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Background of
Sabbath Fire
Kindle no fire on the Sabbath day
The seriousness given to this one verse by dedicated Bible students has generated many discussions and varied ramifications of understanding. A careful study and examination should help us gain a deeper perspective and help us to comprehend why the proscription against kindling a fire on the Sabbath is made here, in Exodus 35:3, the only place we could find this prohibition.
    Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.
    Let us trace events that led up to this enigma.
Leaving Egypt
Israel became a nation Passover night when Pharaoh separated both Moses and his people from the Egyptians. For the first time Pharaoh recognized the Israelites when he told Moses to take the people and their cattle with all their belongings and leave Egypt:
    And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, [and] get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve [Yahweh], as ye have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also. (Ex 12:31-32 AV)
    We all know the account of Israel passing through the sea where they were freed of Egypt, and joyfully sang the song of Moses telling of Yahweh’s great victory over Pharaoh and his army. Israel then was promised manna each morning and quail in the evening at twilight, as we see in Exodus chapter 16. The manna and the quail continued for 40 years as Yahweh faithfully guided Israel toward the Promised Land. Those 20 years of age or more died off leaving a generation of younger Israelites to cross over the Jordan and settle in their homeland.
    Humankind learns spiritual lessons from physical acts. In Exodus chapter 16 we read that Yahweh will deliver manna in the morning and quail in the evening. Nothing is said so far that the seventh day is to be kept as a Sabbath of rest. The point was made, however, there would be no deliveries of bread or birds on the weekly Sabbaths.
    The experiences that follow are a part of the education and training needed by Israel to become the model nation for the world. Note the synopsis of the following chapters:
    Exodus 17 tells of Israelites murmuring over lack of water which came when Moses struck a rock, plus Israel’s victory over the Amalekites by Joshua, the son of Nun. Yahweh demonstrates He is protecting and guiding faithless Israel while providing for their needs.
    Chapter 18: Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, urges Moses to select capable men to serve as judges except in difficult cases. Yahweh apparently approved of organizing judges and chiefs to maintain order and settle disputes.
A Kingdom of Priests
Israel arrived at Mount Sinai in chapter 19 and camped in the nearby desert. Here Yahweh reminded them of their deliverance, and offered to make Israel a kingdom of priests and be His treasured nation, to which Israel readily agreed.
    It is important to note the events that transpired as Moses led the people toward the Promised Land. Yahweh provided protection, manna, water, everything they needed. Thus, when Yahweh proposed a covenant with Israel, these freed slaves simply could not refuse:
    And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which [Yahweh] commanded him. (Ex 19:7 AV)
    Yahweh speaks the Ten Commandments in chapter 20 from the smoking, dreadful, fiery, dark, tremulous Mount Sinai. It was a chilling experience and the display of awesome power frightened the gathered Israelites:
    And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw [it], they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not [Yahweh] speak with us, lest we die. (Exo 20:18-19 AV)
    It is here at the mount that Israel is told of the sanctity of the Sabbath. No work is to be done, for it is a sanctified time. There must be a reason that the Sabbath is mentioned more often than any other commandment. Was it because as slaves they were surrounded by many pagan deities that were a part of Egypt’s culture and the heathen customs were hard for Israel to overcome?
A Day of Rest
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work But the seventh day [is] the Sabbath of Yahweh [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that [is] within thy gates: For [in] six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them [is], and rested the seventh day: wherefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Ex 20:8-11 AV)
    Chapters 21 to 23 of Exodus show various applications of the “Ten Words” such as the relationship with servants, personal injuries, property and social responsibility, justice and mercy and the annual Feast days as well as the weekly Sabbath. Here we learn of expected relationships and attitudes the people of Yahweh are to develop to be in accord with Yahweh’s will.
Yahweh’s Covenant Ratified
It is in Exodus 24 that Yahweh’s proposed covenant was ratified by Israel. All the people had to do was to obey, and to this they readily agreed. Moses wrote the foregoing readings in a book, then read it to the people who joyfully agreed to abide by the Covenant.
    Moses then sprinkled blood on the “Book of the Covenant,” on the altar and on the people, who again said they would obey and then voluntarily added they would be obedient to whatever else Yahweh would ask. This was the first Pentecost, the ratifying of the Covenant. In the New Testament we read that the Holy (Setapart) Spirit came to earth to remain here at Pentecost (Acts 2) to enable humankind to keep the Covenant.
