fir ('esh; pur):

These are the common words for fire, occurring very frequently. 'Ur, "light" (Isaiah 24:15 the King James Version; compare the Revised Version (British and American); Isaiah 31:9, and see FIRES), nur (Aramaic) (Daniel 3:22) are found a few times, also 'eshshah (Jeremiah 6:29), and be`erah (Exodus 22:6), once each. Acts 28:2,3 has pura, "pyre," and Mark 14:54; Luke 22:56, phos, "light," the Revised Version (British and American) "in the light (of the fire)." "To set on fire," yatsath (2 Samuel 14:31), lahat (Deuteronomy 32:22, etc.), phlogizo (James 3:6).

Fire was regarded by primitive peoples as supernatural in origin and specially Divine. Molech, the fire-god, and other deities were worshipped by certain Canaanitish and other tribes with human sacrifices (Deuteronomy 12:31; 2 Kings 17:31; Psalms 106:37), and, although this was specially forbidden to the Israelites (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10), they too often lapsed into the practice (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 20:26,31).


1. Literal Usage:

Fire in the Old Testament is specially associated with the Divine presence, e.g. in the making of the Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:17), in the burning bush. (Exodus 3:2-4), in the pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21), on Sinai (Exodus 19:18), in the flame on the altar (Judges 13:20). Yahweh was "the God that answereth by fire" (1 Kings 18:24,38). In the Law, therefore, sacrifices and offerings (including incense) were to be made by fire (Exodus 12:8,9,10; Leviticus 1). Fire from Yahweh signified the acceptance of certain special and separate sacrifices (Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26). In Leviticus 9:24 the sacrificial fire "came forth from before Yahweh." The altar-fire was to be kept continually burning (Leviticus 6:12,13); offering by "strange fire" (other than the sacred altar-fire) was punished by "fire from before Yahweh" (Leviticus 10:1,2). Fire came from heaven also at the consecration of Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1).

According to 2 Maccabees 1:19-22, at the time of the Captivity priests hid the sacred fire in a well, and Nehemiah found it again, in a miraculous way, for the second Temple. Later, Maccabeus is said to have restored the fire by "striking stones and taking fire out of them" (10:3).

Fire was a frequent instrument of the Divine primitive wrath (Genesis 19:24; Exodus 9:23 (lightning); Numbers 11:1; 16:35, etc.; Psalms 104:4, the American Standard Revised Version "Who maketh .... flames of fire his ministers"). Fire shall yet dissolve the world (2 Peter 3:12). It was frequently used by the Israelites as a means of destruction of idolatrous objects and the cities of their enemies (Deuteronomy 7:5,25; 12:3; 13:16; Joshua 6:24; Jgs, frequently); sometimes also of punishment (Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Joshua 7:25; 2 Maccabees 7:5).

The domestic use of fire was, as among other peoples, for heating, cooking, lighting, etc., but according to the Law no fire could be kindled on the Sabbath day (Exodus 35:3). It was employed also for melting (Exodus 32:24), and refining (Numbers 31:23; 3:2,3, etc.). For the sacrificial fire wood was used as fuel (Genesis 22:3,1; Leviticus 6:12); for ordinary purposes, also charcoal (Proverbs 25:22; Isaiah 6:6, the Revised Version, margin "or hot stone"; Habakkuk 3:5, the Revised Version (British and American) "fiery bolts," margin "or burning coals"; John 21:9, "a fire of coals" the Revised Version, margin "Gr, a fire of charcoal"; Romans 12:20); branches (Numbers 15:32; 1 Kings 17:12); thorns (Psalms 58:9; 118:12; Ecclesiastes 7:6; Isaiah 33:12); grass and other herbage (Matthew 6:30; Luke 12:28).

2. Figurative Use:

Fire was an emblem

(1) of Yahweh in His glory (Daniel 7:9);

(2) in His holiness (Isaiah 6:4);

(3) in His jealousy for His sole worship (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29; Psalms 79:5; perhaps also Isaiah 33:14);

(4) of His protection of His people (2 Kings 6:17; Zechariah 2:5);

(5) of His righteous judgment and purification (Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2,3; 1 Corinthians 3:13,15);

(6) of His wrath against sin and punishment of the wicked (Deuteronomy 9:3; Psalms 18:8; 89:46; Isaiah 5:24; 30:33, "a Topheth is prepared of old"; Matthew 3:10-12; 5:22, the Revised Version (British and American) "the hell of fire," margin "Greek, Gehenna of fire"; see Isaiah 30:33; Jeremiah 7:31; Matthew 13:40,42; 25:41, "eternal fire"; Mark 9:45-49; see Isaiah 66:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Hebrews 10:27; Jude 1:7);

(7) of the word of God in its power (Jeremiah 5:14; 23:29);

(8) of Divine truth (Psalms 39:3; Jeremiah 20:9; Luke 12:49);

(9) of that which guides men (Isaiah 50:10,11);

(10) of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3);

(11) of the glorified Christ (Revelation 1:14);

(12) of kindness in its melting power (Romans 12:20);

(13) of trial and suffering (Psalms 66:12; Isaiah 43:2; 1 Peter 1:7; 4:12);

(14) of evil (Proverbs 6:27; 16:27; Isaiah 9:18; 65:5); lust or desire (Hosea 7:6; Sirach 23:16; 1 Corinthians 7:9); greed (Proverbs 30:16);

(15) of the tongue in its evil aspects (James 3:5,6);

(16) of heaven in its purity and glory (Revelation 15:2; see also Revelation 21:22,23).

W. L. Walker

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'FIRE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.