And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire,
&c.] An emblem of the various tongues and languages, in which they were to preach the Gospel; these appearances were like flames of fire parted, and these parted flames looked like tongues; so, a flame of fire is with, the Jews called, (va Nwvl) , "a tongue of fire", ( Isaiah 5:24 ) hence the Apostle James compares a tongue to fire, ( James 3:6 ) this was the baptism with fire, John the Baptist speaks of, (See Gill on Matthew 3:11); and the Jews say F20,
``the holy blessed God baptizeth with fire, and the wise shall understand.''Through this baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, the apostles became more knowing, and had a greater understanding of the mysteries of the Gospel, and were more qualified to preach it to people of all nations and languages. The Holy Spirit, in his gifts and graces, is compared to fire, because of its purity, light, and heat, as well as consuming nature; the Spirit sanctifies, and makes men pure and holy, purges from the dross of sin, error and superstition; and enlightens the minds of men, and gives them knowledge of divine and spiritual things; and fills them with zeal and fervour for the glory of God and Christ, and the good of his church and interest, and for the doctrines and ordinances of the Gospel; as well as fortifies them against their enemies, whom he consumes, according to ( Zechariah 2:5 ) a passage of Scripture the Jews make use of in an uncommon sense; for they say F21, that as
``Jerusalem was destroyed by fire, "by fire it shall be built again"; as it is said, ( Zechariah 2:5 ) "For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about".''The pouring forth of the Spirit upon the apostles, in this form of cloven tongues, as of fire, was indeed the means of rebuilding Jerusalem, in a spiritual sense; or of founding the Gospel church state in the world:
and it sat upon each of them;
the fire, or the Holy Ghost in the appearance of fire. The Syriac and Arabic versions read, "and they sat upon each of them"; and so Beza's most ancient copy; that is, the cloven tongues sat on them; either one upon one of them and another upon another, or many upon each of them: where they sat, whether on their lips, or on their heads, it not certain, probably on the latter; nor how long they sat; however, their sitting upon them may denote the continuance of the gifts and graces of the Spirit with them. These cloven tongues cannot but bring to mind the division and confusion of the tongues or languages at Babel; which gave rise to different nations, and different religions; but these divided tongues gave rise to the spreading of the Gospel, and settling the true religion among the nations of the world. The Jews
F23 seem to have respect to this account, when they tell us of
``lights from above, that came forth and dwelt in the synagogues, (Nwhyvyrb) , "on the heads" of those that prayed, and the lights (Nyglptm) , "were divided" upon their heads.''
F20 R. Menachem in Lev. viii. apud Ainsworth in Gen. xvii. 12.
F21 T. Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 65. 3. Seder Tepillot, fol. 23. 2. Ed. Basil.
F23 Zohar in Num. fol. 79. 2.