    Exodus 25 opens with a calling for offerings to begin construction of Yahweh’s Tabernacle. For 40 years the Tabernacle would be the center of Israel’s life. As you remember, much wealth was given to the departing Israelites by the Egyptians who wanted them to leave post haste. Now Israel was asked to donate a part of their booty for construction of a house to worship Yahweh. Specific instructions on how to worship Yahweh were given as well as His expectations of Israel as He promised to dwell among them:
    And they shall know that I [am] [Yahweh their Elohim] that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I [am] Yahweh their Elohim. (Ex 29:46 AV)
Keep the Sabbath
The following chapter (30) details the needed items for the Tabernacle, such as the laver,the ark,table, utensils, lampstand, anointing oil, perfume, furniture with Bezalel and Oholiab given a special spirit of comprehension and skill. Then follows a lengthy explanation about the importance of the Sabbath, that it is a sign between Yahweh and His people:
    Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, [for] a perpetual covenant. It [is] a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for [in] six days [Yahweh] made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. (Ex 31:16-17 AV)
    Chapter 31 of Exodus ends with Yahweh’s giving Moses the two tables of stone upon which Yahweh Himself had written the Ten Commandments.
    But now we see something is rotten in the camp of Israel! Chapter 31 is but 18 verses with emphasis on construction and making specialty items for the Tabernacle and specific attention to making of the ark of the covenant. Special mention is made here concerning the importance of the Sabbaths:
    And [Yahweh] spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it [is] a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that [ye] may know that I [am] Yahweh that doth sanctify you. 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. (Ex 31:12-14 AV)
Time and Space
The JPS Torah Commentary, commenting on the above verses, states:
    “The Tabernacle enshrines the concept of the holiness of space; the Sabbath embodies the concept of the holiness of time. The latter takes precedence over the former, and the work of the Tabernacle must yield each week to the Sabbath rest.”
    The JPS Torah Commentary points out that observing the Sabbath is considered even more binding than building a Tabernacle in which Yahweh meets with His people! Yahweh dwells in that spirit realm and can see the end from the beginning. We should observe the Sabbath rest fully even when occupied in a task that will glorify Yahweh such as building a Tabernacle for His worship. Keep your mind on spiritual thoughts. Make full use of the Sabbath, for time soon slips away and the time thereof is lost. Don’t allow other activities to steal time from the Sabbath for it is a sign for all time between Yahweh and His people. Make the Sabbath a delight.
Yahweh’s Presence Withdrawn
When the children of Israel realized that Moses had not returned from the Mount, they went to Aaron demanding he make them a golden calf, which violated the covenant, chapter 32. Construction of the Tabernacle and ancillary items was apparently halted. The Levites rallied with Moses. Moses prays for the people and dissuades Yahweh from destroying Israel, Exo.32:11-14, and repeats again in verses 30 34. Yahweh is angry and a plague follows.
    Tent of Meeting is set up outside the camp. Chapter 33 Moses sees only the backside of Yahweh. No wearing of finery from Mount Horeb onward.
    Moses prepares new stone tablets for re-writing the 10 Words of the Covenant in chapter 34:28, reaffirming the Covenant, with emphasis on work six days, and rest on the Seventh day, and annual Sabbaths, and Jubilees. When returning down the mount the face of Moses was radiant. Chapters 32, 33, and 34 now bring us back on track by emphasizing that progress was interrupted in building the Tabernacle, but it will now proceed.
Kindling a Fire
The second set of stone tablets evidently indicate a renewal of the Covenant in chapter 35 and the construction of the Tabernacle can again proceed:
    And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These [are] the words which Yahweh hath commanded, that [ye] should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a Sabbath of rest to Yahweh: whoso-
ever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day. (Ex 35:1-3 AV)
    Note the following verse from chapter 31:15 is practically verbatim with the above verses, specifically the underlined verse 35:2. This shows a resumption of the Tabernacle construction. Thus, we see that chapters from 31, including 32, 33, and 34, until chapter 35, construction had apparently stopped. The builders likely were eager to get back to work again. Yahweh, knowing this cautioned Israel not to kindle a fire while it was still the Sabbath, verse 3.
    Six days may work be done; but in the seventh [is] the Sabbath of rest, holy to Yahweh: whosoever doeth [any] work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. (Ex 31:15 AV)
    There is an added message that we want to examine which was not in the first command from Yahweh, namely verse 3:
    You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day!
