The Sabbath Fire
The Sabbath was a day set aside by God as a day of rest but it also reaches forward to encompass the design of selflessness and reflection on the glories of our Heavenly Father, while affording a fleeting glimpse of His Kingdom to come.
The Sabbath, as we know, was a day set aside by God as a day of rest. Indeed, it was instituted to reflect a far-reaching example that is filled with deep meaning,
On the surface, it was a day of rest from the weary tasks of everyday life that one faces week by week. But it also reached forward to encompass the design of selflessness and reflection on the glories of our Heavenly Father, while affording a fleeting glimpse of His Kingdom to come. Of the many passages and references we find throughout the Scriptures there is one that stands out with a curious feature. Exodus 35:2-3 reads,
The mention of not kindling a fire seems to be injected almost in redundancy with regard to the previous verse. Yet we know that the Scriptures do not waste time on insignificant detail. There is limited space, and our Heavenly Father uses all of it with intricately, wonderful purpose. So, what may be a reason for this to be related at this juncture?
Fire was used in the home for heat and cooking. It does not seem that our Heavenly Father would ever intend for His children to starve or freeze.
As was noted above, perhaps this refers to an emphasis on not serving oneself but dedicating all ones’ efforts into contemplation and worship of our Creator. Truly, this must be part of the puzzle, but can that be all there is to it? If this is the case, then we do see a conflict arise when Jesus addresses this as a sole issue of meaning regarding what is meant by work on the Sabbath.
Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath day and was reproved by the ruler of the synagogue for working on the sabbath day. Jesus defends his action by stating,
He leaves his detractors speechless and ashamed of their apparent interpretation and application of Sabbath laws. Again in Mark’s record we read of the instance where the Pharisees denounced Jesus’ disciples for picking ears of grain to eat as they passed through a field (Mark 2:23-28).
They rightly interpret that they were allowed to glean according to the law (Lev 19:9- 10), but missed the mark entirely when applying the sabbath law regarding the prohibition of work. The astute reply that Jesus forwards is most telling,
If we apply this principle to the Sabbath law concerning the kindling of a fire on the Sabbath we begin to see that there must be something more intended. Fire was used in the home for heat and cooking. It does not seem that our Heavenly Father who is,
would ever intend for His children to starve or freeze. His laws are not enacted to be a burden to make our lives hard and difficult. A deeper meaning, therefore, must reside in the words of this passage.
Perhaps if we contemplate one of the significances of the overall import of the Sabbath, we can visualize an allegory pointing to the time of the Kingdom.
The six days leading up to the Kingdom period can represent the time from creation onward. The six days of creation point to this same understanding. Both of these periods lead to the Sabbath rest. Paul writes in Hebrews 4:1-11 about the Sabbath rest to come,
So the Sabbath comes to represent the time when God’s Kingdom will be established here on the earth through His Son Jesus. Viewed in this way, a light begins to be shed on the passage we are considering. One of the first things to understand is that Exodus 35:3 does not place a ban on having a fire. It is only a directive that prohibits a fire to be started.
Why is this little detail so significant? Though there is definitely a bit of work involved in starting a fire from scratch, can this be its only import? A search of other laws given to the children of Israel may begin to reveal a deeper meaning.
The law concerning the golden lampstand within the Holy Place in the tabernacle is a good place to start. The people and priests were directed to,
This symbolized, in part, the light of God’s word that was to shine at all times in their lives. If we apply this principle to the passage in 1 Samuel 3:2-3, the details now begin to come into focus. Israel at this time had neglected their worship and were losing their remembrance and understanding of God’s word. One of the jobs of the priesthood was to teach these principles to the people continually. However, we note that,
“And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see.”
(1 Sam 3:2). Eli, the High Priest, was “blind” in this duty. He could not “see” God’s word clearly anymore. As a result, “the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD.” (1 Sam 3:3). The symbol of the knowledge and wisdom associated with God’s word, was allowed to go out! Truly, the knowledge of God was dimming in the nation!
