FIRE: Esh. Feminine Noun. (Strong’s 784).
Sounds like: esh (rhymes with mesh)
Fire and religion have a complicated history. People tend to go right to the destructive aspects of fire, and think immediately of the lake of fire, eternal flames, and some sort of torturing hell. Much of what we view as hell-fire was appropriated from late medieval writings and art, and has little connection to the Biblical text. Late medieval artists and writers often pulled metaphorical Biblical images and embellished them for full shock-value effect, and the most popular image used to illustrate hell was fire.
But Biblical fire imagery had a lot more going for it, than just a simplistic idea of hell.
In fact, fire was associated with the ultimate Being of Perfection. The primary physical descriptor of the Presence of God, in the Tanakh (Old Testament), was fire:
- The angel of YHWH appeared to him in a blazing fire [esh] from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire [ba-esh], yet the bush was not being consumed. (Exodus 3:2)
- YHWH descended onto Mount Sinai in fire [ba-esh] and smoke. (Exodus 19:18-19)
- “The appearance of the glory of YHWH was like a consuming fire [ka-esk] on the mountain top.” (Exodus 24:17)
- YHWH went before them in a pillar of cloud to guide their way by day, and in a pillar of fire [esh] to give them light by night, so that they could travel by day or night. (Exodus 13:21). (See also Exodus 14:24 & Exodus 40:36-38).
- Ezekiel envisioned YHWH enthroned and clothed in fire [esh] and radiance (Ezekiel 1:26-28).
Because YHWH was never shown in physical form in the Old Testament, (only as a voice cloaked in fire), there was no model from which to create an image bearing idol of God:
Deuteronomy 4:11-12, 15-16a, 23-24
“You came forward and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire [ba-esh] to the heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud, and thick gloom. Then YHWH spoke to you from the midst of the fire [ha-esh]; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—there was only a voice….
So be very careful yourselves, since you did not see any form on the day YHWH spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire [ha-esh], so that you do not act corruptly and make a carved image for yourselves in the form of any figure…”
…So be careful yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of YHWH your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything against which YHWH your God has commanded you. For YHWH your God is a consuming fire [YHWH Eloheka esh ok’lah hu], a jealous God.
You cannot capture fire; it does not translate well as an idol, just as you cannot truly represent light. But that was what YHWH was… a pillar of fire by night… a light in the darkness.
In the New Testament, Yeshua (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit were also associated with fire:
- At the transfiguration (Matthew 17:2, Luke 9:29), Yeshua shone like the sun. He reflected God’s glory, like he was a pillar of fire.
- At the feast of Shavuot (Penteost) the Holy Spirit rested on each person like a fiery tongue (Acts 2:1-4)
YHWH, Yeshua and the Spirit were purifying fires. Fire was not all bad news in the Bible!
Fire & the Anger of God
But we also read that YHWH was a consuming fire, a jealous God. He yearned for the devotion of His people because He wanted them to choose well and live well.
YHWH had been cloaked in fire and met His people as a powerful but benevolent God. But when humans tried to become gods of their own making, putting power, and money, and sex, and destruction above God, then the benevolent fire of YHWH became a consuming fire. Wickedness could not stand side by side with YHWH, and those who stood against Him would be swallowed up in the fire of God’s anger.
When Aaron’s sons offered “strange fire” without awe or reverence, they were consumed:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire [esh] in them, placed incense on the fire [esh] and offered strange fire [esh] before YHWH, which He had not commanded them. And fire [esh] came out from the presence of YHWH and consumed them, and they died before YHWH.
Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what YHWH spoke, saying,
‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honoured.’”
In Deuteronomy 32, YHWH called out the Hebrew people for abandoning and rejecting Him, and turning and embracing pagan gods:
Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, sons in whom there is no faithfulness.
They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
For a fire [esh] has flared in My anger, and it burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and devours the earth with its yield, and
sets on fire [burns] the foundations of the mountains.
YHWH could not let wickedness stand. However, YHWH’s fiery anger was never out of control. Fire was under His dominion, and with the words of repentance fire stopped in its tracks:
Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the ears of YHWH; and YHWH heard them and His anger was kindled, and the fire of YHWH [esh YHWH] burned among them and consumed some at the outskirts of the camp. The people then cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to YHWH, and the fire [ha-esh] died out. So that place was named Taberah [place of burning], because the fire of YHWH [esh YHWH] burned among them.
The Bible did not hide the fact that God got angry. He hated violence, death and destruction, and when He watched His creation deal with others in violent and destructive ways, His anger burned. He was not oblivious to the horrors of this world. He watched and responded:
Psalm 11:4-7 (see also Psalm 21:8-11 & 2 Samuel 22:8-9a)
YHWH is in His holy temple; YHWH’s throne is in heaven; His eyes see, His eyelids test the sons of mankind.
