How God could be so harsh as to command the death penalty for someone who was merely picking up sticks? In Number 15:32-36 it states that a man was found to be picking up sticks on the Sabbath. When the Israelites inquired of God as to what should be done to the man, God replied that he should be stoned to death.
God had specifically told the Israelites not to do any work on the Sabbath but picking up sticks does not seem to deserve the death penalty. However, a cursory reading of this passage can lead one to make a premature judgment. A complete evaluation should keep in mind the following factors.
First, God had supernaturally revealed Himself to the Israelites in a very dramatic way by appearing on Mt. Sinai. He had also demonstrated his power in other significant ways including parting the Red Sea, making water come from a rock, and bringing plagues on the Egyptians. If one accepts the moral principle that those who have more evidence of God’s existence should be expected to be more obedient; then the Israelites should have been VERY obedient. And if one also accepts the moral principle that those who have more evidence and do not obey, should be punished more severely; then the Israelites who chose to disobey God (at Mt. Sinai) should have been punished VERY severely. Given these two principles, God’s severe punishment of the man who picked up sticks becomes much more justifiable.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the historical books of the Bible are undoubtedly a summary of what happened when the Israelites were in the wilderness. They certainly don’t contain everything that happened, including everything that the particular man in question did. It’s entirely possible that the man had been deliberately defying God in the past and had decided to pick up sticks in (another) deliberate defiance of God. If that was the case, then his punishment may even seem light.