Does YHVH want us to freeze in the dark on the Sabbath?

Exodus 35:2, The seventh day … shall be … a set-apart day. In our journey through the Torah, the subject of the seventh day Sabbath keeps popping up. When YHVH said in Exodus 20:8 to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it set-apart (Heb. kadosh),” he keeps reminding them of it so that they won’t forget it! What does this tell us about the importance YHVH places on the weekly Sabbath? With each reminder, he gives additional instructions about how to keep the Sabbath (see Gen 2:2–3; Exod 16:23–30; 20:8–11).

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Exodus 35:3, Kindle no fire…on the Sabbath day. There are several prevailing viewpoints as to the exact meaning of this passage. Let’s explore them.

The Orthodox Jews take literally the Torah’s prohibition to kindle no fire on the Sabbath. As such, many do not even turn on a light switch or start their cars (i.e., fire in the spark plugs) on the Sabbath for fear of violating this command. To counter balance this viewpoint, the Torah does indicate that the priest lit the menorah in the tabernacle each morning, the Sabbath not excluded (Exod 27:21–21; 30:7). So, for ministry purposes, lighting a fire seems not to be prohibited.

There is also the viewpoint that since the next verse (Exod 34:4) begins YHVH’s instructions to build the tabernacle, the immediate context of the Sabbath-fire passage has to do with not starting fires that pertain only to one’s trade or job—in Israel’s case, their job was the building of the mishkan. Fires would have been needed for tanning hides, working with metal, and possibly bending wood and dying cloth along with other activities.

This we know for certain. On the Sabbath, YHVH’s people are not to bake, cook or prepare food from scratch (Exod 16:23), but reheating food seems not to be prohibited—something that is even permitted in Orthodox Jewish circles today. What is the bottom line issue here? We are to cease creating on the Sabbath, and cooking food from scratch (as opposed to reheating) changes the chemistry of the food which constitutes creating something (i.e., transforming something from its original state into another state). So fires for cooking would have been prohibited, to be sure. Food must be prepared ahead of time on the sixth day.

Is this Torah command forbidding the lighting of fires for heat and light? Some would say yes, since part of preparing for the Sabbath involves insuring that your heating fire and lights will stay burning through the Sabbath without having to relight them. Was this always possible in ancient times? That’s a question we’ll explore below.

For one thing, it is doubtful that YHVH would have expected his hapless people to sit in the cold darkness on the Sabbath should their fire have gone out—especially in the winter months when the days are shorter and colder, and when snow and cold rain are realities. This would result in the loss of the delight of the day, which, in itself, is a violation the Sabbath (Isa 58:13).

The harsh realities of life in a primitive agrarian culture are evident. The ancient Israelites, obviously, didn’t possess electric or gas push-button heat or lights. If YHVH forbad them from lighting a fire for heat and light purposes, then they would have had to start a fire on Friday before sundown and keep it burning all night and through the Sabbath. This means that if the fire happened to go out during the night because someone slept too soundly and didn’t wake up to add wood to the fire or olive oil to their small terra cotta lamps (which burned only for a short time), then they would either sit in the cold and dark on the Sabbath, or they’d have to fetch some coals from a neighbor who hadn’t let their fire go out. The Israelite who lived in town had another option as well. Often in towns, there were public ovens built into the earth with clay cooking tubes for baking bread. For those who lived nearby, they could bring back some embers from these public ovens to restart their home fires (Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, pp. 47–48, by Fred H. Wight).

In modern times, for those who heat their homes with a wood stove, the most energy efficient home-sized wood stove will burn only for six to eight hours if one has access to hardwoods (like oak, maple or fruitwood) as fuel. Despite one’s best efforts to keep the stove burning all night and the house warm, at times the fire goes out. In the land of Israel, large hardwood trees aren’t prevalent. In ancient times, if they had been, no doubt several million Israelites constantly foraging for hardwood to keep their fires burning would have quickly depleted the region of trees—especially in that arid land where trees grow slowly. In reality, the Israelites were more likely to have used sticks (1 Kgs 17:10), thorn bushes, bundles of dried grass (Matt 6:30; Luke 12:28), charcoal (John 18:18; 21:9 Williams) or dried dung for fire fuel (Ezek 4:15; Ibid., p. 30). Furthermore, warming fires were often built in courtyards (John 18:18). Such fires don’t burn long. At the same time, making fire wouldn’t have been an easy process either, since this was accomplished by rubbing sticks together or by striking flint and steel (Ibid. p. 31).

For sure we know that in days before matches, lighters, push-button furnaces, lights and stoves, starting and maintaining a fire wasn’t a simple task. At the same time, it seems that YHVH wouldn’t have expected the Sabbath to end up becoming a miserable, weekly lesson in wilderness survival in having many of his servants freeze to death in the darkness on this day of joyful rest because their fires went out. He did, however, expect his people to make every possible effort to prepare for the Sabbath ahead of time to keep it from being just another day of laborious work (Exod 16:23). However, this author finds it hard to believe that the Torah forbids starting a fire for heat and light if necessary—especially during the winter months. Therefore, I maintain that starting fires for work purposes was forbidden, but for heat and light purposes, if unavoidable, was permitted.

 

11 thoughts on “Does YHVH want us to freeze in the dark on the Sabbath?

