Fire in the Bible
Breaking Bread Bible Study
Issue Number 1
Being the first edition of Breaking Bread Bible Studies, it is appropriate to begin with the subject of fire. It is amazing what a little fire can do to the taste of bread dough.
The average Christian, as their first choice, would not associate the word "fire" with the Creator Himself. Our first thoughts would probably be Hell-fire, the Lake of Fire, or Sodom and Gomorra. It may be surprising to many Christians that the word "fire," and its attributes of "light" and "heat," speak more of the Creator and His goodness than of a destructive force against His enemies.
Clearly, the writers of the Bible employed the use of fire in many different ways. However, when it came to the spiritual use of fire, they usually attributed fire to God. Yahweh manifested Himself in various forms of fire on many different occasions. We find some of these manifestations in the making of the Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:17), the burning bush (Exo. 3:2-4), pillar of fire (Exo. 13:21), on Sinai (Exo.19:18), in the flame on the altar (Judg. 13:20), and Yahweh answering by fire (1 Kings 18:24, 38).
Sacrifices and offerings (including incense which represented the prayers of the people) were to be made by fire. (Exo. 12:8,9,10; Lev. 1) Fire often meant the acceptance of a sacrifice by Yahweh (Judges 6:21; 1 Kin. 18:38; 1 Chr. 21:26). Leviticus 9:24 tells us that the sacrificial fire "came forth from Yahweh." The fire on the altar was to be continually burning. (Lev. 6:12,13)
Fire came down from heaven at the consecration of Solomon's Temple. Yahweh said He would dwell there "forever" according to the King James Bible, yet we know the Temple was destroyed and the fire put out. Did Yahweh lie? Is the Bible in error?
The fire on the altar, according to many Bible translations, was to be an "everlasting" fire, but was extinguished a few centuries later. (2 Chr. 7:1) There were many things called "everlasting" in the Old Testament which no longer exist or were done away with by the New Testament. The reason why some Bibles "appear" to have contradictions stems from the incorrect translation of the Hebrew word "olam" and its counterpart in the New Testament "aion." These words indicate "an indefinite period of time," not "everlasting." We have lengthy studies on these words for those interested in pursuing the subject.
While Yahweh's answer by fire was usually a positive act, there were times when His manifestation in fire, or the use of fire, was used as a correction or destruction of evil (Gen. 19:24, Sodom and Gomorra; Ex. 9:23; Num. 11:1; Num. 16:35; Psalm 104:4; Lev 20:14; Lev. 21:9; Josh .7:25).
Fire is also figuratively used of Yahweh's glory (Dan 7:9), of His holiness (Isa. 33:14), of His protection of His people (2 Kings 6:17; Zec. 2:5), of His jealousy for His sole worship (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29; Ps. 79:5), of His wrath (Deut. 9:3; Ps. 18:8; Ps. 89:46; Isa. 5:24), of His Word in power (Jer. 5:14; Jer. 23:29), of Divine truth (Ps. 39:3; Jer. 20:9; Lk. 12:49), of that which guides men (Isa. 50:10-11), of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3), of Christ in His glory (Rev 1:14), of the power of love to overcome evil (Rom. 12:20), of trial and suffering (Ps. 66:12; Isa 43:2; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:12), of evil (Prov. 6:27; Isa 9:18; Isa. 65:5), of lust or desire (Hos. 7:6; 1 Cor. 7:9), of greed (Prov. 30:16), of the evil tongue (James 3:5-6), of heaven and its purity and glory (Rev. 15:2; Rev 21:22-23), and of Divine testing for divinity (Rev. 20). I am sure I have not exhausted the list of the various ways fire is used in the Bible. If we studied light and heat (attributes of fire), I'm sure we could greatly expand the list.
It is not surprising that fire plays such a significant role in the Bible. The Creator Himself is described as a "consuming fire." (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29) Doesn't it seem rather strange to our understanding to call the Creator a consuming fire? Rarely, if ever, do we associate fire with the creation process. We usually associate it with destruction.
Fire has played perhaps one of the most significant roles in the advancement of civilization. Practically no manufacturing would be possible apart from the use of fire to break down and shape materials for our use. Our very lives depend upon the energy given by the biggest fire near the earth, the sun.
