Q. Can you explain Exodus 35 regarding kindling a fire on the Sabbath?
A. The question of Exodus 35 is an age-old query concerning kindling fire on the Sabbath. We must keep this chapter in context. Chapter 35 of Exodus picks up the construction (continuation of chapter 30:18) of the Tabernacle and the fixtures. This required an extremely hot fire first to smelt the metals for various needs such as the vessels, lamps, sockets, grates, etc., all of which are mentioned in the verses that follow in this the 35th chapter:
“And Moses collected all the assembly of the children of Israel, and said to them, These are the things which Yahweh has commanded, to do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath day of rest to Yahweh: whoever does work on it shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your dwelling upon the Sabbath day," Exodus 35:1-3.
Scholars admit there was a tendency to start fires toward the ending of the Sabbath so that when the sun had finally set, they could have a roaring fire ready for smelting of metals, and they could commence their labors at once. (Note the next verse goes into detail of the metals needed for utensils.) They were not to take precious Sabbath time to get a fire started late on the Sabbath even in the primitive days of their wandering.
In Israel’s primitive situation, building a fire meant gathering the necessary wood, which may have required much searching, as some wood burns hotter than others. Trees would then have to be cut in manageable lengths.
This 35th chapter is protective of the Sabbath very much like the 16th chapter where Israel is to bake and prepare all foods ahead of time so there would be a minimum of toil on the Sabbaths:
“And he said to them, This is what Yahweh has said: Tomorrow is the rest, the holy Sabbath, of Yahweh: bake what ye bake and cook what ye will cook; and lay up for yourselves all that remains over, to be kept for the morning,” Exodus 16:23.
Yahweh is very clear in telling us that we are to spend the entire Sabbath in worship and communing with Him. We are not to use the time for our own pleasure or doing our own thing. This is the Bible’s only prescription concerning the kindling of a fire on the Sabbath.