YHWH tests the righteous and the wicked, and His soul hates one who loves violence.
He will rain coals of fire [esh] upon the wicked, and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For YHWH is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will see His face.
YHWH would clear out the wicked and raise up the righteous! The Bible included real time destruction of YHWH’s enemies, but often it spoke prophetically of a future day when God’s justice would take a final stand before ushering the Kingdom.
The great Day of the LORD (Day of YHWH) was a way of presenting YHWH’s final reckoning for His enemies (the proponents of death and destruction).
Zephaniah 1:14-18 (see also Zephaniah 3:8 & Joel 2:1-5)
The great day of YHWH is near, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of YHWH! In it the warrior cries out bitterly.
That day is a day of anger, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and the high corner towers.
I will bring distress on mankind so that they will walk like those who are blind, because they have sinned against YHWH; and their blood will be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of YHWH’s anger; and all the earth will be devoured by the fire [u-v-esh] of His jealousy,
For He will make a complete end, indeed a horrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.
The prophet Nahum recognized this day of God’s burning anger, but he asked two relevant questions:
Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath gushes forth like fire [ka-esh], and the rocks are broken up by Him.
YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.
But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, and will pursue His enemies into darkness.
Not all would feel the metaphorical fire of YHWH’s anger. YHWH would recognize those who called on Him for refuge and protection. He would recognize His loyal people, and only His enemies would He pursue like fire into darkness.
But sometimes our lives feel like we’re on the wrong side of God’s good graces. Sometimes it feels like we’re living through some sort of metaphorical fire. The Psalmist often felt that way:
How long, YHWH?
Will You hide Yourself forever?
Will Your wrath burn like fire [esh]?
Remember what my lifespan is; for what futility You have created all the sons of mankind!
What man can live and not see death? Can he save his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah
No human could save their own soul from the power of death. We all go to the grave (sheol) but, by the power of God and the sacrifice of Yeshua, we don’t all stay there. Even when our days feel like hell on earth, we are to remember that this life is fleeting. There is a heavenly reward awaiting, where no tears, pain or sorrow exist. The many little fires in our lives are difficult to handle, but they are not eternal. They will all be extinguished in the Presence of YHWH.
Fire & Sacrifice
YHWH was, and is the God of Life. Death had no place in His kingdom. The Adversary of God was the ‘god’ of death, and many of the Canaanite religions made death central to their religious experience. Because of this, child sacrifice was not uncommon, and YHWH hated it:
“When you enter the land which YHWH your God is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire [ba-esh], one who uses divination, a soothsayer, one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who consults the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to YHWH; and because of these detestable things YHWH your God is going to drive them out before you. You are to be blameless before YHWH your God.”
The abominable religious ritual of sacrificing children in fire was abhorrent to YHWH. It was mentioned repeatedly through the Tanakh (2 Kings 16:3, 2 Kings 17:17, 31, 2 Kings 21:6, 2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 19:5).
So when three of His own adult children were put into a fire, the Angel of YHWH stood amongst them and saved them. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (more commonly known by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. As a result, they were thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. [Keep in mind, Daniel chapter 3 was written in Aramaic and uses the Aramaic word for fire, nur/nura]:
Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps, and their other clothes, and were thrown into the middle of the furnace of blazing fire [nura]. For this reason, because the king’s command was harsh and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire [nura] killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell into the middle of the furnace of blazing fire [nura] still tied up.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up quickly; he said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the middle of the fire [nura]?”
They replied to the king, “Absolutely, O king.”
He responded, “Look! I see four men untied and walking about in the middle of the fire [nura] unharmed, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”
Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire [nura]; he said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came out of the middle of the fire [nura]. The satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire [nura] had no effect on the bodies of these men, nor was the hair of their heads singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had even the smell of fire [nur] touched them.
Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and rescued His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and surrendered their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who had burned Jerusalem and the House of God with fire (2 Kings 25:9), was now convinced, by fire, that YHWH was a God who deserved his respect!
He saw a miracle in fire, and it was enough for him to hold Daniel’s God in high esteem. But it would take the threat of his own life, (his own metaphorical refining by fire), before Nebuchadnezzar would turn from respecting YHWH to praising YHWH (see Daniel 4:37).
YHWH Provided the Sacrifice
YHWH never wanted his children (at any stage of their lives) to be killed as sacrifices. He hated human sacrifice! It defeated their purpose of being image bearers on this planet. It was a waste of God’s human resources.
