That Soul Shall be Cut Off

Exodus 31:14
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

“That soul shall be cut off,” rather than specifying the death penalty for Sabbath breakers, is warning of the natural effects of separation from God, the Source of Life, for those who disregard it.

Traditional Legal Model – “That soul shall be cut off” is a declaration of the punishment of death (the cutting off) for anyone who defiles the Sabbath or various other infractions of God’s law.

Biblical Healing Model – “That soul shall be cut off,” properly understood, warns that those who defile the Sabbath separate themselves from the covenant between God and His people and, if they don’t turn back to God, the Source of life, they will experience eternal death.

“Cut off from God’s people” – does that mean “cut off” as in being put to death? This page continues where the study about “surely die” ended. Both phrases are used in this verse:

“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)

We have looked at the meaning of “surely be put to death,” on the page linked above. We saw that there is a seeming contradiction in character for an ever-merciful God to command the death of someone for just defiling (to perhaps even a slight degree) the sabbath.

The Pharisees, in Jesus’ day, had established many rules around Sabbath keeping such that the Sabbath became a heavy burden. Understood as it commonly is, Exodus 31:14 is speaking of a much greater burden – the threat of death for any defiling of the Sabbath. How could that make the Sabbath a delight, as Isaiah 58:13 suggests?

In light of an obvious contradiction, the diligent Bible student will prayerfully investigate more closely. One place to start would be to look at the Hebrew:

“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 (Strong’s H3772) from among his people.” (Exo 31:14)

What Does “Cut Off” Mean?

 Here is the definition as given in the On-Line Bible. As that use of H3772 is in the Niphal verb form, I have highlighted the appropriate section below.

 H3772 כָּרַת‎ karath kaw-rath’
a primitive root; v;
AV-cut off 145, make 85, cut down 23, cut 9, fail 6, destroy 4, want 3, covenanted 2, hew 2, misc 9; 288
1) to cut, cut off, cut down, cut off a body part, cut out, eliminate, kill, cut a covenant
1a) (Qal)
1a1) to cut off
1a1a) to cut off a body part, behead
1a2) to cut down
1a3) to hew
1a4) to cut or make a covenant
1b) (Niphal)
1b1) to be cut off
1b2) to be cut down
1b3) to be chewed
1b4) to be cut off, fail
1c) (Pual)
1c1) to be cut off
1c2) to be cut down
1d) (Hiphil)
1d1) to cut off
1d2) to cut off, destroy
1d3) to cut down, destroy
1d4) to take away
1d5) to permit to perish
1e) (Hophal) cut off

The definition from E-Sword:

Kaw-rath – A primitive root; to cut (off, down or asunder); by implication to destroy or consume; specifically to covenant (that is, make an alliance or bargain, originally by cutting flesh and passing between the pieces): – be chewed, be con- [feder-] ate, covenant, cut (down, off), destroy, fail, feller, be freed, hew (down), make a league ([covenant]), X lose, perish, X utterly, X want.

Some Uses of “Karath”

“And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off (karath; H3772) any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Gen 9:11)

That clearly points to death and destruction.

“In the same day the LORD made (karath; H3772) a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” (Gen 15:18)

 In that verse, the same word “karath” means to make or “cut” a covenant as we use the idiom: “cut a deal.”

“And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off (karath; H3772) from among his people.” (Lev 20:6)

“Cut him off” could just mean “to be separated from.” Like we might speak of being “cut off from” or “estranged” from a relative. It is interesting that “karath” is used both for making a covenant (Gen 15:18) and for being cut off from the people of the covenant (Lev 20:6).

