COOKING ON THE SABBATH Does Scripture Forbid it?

Kneading Dough
Exodus 16:23
23 And he said to them, “This is what יהוה has said, ‘Tomorrow is a rest, a Sabbath set-apart to יהוה. That which you bake, bake; and that which you cook, cook. And lay up for yourselves all that is left over, to keep it until morning.’ ” 

If we were to remove this text from its context we would arrive at a simplistic conclusion that would do away with the true meaning of the instruction. Out of context, it would seem that the Eternal is telling us to prepare our food before the Sabbath and to eat this food on the Sabbath day. We must read the Torah in context because , specially in this section of Scripture, the instructions and commands of the Eternal come coupled with events that have to be considered.
An example of not considering the context of an instruction is the command that prohibits the cutting of the hair on the temples or sides of the head. Some of our Jewish brothers obey this command to the letter but out of context. If we read the context of this instruction in the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 19:27) we would see that the context is that of mourning. In ancient times, when someone in the pagan world died, the surviving relatives would shave bald spots on their heads aside from making cuts on their skin. The Eternal wanted His chosen people to be set-apart from other nations and not engage in these practices.  
If we remove this ordinance from the context of mourning, what we have is a permanent command for every worshipper of the Eternal and this is not so. This is why we see that some of our Jewish bothers do not cut the hair on the side of their heads. 
The same thing can happen with the text (Exodus 16:23) that we are examining. First, let us look at the context. What are we not allowed to do on the Sabbath? What type of work («melaka») is not allowed on the Sabbath?
The Torah is simple and clear regarding what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath. For example, let us look at the Sabbath commands in Exodus 20, 23 & 34

Exodus 20:8-11 
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to set it apart. 
9 “Six days you labour {avoda}, and shall do all your work {melaka}, 
10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath* of יהוה your Elohim. You do not do any work {kol melaka} you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. {*Footnote: There are other Sabbaths, but this is the weekly Sabbath}  
11 “For in six days יהוה made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore יהוה blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart.
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Exodus 23:12 
“Six days you are to do your work {ma'ase}, and on the seventh day you rest, in order that your ox and your donkey might rest, and the son of your female servant and the sojourner be refreshed. 
{Moshe breaks the first set of commands that the Eternal gave him and goes up Mt. Horeb again to ask forgiveness. The Eternal speaks about the Sabbath again}
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Exodus 34:21
“Six days you work {avoda}, but on the seventh day you rest – in ploughing time and in harvest you rest. 
{«avoda», «melaja» and «ma'ase» are synonymous Hebrew words that indicate what is not to be done on the Sabbath} 

In Exodus 34:21 the Eternal is more specific regarding what should not be done on the Sabbath: daily work <ploughing, harvesting…>, in other words, the daily work to make a living. In that time and place, ploughing and harvesting were the main tasks performed to make a living.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
12 ‘Guard the Sabbath day, to set it apart, as יהוה your Elohim commanded you. 
13 ‘Six days you labour {avoda}, and shall do all your work {melaka}, 
14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath1 of יהוה your Elohim. You do not do any work {melaka} – you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, so that your male servant and your female servant rest as you do. 
15 ‘And you shall remember that you were a slave {eved} in the land of Mitsrayim, and that יהוה your Elohim brought you out from there by a strong hand and by an outstretched arm. Therefore יהוה your Elohim commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. 

In Mitsrayim (Egypt) the children of the Eternal worked day and night, as slaves they did not have rest. When they reached the promised land of  Israel they had a new social justice system and they had to rest as well as their servants and animals.
Today, thousands of years after the Torah was given it is still understood that we have to work six days and rest one day. What is the work that is done during the six working days?
It is very clear, the work that we do to make a living.

PROFANING THE SABBATH

Nehemiah 13 :15-19
15 In those days I saw in Yehudah those treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, and figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Yerushalayim on the Sabbath day. So I warned them on the day they sold food. 
16 And men of Tsor dwelt there, bringing in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Yehudah, and in Yerushalayim. 
17 Then I contended with the nobles of Yehudah, and said to them, “What evil matter is this that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 
18 “Did not your fathers do the same so that our Elohim brought all this evil on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Yisra’ĕl by profaning the Sabbath.” 
19 And it came to be, at the gates of Yerushalayim, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and commanded that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day. 

Nehemyah (Nehemiah) tells us that to buy and sell on the Sabbath is to profane it.
The Torah tells that to do work «melaka» on the Sabbath is to profane it. 
Therefore, to buy and sell is work «melaka». This must not be done on the Sabbath.

The book of Jubilees, a non-canonical book written a century before Yeshua, reflects the way of thinking of Israel at that time. In this ancient book we find that doing any work or defiling the Sabbath day is sanctioned by the death penalty.

Jubilees 2:25-26
25...and God made the seventh day holy, for all His works;
therefore He commanded on its behalf that, whoever does any work thereon 
26 shall die, and that he who defiles it shall surely die

(For more information see The Book Of Jubilees).

According to the Torah what is the penalty for profaning the Sabbath?

Exodus 31:14
‘And you shall guard the Sabbath, for it is set-apart to you. Everyone who profanes it shall certainly be put to death, for anyone who does work on it, that being shall be cut off from among his people.

