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December 15, 2009

by:  Teri Riddering, Coordinator, BFP Spanish Resource Center

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God in the Midst

God does not have a physical shape by which He is contained and limited, nor can He be seen by us with our naked eye. Nevertheless, He has often revealed Himself to mankind through fire. God walked among the parts of the sacrificial animals in order to establish His covenant with Abraham, where“… there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces” (Gen. 15:17). God also spoke to Moses through a visible fire, resembling a “burning bush” that was not consumed (Exod. 3:2). He then led the Israelites through the desert in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:21–24). Yet the invisibility of God is described in passages such as, “And the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice” (Deut. 4:12).

Eternal, Consuming Fire

God commanded Moses that the fire on the altar should never go out (Lev. 6:13). According to Jewish tradition, the fire of the altar came down from heaven during the time of Moses and the Tabernacle (Yoma 21b), was transferred to the Temple of Solomon, and remained there burning until the reign of Manasseh (Yalkut, Kings 187). In ancient times, the fire of the menorah (seven-branched candelabra) in the Tabernacle was kindled daily, and thereafter in the Temple, representing God’s eternal light. Today, synagogues have a ner tamid, or “eternal light,” in the form of candles or an electric candelabra burning in front of the ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept.

In a confrontation between the prophet Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal assembled on Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal could not bring down fire from heaven to burn their sacrifice on the altar (1 Kings 18:19–40). But after Elijah’s prayer, God publicly sent down fire from heaven to consume and validate the sacrifice of His servant, for which they exclaimed, “The LORD, He is God!” (v. 39).

As we see above, God’s fire can be very powerful and dangerous to the disobedient: For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). Leviticus 10:1–3 tells how Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, were consumed by fire when they “offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.” Jewish sages interpret that this fire was earthly fire, not taken from the eternal, holy fire as it should have been, and God expressed His anger through fire. “A fire goes before Him, and burns up His enemies round about” (Ps. 97:3).

Gehinnom (the Jewish term for hell, named after a valley south of Jerusalem where children were often sacrificed to the pagan god Moloch) is a place of torment and self-consuming fire reserved for the wicked after death. There, “the light of the wicked shall be put out, and the spark of his fire shall not shine” (Job 18:5).

Fire that Unites and Purifies

An interesting way of analyzing esh is by the words “man” and “woman.” Both share the two identical letters: alef (א) and shin (ש), which spell esh. “Man” (ish, א’ש)has an additional yod (,) while “woman” (ishah,א’שה ) has a hey (ה ) at the end. These extra letters create the shorter form of God’s name (Yah,‘ה ), implying that God unites the couple and makes the union holy. But without these letters, God is removed, signifying that the married couple only has fire (esh) between them. The fire allows for sexual relations, but in the absence of a common relationship with God, the fire becomes consuming lust that can destroy the union.

God demanded, in biblical times, to purify certain items that were considered unclean by making them go through fire, such as gold, silver, and copper (Num. 31:23). That is how metal artisans today still refine their work, by applying heat and fire to them. The Lord also uses “fire” to try His people, Israel, as well as believers in Yeshua (Jesus), to assure that we come out spiritually pure (Zech. 13:9). May we each be strengthened to resist all the trials that come our way, so that our faith, “being much more precious than gold that perishes…may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).

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