  1. Greeting! I was actually reading this earlier today as I began studying the portion for next Shabbat! Regarding the cooking, baking etc vs re-heating. I do not have clarity on this yet so am not arguing the point at all, and actually try to do this ,but have had a thought about it that may or may not be relevant. So………Ex 16:23. Clearly the 7th Day portion is gathered on Day 6. I am unclear (have read every version I can find!) if the amount left over is before or after it was baked or boiled. Everyday they gathered an amount and on the one day they gathered double. Did they cook it all or did they cook what they needed for that day and saved the remaining to be prepared the next day? Specifically it says that it didn’t spoil and that wouldn’t even need to be said if it was cooked, right? Only the raw would encourage spoiling…….? Is it possible that the gathering (purchasing?) is what is prohibited and that preparing what you have already gathered and set aside is ok? I am not talking about cake baking here! I mean as in cooking a simple meal………eggs & veggies, making a salad, and perhaps more involved…………..but not recipes, just cooking. Whacha think?

    • I don’t know that I really have any good answers for you about the manna. The Jews teach that cooking that causes chemical reactions to occur and thus a change in the molecular structure of the food is a creative act, and is thus prohibited. YHVH set us the example by resting on the Sabbath from his creative activities, and we are to follow his example. Reheating already cooked food isn’t considered a creative act.

      Beyond that, the main point of the Sabbath is to rest and to spend time drawing closer to YHVH. The more time we spend preparing food, the less time we have for him. Therefore, it behooves us, and is to our great benefit, to prepare ahead of time as much as is possible so we can enjoy the true purpose of the Sabbath. The details of how we achieve this are for us to work out with the Father.

      • I assume that the “fire” referred to here is the Holy Spirit, frequently referred to as fire. The Sabbath is the end of this age, when we rest in Christ’s work for us.
        Therefore, this passage is saying that there will no need to “walk in the Holy Spirit” (i.e. kindle a fire) when “time is no more” because God will dwell among us!

      • Let’s be careful about overly allegorizing Scripture or else we can make the Scriptures say whatever we want. Primarily, fire means literal fire. Once we establish this basic hermeneutic, then, we can carefully draw some spiritual, allegorical insights out of the basic truth of the Scripture.

        Next point, the Sabbath isn’t primarily the end of the age when we rest in Messiah as Christianity teaches. The writer of Hebrews (chapter 4) likens the Sabbath to the rest the Israelites found when they came into the Promised Land of the physical inheritance. Yes, in a sense, when one puts their faith in Yeshua, they have found their rest from the struggles of life, but only to a certain extent. We won’t have complete rest until the Millennium of which the weekly Sabbath is a spiritual and prophetic picture.

        For example, in ancient times, Moses found rest in the Presence of Elohim when he went into the tabernacle under the glory cloud, but he was still in the wilderness. They hadn’t reached the Promised Land yet. Similarly, the individual believer finds spiritual rest in Yeshua even though we’re still trekking through the wilderness of life en route to the promised land of eternal life in YHVH’s millennial kingdom leading to eternity beyond.

        Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is still guiding us now even as the pillar of fire led the Israelites through the wilderness. Once in the Promised Land, YHVH led his people by the Torah and the prophets, which is the Word and Spirit of Elohim. We’re still led today by the Word and Spirit of Elohim. In the Millennium, the Spirit will still leading people in the paths of righteousness. Go read Isaiah 30:21.

    • [Exo 16:23 He said to them, “This is that which the YHVH has spoken, ‘Tomorrow is a solemn rest, a holy Shabbat to the YHVH . Bake that which you want to bake, and boil that which you want to boil; and all that remains over lay up for yourselves to be kept until the morning.”

  2. Not to far from where I live a woman lost 3 of her 4 children in a fire from a hot plate, she said it was the Sabbath so she could kindle no fire leaving the hot plate on…

  3. Oh, dear. This is one of the big dicussions in Torah Observant homes. There will always be extremes on any topic. The Shabbat, being so cental to our desire to please YHVH, lends itself to all of them.
    The way I read it, at the time of the writing, the Hebrews had one “JOB”, to build the Tabernacle of YHVH, His own dwelling, place of connection with them. But even that was to cease on Shabbat. Don’t even plan ahead for the next day. Because the Tabernacle itself was just a Shadow of the relationship He had in mind. They labored six days looking forward to the day they could rest in Him.
    The whole week is a joyful anticipation of the day we get to stop………….and rest. Give your hands a time to reach out and touch family and friends, your feet a time to walk slow and quit paths, your heart a time to listen… to just Him.
    As a senior and a woman, however, I have found it very difficult to “set apart a day of rest”, I don’t work the six. Do I still need a seventh? I do. But how do I express and enjoy?
    I would love to hear from others in my place who have found ways to make the Shabbat a delight. thanks

    • Hi Vicki!! I think you work and just don’t realize it……..you make the bed and do laundry and wash dishes and clean house and plan and prepare meals and shop for them……..and pay bills and run errands…… You “work” more than you realize! Perhaps schedule ahead to have everything done by sundown on Shabbat. Plan to have a nice meal ready and enjoy a glass of wine with it……….then perhaps watch a teaching or read the word. Fellowship with others on the DAY of Shabbat and enjoy the things you prepared to eat ahead of time. You might use fancy paper plates that you can throw out to mark the difference from a meal that requires a lot of clean up!

  4. I have to say I do agree with you Natan on this. My husband and I have gone over this several times we have now laid it to rest in Yehovah thru Yeshua. I believe his grace and mercy comes into place in the areas when we fall short or possibly miss the mark on his instructions; in Yeshua’s name in this Renewed Covenant. Shalom and Blessings

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