The symbol of the light of the knowledge and wisdom of God’s word is reiterated often throughout Scripture, but never so poignantly as when Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2. In Matthew 4:14-17, he applies the passage to Jesus, the great teacher, when he writes,
Jesus brought back the true knowledge and wisdom of his Father’s word in his teachings! Another item that was to burn continually was the incense within the tabernacle. The altar of incense was placed in the tabernacle in the Holy Place, before the veil that separated it from the Holy of Holies where the ark resided. Aaron was instructed to
The burning of the incense represented the prayers of the people which were to continually rise up to God. Indeed the Psalmist notes this when we read, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense.” (Psa 141:2). One of the most powerful citations, in my opinion, regarding this can be found in Revelation 8:2-4, which directly hearkens back to the tabernacle,
There was yet another item that was to burn continually which was the fire on the altar of sacrifice. Leviticus 6:9 states,
The NIV renders this passage, “and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Sacrifice was made as a recognition of sin and the need for forgiveness, without which the outcome was death. Paul, once again, states in his letter to the Romans,
The people were to continually acknowledge that they had a sinful nature, but that forgiveness was still possible by turning to their Heavenly Father in sincerity. Jesus’ sacrifice is a perpetual one that lasts for all time! Paul’s letter to the Hebrews brings this out in Romans 9:25-26,
Thus, the symbol burned continually, pointing to the perpetual forgiveness achieved in the death of our Lord and given to those who seek it! Now let’s turn back to the law of the Sabbath fire. If we apply the principles we have just considered, an amazing allegory unfolds.
If the Sabbath points ahead to the Kingdom, then the time for preparation for it is over. It is now too late to seek the knowledge and forgiveness that God has previously tried to offer. Consider the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.
The five wise virgins had prepared themselves for the bridegroom’s arrival by taking oil with them to continually give light. When he arrived, at an hour that none had anticipated, all ten “slumbered and slept” their lamps were still burning.
The five foolish had not prepared completely for his coming. They had their lamps, but without preparing more fuel the lamps went out. They scrambled to replenish the oil. Yet when they feel that they now have amassed enough they hear those fateful words from the other side of the door now closed to them, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”
As a digression, two other parables are recorded in this same chapter. Matthew appears to have done this with purpose. The next parable is the parable of the talents (v. 14-30). All the servants were given funds to use by their Lord, yet only two use them and are rewarded for it. The third neglected his and was condemned!
One layer of meaning is that God does give us tools to use in His service. Some more than others and all different, but all are given them. We will never be right in stating at the seat of judgment that we were never able to work in God’s service during our lifetime because we never had the ability and talent to do so.
The third parable in the chapter depicts the Judgment Seat itself (v. 31-46). Two groups of people are noted, some on the Judge’s right hand and some on his left, i.e., the sheep and the goats respectively. Those on the right are told that they had done well in his service and hear those wonderful words,
Our preparation for the Kingdom is now.
These people are astonished because they did not even realize what they had done. They had dedicated their lives in everyday service in a way that was second nature to them. This dedication was not viewed as work with pay, but a way of life in God’s service. The ones on the left, the goats, hear the resounding words of judgment,
They too are astounded because they thought they had worked throughout their lives in God’s service and now deserved recompense for time spent. The problem is that they had done these things in their own way, not in the way the Master had directed. Even though they thought they had done everything right, it was done as a burden and in their own way!
Linking these three together, a wonderful picture unfolds. Matthew has recorded that Jesus taught us to be ready for his return, that we have been given various abilities to work in God’s service, what we should be doing and the frame of mind we should have while approaching our service, for it is life itself!
So, then this little verse in Exodus 35 reveals quite an astonishing lesson. Our preparation for the Kingdom is now. We need to have our lampstands burning with the oil of God’s knowledge at all times, for all to see. We need to never forget to let our prayers cease from rising in words of comfort, assistance and praise! We need to continually seek forgiveness and realize that when we do it in sincerity, it is readily given.
We also can understand that this is a way of life that can be filled with peace and joy in God’s service. Each week when the Sabbath came round, it would be a gentle reminder of a time to come that was being prepared for every day.
Pity those poor individuals who forgot to keep their home fires burning and found them out on the Sabbath. As they sat in the cold and darkness feeling the shame of their neglect, seeing their neighbors who had prepared their fires. It would also be a stark reminder of what the portion was for those rejected from a future Kingdom. The lesson, though hard and humbling, would be one that they would not soon forget.
This would prepare them perhaps even more in the years that followed to never neglect their service but make it a way of life. Let us therefore, remember to keep our fires burning now. Paul’s words in Hebrews 2:3 serve as a gentle reminder,
We do not know the hour of our Lord’s return. We also do not know when this life will be over for any one of us. We do know however, that when either of those events take place, it will be too late! Let us sing with a renewed heart the words of Hymn 396, “Life is the time to serve our Lord, to do his will to learn His word; in death there is no power to know, far less in wisdom’s way to go.”
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