In Scripture, is often connected with the presence of Jehovah; as in the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai, Ex 3:2; 19:18; Ps 18; Hab 1-3. The second coming of Christ will be "in flaming fire," 2Th 1:8. In the New Testament it illustrates the enlightening, cheering, and purifying agency of the Holy Spirit, Mt 3:11; Ac 2:3. By sending fire from heaven to consume sacrifices, God often signified his acceptance of them: as in the case of Abel, Ge 4:4; Abraham, Ge 15:17; Manoah, Jg 13:19-20; Elijah, 1Ki 18:38; and at the dedication of the tabernacle and the temple, Le 9:24; 2Ch 7:1. This sacred fire was preserved by the priests with the utmost care, Isa 31:9, in many ancient religions fire was worshipped; and children were made to pass through the fire to Moloch, 2Ki 17:17; Jer 7:31; Eze 16:21; 23:37. The Jews had occasion for fires, except for cooking, only during a small part of the year. Besides their ordinary hearths and ovens, they warmed their apartments with "a fire of coals" in a brazier, Jer 36:22-23; Lu 22:30. The were forbidden to kindle a fire on the Sabbath, Ex 35:3--a prohibition perhaps only of cooking on that day, but understood by many Jews even now in the fullest extent; it is avoided by employing gentile servants. Another provision of the Mosaic Law was designed to protect the standing corn, etc., in the dry summer season, Ex 22:6. The earth is to be destroyed by fire, 2Pe 3:7; of which the destruction of Sodom, and the volcanoes and earthquakes which so often indicate the internal commotions of the globe, may serve as warnings.
(1.) For sacred purposes. The sacrifices were consumed by fire (Ge 8:20). The ever-burning fire on the altar was first kindled from heaven (Le 6:9,13; 9:24), and afterwards rekindled at the dedication of Solomon's temple (2Ch 7:1,3). The expressions "fire from heaven" and "fire of the Lord" generally denote lightning, but sometimes also the fire of the altar was so called (Ex 29:18; Le 1:9; 2:3; 3:5,9).
(3.) Punishment of death by fire was inflicted on such as were guilty of certain forms of unchastity and incest (Le 20:14; 21:9). The burning of captives in war was not unknown among the Jews (2Sa 12:31; Jer 29:22). The bodies of infamous persons who were executed were also sometimes burned (Jos 7:25; 2Ki 23:16).
(4.) In war, fire was used in the destruction of cities, as Jericho (Jos 6:24), Ai (Jos 8:19), Hazor (Jos 11:11), Laish (Jg 18:27), etc. The war-chariots of the Canaanites were burnt (Jos 11:6,9,13). The Israelites burned the images (2Ki 10:26; R.V., "pillars") of the house of Baal. These objects of worship seem to have been of the nature of obelisks, and were sometimes evidently made of wood.
Torches were sometimes carried by the soldiers in battle (Jg 7:16).
God's word is also likened unto fire (Jer 23:29). It is referred to as an emblem of severe trials or misfortunes (Zec 12:6; Lu 12:49; 1Co 3:13,15; 1Pe 1:7), and of eternal punishment (Mt 5:22; Mr 9:44; Re 14:10; 21:8).
Ever burning on the altar, first kindled, according to Jewish tradition, from heaven (Le 6:9,13; 9:24). But Scripture represents the altar fire as lighted naturally before this. Knobel observes the rule Le 1:7, "the sons of Aaron shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire," must refer to the first burnt offering; the rule afterwards was to be that in Le 6:13; Ex 40:29; Le 8:16,21-28; 9:10,13-14,17,20. The heavenly fire in Le 9:24 did not kindle the fuel but consumed the victim. So God testified His accepting sacrifices (Jg 6:21; 13:19-20; 1Ki 18:38; 1Ch 21:26; 2Ch 7:1; probably Ge 4:4). Hence, the Hebrew for "accept" is "turn to ashes" (Ps 20:3 margin).
