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Instrument of service to man

Instrument of destruction by man

Fire was employed as man’s ultimate means of destroying property and people. In the conquest of Canaan, Joshua and the Israelite army burned the cities of Jericho, Ai, and Hazor, wholly sacrificing the first to God, and they burned the chariots of the Canaanite coalition (Josh 6:24; 8:19; 11:9, 11). They also killed and burned the whole family of Achan (Josh 7:24f.). Later the men of Judah captured Jerusalem “and set the city on fire” (Judg 1:8). King Nebuchadnezzar tried to burn the three young Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan 3:19-28).

Emblem of divine presence

Symbol of divine punishment

Additional Material

Source 1

God uses “fire” not only for judgment but also for testing, and so we learn that the works of all believers will be tested as by fire (1Cor.3.12-1Cor.3.15). God’s glory is accompanied by fire (Ezek.1.27). The seraphim are fiery creatures (Isa.6.2), as are the “venomous snakes” of Num.21.6 (from the same Hebrew verb saraph, “to burn”). Our Lord is pictured with eyes as a flame of fire, hinting at his work of judgment (Rev.1.14). Fire is used to refine gold and to cleanse us (Mal.3.2).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(’esh; pur):

See Molech; Idolatry.

1. Literal Usage:

According to 2Macc 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).

2. Figurative Use:

Fire was an emblem

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

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

(3) in His jealousy for His sole worship (De 4:24; Heb 12:29; Ps 79:5; perhaps also Isa 33:14);

(4) of His protection of His people (2Ki 6:17; Zec 2:5);

(5) of His righteous judgment and purification (Zec 13:9; Mal 3:2,3; 1Co 3:13,15);

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

(8) of Divine truth (Ps 39:3; Jer 20:9; Lu 12:49);

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

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

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

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

(13) of trial and suffering (Ps 66:12; Isa 43:2; 1Pe 1:7; 4:12);

(14) of evil (Pr 6:27; 16:27; Isa 9:18; 65:5); lust or desire (Ho 7:6; Sirach 23:16; 1Co 7:9); greed (Pr 30:16);

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

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


  • J. H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (1889), 558;

  • Price, Sellars, Carleson, Monuments and Old Testament (1958), 158, 196-200;

  • N. K. Gottwald, A Light to the Nations (1959), 142f., 148-150, 207, 253f., 327f.;

  • B. Davies, Students Hebrew Lexicon (1960), 66;

  • R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1962), 406-456; H. M. Buck, People of the Lord (1966), 50, 263f., 431.