The mention of fire in the Bible brings to mind images of light, cleansing, and power, and frequently represents God. In Deuteronomy 4:23-24 we read about how Moses warned the children of Israel. "Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." If we look back to the days when God called Abram to the land of Israel, we see that He made a covenant with him and came as fire in the process. "When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. (of the animals for sacrifice) On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram..." (Genesis 15:17-18) In Abram's day it was a custom to light a torch when a covenant was being made. God was making a promise to Abram to give him the land of Israel as an inheritance. The fire moving through the pieces of the sacrifice represented God.
The glory of God was manifest through fire during all of Moses' visits to Mount Sinai. Exodus 19:18 tells us, "Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire." During one of his visits to The Mountain of the Lord, God gave Moses instructions for Aaron and his sons regarding the tabernacle altar. "The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out." (Leviticus 6:13) It was the fire that consumed the sacrifice. The prophet Elijah demonstrated the power of the One True God to the prophets of Baal and all the people of Israel. A bull was placed on the altar of the prophets of Baal and one on the altar of Elijah. Elijah declared, "The god who answers by fire—he is God." (1 Kings 18:24) A pillar of fire guided the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. This pillar of fire also gave protection to the Israelites when the Egyptian army pursued them. "Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them." (Exodus 14:19)
The familiar image of fire from the Old Testament is repeated in the New Testament. Before Jesus left the earth and returned to His Father, He instructed His disciples not to leave Jerusalem. He had a gift for them. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Jesus knew that many people would be coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. His followers had been counting the weeks from Passover to the celebration of the wheat harvest and the giving of Torah. Another aspect was about to be added to this festival.
As the disciples waited in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 2:2-4) Fire came again, as it did throughout the history of the children of Israel, to deliver them from fear and to empower them to move into God's mission to build His church with both Jew and Gentile.
Today is that day when the Church celebrates Pentecost or Shavuot. We have also been given the gift of power through the Holy Spirit so that we can carry God's Spirit to the world. Let us keep the flames of the Spirit burning through our humility and worship of the One True God. Pray, "Lord, set our hearts on fire so that we become blazing torches to bring the nations to You."
Joan E. Mathias