So when YHWH asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on an altar of fire, we should know that there was something more profound taking place:
Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Look, the fire [ha-esh] and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
When they got where they were going, Abraham bound his son and placed him on a quickly constructed altar. Abraham planned on killing Isaac with a knife and offering his son as a sacrifice in fire. But this was not what God wanted, and He stopped Abraham immediately:
He said, “Do not reach out your hand against the boy, and do not do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham named that place YHWH Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “On the mountain of YHWH it will be provided.”
It would be the same mountain, years later, where Yeshua (Jesus) would be crucified. God would not ask people to sacrifice their children, He would provide His own Son to do the one task that would reverse the curse of humanity. Yeshua became the sacrificial lamb for the fire; He would lay down His life for the the Children of God. Death held humans down, but Yeshua went to the grave and rose out of it, symbolically announcing that death no longer had a hold on God’s people.
YHWH Provided the Fire
Burnt sacrifices were common religious functions in the Tabernacle. Killing a lamb, goat, or heifer, and presenting the burned meat on the altar was a way of giving back to God what He had provided for them.
For the purpose of sacrifice, the Temple had a continuous eternal fire that was never to be extinguished:
And the fire [w-ha-esh] on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. Fire [esh] shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.
This everlasting fire was to be maintained and fed continually. But YHWH didn’t need humans to start a fire for Him. There were a few times in the Bible when YHWH came and consumed the offering by His own fire:
- Then fire [esh] went out from YHWH and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell face downward. (Leviticus 9:24)
- Gideon’s Offering: Then the angel of YHWH put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire [ha-esh] came up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of YHWH vanished from his sight. (Judges 6:21)
- When Manoah and his wife presented an offering to the “Man of God”, the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of YHWH ascended in the flame of the altar. (Judges 13:20)
- Elijah the prophet challenged the priests of Baal. He suggested that they prepare an offering with no fire and the god who answered by fire would be proclaimed the true God (1 Kings 18:24):
1 Kings 18:38
Then the fire of YHWH [esh YHWH] fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood, and the stones and the dust; and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell on their faces; and they said, “YHWH, He is God; YHWH, He is God!”
The Messiah: Refiner’s Fire
YHWH presented Himself to humans in the form of fire, but Yeshua, who came to earth as a human, would refine God’s people with fire.
[Jesus:] “I have come to cast fire [Greek: pyr] upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you think that I came to provide peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Yeshua came to widen the gap between the wicked and good, life and death. He did not come to let things carry on as they had been, He came to shake things up! With metaphorical fire Yeshua cleared the way, making a more direct path to YHWH than had ever been there before. He would cast fire, and clear out the thorny path. He understood his Messianic role because it was clearly outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures:
[YHWH:] “Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a way before Me. And the Lord, whom you are seeking, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says YHWH of armies.
Yeshua would clear the way, but He would also refine His people with fire:
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire [k’esh], and like launderer’s soap. And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to YHWH offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to YHWH as in the days of old, and as in former years.
Yeshua would purify the advocates of God’s word, through a fiery refining process. This was good, and necessary, fire.
The prophet Zechariah also envisioned the Messianic Shepherd refining all the people of God:
[YHWH:] “Awake, sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man, My Associate,” declares YHWH of armies. “Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered; and I will turn My hand against the little ones.”
”And it will come about in all the land,” declares YHWH, “that two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it.
And I will bring the third part through the fire [ba-esh], refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested.
They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘YHWH is my God.’”
The Psalmist understood that humans were constantly tested and refined… a sometimes painful process. But through it all, YHWH never wavered in His devotion to His people. There would be goodness awaiting us, at the end:
Bless our God, you peoples, and sound His praise abroad, who keeps us in life, and does not allow our feet to slip.
For You have put us to the test, God; You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon us.
You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire [ba-esh] and through water.
Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.
Words like Fire, Tongues of Fire
Another common metaphor was tongues of fire and words of fire:
[YHWH:] “Is My word not like fire [ka-esh]?” declares YHWH, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares YHWH, “who steal My words from each other. Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares YHWH, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares!’”
YHWH’s words were meant to be life shattering for those willing to read and learn, but for many people the words didn’t sink in. Rather than be immersed in the word of God, they would be consumed by it:
[YHWH:] Behold, I am making My words fire [l-esh] in your mouth, and this people wood, and it will consume them.
When the words of YHWH came out like fire, they did not destroy those who followed Him. But when humans tried to be gods and used their own words like fire, it had a disastrous effect:
A worthless person digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire [ka-esh].