I believe, in order to understand our English Bible translation, we must know something about the culture of the people who wrote the original in their native languages. Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek are highly figurative, extremely expressive languages, full of many kinds of idiomatic expressions and figures of speech. The customs of the Semitic peoples in particular are quite foreign to the Western mind. We must understand how they used the word "fire" if we are to understand the meaning of the word "fire" in the Bible.
Fire, is first and foremost, a symbol of divinity in the Semitic Middle East. It is a symbol of Yahweh Himself. God manifesting in physical fire could be a favorable judgment as when He came to consecrate Solomon's Temple or a negative judgment as when He swallowed up Aaron's son for offering up "strange fire." Being creatures quick to become fearful, we have a tendency to dwell on the negative side of things and so usually associate divine fire with wrath. (Lev. 10:1) This has been a serious mistake of the church throughout much of its existence.
It is interesting to note that the more judgmental, vengeful, legalistic, ritualistic, and fundamental one is, the more likely they are to see fire as God's punishment. They have a difficult time seeing fire as a positive symbol of God. For this mindset, fire usually means Hell, the lake of fire, and everlasting punishment. On the other hand, the more loving, merciful, and compassionate one has become, the more likely they are to see fire as a symbol of love, zeal, and sacredness. They are "on fire for God" is an expression used in a positive sense. The judgmental person will usually see fire away from themselves, out in the future somewhere awaiting those whom it would swallow up in judgment, its flames flickering like the tongue of a snake sensing the air for the smell of those whom it will eternally torment or annihilate.
When Yahweh expressed His desire to be among the children of Israel, He manifested as smoke and fire. He said He wanted to speak with them. One would think it a great honor and privilege to be chosen to hear from God. But mankind in its lower nature, whether in ancient days or the present, will always respond as Israel did. They wanted Moses to speak with Him, "lest they die." Yesterday, God's people put Moses between themselves and God. Today we use the Bible, or other church leadership as our excuse for not letting God in our midst "lest "WE" die.
Christians who have allowed the fire of God to enter the very recesses of their lives will see His fire in a totally different light. Rather than being utterly destroyed by the fire, they are purified, corrected, cleansed. God's fire within brings forth a love that desires to bring healing and restoration to all mankind. The more spiritually minded, desirous to be changed, and willing to be conformed to the image of Christ one is, the less fear they have of fire in the Bible. The latter group is more likely to use the word "fire" in a positive sense. I think the latter group is also more likely to be spiritually alive.
What does natural fire do? It usually takes dense matter composed of different atoms and breaks them apart into simpler elements, usually gases. Have you ever noticed that flames naturally flicker upward, higher? It is the gases ignited which produce the flame.
Fire produces flame (light) and heat, two very useful properties in the natural world. The more we seem to understand the scientific properties of fire, the more useful fire seems to become to mankind. Science and the business community are finding all kinds of uses for the energy waves which come forth from fire, whether the fire is from the sun, or from the splitting of an atom, or other sources. Could the incredible uses of light, such as the laser, be natural signs of what may lay ahead regarding the spiritual fire to which Jesus pointed?
As long as mankind uses fire as instruments of destruction, cruelty, or as in the case of Nazi Germany, to extinguish unwanted people, mankind will continue to have an unhealthy fear of fire. The atomic bomb has certainly been an instrument which strikes at the fear in the heart of mankind. In addition, our technology is not perfect. Fire accidents often produce horrible disasters. This also instills fear of fire. The more we use fire for good and the better we are able control it, the more comfortable we will be with fire and the less fear we will have of it.
When we center on using fire for the good of all mankind, we will be able to use this very force to turn this world into a paradise again. But first, the fire of the heart needs to be kindled. The fire that Jesus would kindled is the fire of good works poured out as coal upon our enemies heads. (Matt. 5:38-48, Rom 12:20) This is the fire which will bring righteous judgment into this world. In the same context, Jesus spoke of praying for your enemies. The incense and coals offered up each day in the Tabernacles and Temples of the Old Testament symbolized this act. We Christians have the privilege of offering up these prayers to our Father each day of our lives. (Please note, these prayers are offered up for our enemies, those who take advantage of us and mock us.
