1 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. 2 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. 3 You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” 4 Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. 5 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; 6 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, 7 tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, 8 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 9 and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 10 “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded: 11 the tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its hooks and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 12 the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the veil of the screen; 13 the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light; 15 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; 16 the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin and its stand; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords; 19 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.”
Have you ever heard of Shabbat candles? A helpful article at a website dedicated to Jewish practice and issues explains what they are.
We usher in the peace and sanctity of Shabbat by lighting candles every Friday evening and on the eve of Jewish holidays. The candles bring peace into our homes, and add light and warmth to a world that sometimes feels dark and cold.
The candles are lit eighteen minutes before sunset. Some communities, such as those in Jerusalem, have the custom of lighting the candles and bringing in the Shabbat earlier. In that case, light the candles as per your community custom.
The earliest one may light the Shabbat candles is plag haminchah on Friday afternoon…The latest you may light the candles is just before sunset; after sunset, Shabbat has begun even if you have not lit the candles, and handling or lighting a flame is a desecration of the Shabbat and forbidden…
The mitzvah of lighting candles has been given especially to women, the mainstays of the Jewish home, but it is an obligation for every home, and if no woman over bat mitzvah is present to light, the candles are lit by the man of the home…
After you’ve lit the candles, do not put out the match. Rather, drop it on a fireproof surface or give it to someone who has not yet accepted Shabbat.
Use your hands to shield your eyes from the flames and recite the blessing while your eyes are covered.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אַדֹנָ-י אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל שַׁבָּת קֹדֶשׁ
Transliteration: Baruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olam A-sher Ki-de-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-tav Ve-tzi-va-nu Le-had-lik Ner Shel Sha-bbat Ko-desh.
Translation: Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the holy Shabbat.
The time of candle-lighting is considered particularly auspicious for private prayer. Women have traditionally prayed, as they stand with eyes closed, for health, happiness, children who will illuminate the world with Torah, and the ultimate Redemption which will be ushered in by the Messiah. Girls, too, offer their own prayers at this special moment, as they discover the beauty of a practice which will enlighten their entire lives.
Uncover your eyes, gaze at the Shabbat lights and greet your family with “Good Shabbos” or “Shabbat Shalom.”
Once you light the candles and recite the blessing, you have accepted Shabbat. As fire is muktzeh (set aside, and forbidden to move) on shabbat, the candles and candlesticks may not be moved until the conclusion of Shabbat.
It is a fascinating custom, and one that sounds quite beautiful and moving. The conclusion of the article explains that the candles are lit before the Sabbath and the candles are not moved until after the Sabbath. This is because of the beginning verses of Exodus 35, a passage in which the importance of Sabbath observance is expressed once again and a passage that serves as a transition into instructions for building the tabernacle. As such, it is a very important passage and one that is strategically placed.
The Sabbath was foundational to Israel’s identity.
Repetition is one of the ways that the Bible highlights very important truths. The fact that Sabbath observance alone is re-articulated just before a long section on tabernacle construction should catch our attention.
1 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. 2 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. 3 You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”
This passage begins with Moses gathering the people of Israel together and then reminding them that “on the seventh day” they were to observe “a Sabbath of solemn rest.” This phrase is actually a repetitive use of the word “Sabbath,” for “solemn rest” also means “Sabbath.” This repetition has been understood in many different ways, as the great commentator Matthew Henry has explained.
It is a sabbath of sabbaths (so some read it), more honourable and excellent than any of the other feasts, and should survive them all. A sabbath of sabbatism, so others read it, being typical of that sabbatism or rest, both spiritual and eternal, which remains for the people of God, Heb. iv. 9. It is a sabbath and a little sabbath, so some of the Jews would have it read; not only observing the whole day as a sabbath, but an hour before the beginning of it, and an hour after the ending of it, a little sabbath, to show how glad they are of the approach of the sabbath and how loth to part with it.
Regardless of how exactly this is understood, the profound significance of the Sabbath is clearly being pressed in these words. Moses offers an explanation as to why this is so: the Sabbath is “holy to the Lord.” What this means is that the Sabbath was foundational to Israel’s existence and identity. This commandment is not being elevated above the others in terms of holiness. All the commandments of God are holy. Rather it is being signaled out because it has a unique and orienting quality about it. In certain unique ways the Sabbath oriented the children of Israel Godward. The importance of the Sabbath is yet further emphasized by the addition of two strong statements:
- Anybody who violated the Sabbath was to be put to death.
- Nobody was to light a fire in their homes on the Sabbath. (This is where the tradition of Shabbat candles comes from.)
The threat of the death penalty can sound unsettling to our ears. Yet we must understand once again the absolute necessity for Israel to orient itself to God’s plans, to God’s holiness, and to God’s sense of time and the rhythms of life. Israel would be entering the Promised Land, a land of promised blessing but also a land of great obstacles and threats. These words, though hard sounding to us, were instituted for Israel in order to impress upon them the fact that they could not hope to survive if they turned from the foundational tenets of their God. Yet the warning was not merely a deterrent. Their obedience was to spring not only from fear of the consequences of disobedience but also from their love of the God who had kept faith with them.