The apostle James understood the devastating power of the human tongue and the toxic words it could unleash:
And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
Jehoiakim, king of Judah certainly set on fire the course of his life when he discarded the words of YHWH. Jeremiah had written down YHWH’s words and presented them to Jehoiakim, but the king threw the scroll, piece by piece, into the fire:
Jeremiah 36:23, 32
And when Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut it with a scribe’s knife and threw it into the fire [ha-esh] that was in the brazier, until all of the scroll was consumed in the fire [ha-esh] that was in the brazier…
…Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch the son of Neriah, and he wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire [ba-esh]; and many similar words were added to them.
Fire consumes and destroys, but human words can be re-written! YHWH’s words were eternal, and those who discarded the words of YHWH would find themselves consumed and discarded.
Therefore, as a tongue of fire [esh] consumes stubble, and dry grass collapses in the flame, so their root will become like rot, and their blossom blow away like dust;
For they have rejected the Law of YHWH of armies, and discarded the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Listening to people’s toxic words tears us down. It does not lift us up. But the words of YHWH are like a good fire, warming and illuminating our lives.
YHWH wants to save us, and He will, but we have to put our trust and our faith in Him. When we do, YHWH will pull us out of our hotspot, like a log snatched from the fire (see Zechariah 3:1-4, Amos 4:11). He will rescue and redeem us, and keep us safe from the consuming fire that permeates our lives.
Fire and Hell
And so we arrive at the most popular metaphor for fire: Hell.
We are only given a few glimpses of the concept of hell in the Tanakh (Old Testament). David hoped for a dramatic punishment for his enemies, which included fire and an inescapable bottomless pit:
Psalm 140:10 (Psalm of David)
“May burning coals fall upon them [the wicked]; may they be cast into the fire [ba-esh], into bottomless pits from which they cannot rise.”
This was David’s hope, his speculation on the eternal punishment of God’s enemies.
Isaiah, however, spoke prophetically of a new heaven and the new earth, where the rebels of God would not abide. They would be corpses, without life; worm fodder in an inextinguishable fire:
Isaiah 66:22-24 (see also Mark 9:42-49)
“For just as the new heavens and the new earth, which I make, will endure before Me,” declares YHWH, “So will your descendants and your name endure.”
“And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says YHWH.
“Then they will go out and look at the corpses of the people who have rebelled against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire [w-eesham] will not be extinguished; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”
All that was left of the enemies of YHWH was their lifeless corpses. The worm would continually feed off the great pile of those who rejected YHWH, and a fire would continually burn and consume the bodies to ashes. It was a horrific sight that offended the senses.
Yeshua spoke of hell a few times, particularly in the book of Matthew. In one of His parables He explained the use of fire for the wicked:
[Jesus:] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they pulled it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away.
So it will be at the end of the age: the angels will come forth and remove the wicked from among the righteous, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The wicked would get tossed, and it wouldn’t be easy. There would be tears and gnashing of teeth, but into the fire they would go, because they could not stay in God’s Kingdom. The wicked could not exist eternally in the Presence of YHWH and amongst the redeemed people of God. There was no place for blight in paradise.
The Consuming Fire
Fire was a good metaphor for the punishment of the wicked because wild fire destroyed everything in its path. It was never satisfied:
There are three things that will not be satisfied, four that will not say, “Enough”:
(1) Sheol, (2) the infertile womb, (3) earth that is never satisfied with water, and (4) fire [w-esh] that never says, “Enough.”
Fire would last as long as it was supported and fed, but it’s actions were always the same: full consumption. Fire consumed and destroyed things immediately. Even if the fire lasted forever, what was placed in the fire would be destroyed in a moment. There were only two exceptions to this rule, in the Bible:
(1) YHWH: YHWH was not at all affected by the fire He created. When He stood in the burning bush there was no consumption or destruction, in the midst of the fire:
Then the angel of YHWH appeared to him in a blazing fire [esh] from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire [ba-esh], yet the bush was not being consumed.
(2) Ha-Satan and his co-conspirators: The Adversary, the beast and the false prophet, were thrown into the lake of fire, in John’s vision, but they were not consumed and destroyed immediately like everything else:
Revelation 20:10-12a, 15
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, into which the beast and the false prophet had already been thrown [see Rev.19:20]. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and the One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne…
…And if anyone was found whose name was not written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Everything on the earth would face the same fate when it was struck by fire, but the supernatural creatures in the Bible reacted differently. YHWH created and controlled the everlasting fire; His Adversaries chose their fate and suffered in it.
Humans, not written in the Book of Life, were thrown into the Lake of Fire, but we are not given any indication that they faced the exact same fate as the three chief adversaries of YHWH (the anti-trinity). Humans lived under the natural laws of life on earth. Fire consumed them and they were eliminated.
