The Household of Faith – 1

“Once the architecture is taken into account, the text is not ridiculous but terrifying. It marches inexorably through the deep rhythm of the seven days with laser precision, stately deliberation, and omniscient vision. These words were breathed by the source of all breath.”

Part I – Picking Up Sticks

“You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:3)

Many Christians ignore, and atheists poke fun at, the weird bits of the Bible, as though these texts are primitive, distorted, or contrived. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that these texts are designed to choke the faithless, and to be chewed over, meditated upon by the faithful, that we might be changed.

Why was fire forbidden on the Sabbath? The first thing to do with any text is identify its context. No more treating Bible texts like fortune cookies, do you hear me?

Firstly, it is the first new commandment after a “new covenant” has been given. It follows the breaking of the “old covenant,” that is, the first pair of tablets after Israel’s sin with the golden calf, and the establishment of a “new covenant.”

The account of that sin is flanked by “Tabernacle” chapters. Before the sin are the chapters of instructions for the building of the tent of meeting. After the sin are the chapters concerning its actual construction. The golden calf is a “fiery” event at the center of the process, between the Word and the Flesh.

However, there is also fire at the end.

So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:33-35)

You might notice that the cloud covered the tent (external) and the glory filled the tent (internal). Here are the Old and New Covenants, external and internal Law. But the point is that the glory of the Lord did not fill the house until all the materials were donated, crafted and assembled.

The Tabernacle was a substitutionary model of the Lord’s people, their own tents being gathered around it in Numbers. At this point in Covenant history, the people themselves could not be filled with the glory. James Jordan observes that the timber poles of the court and the tent, “trees of righteousness” (having been cut down and “resurrected”, transferred from nature to culture) represented God’s people at one level, the Natural. Then the timber furnitures in the Holy Place, covered in gold, each one with an architectural “crown,” represent the glorified people of God at an even holier level, the Supernatural.

The Lampstand was a replica of the “burning bush” which was not consumed, but the entire tent was a gathering of wood which was not consumed by the fire of God. Moses, had he entered the tent, would have been consumed in this house which despised the flesh. The house was a picture of resurrection: a tree which remains evergreen, despite the cutting of the wood (Bronze Altar) and the most ferocious testing by fire (Lampstand), it was covered in a “cloud” of fragrant leaves, burial spices which could not die (unlike those which Adam and Eve used to hide themselves – Incense Altar).

So, what of the text? It follows the “Creation Week” order of the Tabernacle elements, which give us a clue as to its meaning. Once the architecture is taken into account, the text is not ridiculous but terrifying. It marches inexorably through the deep rhythm of the seven days with laser precision, stately deliberation, and omniscient vision. These words were breathed by the source of all breath.

Moses, with face veiled, was speaking as the mouth of the uncreated Word:

Moses (Day 1: Light & Darkness Divided – Ark of the Testimony)
assembled all the congregation (Day 2: Waters Divided – The Veil between heaven and earth)
of the people of Israel (Day 3a: Land & Sea Separated – The Four-Cornered Bronze Altar)
and said to them, (Day 3b: Grain & Fruit Plants – The Table of Firstfruits, the Face of a Righteous Adam)
“These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. (Day 4: Governing Lights – The Lampstand – Light of the Law)
Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. (Day 5: Flocks and Schools – Great Clouds of Witnesses)
Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. (Day 6: Land Animals and Man – Mediators)
You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” (Day 7)

We must learn these patterns. They are the manner in which God always speaks. Every splinter of the Bible is, as Peter Leithart commented, a lens through which the entire Bible is refracted. If we do know these patterns, we will see that the household fire not only corresponds with the filling of the Tabernacle with the Shekinah, but also with the Feast of Booths, otherwise known as Tabernacles, and Ingathering. The word “booths” literally means “clouds.” [1]

The feasts are not given until Leviticus 23, but the point of Booths was that every Israelite household, now purified after the Great Day (Atonement), would be a temporary Tabernacle, and Israel would minister to the nations. This is what the world would have been like had Adam not sinned. A man would leave his father and mother (now the dead stone tablets in the Ark [2]) and establish a new household of faith, yet filled with the Spirit given to faithful Adam in the Garden. [3] The entire world would be filled with lights, (much like those nighttime satellite photos), just like the stars in the sky. But the light would be Triune: Physical (Genesis 1), Social (Genesis 2) and Ethical (Genesis 2), a house of many dwellings (John 14:2), each in its own unique way a three-level house like the Tabernacle.

So, the significance of the prohibition goes beyond the labor necessary in those days to kindle a fire. The Sabbath, picturing our final rest, and the glorification of all nations, is the day when the only fire is that of God dwelling in all human flesh as evergreen burning bushes, trees of righteousness who are not consumed but animated by the Words of God. A household fire on the Sabbath was a strange fire, a sin against the entire congregation, much as any false religion, philosophy, ideology or heresy is a sin against all mankind, a fire that must be stamped out.

It seems that gathering kindling on the Sabbath instead of being “gathered” to God made one an idolater. One’s own household was usurping the household of God. In Numbers 15: 32-36, the people of Israel understood this. They judged with wisdom based on the stoicheia given them in Exodus 35. In this instance, they themselves became “transcendent words,” that is, self-governing. Israel was becoming the holy house which consumed the unholy within it.

Once again, an awareness of the structure of the text fills me with awe and terror. It follows the fivefold (closed scroll) pattern, yet the word of the Lord is sevenfold, a curse upon One Man that is the blessing of a new creation for all Israel. The Sanctions cycle and the entire cycle end with the phrase “outside the camp” in the place of Booths, or Shekinah. The strange fire, the false god entertained by this Adam, must be cast out. This “new commandment” would remind them to love their neighbors as themselves, as one household, a household of faith.

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. (Sabbath)
And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. (Passover)
They put him in custody, (Firstfruits)
because it had not been declared (Pentecost)
what should be done to him. (Trumpets)
SANCTIONS (Atonement)Numbers
And the Lord (Creation)
said to Moses, (Division)
“The Ish (Ascension – Head)
shall be put to death; (Testing)
all the congregation (Maturity – Body)
shall stone him with stones (Conquest)
outside the camp.” (Glorification)
And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses. (Booths)

Jesus was One Man, gathering timbers and sticks for kindling for His own house on the Sabbath.

“I came to cast fire on the Land, and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)

“The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” (John 10:31)

ART: Moses and the Burning Bush, Joe Moorman.

[1] See A Place Called Clouds.
[2] See Why Ten Words on Two Tablets?
[3] See Spirit of Adam 1 and 2.

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