The word “fire” in our English Bibles normally translates the Hebrew word esh in the Old Testament and the Greek word pur (the root from which such English term as “pyromaniac” and “pure” are derived) in the NT. Both terms signify the physical manifestations of burning heat:, light, and flame. Ancient peoples kindled fire either by rapidly rubbing dry pieces of wood together creating enough fiction to ignite dry vegetation or by striking flint rocks thus creating sparks (cp. 2 Macc 10:3). Normally, fires were maintained and perpetuated to avoid the need for kindling. Abraham, for example, apparently carried a torch with him on his way to sacrifice Isaac in order to prevent having to kindle one at the altar (Gen 22:6-7).
Throughout both the OT and NT, fire functions as a significant theological symbol. It is frequently associated with such important concepts as God’s presence, divine judgment, and purification. In fact, in the OT fire served as the primary means by which God manifested His presence and exercised judgment. Because of the sacrificial system, fire was an important aspect of early Israelite worship; it was the means by which animal sacrifices were offered up to God as a “pleasing aroma” (Gen 1:8; Exod 29:18,25,41).
When God appeared to Abram, He assumed the form of a smoking firepot and a flaming torch (Gen 15:17). Similarly, God appeared to Moses as a fiery bush when He first revealed His covenant name (Exod 3:2), and He spoke from the midst of a fire on top of Mount Sinai when He gave the Ten Commandments to Israel (Exod 19:8; 24:17; Deut 4:11-15). God also led the Israelites through the desert by means of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Deut 1:32-33). END OF PART 1
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