Notice the connection in this verse between being cut off and breaking the covenant:

“And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” (Gen 17:14)

The separation, the cutting off, in that case, could refer to anything from being considered to be outside of the covenant (with hope of being restored to the covenant) to being executed. However, executing a child whose parents did not see to it that he was circumcised could not possibly be just – take note of Ezekiel 18:20. Here is another translation:

“Any male who is uncircumcised and refuses to be circumcised will be cut off from the people, for he has broken the agreement – he has refused to trust me and let me heal him and cut fear and selfishness out of his heart.” (Gen 17:14, The Remedy New Testament)

The “refuses to be circumcised” implies a willing choice which a very young child cannot do. The uncircumcised young child would be considered cut off from his people (ie outside of the covenant) until and unless he accepted that rite. Karath does not always mean to destroy or kill. Its meaning very much depends on the context. It can mean:

  • Physical death (Genesis 9:11)
  • Make a covenant (Genesis 15:18)
  • To separate (Leviticus 20:6)

But the question is, how can the same word that means to destroy (cut-off/cut-down) also mean to make a covenant or be freed? It helps to see the same connection in the New Testament:

“And what agreement [or covenant] hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” (2 Cor 6:16-17)

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people” is certainly covenant language. The passage is speaking, essentially, of breaking a covenant (with idols) to achieve separation from that which would hinder being received into a relationship (covenant) with God.

In the use of “karath” in the Hebrew, there is the same idea of making a covenant by separating from the heathen nations.

So, to make a covenant means to be separated (come out) from the heathen, (as Abram did from Ur) from sin. Or be set apart from them for a special or holy purpose.

Cut Off (Karath) Can also Mean “to be Freed”

“Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed (karath, H3772) from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” (Josh 9:23)

That verse also shows a separation.

The meaning will have to be determined by the context of the word. When God makes a covenant with us, He is setting us apart from the heathen; we are freed from among them. But when anyone refuses the covenant and breaks it, they have set themselves apart from God, and this will lead to death eventually because there is no life apart from the Life-giver.

 Back to Exodus 31:14. Let’s replace “cut off” with “set apart or freed” (along with the change we determined in the study of “surely die.”)

“Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death surely die: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off set apart from among his people.” (Exo 31:14)

 So, is it possible, that God is simply telling us that the Sabbath is for our own benefit and is important for us to remain within the covenant with the very Source of life?

Christ shared the same principle in the words:

“The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:” (Mark 2:27)

God tells us that keeping the law is for our own good, we don’t keep the law for His sake, but for ours:

“To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good.” (Deut 10:13)

This verse speaks of the opportunity for a person who has done wickedly to be restored and have his destiny changed from “shall surely die” to “shall surely live.”

“If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.” (Eze 33:15)

There is obviously a change in status, not a sentence of imposed death. There has to be opportunity to “restore” in this case, to choose to again “walk in the statutes of life.”

A person can sin, even openly and yet every attempt must be made to restore that person back to the people of God from whom he had been separated by his sinful actions.

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Gal 6:1)

This verse also helps:

“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (Eze 18:23)

God’s will is that the wicked should have opportunity to change their ways and live. That is not going to be possible if the wicked are cut off as in being executed for a crime whether it is defiling the sabbath or anything else.

“Cut Off” and “Bear His Sin”

This verse equates “the same soul shall be cut off” with “that man shall bear his sin”:

“But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.” (Num 9:13)

But does that mean he would be killed?

“Bear” as in “bear his sin” is from the Hebrew word “nasa” (H5375) which, in that verb, form means: “to lift, lift up, to bear, carry, support, sustain, endure,

to take, take away, carry off, forgive.”

The same word (in the same verb form) appears in its first use in the Bible in the story of Cain:

“And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.” (Gen 4:13)

Cain was certainly not executed for his choice to live outside of God’s ways; in fact, God took measures to protect Cain from death:

“And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” (Gen 4:15)

The person who thus chose not to identify himself with God’s covenant people had to then bear the burden (guilt, shame, perhaps feelings of estrangement) of that separation and, hopefully, he would have a change of heart, repent and return.

See a video of a group study on the true meaning of “that should shall be cut off.”

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