Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and your judgments are like light that goes forth. (Hos. Hos. 6:5)
Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts: Because you speak this word, behold I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them. (Jer. Jer. 5:14)
Is not My word like a fire? says the LORD, And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jer. Jer. 23:29)Hosea likens the words spoken by God through the prophets to a weapon. The prophets spoke forth Gods judgments which eventually resulted in the literal death of those judged. The words of the prophets are likened to a sword (I have hewn), but there is no literal sword in the prophets mouths. Similarly, Jeremiahs words are likened to fire and the people wood. It would be easy to conclude from these figurative uses of fire and the mouth as a weapon that such must be the case here too. But there are important differences between the previously cited passages and what is said here. Passages wherein figurative language occurs typically contain an indication of such. For example, Hosea says, I have hewn them by the prophets. Obviously, people were not literally cut in two by the prophets. This is an indication that figurative language is employed. Similarly, Jeremiah is told that the people will be made woodanother indicator that figurative language is in use. It is not good enough simply to establish that similar themes in related passages are figurative and therefore conclude that this passage must be too. The immediate context of the passage in question must itself provide indication that figurative language is in use. It would seem there are three alternatives for interpreting the passage before us:
And Moses said: By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the LORD. Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly. (Num. Num. 16:28-33) [emphasis added]Moses explains that the unusual nature of the judgment serves a specific purpose. It provides unique testimony to the source of the judgment (God) and the authority of Moses as His spokesman. So will this fire-consuming ability testify that God is the one judging the opponents of His two witnesses and that they have His full authority in their ministry. We should also remember the unique period in which these two individuals minister. This is a time in history during which demonic powers are at a peak (Rev. Rev. 9:1-2+, Rev. 9:13-19+; Rev. 12:12+) and the time of the lawless one, the Antichrist, whose coming is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish [emphasis added] (2Th. 2Th. 2:9-10). These are the days of the false prophet who performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men (Rev. Rev. 13:13+). These unique historic factors also argue for a completely nonfigurative interpretation because these two witnesses must exhibit miraculous powers which are on a par with, or even superior to, that of the man of sin and his false prophet in an age frequented by demonic manifestations.
1 The verb θέλει [thelei] (desires) is present indicative and makes the assumption that some will want to harm the two.Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 11:5.
2 These men are accorded miraculous power to bring fire down from heaventhey are filled with the Holy Spirit.J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981), Rev. 11:5.
3 The only possible exception would be the source of the fire being their mouths. This could be construed as a possible indicator of figurative language. Then again, how else could God indicate literal fire directly originating in their mouths? It seems there will always be room for some uncertainty when interpreting potentially figurative passages which prophesy miraculous events because the boundary between normalcy and miraculous is highly elastic and subject to the purpose of God in any given setting.