The Consuming Fire
Open Your Bible
Exodus 3:1-15, Isaiah 30:27-30, Acts 2:1-4, Hebrews 12:18-29
Section 1: The Light of the World
The presence of fire around us can be a threatening or a comforting thing, depending on the context. During the fall and wintertime, we invite fire into our lives. When it’s contained within a wood stove, a campfire ring, or hovering as a single flame on the wick of a candlestick, it’s a cozy, intimate form of light and warmth. We draw near to fire. But when fire grows outside our control, it can become a threat.
I grew up in the Northern California foothills, where summers are synonymous with not just watermelon and lake days but also wildfires. Like any natural phenomenon, widespread fires are terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time. They are powerful and unpredictable. When the sky darkens with ash and the crescent moon glows a light orange, these fires remind us how small we truly are.
Scripture often uses this imagery to speak of God, as we see in today’s reading. In Acts, we watch God’s Spirit descend as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). Isaiah says His anger burns “heavy with smoke” (Isaiah 30:27). The book of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29).
I’ll be honest, at times this image has been confusing. If He wants us to draw near to Him, why would God compare Himself to something so threatening? How can we feel safe in His presence? In studying the passages further, really sitting with them, what comes to mind is power. All these examples in Scripture paint a picture of divine power. We can’t make intact bushes glow with flames. But God can. We can’t infuse ourselves with the Holy Spirit. But God can. We can’t “sift the nations” when they are disobedient (Isaiah 30:28). But God can.
Personally, I can’t trust in a God who isn’t more powerful than I am. I want Him to be bigger and all-consuming, the way wildfires are during California summers. We can’t control Him the way we can a wood burning stove, but this doesn’t mean His presence doesn’t bring comfort. It does. It also brings threat to those who set themselves against Him, but we have to remember that the same God who burns like a consuming fire also told Moses this: “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors. I know about their sufferings, and I have come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3:7–8). He is a compassionate, rescuing, and powerful God.