The colder Christian seeks the fire of vengeance, the fire of God's wrath, yet the Bible tells us when His judgments are in the earth we will learn righteousness. The colder Christian believes his enemies will get an eternal flame of wrath which will never be quenched. Yet the Scriptures tell us God will not always be wrath. (Isa. 57:16) He did, however, say His mercy endures "forever" in 26 places in one single Psalm. (1 Chron. 16:34; Ps. 100:5; Ps. 136) As a matter of fact, it seems almost as if mercy and judgment are in a battle with each other, with mercy ultimately winning out over judgment. "Mercy will triumph over judgment." (James 2:13, NKJV) This word "triumph" or "rejoice over" (Gr. Katakauchaomai) actually means "boast over" or "exalt over" as in a victory in a battle.
Jesus said He came to send fire on the earth and He yearned for it to be kindled. (Luke 12:49) Many Christians today yearn for God to judge the earth by destroying it with physical fire. Is this what Jesus was yearning for?
The book of Acts records for us the first fruits of that fire for which Jesus yearned. Discover for yourselves the effects His kind of fire has on the world. Tongues of fire came upon the 120 which drove them into the streets of Jerusalem. The tongues of fire caused them to open their mouths which were previously shut by the fear of man. And what did they declare? The WONDERFUL works of God! And what was the result? Three thousand were added unto them. Do you find it a coincidence that when Moses' Law was given under a fiery mountain, three thousand Israelites were killed? But when the Law of the Life in Christ Jesus was made manifest under a different kind of fire in the "upper" room, three thousand were added unto them!? (Ex. 32:28; Acts 2:41) Both laws were connected with fire. One brought fear, wrath, and death; the other brought liberty, forgiveness, and Life.
The church still mixes the two laws or covenants. This means another fire must come to "divide" this abominable mixture. Malachi speaks of a fire to "purge" the sons of Levi. The early church often referred to a "purifying" fire. There are nearly 2 billion people on the earth espousing the name of "Christian" who have certainly mixed thousands of creeds, rituals, doctrines, laws, traditions to the simplicity of the pure light of the gospel. Only divine fire will be able to separate the vile from the holy. Surely, another fire will come into the house of God! Surely judgment begins in the house of the Lord! The priests are always cleansed first, then the people. Yet much of the modern church is expecting to fly away soon, while the earth receives a fire of wrath.
How is it that there is always a large contingency in the church who blast out the same words and spirit John and James boldly spewed forth when the Samaritans refused to accept the Jesus as the Messiah. "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?" And what was Jesus reply? "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." (Luke 9:54-56) Could we modern Christians also be as guilty of misusing fire as these disciples were?
Fire is usually started by friction or percussion, two sticks rubbing together or the striking of flint against iron. This causes a spark which produces a fire.
Fires are usually always noticed. They draw attention. Is this not also the case with the fires of anger or love? An angry person rarely keeps their anger to themselves. They are like a spark. They will usually ignite, agitate others until a conflict (fire) occurs. In the same way, one burning with love and compassion, which is like a fire, will spread God's flames of kindness, melting the hearts of those around them.
And indeed have we not all been in a continuous battle within ourselves and our actions and thoughts toward others, wrestling with the desire for vengeance, judgment, wrath, and punishment on the one hand, while at the same time desiring an end to all of these through mercy, forgiveness, self-denial, and love for ourselves as well as others?? Both are fire. Both stir the emotions. Both stir men and women to action. One brings death; one brings life!
Fire is never static. It moves. It seeks to consume. This is true whether it be the hateful fire of man's anger or the passion to bring healing, joy, and love to those around them. Fire always produces change. It will force one to act, to respond. Fire brings focus. "Fiery" trials often let us know which kind of fire is burning in our bosom.
Those who believe in God will usually attribute the fire in their bosoms to their God. If they are angry and bitter inside, they will often attribute their anger to God's righteous wrath against the wicked. Likewise, a truly compassionate, loving person will usually credit God for their qualities. They know God as their source of true love.