    This statement has been studied and discussed through the ages. Because it says Israel was not to kindle a fire, some Rabbis taught one could add fuel to an already burning flame. Others felt a new fire, henceforth, was not to be started under any circumstances. Some Bible readers comply by shutting off all their electricity for the 24 hours of the Sabbath. They have frozen ice made for the refrigerator. Some go so far to ban driving an automobile because spark plugs ignite the gasoline. The list goes on. What is the answer? Does this verse apply to us today?
    The construction of the Tabernacle was in full swing. The Egyptians had loaded them down with materials, gold and silver, as well as cloth and coverings for their journey. Master craftsmen Bezalel and Oholiab, guided by Yahweh’s Spirit, were in a league of attainment by themselves. All Israel was consumed with having Yahweh’s Tabernacle completed and Yahweh Himself would be among them. They looked for the day when everything would be ready and in place. Already excitement was contagious.
Hot Fire Needed—The Key to the Puzzle
In His wisdom Yahweh emphasized the necessity of keeping the Sabbath as a complete rest for man and beast. It was only natural the people wanted to get the construction of the Tabernacle up and running. Surely the thought came to the people to get the fire started late on the Sabbath for the smelting of metals. When the sun did set a few hours later, the fires would be hot and the smelting of gold, silver and copper could begin.
    A fire hotter than usual was needed for smelting the metals of the copper, silver and gold for making rings, gold and silver sockets, copper clasps, and the gold sockets for the Tabernacle. In addition, the ark was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, inside and out, with two gold rings on each side and the cover was of pure gold as were the two cherubim. The bowls, ladles, jugs and jars were all made of pure gold including the menorah (lampstand). By now they would be aware of the wood that gave the hottest fire.
    Kindling a fire late on the Sabbath, a short time before sunset to get Yahweh’s Tabernacle completed, would be a natural thing to do. Kindling a fire on a late Sabbath afternoon would give a hot fire ready to start smelting metal as soon as the Sabbath ended. This is likely the reason for the command against starting a fire on the Sabbath.
    The Interpreter’s Bible note (page 1082) says, “For all the work you have planned you shall kindle no fire…on the Sabbath day,” making the fires refer to those needed for the work in metals (Beer, Exodus p.164).
    As pointed out earlier, Yahweh is more concerned with the worship time we spend with Him than He is with having a special space for His worship. Having a beautiful meeting hall is appealing to humankind. People are impressed with crystal cathedrals, lofty spires and carpeted floors and artisan windows. This is so true of many places where people gather to worship.
    Yahweh wants His called out ones to keep their thoughts on things above. Time is fleeting and steals away and cannot be recalled, but the project or space is still there. Some Bible examples are given us of encroaching on the day Yahweh has sanctified and set aside for His worship:
    • HARVESTING: “Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.” (Ex 34:21 AV)
• TREADING WINEPRESS, CARRYING GOODS: “In those days saw I in Judah [some] treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all [manner of] burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified [against them] in the day wherein they sold victuals.” (Ne 13:15 AV)
• BEARING BURDENS: “Thus saith Yahweh; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring [it] in by the gates of Jerusalem.” (Jer 17:21 AV)
• BUYING & SELLING: “Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?” (Am 8:5 AV)
• COLLECTING WOOD: “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.” (Nu 15:32 AV)
    Does this proscription concerning kindling a fire have any further precautions? Probably not, for this prohibition appears only here in Exodus 35. Had there been more to be said than the caution to observe the Sabbath, we would have ancillary instructions given us. So far we have only one witness. We need one or two more witnesses according to the following:
    In the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; [but] at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. (De 17:6 AV)
    This [is] the third [time] I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. (2Co 13:1 AV)
    He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. (Heb 10:28 AV) But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. (Mat 18:16)
    The question often raised is how does the proscription of kindling a fire affect us? It is obvious that we should not short change Yahweh on Sabbath time. He expects us to commune with Him and the brethren. It is to be a day of rest and revitalization. Enjoy the Sabbath and do not allow carnal things to interfere with this special day of spiritual refreshing. It was a one-time command to Israelites to keep their mind on heavenly things. Let us keep our thoughts on things of the Spirit as well.
-Elder Donald R. Mansager

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