NIV - 3 Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.
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This verse was a corollary of God's command to do no work on the Sabbath. Even prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 (which included the commandment to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8-11)), God had made clear to the nation of Israel that no work was to be done on the Sabbath. In Exodus 16, when God sent manna to the Israelites in response to their complaining to Moses about not having food to eat following their departure from Egypt, God gave them enough manna for each day. If the Israelites did not consume all the manna God had given them by the end of each day, the remainder became inedible. However, on the sixth day of each week, God sent twice as much manna as usual, so that the people would have enough to consume on the Sabbath day, and would not have to work by going out and gathering it. The manna left over from the sixth day remained fresh, and God did not send additional manna on the Sabbath. In addition, as commanded in Exodus 16:23, any baking or boiling of the manna that was sent on the sixth day (in preparation for eating it on the Sabbath) was to be done on the sixth day. If gathering of the manna, and the use of a fire in baking or boiling it, on the Sabbath were both explicitly prohibited as work, it would be logical that the intermediate step of kindling the fire itself on a Sabbath would also be prohibited. In giving the Ten Commandments, God indicated to Moses in Exodus 31 that the prohibition against working on the Sabbath was for the purpose of allowing the people to rest and to be refreshed from the work that they had performed on the other six days of the week. To perform any of these actions on the Sabbath would defeat that purpose. It would also be both a willful defiance of God's authority (in that it would place man in the position of knowing better than God what the purpose of the Sabbath was), as well as an indication of a lack of faith in God's ability to care for Israel. In the same way that God provided a "work-around" (so to speak) for the absence of manna on the Sabbath, the people themselves could structure their normal schedules and activities during the work week to assure that enough food and other necessities were available to tide them over on the Sabbath without having to perform work on the Sabbath itself. The same rationale would apply to the use of fire to provide heat and light. Fires could be lit prior to the beginning of the Sabbath for those purposes.
A very brief but to the point answer is that in making fire in THAT day required the perspiring job of either rubbing sticks or flintrocks together -- creating a genuinely laborious amount of physical LABOR -- work -- as any boyscout knows. Thus they built fires no later than Friday (sometimes it takes 2 hours to get a fire started) and they simply kept it going so it would not die out. TODAY some unthinking and less-than-smart people assume the restriction includes turning up the thermostat on a cold day MISSING THE WHOLE POINT of what "work" is. A cigarette lighter creates fire also but requires LESS work than putting a heavy log on the fire to keep one going in Biblical times and is therefore not breaking the Sabbath.
Great question, Raul! Lighting a fire takes work! First, you have to carry wood and then rub sticks together for the friction to begin a flame. That's enough work in itself!
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