It has only been in recent years that mankind has discovered that fire never really permanently destroys or annihilates anything. Fire just stirs up the molecules until they reach a point of agitation great enough for atoms within a molecule to be released from one another. Fire divides. The same thing happened when Jesus sent forth the fire of which He spoke. He sent forth a seed (spark) of faith which broke the power of tradition which held people together to a lower form of government. Some, through His fiery word, were released to serve in a higher kingdom, the kingdom of God in which dwelt righteousness, peace, and joy. Others stayed behind and became the ashes or remains of the Levitical System. While the Old Mosaic System was destroyed in one sense, its destruction brought forth something better, higher. This fire loosened a force which would literally change the course of mankindagape love. Yet even the ashes if this fire found purpose in God's marvelous plan. (Rom. chapter 11)
Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem which brought an end to the entire Levitical Priesthood and governing body of Judaism along with its regulations, Peter spoke of a time in which the "elements shall melt with fervent heat." (2 Peter 3:10) This word "elements" (stoicheion) usually referred to principles, foundations, governments, orderly structures (see a Concordance). Again, those with a higher vision, with clearer "light," see the destruction of the types and shadows of the Mosaic governmental and priestly system giving way to the New Covenant, New Priesthood, New Government, as a release to a higher reality. The scaffolding of the Old Covenant gave way to the building itself. Those with eyes to see could see a New Heaven (leadership) and a New Earth (new body) coming forth. They could see a city whose Maker is God built upon a New Foundation, the very Life of the Son of God!
Man's systems are complicated structures composed of thousands of laws, customs, traditions and rituals from which we are not allowed to stray at the cost of ridicule, shunning, rejection, and various other forms of punishment including imprisonment and even death. These are the "elements" of mankind's foundational structure. Unfortunately, the governing force behind all these "elements" is fear of man.
Trees (wood) speak of mankind, both individually and corporately. (Isa. 61:3, trees of righteousness) There are many Scriptures which refer to trees and branches which speak of mankind and Christ. The wood from trees can be used for all sorts of things, one of which is for burning. Did you know there are some trees which can burn and not be destroyed? (Exo. 3:2-4)
Now the Scriptures tell us that perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18) This perfect love is a fire, usually not found in the political, religious, and economic powers of mankind. It is found only in Christ. And when this perfect love burns within a heart, it sets the captive free from the power of fear used by the lower forms, rudiments, principles, laws, customs, rituals, etc., which were made by men to "control" each other.
The two main trees represented in the garden of Eden are the Tree of Life, (Christ, Law of life in Christ Jesus) and the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil (Law of Moses and all other forms of human laws which governmental and religious leaders use to control mankind.) One is eternal, the other will vanish once it has served its purpose in mankind. The Tree of Life shines with Light, Life, and Love. He is the true tree of Light of which the Christmas tree is but a poor counterfeit. I have to leave this subject because it cannot be laid out in a few pages. I just wanted to stir your thinking regarding "trees" in relationship to "fire" when spoken of in the Bible.
However, those who focused then, and even this day on vengeance, whose fire in their hearts is still an "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life,"these will remain blind to the higher view. They will insist that the "elements" to which Peter was referring are buildings, trees, and people. They will assume the whole world will be destroyed by a physical fire such as the atomic bomb. They will spend many dollars and hundreds of hours swallowing books and tapes describing this grand event. Yet their hearts will not change.
We need not look to physical fire to see where the evil fire of mankind comes from. James tells us that the tongue is a world of iniquity that sets the course of nature on fire. Look to the bloody trail of "civilization." Was it not a fiery tongue or sharp pen filled with angry words which brought forth the rage and fear in men which brought them to the point of killing their fellow man while risking their own lives? James tells us that he who can tame the tongue which sets the course of this world on fire is a perfect man. (James 3:6) A quick survey of our planet tells us how far from perfection mankind presently is. And it is often the religious man who sets the greatest number of these kind of fires.
It seems the Lord rejoices in those who manifest His burning love. He also isn't too upset with those hard, cold, stony hearts because they are ripe for judgment. You see, a cold person can only manifest what is in his heart. If one spends any time at all with them, it is easy to discern what spirit they are of. They may be religious, they may "appear" righteous, but their deeds will eventually give them away.
