There is nothing better on a bitter winter’s day than to seek the comfort of a roaring camp fire. Conversely this same fire on a balmy August afternoon is not only unwelcoming, it can be a downright hazard. Like many things, fire shares a sharp contrasting duality. Even in the spiritual realm, it can be considered good or evil, depending on your religion. Yet because the Tanakh tells us God is responsible for all things (Amos 3:6, Isaiah 45:7, Ecclesiastes 7:13-14), we cannot easily dismiss this primeval resource by making it the companion of the devil. Let’s explore how God uses fire for His and our spiritual benefit.
God is fire
Of the many things that could symbolize God, fire is one of them. The first time God appeared before Moses, it was in the form of fire, a burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Later God appeared before His chosen people at Mount Sinai “in fire” (Exodus 19:18, Deuteronomy 4:11-12, 15, 33, 36). At the Mount Sinai debut, God’s people stated “the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire” (Exodus 24:17, Leviticus 9:23-24, Deuteronomy 5:24). But this comparison to fire did not end in the Torah, throughout the Tanakh God is consistently associated with fire (Ezekiel 1:27, Nahum 1:6, Micah 1:4).
God uses fire
God uses fire to connect with man. Let us remember God made His covenant with Abraham while using fire to symbolically close the deal (Genesis 15:17). We also see His fire in the desert when He guided Israel with a pillar of flames (Exodus 13:21). Likewise, in our earliest worship of Him, he used fire as His means of interacting with the Israelites (Leviticus 9:24, 1 Chronicles 21:26, 2 Kings 1:12, 38, 1 Kings 18:24, 38, 2 Chronicles 7:1). Then in a more authoritative way, God inspired both Egypt and the Israelites with a plague of fire and hail (Exodus 9:13-35). Through this fiery destruction, Egypt suffered the consequences of its disobedience, while Israel was spared (V. 26). God even used fire to help challenge Job (Job 1:16). For God, fire seems to be a conduit to man.
God refines man with fire
God instructed the Israelites to purify anything contaminated in two ways: have it pass through fire (if it could stand the heat) or have it washed (Numbers 31:21-24). God figuratively does the same thing to us, by either having us cleanse ourselves or by refining us. Firstly, as Isaiah 1:16-17 and Jeremiah 4:14 tell us, we must wash ourselves of our sin. Secondly, as with fire, Jeremiah 6:27-29 tells us that God refines his people by testing removing the corrupted materials. Additionally, Isaiah 48:10 echoes that God will refine us through the furnace of suffering. Life’s external stressors are our fire which will help us to become purer, thus becoming better versions of ourselves. Equally, washing ourselves is us electing to turn from sin and towards God. Some methods God gives us to purify ourselves:
- Get sin out of your sight ( 1:16)
- Give up your evil ways ( 1:16)
- Be Just ( 1:16, Jer. 21:12)
- Help the oppressed ( 1:17, Jer. 21:12)
- Repent (Isaiah 1:27)
Note that we cannot purify ourselves without God (Job 9:30-31, Jeremiah 2:22). Remember, it is God who will test and refine us (Psalm 66:10, Proverbs 17:3, 27:21, Isaiah 48:10, Jeremiah 9:6, 17:10, Daniel 11:35). It is us who is empowered to change our own behavior. So, “…Even if your sins are like scarlet…” when we turn to Him and do these things, “…they (our sins) will be white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18).
Although all of this is a positive recipe to become more righteous, it must be shared some may not succeed. It states that in Jeremiah 2:22 lye doesn’t always work and in Amos 4:11 it implies fire may not always work either. What are the consequences for those that cannot be refined? Some religions like Christianity, Islam and certain Jewish sects might answer that those that choose not to be redeemed will end up in Hell. A pretty straight forward answer that even the agnostic can get behind. Hell, however, is not the answer when it comes to God’s Word the Tanakh.
Next Tuesday’s installment will answer these lingering questions and talk about the great refinement process during the eschatology (the final days).