The ever burning fire symbolized Jehovah's ever continuing sacrificial worship; so in the New Testament, Heb 13:15; 1Th 5:17. This distinguishes it from the pagan idol Vesta's fire, the Magian fire, that of the Parsees, etc. The fires of Moloch and the sun god were nature worship, into which Sabeanism declined from the one God over all; the Jews often fell into this apostasy (Isa 27:9; 2Ki 23:11-12). The "strange fire" (Le 10:1) is generally explained common fire, not taken from the holy fire of the altar. But no express law forbade burning incense by ordinary fire, except the incense burned by the high priest in entering the holiest place on the day of atonement (Le 16:12), and probably the rule was hence taken as to the daily incense offering. They presented an incense offering not commanded in the law, apart from the morning and evening sacrifice.
Being an act of "will worship" it was "strange fire." Nadab and Abihu probably intended to accompany the people's shouts with an incense offering to the praise of God. The time and the manner of their offering were "strange" and selfwilled. So, the fire of the holy God (Ex 19:18), which had just sanctified Aaron's service, consumed his two oldest sons. So the gospel that saves the humble seals death to the presumptuous (2Co 2:16; Col 2:23). (See AARON.) Fire by its pure, penetrating, all consuming agency, symbolizes the holiness of God which consumes sin as a thing that cannot abide in His presence (Heb 10:27; 12:29). The risen Lord's "eyes are like a flame of fire" (Re 2:18,23) "searching the reins and hearts." He shall come "in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that, know not God and obey not the gospel" (2Th 1:8).
The flaming fire marked His manifestation in the bush (Ex 3:2). Again the same symbol appeared in the pillar of cloud and fire (Ex 13:21-22), in His giving the law on Sinai (Ex 19:18); so at His second advent (Da 7:9-10; Mal 3:2; 4:1; 2Pe 3:7,10). John the Baptist, as the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament dispensation, declared of the Messiah, "He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire," referring to His judicial aspect, "burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Mt 3:11-12). Fire also symbolizes the purifying of believers by testing dealings (Mal 3:2), also the holy zeal kindled in them as at Pentecost (Acts 2; Isa 4:4). The same Holy Spirit. who sanctifies believers by the fire of affliction dooms unbelievers to the fire of perdition.
In 1Co 3:13-15, "every man's work ... the (judgment) day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is ... if any man's work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." As the "gold," "hay," etc., are figurative, so the fire. Not purgatorial, i.e. purificatory and punitive, but probatory; not restricted, as Rome teaches, to those dying in "venial sin," the supposed intermediate class between those entering heaven at once and those dying in mortal sin and doomed to hell; but universal, testing the godly and ungodly alike (2Co 5:10; Mr 9:49).
This fire is not until the last day, the supposed fire of purgatory is at death. The fire of Paul is to try the works, the fire of purgatory the persons, of men. Paul's fire causes loss to the sufferers, Rome's fire the supposed gain of heaven at last to those purged by fire. A Christian worker, if he builds converts on Christ alone, besides being saved himself, shall have them as his crown and special reward (2Co 1:14; 1Th 2:19; 2Jo 1:8). But if his work be of unscriptural materials, that the fire will destroy, he shall lose the special "reward" of the work so lost, but himself shall be saved because in Christ, "yet so as by fire," i.e. having a narrow ESCAPE (Zec 3:2; Am 4:11; Jg 1:23).
God was early revealed in fire. The searching character of His righteous judgement was thus set forth, whether in the acceptance of good or the condemnation of evil. When Moses at Horeb approached the burning bush he was cautioned not to draw near, but to remove his shoes, for the ground was holy. God spake to him out of the burning bush. Ex 3:1-6. On Mount Sinai "the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire." Ex 24:17. Moses declared to Israel, "The Lord thy God is a consuming fire." De 4:24. When Aaron began his ministrations in the tabernacle fire came out "from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat." Le 9:24: cf. 1Ki 18:38; 1Ch 21:26; 2Ch 7:1-3. Nadab and Abihu offered 'strange fire,' and fire went out from the Lord and consumed them. Le 10:1-2. Thus God manifested Himself in fire to Moses. He showed His acceptance of the sacrifices by fire from heaven; He vindicated His servant Elijah, when he stood alone against the prophets of Baal, by consuming the sacrifice, the wood and the stone, by fire from heaven (1Ki 18:38); and He vindicated His own honour by fire, by destroying those who were disobedient in approaching to Him. The general idea in 'fire' is that of judgement.
