Bible Commentary: Exodus 35:1-36:1

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Exodus 35:1-36:1

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No Fire on the Sabbath? 

Chapter 35 begins with instruction about the weekly Sabbath. God said, “You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day” (verse 3). A long-held Jewish interpretation is that it is wrong to start any fire on the Sabbath, such as a fire in a fireplace or just lighting a match. On the basis of this verse, some even argue that it is not permissible on the Sabbath to light a stove, turn on an oven or use any electrical device with a heating element, such as a hairdryer. Others go so far as to say that we can’t start a car or even turn on a light switch on God’s weekly Holy Day.

Yet the context here is important. There certainly may be a need to limit personal fire usage—as major fire maintenance can certainly become a violation of the Sabbath if a great deal of obvious work is involved (for example, moving logs and chopping them up or a major gathering of sticks, such as that in Numbers 15:32 Numbers 15:32And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks on the sabbath day.
American King James Version×
). However, this passage, occurring at the beginning of Moses’ relaying of the instructions for building the tabernacle, is most likely referring to tabernacle construction. God, it appears, was telling them to not kindle industrial fires on the Sabbath—to melt silver or gold or forge other metals for the construction of the tabernacle. No doubt some minor smelting was done in individual homes, which was also forbidden by this proscription. Instead, all industry was to cease, even the special work of building the tabernacle, so people could give full attention to resting and worshiping God on the Sabbath as He commanded.

God has always wanted His weekly Sabbath day to be a blessing and a delight to us (Isaiah 58:13-14 Isaiah 58:13-14 [13] If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: [14] Then shall you delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.
American King James Version×
), not an intolerable burden as some would later make it out to be through their focus on overly restrictive rules. However, there are certainly general rules we should follow. For instance, as a general rule we must not be conducting our regular business on the Sabbath or using the Sabbath as a time to plan our regular work. Moreover, the Sabbath is not a time for sports and personal hobbies. Instead, the Sabbath is a time to focus on our relationship with God.


Supplementary Material: To learn more about God’s Sabbath download our free booklet, Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest.

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