COOKING ALLOWED ON PASSOVER

Exodus 12:16
‘And on the first day is a set-apart gathering, and on the seventh day you have a set-apart gathering. No work at all {kol melaka} is done on them, only that which is eaten by every being, that alone is prepared by you. 

The context of this verse is Passover. The Eternal gave this command long before He gave the Torah to Mosheh (Moses) which contains the Sabbath command. The Eternal tells His people that they can do no work at all and that they can cook that which is to be consumed during that day. So cooking a simple meal is not considered work («melaka») by the Eternal.
This verse is connected to Leviticus 23

CONVOCATION INSTRUCTION LEVITICUS 23
Sabbath Kol Melaka
(no work)
Leviticus 23:3
1st day of Unleavened Bread Kol Melaka Abodah
(no servile work)

Leviticus 23:7
7th Day Unleavened Bread Kol Melaka Abodah
(no servile work)
Leviticus 23:8
Shavuot
(Pentecost)
Kol Melaka Abodah
(no servile work)
Leviticus 23:21
Yom Teruah
(Feast of Trumpets)
Kol Melaka Abodah
(no servile work)
Leviticus 23:25
Yom Kippur
(Day of Atonement)
Kol Melaka
(no work)
Leviticus 23:28
Sukkot
(Feast of Tabernacles)
Kol Melaka Abodah
(no servile work)
Leviticus 23:35
Shemini Atzeret
(The Eighth Day of Assembly)
Kol Melaka Abodah
(no servile work)
Leviticus 23:36

Exodus 12:16 is the first place in Scripture that instructs us to do no work but allows us to cook what is to be consumed on that day (Passover). This sets a precedent that will be the pattern for the following instances where the expression «kol melaka» is found.
After this first instance, the next verse that mentions «kol melaka» is Exodus 20 (where the Sabbath is mentioned) but because of the precedent set in Exodus 12:16   we know that simple cooking is allowed.
Using the «Kal Va Homer» method of interpretation (that which has bigger weight or that which has precedence) we see that if the Passover has precedence over the Sabbath and cooking is allowed on Passover, therefore, cooking is allowed on the Sabbath.

EXODUS 16:23 IN CONTEXT
The context of Exodus 16:23 is the gathering of manna in the desert by the children of Yisra’el.
Here is how it took place:
– A month after their departure from Egypt the children of Yisra’el complained against Moshe and Aharon because they did not have enough food – Exodus 16:1-3
– The Eternal announces the coming of the bread from heaven – Exodus 16:4-5
– The Eternal provides quail for meat and bread from heaven – Exodus 16:9-14
– The people call the bread from heaven «manna» which means, what is it? – Exodus 16:15
– The Eternal gives instructions on gathering the bread from heaven. They were to gather enough for the day and not leave any for the next morning – Exodus 16:16-19
– Some of the people did not follow the instructions, they gathered more than enough and kept some for the next day. What was gathered and kept in disobedience bred worms and stank – Exodus 16:20-21
– The Eternal provided double on the sixth day. On the other days they were to gather enough only for the day but on the sixth day they were to gather twice as much bread as there would be no bread in the field on the Sabbath. What they kept on the sixth day did not breed worms and did not stink. This is the first time that the Eternal speaks to Israel about the Sabbath. Some people went out to gather bread on the Sabbath and there was none – Exodus 16:23-30

This is the context of cooking on the sixth day what was to be eaten on the Sabbath <‘Tomorrow is a rest, a Sabbath set-apart to יהוה. That which you bake, bake; and that which you cook, cook. And lay up for yourselves all that is left over, to keep it until morning> – Exodus  16:23

This is the context of cooking what was to be eaten on the Sabbath the day before. If we take this verse out of context then it would apply to any food, but here it is talking about the manna. The context does not end here, note what the Eternal has ordained

Exodus 16:24
And they laid it up till morning, as Mosheh commanded. And it did not stink, and no worm was in it

This is the main theme. Cooking is not the main theme, instead it is the miracle of the Sabbath day compared to the six days of labour. During the six days of labour, what was kept for the next day bred worms and stank but, what was kept on the sixth day for the Sabbath was fresh. The commandment is not about cooking, it is about the gathering of manna on the Sabbath day. The Eternal provides adequate food for Yisra’el on the Sabbath. It was not necessary to go out and gather food on the Sabbath day because the food was already at home. Cooking on the day before the Sabbath was for the manna and not for meat or any other food. The focus is to trust the Eternal to provide nutrition for the Sabbath. 
Why did they have to cook the manna on the sixth day?
It is not because cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath day. The context tells us that they would not find the manna on the Sabbath. The Eternal did not want Yisra’el to leave their home to gather food, He provided the food.

Again, the context is the gathering of food and not cooking.
What did the people rest from on the Sabbath? They rested from gathering the manna, NOT from cooking.
But if lighting a fire is not allowed on the Sabbath then how would we be able to cook? (See  Fire on the Sabbath)
Sources:
Based on a teaching by Avdiel Ben-Oved; David Guzik Commentary

 

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture was taken from The Scriptures
Copyright by Institute for Scripture Research.
Used by permission.