Jesus wished we were hot or cold. It was the luke-warm which He would spew out of His mouth. It is when a host of "luke-warm" gather around a cold dead religious leadership which upsets our Lord the most. There is just enough life, light, warmth in the luke-warm to attract seekers of truth. Dead and un-anointed Christian leadership have no life to give. These keep a clear distance between themselves and their congregations. This kind of religious leadership desperately depends upon luke-warm Christians to keep the system going. If the luke-warm left such organizations, the cold, emptiness of the leadership in these organizations would manifest as dead. The only thing that keeps them going is the money and time the luke-warm contribute. Luke-warm Christians give an assemblance of life to that which is in reality dead. They give power to anti-Christ.
Anti-Christ (antichristos) simply means "instead of the anointing or anointed." It is nothing more than any person, institution or teaching which substitutes itself for the living Truth. John told us there were many anti-Christs in his day. (1 John 2:18) Jesus Christ was the true Anointed One. He said He would send His Holy Spirit to be "poured out" upon others.
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell upon the new priesthood as "tongues of fire." Here is the true separation unto priesthood under the New Covenant. Far too many enter into church leadership by other means. All of these other means are anti-Christ, a substitute for the true anointing of God. May all the luke-warm in the Christian community stop giving credence and support to the cold-hearted, un-anointed leadership of many Christian organizations and turn to the Anointing, the Fire, the Light which comes from above and not through church tradition. This probably speaks to much of the church.
Dear Lord, move us to your Love! Stir us upward! Cause us to see by your Spirit. Cause us to be moved by your compassion, your desires. Raise us up to be seated in heavenly places that we might see with the mind of Christ! Through your fiery love break us free from the bondage of corruption, from the traditions of men, that we might truly become your praise, your presence, your glory, your light, your love here on earth. Amen.
In conclusion, as man sees the need to set aside destructive use of its resources, especially fire, so too, will the heart of man begin to turn from anger, vengeance, and judgment to the hot coals to which Jesus and Paul referred. Only these coals will melt cold, hard hearts. Coals were used to burn the incense in the tabernacle. The incense was a "pleasing" fragrance to the Lord. Does He ask us to pray for His wrath to fall on our enemies heads or good works which will turn them towards Him?
We have found natural ways to increase the temperature of our fires to melt down things which were once thought impossible to melt or change in form. So too, one day our Maker will melt the stony hearts of Adam and bring forth pure gold . . . Christ in us, the hope of glory. It just takes the right kind and amount of heat.
When mankind learns to leave vengeance to God, we just might be surprised to find that even God's vengeance, may be found to be a power to be used for the good of all mankind, and not for its destruction. There is a fire which will release all who dwell in lower natures, lower thoughts, lower visions and raise them up to where He, our Creator, becomes All in All. (1 Cor. 15:28) May more Christians rise and be seated in heavenly places wherein, it seems is nothing but fire. In Him, there is no shifting or turning. There is no change. He is the End. He is our End. And what is that? God is love! And He is truly the ALL-CONSUMING FIRE!! Hallelujah!!
Paul implores us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. We are to be consumed by Him and not be destroyed in the process. Our devotion, our zeal, our passion should be towards His purposes. It is interesting that science also uses terms which indicate there is fire in our bodies. They speak of "burning up" calories. We humans "burn up" energy as we go through our day like our cars burn up fuel. Paul beseeches us to devote our lives to God. In that way, we become the light of the world. A life devoted to Him will also make this world a warmer place to live.
Note from the author: This is a very basic study. I hope it stimulates further study. A good place to start might be studying the words "torment(ed), brimstone, and Gehenna. Use the desire to KNOW God as Love as your motivating drive. Find out how these words were used in the original languages of the Bible. Search the main Bible study tools, such as Strong's, Thayer's, Genenius, Kittel, etc. Then cry out to God to break through the traditions of men. Study these words again, determined to press through to reach His love. If you need some help finding reference works, or have any questions, please feel free to write us.Remember "God is Love." (12 John 4:16) "Love never fails." (1 Cor. 13:8) "With God, all things are possible." (Mark 10:27) Believe it!