The symbolic use of fire in the Bible provides a storehouse of information to help us grow in our walk with God.
Fire is an amazing energy.
It can destroy. It can purify. It can be used to cook food. It can be used to warm our bodies in the winter. It provides an ambience that can cause you to just stare into its dancing flames.
There are times it does double duty. For instance, the seed of the gigantic Douglas Fir trees in California cannot germinate until it has been in a fire.
The same fire that destroys an area also rejuvenates the same area.
Fire is also a mysterious energy.
While we may know the elements necessary for spontaneous combustion to occur, it is still a mystery to most as to how those flames originate from just a pile of rags.
We know the sun is a giant ball of flame, but it is not being consumed.
This mystery gave rise to the many mythological aspects of primitive religions which have the sun as one of their major gods.
We also use fire as a metaphor for expressing things not ordinarily associated with the flame of fire.
For instance, my heart is on fire for you.
Or, I feel the flames of passion stir within me when you are around.
Fire is used metaphorically in our reading from Jeremiah.
Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD,
and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
There is no mention in this verse of what the fire does as a symbol of the word of God.
The hammer is used as a symbol and is said to break rock into pieces.
The context of v. 29 is that the Lord is against the false and weak prophets who make up prophecies out of their own mind.
So, if we just took that fact to determine what is meant by v. 29, we would come to the conclusion that the fire is destructive.
After all, doesn’t the symbol of the hammer seem to be destructive?
If we back up just one verse, we find something interesting that does not seem to fit with the anger and frustration against the false prophets.
Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream,
but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.
What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD.
Here, in the midst of raging against the prophets, comes a different thought.
It is spoken concerning the true prophets.
They are to be faithful with the word of God.
Then, verse 29—which we are considering—comes into play.
What we see, then, is that the true word of God is like a fire and a hammer.
What is being prophesied here is that the word of God will have an effect on the hearts of those who hear it.
Not like the false prophecies of those who just want to make us feel good.
There is little effect from the prophecies of those who are speaking out of their own mind, but have not heard from the Lord.
They may have a large following, but that is because there is nothing to challenge the listeners.
Paul warned us of this in two different letters.
For the time is coming when people
will not endure sound teaching,
but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
This is about only taking in and accepting that which you want to hear, or that which already agrees with what you believe. Currently, the term is “confirmation bias.”
Then, to the Thessalonians, Paul writes
While people are saying,
“There is peace and security,”
then sudden destruction will come upon them
as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman,
and they will not escape.
What Jeremiah prophesied still occurs today.
People only pay attention to that which agrees with what they believe.
But, what about that fire of the word?
At the beginning I said that fire can be both purifying and destructive.
If we will think just a little deeper, we can see that both can be true at the same time.
As the fire purifies, it also destroys.
It destroys that which keeps the thing being purified from being completely pure.
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,
and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.
The Lord will sit as a refiner of gold and silver.
His purpose is to purify. And in this place, He is purifying His people.
That means us—you and me.
There is another reference to this process found in Zechariah.
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name, and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'” Zec 13:9
The refining process is done by fire.
We like to call it the fire of tribulation.
Many times the tribulation we experience only seems to get worse as we await God’s promise that things will get better.
There is a purpose in that, though.
The fire is increased in heat to make the metals melt.
As the metal melts and becomes fluid, the stuff that isn’t precious metal rises to the surface.
As it rises, the refiner takes a skimmer and skims the dross—the stuff that is not precious metal, the dirt—and takes it away.
However, the refiner continues to pump the bellows to blow the coals and make them even hotter.
That increases the heat underneath the precious metal, which, in turn causes the more stubborn dross to separate itself from the pure metal.
Once again, the skimmer is used.
This process is repeated until there is no more dirt to be removed.
How does the refiner know there is no more dross?
When he bends over the molten metal and sees his own reflection.
When the Lord is testing your life with a trial by fire, He is simply waiting for you to become more like Him.
God’s desire is to see His reflection in your life.
And that is what is meant by this verse in Jeremiah.
God’s word is a fire that purifies as it destroys.
God’s word is also a fire that kindles a fire within those whose heart is after Him.
Recall the story of the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus shortly after the Resurrection.
They were met by this stranger they did not recognize who began to share the word of God with them.
When they stopped for the night and were eating supper, Jesus broke bread with them in the same way He had done just a few days prior.
Then they understood.
When he was at table with them,
he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
And he vanished from their sight.
They said to each other,
“Did not our hearts burn within us
while he talked to us on the road,
while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
They were not referring to any acid indigestion when they made reference to their heart burning within them.
That is plainly a metaphor for the excitement they were feeling in the moment.
Do you ever have that feeling when you hear the word of God being read?
I do on occasion.
It causes an excitement within that is difficult to explain, but it makes me wish it would not go away.
This is an illustration of the metaphor of passion which I mentioned at the beginning.
There are many other references to fire in the Bible, and they comprise a wide range of applications and symbols.
Fire was used to guide the Hebrews out of Egypt at night.
The presence of God in their midst was seen as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.
Moses received his commission at a burning bush which was not being consumed by the flames.
The day of Pentecost is remembered as a time when small flames of fire appeared above each of the disciples in the upper room.
Fire in that place symbolized the impartation of power to the new believers.
For most of us, though, fire in the scriptures reminds us of judgement.
We think of the fires of hell and the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Therefore, we can see that fire in the Bible can represent many things
Interestingly, we can find all these things within Jeremiah’s statement of the word of God being a fire.
The writer of Hebrews confirms this thought also.
For the word of God is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing to the division of soul and of spirit,
of joints and of marrow,
and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
This verse likens the word of God to a sword, but it shows that the sword of the word is capable of all the same things we saw with fire.
It gets down on the inside of us all the way to our thoughts and intentions and desires.
It reveals whether the things contained in the deepest part of our being are in need of purification, destruction, judgment or empowerment.
Every Sunday, as a part of what we do on a regular basis, we say a prayer we’ve titled Prayer for Illumination.
In that prayer, we are asking God to open our minds and hearts and spirit to receive and understand the meaning of the readings for the day.
We want to know what the Holy Spirit would show each of us from that reading.
And for each of us that may be something different depending on where we are in our spiritual growth.
There is no question but that I personally love reading the Bible and learning what God has for me and for us.
Because of that, I continually encourage people to avail themselves of the practice of reading in the Scriptures.
I know that for many, this is a difficult thing to ask for various reasons.
Still, I encourage you to try it.
If reading the Bible and getting something out of it is a challenge for you, then may I make a simple suggestion?
Find a devotional that you can use such as Guideposts or Daily Bread and use it.
I promise you, there is encouragement available to you, but only if you take the opportunity presented to you.
What else can I say?
READ YOUR BIBLE.