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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Besides the ordinary senses of the word 'fire,' which need no explanation, there are other uses of it in Scripture which require to be discriminated. The destructive energies of this element and the torment which it inflicts, rendered it a fit symbol of—1. Whatever does damage and consumes (; );—2. Of severe trials, vexations, and misfortunes (; ; ; );— 3. Of the punishments beyond the grave (; ; ; ) [HELL].

'Fire from heaven,' 'fire of the Lord,' usually denotes lightning in the Old Testament; but, when connected with sacrifices, the 'fire of the Lord' is often to be understood as the fire of the altar, and sometimes the holocaust itself (; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ).

The uses of fire among the Hebrews were various:—

1. The domestic use, for cooking, roasting, and baking [BREAD; FOOD].

2. In winter they warmed themselves and their apartments by 'a fire of coals' (; ).

3. The religious use of fire was for consuming the victims on the altar of burnt-offerings, and in burning the incense on the golden altar; hence the remarkable phrase in , 'the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.'

4. In time of war torches were often carried by the soldiers, which explains the use of torches in the attack of Gideon upon the camp of the Midianites ().

5. Burning criminals alive does not appear to have been known to the Hebrews; but as an additional disgrace the bodies were in particular cases burnt after death had been inflicted (; compare ); and it is in this sense that the allusions to burning as a punishment are to be understood, except when the reference is to a foreign usage, as in ; , sq.

6. In time of war towns were often destroyed by fire. This, as a war usage, belongs to all times and nations; but among the Hebrews there were some particular notions connected with it, as an act of strong abhorrence, or of devotement to abiding desolation. The principal instances historically commemorated are the destruction by fire of Jericho (); Ai (); Hazor (); Laish (); the towns of the Benjamites (); Ziklag, by the Amalekites (); Jazer, by Pharaoh (); and the temple and palaces of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (). Even the war-chariots of the Canaanites were burnt by the Israelites, probably on the principle of precluding the possibility of recovery, by the enemy, of instruments of strength for which they had themselves no use. The frequency with which towns were fired in ancient warfare is shown by the very numerous threats by the prophets that the towns of Israel should be burned by their foreign enemies. Some great towns, not of Israel, are particularly named; and it would be an interesting task to trace, so far as the materials exist, the fulfillment of these prophecies in those more marked examples. Among the places thus threatened we find Damascus (), Gaza, Tyre, Teman (; ). The temples and idols of a conquered town or people were very often burned by the victors, and this was enjoined as a duty to the Israelites (; ; ; ; ).

There were some special regulations respecting the use of fire among the Israelites. The most remarkable of these was the prohibition to light a fire on the Sabbath (). As the primary design of this law appears to have been to prevent the proper privileges of the Sabbath-day from being lost to anyone through the care and time required in cooking victuals (), it is doubted whether the use of fire for warmth on the Sabbath-day was included in this interdiction. In practice, it would appear that the fire was never lighted or kept up for cooking on the Sabbath-day, and that consequently there were no fires in the houses during the Sabbaths of the greater part of the year; but it may be collected that, in winter, fires for warming apartments were kept up from the previous day.

Another law required the damage done by a conflagration in the fields to be made good by the party through whose incaution it had been kindled (). This was a most useful and necessary law in a country where the warmth and drought of summer soon render the herbage and underwood highly combustible, so that a fire once kindled often spreads most extensively, and produces disastrous consequences (; ).

In the sacerdotal services no fire but that of the altar of burnt-offerings could lawfully be used. That fire was originally kindled supernaturally, and was ever after kept up. From it the fire used in the censers for burning incense was always taken; and for neglecting this and using common fire, Nadab and Abihu were struck dead by 'fire from heaven' (, sq.; ; ).

Respecting 'passing through the fire,' see Moloch; and for the 'pillar of fire,' see Exodus.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Fire'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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