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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.
Read Time: 10 minutes

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,

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exod 20:11).

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,

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.”

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,

“Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:10-17).

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,

“Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:25-27).

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,

“merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation,” (Exod 34:6-7),

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,

“For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.”

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,

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, without the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall set it in order, to burn from evening to morning before the LORD; it shall be a statute forever throughout their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.” (Exod 27:20-21, compare. Lev 24:2-4).

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,

“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

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

“burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.” (Exod 30:7-8).

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,

“And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.”

There was yet another item that was to burn continually which was the fire on the altar of sacrifice. Leviticus 6:9 states,

“Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering: It is the burnt offering, because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be burning in it.”

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,

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:8).

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,

“Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

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,

“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”

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,

“Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”

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,

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”

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.”

Bruce Waite
Southern New Hampshire, NH

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