The restriction against fire on the Sabbath is quite interesting and also quite curious. Why would God not allow anyone to light a fire on the Sabbath? William Propp, who argues that “exactly what Exodus 35:3 forbids…is not entirely clear” since “the injunction…could be rendered as either ‘do not kindle’ or ‘do not permit to burn,” has written helpfully of why the prohibition on fire might have been stated at this point. He proposes the following:
- “Perhaps, for them as for us, ‘hearth and home’ were a natural pair, the former capable of representing the latter. Tending the fire would then be the domestic labor par excellence—though, admittedly, not all Israelite houses had hearths…”
- “Second, combustion may be inherently inimical to Sabbath rest. Fox…comments, ‘This prohibition perhaps reflects the anthropological use of fire as a transforming force in culture…Since the Shabbat was apparently to be static in nature, or at least transformative of time alone, fire (which by its nature causes chemical changes) could not be employed.’”
- “Third, making light is the first and quintessential act of Creation. To desist from making light would then be the opposite of Creation, i.e., to rest…”
Douglas Stewart has offered another proposal:
- “The answer is that the simplest sort of work that anyone might be tempted to do on the Sabbath…was cooking meals. It would be easy for any Israelite to rationalize that cooking a meal would clearly be allowed since eating was not itself prohibited as work; indeed, eating on the Sabbath had been divinely provided for already through the double supply of manna each sixth day…”
There is, in truth, merit in all of these suggestions, though I find the proposal regarding the creation of light as the first act of creation particularly insightful. Regardless, the point is clear: the children of Israel were to go absolutely above and beyond to make sure that they honored what God honored and that their lives were firmly grounded in His divinely established rhythms.
As we will see, the Sabbath made a particular statement about time and God’s Lordship over it. To keep Sabbath was to acknowledge that God was Lord of all time and, as such, Lord of every aspect of the lives we live within time!
On this side of the cross, we observe the Sabbath as it has been interpreted for us in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, He who referred to Himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” in these startling words from Matthew 12:
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
We interpret and understand the Sabbath under the tutelage of Christ Jesus, the lord of the Sabbath. It must be observed at this point that following Jesus clearly does not mean rejecting the Sabbath. Jesus does not come to abolish the law. However, Jesus does come to fulfill the law, to show us the very heart and essence of it. While the question of how Christians are to observe the Sabbath is one that has been debated for two thousand years, one very much hopes that it can be agreed that the life and teachings and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the definitive interpretive lenses through which we now view it. We should, in other words, observe the Sabbath as Jesus observed it: honoring it as a precious gift of God to be offered back to God in rest, worship, joy, and love.
The Sabbath and the Tabernacle speak of the totality of the Lordship of God.
There is a further point to be made and it concerns the location of this Sabbath re-articulation here on the doorstep of tabernacle construction instructions. Consider the words that follow this Sabbath section:
4 Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. 5 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; 6 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, 7 tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, 8 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 9 and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 10 “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded: 11 the tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its hooks and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 12 the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the veil of the screen; 13 the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light; 15 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; 16 the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin and its stand; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords; 19 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.”
The Sabbath section is not situated where it is by accident. It is, in fact, a preface to or introduction to these detailed instructions on the building of the tabernacle. But why? Why are the Sabbath and the tabernacle linked by proximity in this way? Old Testament scholar Peter Enns has made a very interesting point about how these two go hand-in-hand.
Finally, the reference to the Sabbath at the end of the first part of the tabernacle section has further significance beyond that of continuing the connection of Exodus to creation. The building of the tabernacle, as we have seen, is a microcosm of the created world—heavenly order amid earthly chaos. It is true sanctuary where Israel continually experiences its connection to their God, who brought them out of Israel. The tabernacle is like no other place on earth. It is built according to a divine plane to reflect a heavenly reality. It is a piece of holy ground.
To put it another way, the tabernacle is holy space. The Sabbath, by contrast, is holy time. By building the tabernacle and setting apart one day in seven, God is truly recreating heaven in space and time. Weekly Sabbath worship is on holy ground in holy time. There is no more holy spot on the face of the earth than the tabernacle on the Sabbath.
This is very well said! By linking a commandment on Sabbath observance to instructions on tabernacle construction, Exodus 35 is making a statement about the sovereignty of God over time and space, “holy time” and “holy space,” to use Enns’ words.
The Sabbath and the tabernacle speak of the totality of the Lordship of God.
In other words, Israel was to recognize God’s presence in their time, how they lived their lives, and in sacred space, where and how they worshipped. In worshiping in the tabernacle on the Sabbath, they were saying that God is Lord of heaven and earth and that there is no aspect of their lives cut off from His presence. In Psalm 139, the psalmist recognizes this fact when he writes:
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
He is Lord of all time! He is Lord of all space! And He calls us to the sacred act of worship to remember and celebrate those great facts.
Once again, for the Christian, we understand this through Jesus Christ. We gather to worship on “the first day of the week,” for it is the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, a fact attested to in Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1, all four gospels. We gather to worship on the first day of the week because this was the early church’s practice in light of the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 20:7).
Even so, as we worship Jesus Christ, we do so for the same reason that Israel was instructed to do so in Exodus 45: to recognize the utter and complete Lordship of God on High, to recognize that all of life is to be lived in the light of His presence and glory and majesty.
Exodus 45 is there to remind us, as it reminded Israel, that all we do, whether building tabernacles or working at our jobs, is to be done as acts of worship to God. Life, in this way, becomes a hallelujah to the goodness and the awesomeness of God in Christ.
 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), 112.
 William H.C. Propp, Exodus 19-40. The Anchor Bible. Vol.2A. (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2006), p.659-660.
 Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. The New American Commentary. Vol 2. Gen. Ed., E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), p.749.
 Peter Enns, Exodus. The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), p.174.