I’m often amazed at how many doctrines of men are a result of verses in Scripture ripped from their immediate contexts. Sadly, so many are unaware that much of what they believe to be true is not supported in Scripture when rightly divided. This is why we need to test everything, studying to show ourselves approved.
There’s a familiar instruction in the Hebraic community to “kindle no fire” on the Sabbath day. The forbiddance of lighting candles and oil lamps, building campfires and heating homes, and cooking or heating food on the Sabbath stem from this particular instruction. However, this instruction is only found one time — in the book of Exodus.
Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” (Exo 35:1-3 ESV)
Is this verse telling us we are not allowed to light a dark place, heat a home, or cook a meal on the Sabbath day or is there something else going on here?
To better understand this instruction, let us read further, because evidently Moses has more to say on the subject.
Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. (Exo 35:4-9 ESV)
Moses calls for an offering to YHVH, and the first three things listed are gold, silver and bronze. He goes on to say…
“Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded: the tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its hooks and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the veil of the screen; the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light; and the altar of incense, with its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the door, at the door of the tabernacle; the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin and its stand; the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court; the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords; the finely worked garments for ministering in the Holy Place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests.” (Exo 35:10-19 ESV)
Moses also calls for every skillful craftsman to make things as commanded by YHVH. Earlier we were told YHVH instructed Moses on the mountain how to make these things, and much of them consisted of using the gold, silver and bronze. For example…
And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about. And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it. And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. (Exo 25:11-13 KJV)
And thou shalt make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for his two tenons, and two sockets under another board for his two tenons. And for the second side of the tabernacle on the north side there shall be twenty boards: And their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board. (Exo 26:19-21 KJV)
And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof: his horns shall be of the same: and thou shalt overlay it with brass. And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes, and his shovels, and his basons, and his fleshhooks, and his firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass. And thou shalt make for it a grate of network of brass; and upon the net shalt thou make four brasen rings in the four corners thereof. (Exo 27:2-4 KJV)
Clearly these metals were required for practically every aspect of the tabernacle and its furnishings, even the crafting of the priestly garments.
The following verses in chapter 35 indicate the kind of things people brought for these offerings.
Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the LORD. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the LORD’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD. (Exo 35:20-29 ESV)
In a later chapter we read an accounting of how much gold, silver and bronze used for the completed project was recorded by Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest (Exo 38:21-31). Given the fact that these offerings of metals consisted of brooches, earrings, signet rings, and armlets as well as other items, it was necessary for these metals to be melted down in order to use them. This would clearly require a fire.
Now, let’s go back to the opening statement and see what Moses is really saying there in light of the greater context.
Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do. Six days work (H4399 “melakah”) shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work (H4399 “melakah”) on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” (Exo 35:1-3 ESV)
He is reminding the Israelites of a command given by YHVH a few months prior…
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work (H4399 “melakah”), but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work (H4399 “melakah”), you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exo 20:8-10 ESV)
Also, this is the last thing YHVH told Moses after receiving the instructions concerning the tabernacle in chapters 25-31 before he came down the mountain.
And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'” And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (Exo 31:12-18 ESV)
The thrust of the command is to not do any work on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath to YHVH. YHVH clearly says, “whoever does any work on this day shall be put to death”, reiterating the issue at hand is the “work”.
What are the people getting ready to do starting in chapter 35? Are they not making preparations to work on constructing the tabernacle, by starting with a free-will offering?
And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. (Exo 35:21 ESV)
The word translated as “be used” in this verse is “melakah” (H4399), which is the “work” that is to be done in six days but forbidden on the seventh day. Here are some alternate translations…
And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the LORD’S offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. (Exo 35:21 KJV)
and they come in–every man whom his heart hath lifted up, and every one whom his spirit hath made willing–they have brought in the heave-offering of Jehovah for the work of the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. (Exo 35:21 YLT)
and they brought an offering to the Lord for all the works of the tabernacle of witness, and all its services, and for all the robes of the sanctuary. (Exo 35:21 Brenton)
But is this the only time “melakah” is mentioned as it pertains to the building of the tabernacle? Nope. In fact, it’s mentioned again, and again, and again in this chapter alone.
Every one that did offer an offering of silver and brass brought the LORD’S offering: and every man, with whom was found shittim wood for any work of the service, brought it. (Exo 35:24 KJV)
The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the LORD had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses. (Exo 35:29 KJV)
And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. (Exo 35:31-33 KJV)
Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work. (Exo 35:35 KJV)
It also appears ten more times in the next eight verses…
Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the LORD put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the LORD had commanded.
And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whose heart the LORD had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it: And they received of Moses all the offering, which the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the sanctuary, to make it withal. And they brought yet unto him free offerings every morning. And all the wise men, that wrought all the work of the sanctuary, came every man from his work which they made; And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make.
And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much. And every wise hearted man among them that wrought the work of the tabernacle made ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work made he them. (Exo 36:1-8 KJV)
I contend that the part of the instruction that says, “you shall kindle no fire” is specifically pertaining to the “work” they are getting ready to perform. In my opinion this command has nothing to do with lighting a dark place, heating a home or even cooking a meal. I don’t believe it even has to do with the exertion required to build a fire, rather I believe it has everything to do with the work of making the tabernacle and all its furnishings.
EDIT 5/31/16: I think it’s important to clarify what are the LORD’s words vs. Moses’ words.
We can see at the end of Exodus 31 (verse 12-18), just prior to Moses coming down the mountain to discover the children of Israel with the golden calf, it is recorded what YHVH told Moses concerning the Sabbath (See the full passage above). Notice, there is nothing that says, “Do not kindle a fire.”
When Moses speaks in Exodus 35:2-3, the words spoken in verse 2 relay what YHVH actually said in Exodus 31:15, whereas the words spoken in verse 3 do not appear anywhere else.
And the LORD said to Moses, “…Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death…” (Exo 31:12,15 ESV)
“Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2 ESV)
I believe Moses was expounding on what YHVH said, making it relevant to the immediate task at hand, that being the tabernacle construction project.