In one of my classes at school a student made the claim that God, in the O.T., was not loving or compassionate. he based his claim on Numbers 15:32-36, in which the Lord commanded that a Sabbath breaker be stoned to death. I kind of see the student's point and had touble responding. What could I have said? This seems so contrary to what Jesus taught. Would God really command such a thing or was this perhaps more of the "human" side of the Israelites?
Those are tough questions. But before we judge people in the past by our present standards, we should do everything we can to put ourselves in their shoes and see things from their point of view. The goal of the Old Testament (and the New for that matter) is to teach man what his purpose is. That of course is worship. The six days of creation lead up to the seventh, the one dedicated to God, and the rest of the Bible explains what is involved in that. At one point an infraction of the Sabbath was punished in the way you mentioned. God must have been able to see all the circumstances of that man's life to know it was not an injustice or lack of compassion. (A lot of things happen to us which from our limited human viewpoint can appear unfair or cruel, but are really the most loving and just.) It was evidently done that once and not repeated because of what God also teaches re: shedding human blood. Have you read the section of the Catechism which deals w/ the interpretation of the Bible (nos. 101-133)? It's only a few pages, but lays things out very concisely. The key paragraph, as I mention in a previous commentary is keeping our focus on the whole content of Scripture and the living tradition of the Church.
Fr. Phil Bloom