Almost every kind of combustible matter was used for fuel, such as the withered stalks of herbs (Mt 6:30), thorns (Ps 58:9; Ec 7:6), animal excrements (Eze 4:12-15; 15:4,6; 21:32). Wood or charcoal is much used still in all the towns of Syria and Egypt. It is largely brought from the region of Hebron to Jerusalem. (See Coal.)
The principal 'fuel [lit. 'food'] of fire' (Isa 9:5,19) in use among the Hebrews was undoubtedly wood, either in its natural state or, among the wealthier classes, as charcoal (see Coal). The trees which furnished the main supply (cf. Isa 44:14 ff.) probably differed little from those so employed in Syria at the present day, for which see Quarterly Statement of the same., 1891, 118 ff. Among other sources of supply were shrubs and undergrowth of all kinds, including the broom (Ps 120:4 Revised Version margin) and the buck-thorn (Ps 58:9); also chaff and other refuse of the threshing-floor (Mt 3:12); and withered herbage, the 'grass' of Mt 6:30. The use of dried animal dung as fuel, which is universal in the modern East, was apparently not unknown to the Hebrews (cf. Eze 4:12-15). See further, House,
FUEL. In preparing their victuals, the orientals are, from the extreme scarcity of wood in many countries, reduced to use cow dung for fuel. At Aleppo, the inhabitants use wood and charcoal in their rooms, but heat their baths with cow dung, the parings of fruit, and other things of a similar kind, which they employ people to gather for that purpose. In Egypt, according to Pitts, the scarcity of wood is so great, that at Cairo they commonly heat their ovens with horse or cow dung, or dirt of the streets; what wood they have, being brought from the shores of the Black Sea, and sold by weight. Chardin attests the same fact: "The eastern people always used cow dung for baking, boiling a pot, and dressing all kinds of victuals that are easily cooked, especially in countries that have but little wood;" and Dr. Russel remarks, in a note, that "the Arabs carefully collect the dung of the sheep and camel, as well as that of the cow; and that the dung, offals, and other matters, used in the bagnios, after having been new gathered in the streets, are carried out of the city, and laid in great heaps to dry, where they become very offensive. They are intolerably disagreeable, while drying, in the town, adjoining to the bagnios; and are so at all times when it rains, though they be stacked, pressed hard together, and thatched at top." These statements exhibit, in a very strong light, the extreme misery of the Jews, who escaped from the devouring sword of Nebuchadnezzar: "They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets; they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills," La 4:5. To embrace dunghills, is a species of wretchedness, perhaps unknown to us in the history of modern warfare; but it presents a dreadful and appalling image, when the circumstances to which it alludes are recollected. What can be imagined more distressing to those who lived delicately, than to wander without food in the streets? What more disgusting and terrible to those who had been clothed in rich and splendid garments, than to be forced, by the destruction of their palaces, to seek shelter among stacks of dung, the filth and stench of which it is almost impossible to endure? The dunghill, it appears from Holy Writ, is one of the common retreats of the mendicant. This imparts great force and beauty to a passage in the song of Hannah: "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory," 1Sa 2:8. The change in the circumstances of that excellent woman, she reckoned as great, (and it was to her as unexpected,) as the elevation of a poor despised beggar from a nauseous and polluting dunghill, rendered tenfold more fetid by the intense heat of an oriental sun, to one of the highest and most splendid stations on earth.
2. Dung is used as fuel in the east only when wood cannot be had; for the latter, and even any other combustible substance, is preferred when it can be obtained. The inhabitants of Aleppo, according to Russel, use thorns and fuel of a similar kind for those culinary purposes which require haste, particularly for boiling, which seems to be the reason that Solomon mentions the "crackling of thorns under a pot," rather than in any other way. The same allusion to the use of thorns for boiling occurs in other parts of the sacred volume: thus, the Psalmist speaks of the wicked, "Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath." The Jews are sometimes compared in the prophets to "a brand plucked out of the burning," Am 4:11; Zec 3:2; a figure which Chardin considers as referring to vine twigs, and other brushwood which the orientals frequently use for fuel, and which, in a few minutes, must be consumed if they are not snatched out of the fire; and not to those battens, or large branches, which will lie a long time in the fire before they are reduced to ashes. If this idea be correct, it displays in a stronger and more lively manner the seasonable interposition of God's mercy, than is furnished by any other view of the phrase. The same remark applies to the figure by which the Prophet Isaiah describes the sudden, and complete destruction of Rezin, and the son of Remaliah; only in this passage, the firebrands are supposed to be smoking; that is, in the opinion of Harmer, having the steam issuing with force from one end, in consequence of the fire burning violently at the other. The words of the prophet are: "Take heed and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted, for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah," Isa 7:4. It is not easy to conceive an image more striking than this; the remains of two small twigs burning with violence at one end, as appears by the steaming of the other, are soon reduced to ashes; so shall the kingdoms of Syria and Israel sink into ruin and disappear.
3. The scarcity of fuel in the east obliges the inhabitants to use, by turns, every kind of combustible matter. The withered stalks of herbs and flowers, the tendrils of the vine, the small branches of myrtle, rosemary, and other plants, are all used in heating their ovens and bagnios. We can easily recognise this practice in these words of our Lord: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" Mt 6:28-30. The grass of the field, in this passage, evidently includes the lilies of which our Lord had just been speaking, and, by consequence, herbs in general; and in this extensive sense the word ?????? is not unfrequently taken. These beautiful productions of nature, so richly arrayed, and so exquisitely perfumed, that the splendour even of Solomon is not to be compared with theirs, shall soon wither and decay, and be used as fuel to heat the oven and the bagnio. Has God so adorned these flowers and plants of the field, which retain their beauty and vigour but for a few days, and are then applied to some of the meanest purposes of life; and will he not much more clothe you who are the disciples of his own Son, who are capable of immortality, and destined to the enjoyment of eternal happiness?