Yeshua put it this way:
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you accursed people, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”
The fire was prepared, not for humans, but for the supernatural Adversary and his messengers (angels). Humans who chose to follow God’s Adversary, and choose death over life, would be thrown in and consumed like chaff, destroyed completely and turned to ashes:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says YHWH of armies, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branches.”
“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and frolic like calves from the stall. And you will crush the wicked underfoot, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I am preparing,” says YHWH of armies.
Although we know very little about what is to come, there are conflicting ideas about Hell, in particular.
To confuse thing, Yeshua gave a parable about Hades, the Greek concept of death in Luke 16. Hades was a tortuous place with rivers of hate, pain, fire and wailing. In Yeshua’s parable, a rich man died and was sent to Hades, and a poor man, Lazarus, died and was gathered in Abraham’s arms and taken to paradise. The rich man prayed to Abraham and begged him to send Lazarus to give him water and stop the torment of fire he was living in. Abraham refused, and pointed out the deep canyon between them. So the rich man asked that his brothers be warned about their impending fate. But Abraham refused saying, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’
When speaking of hell, Yeshua usually used the Hebrew word Gehinnom (Aramaic: Gehenna) (meaning, Valley of Hinnom). Gehenna highlighted the Hebrew concept of Hell as a burning place of corpses, outside (and apart from) the holy city of Jerusalem. But in this story Yeshua used the word Hades, the Greek concept of Hell. Hades certainly involved a tortuous death, but the point Yeshua was making with this story wasn’t about heaven and hell, it was about people’s reaction to His upcoming death and resurrection. Yeshua would die a tortuous death on earth, and then He would rise from the dead. Yeshua’s resurrection would not persuade anyone who cared so little for God’s word. For those who held onto the Greek beliefs of life after death, they would hardly be affected by Yeshua’s great sacrifice because they paid no attention to the word of God, and stubbornly held onto their pantheistic beliefs.
Of course this is a “hot topic” (pun intended) and many hold onto a belief of eternal conscious torment. Although there are very few supporting passages in the Old Testament, we see more evidence of this concept in the Greek influenced culture of first century Israel, primarily because eternal conscious torment agreed with the Greek concept of Hades.
Hebrew scripture, as we have seen, used fire primarily as a metaphor (fire as God’s anger, fire as God’s word, fire as a harsh tongue, fire as a tool of refinement). To help with the debate, the prophet Isaiah asked some good questions. Can anyone live in a consuming fire that does not go out?
Isaiah 33:14b-16, 21-22
“Who among us can live with the consuming fire [esh]? Who among us can live with everlasting burning?”
One who walks righteously and speaks with integrity, one who rejects unjust gain and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe; one who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking at evil.
He will dwell on the heights, his refuge will be the impregnable rock; his bread will be given him, his water will be sure…
…But there the majestic One, YHWH, will be for us a place of rivers and wide canals on which no boat with oars will go, and on which no mighty ship will pass—
For YHWH is our judge, YHWH is our lawgiver, YHWH is our king; He will save us!
Humans cannot live in a consuming fire; they also cannot live in an environment of everlasting burning. Those who did not choose to follow YHWH would be burned, consumed, and (arguably) exterminated. But those who walked in righteousness, with integrity, they would come to dwell on the heights, alongside YHWH their Saviour.
Fire and Light
This powerful metaphor of fire highlighted the better choice: Follow YHWH and walk through the fire unscathed. Or follow your own path and get burned.
But now, this is what YHWH says, He who is your Creator, Jacob, and He who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire [esh], you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.
For I am YHWH your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour…
The flame burned and consumed until there was nothing left. Even if the fire lasted forever, what was placed in the fire was destroyed in a moment. But for those who followed YHWH, when they found themselves in the fire (like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego), YHWH would stand amongst them and keep them safe.
We don’t need fire and torture for Hell to be a terrifying place. What makes Hell horrific, is the reunion that will never take place. Walking with God in the Garden is reserved for those who choose it, those who don’t won’t ever get there, and all that they know and love will be gone in an instant.
YHWH presented Himself to humanity in fire on a mountaintop; Yeshua presented Himself as the fire who would refine us, and the Spirit presented itself as the fire within us. Fire is a good thing, not a bad thing. But it will burn you if you don’t give it the respect it deserves. Outside of God’s hands fire destroys, but with God, fire illuminates! While you live, let the fire of your Spirit be a light to those around you… and when death knocks on the door, look for the fire of YHWH’s Presence to lead you home.
Next week: wine