Last week in “Fire: A Crucial Component of God,” we discussed how God uses adversity like fire to refine us. We also addressed that when we repented and performed teshuva we are cleansing ourselves (Isaiah 1:16-18, 43:24-26, Micah 7:18-19). In pursuit for righteousness we have two factors: the fire of external challenges and the cleansing through internal drives. As effective as scripture tells us these processes are, there will be those that resist change. We know in Jeremiah 2:22 that sometimes cleansing doesn’t work and in Amos 4:11 sometimes fire does not always refine. What happens to those that cannot be purified?
The Hellish Myth of Fire
Some religions such as Islam, Christianity and certain Jewish sects1 would say for the truly evil there is Hell. Paradoxically, the Tanakh does not talk about a Hell yet the Talmud, New Testament and Quran do. This is peculiar because all three believe in the Tanakh (Christianity calls it the Old Testament whereas Islam calls the Torah the Tawrat). Hell actually came from the Greeks. Next question, how did this Greek mythology find its way into our modern culture? Answer: Hellenization. A method that the Greeks used to integrate occupied countries into their fold, combining their Greek culture with aspects of other culture. This homogenizes their beliefs with the beliefs of the occupied territories, therefore uniting both societies. The concept of Hell was written about in Plato’s Republic in about 380 BCE (three centuries before Christianity, and nine centuries before Islam). After Israel was occupied by Greece in about 330 BCE is when we start to see the concept of Hell in Jewish writings. Adding to the evil recipe is Gehenna, a place south of Jerusalem that children were sacrificed by fire to a pagan god (Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-6). Because of the evil of Gehenna 2,3, it supposedly became cursed therefore becoming the figurative equivalency for Hell. These notions (Gehenna and Plato) found their way into the Talmud then later into the New Testament and finally the Quran.
God Destroys with Fire
The Tanakh tells us that there will be a judgement by fire (Amos 5:6, 7:4, Isaiah 66:15-16, Jeremiah 21:12, Nahum 1:6). In that day Malachi 3:2 explains to us that God will be like a cleansing soap or a refining fire. Malachi goes on to say that those who fear God are His and will be written in His book (Malachi 3:16) and these people will be spared (Malachi 3:20). Some might say that the spared people would be the Jewish people but Zechariah 13:7-9 tells us that only a third of the people in the land (Israel) will be spared. Tanakh also tells us that there will be other people besides the Jews that will exist in the end times (Isaiah 11:10, Zephaniah 3:9, Zechariah 8:22-23, 14:16). These survivors, God’s people, will be purified like how fire purifies gold.
What about the remaining two thirds and those non-Jews that are not spared? History of the Tanakh does show us that God destroys evil people with fire (Genesis 19:24, Leviticus 10:2, Numbers 11:1-3, 2 Kings 1:10-14). Jeremiah 6:27-30 is very graphic in telling us that these people are like rejected silver. As we know, God does destroy evil with fire (Isaiah 1:31, 66:24, Malachi 3:19), possible because of where the concept of Hell’s fire comes from. As Isaiah 29:6 tells us God is a consuming fire and appears to consume wickedness conclusively, whereas Islam and Christianity possess a Hell fire that is everlasting (The New Testament Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:43, Revelation 14:11 and the Quran AYAT al-Baqarah 2:167, AL-MA’IDAH 5:37).
The concept of a tormenting fire might have to do with the Greek writings that talk about Tartarus4, a place of imprisonment for the wicked beneath the earth. The Greeks influenced some Jews (i.e. Hellenistic Jews) and their concepts filtered down into the Talmud, New Testament and finally the Quran. However, when we look at the Psalms, it appears that the wicked will simply be destroyed (Psalm 1:4-6, 37:38, 112:10).
Those that are considered God’s will be purified as if by fire or water (Deuteronomy 32:43, Isaiah 4:4, Ezekiel 22:17-22, Zechariah 13:1, 9, Daniel 11:35, 12:10). Then they will rebuild God’s Holy Temple (Zechariah 8:11-13). The Levitical priesthood will become refined as with fire (Malachi 3:3) and reinstituted. Those that will survive God’s judgement (Ezekiel 36:25-27) will be worthy enough to participate in His reestablished Temple. As we read the last nine chapters of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40-48) we will see that in the end days all has been separated, refined and put back in place. Then we will go back to the sacrifice system, as it was originally established.
- Rabbi Brawer, Naftali. “Should I Believe in a Jewish Hell?” Should I Believe in a Jewish Hell? | The Jewish Chronicle. THE JEWISH CHRONICLE ONLINE, 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
- Dennis, Geoffrey. “Sheol, Gehinnom, Gehenna: Hell in Judaism.” Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
- Ludwig Blau, Kaufmann Kohler. “GEHENNA (Hebr. ; Greek, Γέεννα):.” Jewish Encyclopedia (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.