Exodus 31:14 Surely Die
Exodus 31:14 directs that a person who committed various offences should “surely be put to death.” To “surely die,” was the sentence but was that an imposed death sentence or the prediction of an eventual outcome?
Traditional Legal Model – Those who defiled the Sabbath were to be put to death by God’s orders to maintain the sanctity of the Sabbath and serve as a warning against others.
Biblical Healing Model – Purposely defiling the Sabbath, which was a sign between God and His people (Exo 31:13), indicated the sinner breaking the covenant relationship with God which, unrepented of, could only result in eternal separation from God.
“Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Exo 31:14)
Does Exodus 31:14 read, on the surface, like God gets mighty upset with anyone who defiles His holy day? It does not look very good for His character. But is there another way to understand such statements; a way that reveals an ever-merciful God? Let’s compare to Jesus’ reactions to being slighted:
“And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. (Luke 9:52-56)
He reacted to the suggestion of His disciples by rebuking the thought of using violence and they simply moved on. He suggested a similar policy when sending His disciples to go and preach the gospel:
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” (Matt 10:14)
Those were pretty minor insults, but what about the ultimate, as He was being nailed to the cross:
“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” (Luke 23:34)
That seems to be a contradiction to the relatively-severe reaction of killing people for merely defiling the Sabbath; after all, the Sabbath doesn’t care. So, what should the sincere student of the Bible do? Shouldn’t they investigate more closely to see if that can be resolved? We are reminded of the very useful Miller’s rules of Bible study.
Repetition for Emphasis
If we look at the Hebrew for Exodus 31:14, we find something interesting:
“Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely (H4191) be put to death: (H4191) for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Exo 31:14)
The Strong’s numbers show that the English phrase “it shall surely be put to death” is translated from only two Hebrew words which are the same – just a repetition. Words are repeated in Hebrew for emphasis. Also, for getting attention as in God’s call to Abraham:
“And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.” (Gen 22:11)
There are actually seven people in scripture of whom this occurs: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Martha, Simon (Peter), and Saul (the apostle). In English, we emphasize by adding another word such as “very” or, in this case, “surely.” That translation gets the idea of emphasis across quite well but in Hebrew emphasis and certainty is expressed by repetition.
Here are the meanings given for the Hebrew word:
H4191 מוּת muwth mooth
a primitive root; v;
AV-die 424, dead 130, slay 100, death 83, surely 50, kill 31, dead man 3, dead body 2, in no wise 2, misc 10; 835
1) to die, kill, have one executed
1a1) to die
1a2) to die (as penalty), be put to death
1a3) to die, perish (of a nation)
1a4) to die prematurely (by neglect of wise moral conduct)
1b) (Polel) to kill, put to death, dispatch
(Hiphil) to kill, put to death
1d1) to be killed, be put to death
1d1a) to die prematurely
The Principle of First Mention
The first time in the Bible that phrase is used is:
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely (H4191) die (H4191). (Gen 2:17)
The options for the meaning in that use are:
- the fruit is poisonous and will kill you if you eat it
- God will be so upset if you eat His fruit that He will kill you
- You will so sever your bond of trust in God that, unremedied, it will lead to death
Here are two explanations of the principle of first mention:
The first mention of an important word or phrase is important because it often establishes a precedent, pattern, or biblical concept for later uses.
The law of first mention says that, to understand a particular word or doctrine, it is often useful to study its first occurrence in scripture.
So, let’s compare the first use (Genesis 2:17) with the verse we are considering which both have the word “muwth” repeated:
There is a difference in the English translation but should there be? If the translation for “muwth, muwth” used in Genesis 2:17 was used in Exodus 31:14, the result would be:
“Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you:
every one that defileth it shall surely die …”
“Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you:
every one defileth it shall surely be put to death …”
That makes it a warning of a natural result rather than a threat of an imposed punishment – there is a major difference. The meaning then would be (as in Gen 2:17) something like:
“If you defile the Sabbath (and continue defiling it without repentance) you will lose your relationship with Me Who is life and the end result of willfully separating from life can only be eternal death.” (Exo 31:14, paraphrased and amplified)
But what about the second part of Exodus 31:14 – the “for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people”? That would seem to support the idea of a death penalty.”
For a study of that, go to https://characterofGod.org/cut-off/
For a look at other uses of “shall surely be put to death” (muwth, muwth) go to https://characterofgod.org/exodus-21-17-surely-be-put-to- death
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