Have you ever sat staring into a campfire late into the night and been mesmerized by the flickering flames? Fire is one of the most mysterious and fascinating creations of God. Nothing else has such power to destroy as well as to serve man for many tasks. When out of control it can quickly consume a house or forest and strike terror in every man and beast.
Fire appears many times in the Bible, not only because it was the primary means of heating and cooking, but as part of miracles, visions, and signs. Fire symbolizes many other things, such as God’s power and His anger towards sin, and man’s emotions of wrath, jealousy, or lust with which he can become consumed. The book of James compares the tongue’s sin of gossip to fire, because both can quickly spread destruction. (James 3: 5, 6)
The presence of God Himself was manifested to Moses from a burning bush, and a pillar of fire led the Israelites by night on their journey to Canaan.
Fire was very important in the worship of God in the Old Testament. Incense was burned as a sign of the prayers of God’s people reaching Him as a sweet smell. God required burnt offerings to be made as sacrifice for sin. Animals brought to the temple were killed, placed on the altar by the priest and completely burned as a sign of atonement for sin.
Once God sent fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice! In the miracle on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18), Elijah mocked the gathered priests of Baal as they vainly called on their idol god to send fire on their altar. Then he told them to drench his sacrifice and wood altar with 12 barrels of water. Elijah called on the name of the LORD, praying that He would reveal Himself. God answered with fire that consumed not only the bullock and wood but the stones, dust and water all around the sacrifice! What an unmistakable sign before the Baal worshippers, who confessed, “The LORD, HE is the God!”
Fire is a sign of God’s judgment and wrath on wickedness. Genesis 19 tells the story of the early cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed for their Godless lifestyle. God sent fire and brimstone (a smelly and flammable form of sulfur) to consume them, and they remain a monument of judgment to the world for all time.
II Peter 3:7 says that the present earth and heaven are reserved for fire and the judgment and destruction of the ungodly. At the end of the world the elements of the universe and earth will be dissolved with fire. This teaches us to look for the new heavens and earth which will last forever.
In contrast to judgment on the wicked, fire is also a metaphor of God’s instrument of refining His people, cleansing our sins and making us able to serve Him better. Sanctification is pictured as a process of refinement on the “metal” of the righteous. Precious metals are usually found mixed with other rock and soil and must be refined to obtain pure metal. Fire cannot consume metals but burns away the dirt around them leaving them pure. We, like a precious metal, are naturally filled with weakness, with sin ingrained in our hearts. “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD tries the heart” (Prov. 17:3). Fire upon the righteous only strengthens us, burning our old nature and making us into new and holy creatures.
I Peter 1:7 says, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” This verse teaches us to thank God even in the experiences that give us pain, because we know that afflictions serve to test and strengthen our faith.
So, next time you find yourself gazing into the flames, stop and remember God’s “fire-works,” and praise Him.*