded his children. But the original purpose of the Sabbath law still stands. It is a day of praise to God. The Lord of this day is truly Jesus Christ, the son of God who is also God. More Christians go to church services on Saturday and Sunday than on any other day of the week. (And then they can go out to eat because somebody is working the weekend shifts at their local restaurants.)
I would guess that Bill Maher hasn’t read this beautiful passage from the Gospel of Mark. If he did, he would have a different opinion of the Bible. God doesn’t want the millions of Americans who work on Saturday or Sunday to die. Nobody is insisting the death penalty for people working on the Sabbath. They take these passages about killing from the Old Testament out of context.
In the context of the New Testament, such passages prompt modern Christians to remember God on the Sabbath. Even many modern Jews, who only read the Old Testament, work on Saturday. But they still worship their God as the Sabbath law teaches us to do. Neither Christians nor Jews put people to death for working on Saturday or Sunday. Even Bill Maher understands that Muslims are more likely than Christians or Jews to put someone to death. That’s because Christians and Jews study the entire Bible. I suggest Bill Maher does the same.