There are lots of cases when fire is used symbolically in scripture, like when “the fire of the Lord burned against them.” But how often does the Bible refer to fire when it is not being used spiritually? We couldn't think of any.
I discovered that the word “fire” is found 659 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible. Fire is most often referred to as a spiritual symbol or as part of a ritual. Excluding the references to its use in war or occupation (to burn cities the ground, etc.) I found only eleven examples of fire where it is used in a practical, non-spiritual, sense.
Is that interesting? Maybe not, but it strikes me as unusual that something so common and mundane to everyday life should not be mentioned more often. Perhaps that speaks to the very dangerous nature of fire. Can you find some practical examples I missed?
Some typical examples of fire used symbolically:
- When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. (Gen 15:17 NRS)
- Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. (Gen 22:6 NRS)
- The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.
(Exo 13:21 NRS)
- The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.
- Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; (Lev 1:7-8 NRS)
- Now when the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, the LORD heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the LORD burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. (Num 11:1 NRS)
- But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars [ed. built to other gods], smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. (Deu 7:5 NRS)
- and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. (1Ki 19:12 NRS)
- Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. (Psa 50:3 NRS)
- When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. (Isa 43:2-3 NRS)
- Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Mat 3:10-11 NRS)
Examples of FIRE where it is used in the practical, non-spiritual, sense:
- They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. (Exo 12:7-8 NRS) [Even though this becomes part of an annual high holy ritual, here fire is used practically to cook meat.]
- Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!” (Isa 44:15-16 NRS)
- The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. (Jer 7:18 NRS)
- Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. (Jer 36:22-23 NRS)
- and said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. (Mat 17:15, and Mk 9:22, NRS)
- Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. (Mar 14:54, episode also in Luke 22:55, and
John 18:18 NRS)
- When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." (Joh 21:9-10 NRS)
- The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it. 3 Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.
(Act 28:2-3 NRS)