Monday, April 27th, 2020
When Moses met God, what does the Book of Exodus say happened? What did Moses see? Moses saw a bush aflame, yet not consumed. Why did God reveal himself to Moses from fire or perhaps even as fire? Why does God appear in the midst of fire again and again in Exodus? Does fire have specific scriptural symbolic significance?
I would like to suggest here that fire is indeed an important scriptural symbol. Fire does have symbolic significance, beginning in Exodus, if not before. And fire continues to have the same symbolic significance through the whole Bible. Somewhat cryptically, Hebrews 12:29 says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” What does that mean? How is God a consuming fire?
We need to understand that fire signifies something. Fire is a symbol.
So what does fire signify in scripture? What does it symbolize? Some say that fire signifies or symbolizes judgment. Granted, to see judgment makes a lot of sense. Fire often implies God’s wrath and thus judgment. But in scripture fire does not always imply judgment and wrath. For example, consider the burning bush encounter. Through most of the passage the LORD appears in the fire, yet does not initially evince anger — not until Moses repeatedly attempts to refuse the LORD’s commission. Then yes, the passage says that LORD’s anger burned against Moses (see Exodus 4:14). At the very beginning of the burning bush encounter, though, God calls attention to another of his characteristics. A divine attribute is specifically brought to the fore and emphasized. In Exodus 3:5 Moses is told to take off his sandals for a reason. Moses is standing on holy ground.
Here’s my suggestion: How about seeing fire as holiness, instead? Maybe holiness is a better fit. Judgment is not out and out wrong. It’s just not broad enough. In scripture, holiness is what is signified by fire. I’ll say it again, and for the record: Holiness is what is signified by fire.
Why does it matter? It matters because it will help you understand how the symbolism is used throughout the Bible and in the Book of Revelation. When you hear or read fire in Revelation, think in terms of holiness. It will help. It will help you make sense of what you read.
Another thing comes to mind. If you’re willing to consider the possibility that fire does symbolize holiness, then go back and ponder what you already know about fire.
Fire is terrifyingly destructive. It can completely consume. It hurts. It even kills. It is incredibly dangerous. It needs to be approached with deliberate forethought and great care.
But, if approached properly and handled correctly, fire is hugely and positively transformative. Fire means heat. It can heat ovens, rooms, houses, cities. It can also purify and purge. It can empower. It can transform. It can be exchanged and transferred without loss, over and over and over. It gives off light. It’s easily one of humanity’s most important tools. Civilization depends on fire.
And fire is also intrinsically fascinating. It is beautiful to behold, thus the allure of campfires. And it is mysterious, even paradoxical. What even is it? Thinkers have asked that for aeons.
Given all these qualities of fire, we return to scripture. In scripture God intentionally and often associates himself with fire. It’s an important symbol, a symbol he chooses for himself. Our God is a consuming fire, which is another way of saying God is holy. We are wise to treat him accordingly. And as we read through Revelation, keep that symbolism in mind. It will help.
P.S. The Bible Project video on the theme of holiness is really good: https://bibleproject.com/explore/holiness/
2 thoughts on “Fire”
Well stated! I had not thought much about the overall implications of God being represented by fire outside of individual instances, such as Abraham’s covenant with God in Gen 15. I agree that there is much more to this on a larger scale and appreciate your discussion on the topic.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights. I’ll be thinking about the symbolism of fire for awhile.