Depending on who you talk to, the ability to make fire may be the most important invention of humanity. It kept creatures of the night away. It allowed the cooking of food, purification of water, and it kept people warm. Fire was used as a tool to burn forests to encourage grazing lands for food source animals such as bison and deer.
As time moved along, humanity’s ability to harness fire grew. Humanity learned to melt metal. Then it learned to purify metal through more fire. Then there were things like glass and steam-powered. All through fire. Even in today’s metal smelting industries, fire is one of the key pieces of refining and purification.
In the Scriptures, fire performs primarily two kinds of cleansing. The most destructive is the burning away of everything. We might call it “scorched earth”. The other type is purification. This is where high heat is held for a sustained time to draw out the impurities within.
In the context of Amos, the fire could be either form. Despite the ultimatum nature of Amos’ words, there is still a measure of choice and optimism. “Seek me.” Those simple words and simple actions were what God was looking for. Note that it wasn’t even follow. Just seek.
Thus, the fire could be different, depending on whether the Israelites sought God, or chose not to. One path would lead to a (proverbial) cleansing fire that burned everything away, both good and bad. In hopes, like the aftereffect of a forest fire, new healthy growth would take its place. Should the Israelites choose to seek God, there would still be a fire, and it would still hurt, but there would be purification.
Sometimes only purification is needed. Sometimes a clean slate is needed. The same can be said about our lives. The same can be said about our actions.
Sometimes we think we’re doing one when we’re doing the others. Sometimes we just want to watch things burn. Fires of prophecy can take many forms. Many people have claimed that we have been seeing exactly that over the last few years.
Except what is at the end?
In Jerusalem, people made assumptions about Paul and stirred people up. The Jews of Jerusalem made no thoughtful inquiry. They jumped to conclusions and became the fire. Others joined, probably many ignorantly, and the fire grew.
So, out came the firefighters. The Roman soldiers were commissioned to deal with out-of-control people. Often they did it through bloodshed. The Romans also made assumptions. An Egyptian? This is madness!
It doesn’t take a stretch to see “those” people making “those” mistakes and stupid decisions, and starting a proverbial fire. We’ve seen such similar things ourselves. The Jews and Romans couldn’t blame the internet or social media, though. We try, but history shows that even in the first century the flames of presumption, assumption, and ignorance can still overtake people. It only takes a spark.
- What “fires” have you experienced, and how were they fires?
- How might the fires of madness (Acts) resemble refining fires and cleansing fires?
- Why is fear present in each of these types of fires?
- What is the most Christ-like way to deal with each type of fire?
God, the promise of Pentecost is in the flames. Lord, may we be on fire for you. Amen.