In the N.T. it is repeated, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29), to consume the dross in the Christian, as gold is tried and purified in the fire; and to judge and punish the wicked with unquenchable fire; who are also described as being BAPTISED WITH FIRE. Mt 3:11-12. One of the most awful things connected with this word is the description of the place of eternal punishment as THE LAKE OF FIRE. Re 19:20; Rev.20:10, 14, 15. What mercy to be delivered therefrom!
is represented as the symbol of Jehovah's presence and the instrument of his power, in the way either of approval or of destruction.
etc. There could not be a better symbol for Jehovah than this of fire, it being immaterial, mysterious, but visible, warming, cheering, comforting, but also terrible and consuming. Parallel with this application of fire and with its symbolical meaning are to be noted the similar use for sacrificial purposes and the respect paid to it, or to the heavenly bodies as symbols of deity, which prevailed among so many nations of antiquity, and of which the traces are not even now extinct; e.g. the Sabean and Magian systems of worship.
Fire for sacred purposes obtained elsewhere than from the altar was called "strange fire," and for the use of such Nadab and Abihu were punished with death by fire from God.
FIRE. God hath often appeared in fire, and encompassed with fire, as when he showed himself in the burning bush; and descended on Mount Sinai, in the midst of flames, thunderings, and lightning, Ex 3:2; 19:18. Hence fire is a symbol of the Deity: "The Lord thy God is a consuming fire," De 4:24. The Holy Ghost is compared to fire: "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire," Mt 3:11. To verify this prediction, he sent the Holy Ghost, which descended upon his disciples, in the form of tongues, or like flames of fire, Ac 2:3. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to enlighten, purify, and sanctify the soul; and to inflame it with love to God, and zeal for his glory. Fire from heaven fell frequently on the victims sacrificed to the Lord, as a mark of his presence and approbation. It is thought, that God in this manner expressed his acceptance of Abel's sacrifices, Ge 4:4. When the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, a fire like that of a furnace passed through the divided pieces of the sacrifices, and consumed them, Ge 15:17. Fire fell upon the sacrifices which Moses offered at the dedication of the tabernacle, Le 9:24; and upon those of Manoah, Samson's father, Jg 13:19-20; upon Solomon's, at the dedication of the temple, 2Ch 7:1; and on Elijah's, at Mount Carmel, 1Ki 18:38. The fire which came down from heaven, first upon the altar in the tabernacle, and afterward descended anew upon the altar in the temple of Solomon, at its consecration, was there constantly fed and maintained by the priests, day and night, in the same manner as it had been in the tabernacle. The Jews have a tradition, that Jeremiah, foreseeing the destruction of the temple, took this fire and hid it in a pit; but that at the rebuilding of the temple, being brought again from thence, it revived upon the altar. But this is a fiction: and the generality of them allow, that, at the destruction of the temple, it was extinguished; and in the time of the second temple, nothing was made use of for all their burnt offerings but common fire only. The ancient Chaldeans adored the fire, as well as the old Persians, and some other people of the east. The torments of hell are described by fire, both in the Old and New Testament. Our Saviour makes use of this similitude, to represent the punishment of the damned, Mr 9:44. He likewise speaks frequently of the eternal fire prepared for the devil, his angels, and reprobates, Mt 25:41. The sting and remorse of conscience is the worm that will never die; and the wrath of God upon their souls and bodies, the fire that shall never go out. There are writers who maintain, that by the worm is to be understood a living and sensible, not an allegorical and figurative, worm; and by fire, a real elementary and material fire. Among the abettors of this opinion are Austin, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Jerom, &c. The word of God is compared to fire: "Is not my word like a fire?" Jer 23:20. It is full of life and efficacy; like a fire it warms, melts, and heats; and is powerful to consume the dross, and burn up the chaff and stubble. Fire is likewise taken for persecution, dissension, and division: "I am come to send fire on earth," Lu 12:49; as if it was said, upon my coming and publishing the Gospel, there will follow, through the devil's malice and corruption of men, much persecution to the professors thereof, and manifold divisions in the world, whereby men will be tried, whether they will be faithful or not.