Sunday, August 29, 2010

on fire

The Word for today:
Malachi 2:10-3:5

mark this:  Malachi 3:1-2
Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire.

Fire is a wonderful thing.  It heats, it cooks, and it looks like magic.

Fire is an awful thing.  It'll burn down the house and everybody in it.

Three of the key theophanies—appearances of God—in the early books of the Bible are in the guise of fire:
A smoking furnace and burning lamp (Gen. 15:7-17);
the burning bush (Exodus 3:2ff);
the pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21).

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery explains why fire is such a fitting expression of God:

Just as fire is mysterious and immaterial, so too is God enigmatic and incorporeal. And just as fire is always flickering and changing its shape and cannot be held for examination, so is God always the indefinable who is beyond our grasp.
Fire is a moral neutral--like money, TV, the internet, or passion.   Whether fire is good or bad depends on the purpose it is used for.  The Bible shows fire used for two very different purposes:

1.) The fire of hell (punishment)--
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (Genesis 19:24)

2.) Refiner’s fire (discipline/purification)--
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:2-3)

Refiner's fire (discipline/purification) and the fire of hell (punishment) look alike, which makes it very difficult to tell the difference. Their similar appearance, for example, is the reason why Job's friends thought he was being punished, while we (as readers) know it was God's purpose to refine.

On the other hand, the LORD Jesus Christ faced the fire of hell when he died on the cross for our sins.  He needed no refining.

No child of God—except for God’s Only Begotten Son—ever faces the fire of hell.

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