I got to thinking and researching about the different ways “fire” is used in the Bible, and I wanted to share with you some things that I found.
Fire signifies at least five things in the Bible: presence, passion, persecution, punishment, and purification.
Think about each of these with me.
First, think with me about fire as signifying presence—i.e., the presence of God. We see this repeatedly in the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus.
There is the story of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3). There is the story of God descending on Mount Sinai in fire (Exodus 19:18).
And there’s this story: “During the day the Lord went ahead of his people in a thick cloud, and during the night he went ahead of them in a flaming fire…” (Exodus 13:21-22 CEV).
Second, think with me about fire as signifying passion. Jeremiah described God’s word saying, “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9 NIV).
Similarly, Paul asked the question, “Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:29 NIV) — as, as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it, “When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut” (The Message).
Third, think with me about fire as signifying persecution. There is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship an idol (Daniel 3; cf. Hebrews 11:34).
Consider also when Jesus said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth,” and then proceeded to talk about family members being against one another (Luke 12:49-53 NASB).
Fourth, think with me about fire as signifying punishment. There are several stories about God using fire to punish people in the Old Testament (Leviticus 10:1-2, Numbers 11:1, 2 Kings 1, etc.).
And then in the New Testament, we read about “the fiery hell” (Matthew 5:22 NASB) and “the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41 NASB) and its association with “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46 NASB).
Fifth, and finally, think with me about fire as signifying purification. In Proverbs, we read, “Silver and gold are purified by fire, but God purifies hearts” (Proverbs 17:3 TLB).
The Life Application Study Bible noted, “It takes intense heat to purify gold and silver. Similarly, it often takes the heat of trials for the Christian to be purified. Through trials, God shows us what is in us and clears out anything that gets in the way of complete trust in him.
“Peter says, ‘These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — though your faith is far more precious than mere gold’ (1 Peter 1:7 [NLT]).
“So when tough times come your way, realize that God wants to use them to refine your faith and purify your heart.”
By Jake King
(Jake is the preacher at Seneca Church of Christ. He can be reached at (417) 776-3077.)