Vayikra/Leviticus 9:24 And fire went out from before the L-rd and consumed on the altar the burnt offering
The verb , here translated by the words "and consumed" is the Qal prefix 3fs form of the root with a preceding vav conversive construction. The root occurs 795 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, most often with the meaning "to eat". Such a strong anthropomorphism makes some theologians and many believers quite uncomfortable: the idea of G-d actually eating sacrifices seeming both disgusting and a theological impossibility.Maimonedes' third principle says, "I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is not physical and is not affected by physical phenomena" (Artscroll Siddur) and is echoed in the Yigdal prayer: "No form or shape has the incorporeal One" (Hertz Siddur). Yeshua Himself said, "G-d is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24, NASB).
Yet the fact remains that "fire came forth from the presence of Adonai, consuming the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces" (Vayikra 9:24, CJB). Judaism very clearly stood apart from the surrounding cults and pagan religions where the people would manipulate or placate their all-to-human gods by bringing choice and costly offerings, as a bribe to ensure the god's favour or an attempt to win the god over to their point of view. The early chapters of Vayikra stipulate the types, quantities and frequencies of offerings to be brought for various situations and people, even distinguishing between the rich and the poor in prescribed ways so that access to G-d was available for all. The offering that Moshe and Aharon had just placed upon the altar was just such an offering - prescribed by G-d - and fire came down and all the people saw it and shouted.
Other examples of G-d breaking into the physical realm to accept an offering by fire include: "Then the angel of the L-rd put out the end of the staff that was in his hand ... and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened bread" (Shoftim 6:21, NASB), "Elijah the prophet drew near ... then the fire of the L-rd fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench" (1 Kings 18:36,38, NASB), "Then David built an altar to the L-rd there ... and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering" (1 Chronicles 21:26, NASB). In all of these cases the fire serves as a clear sign of G-d's acceptance of the offering and a public endorsement of the people directly involved.
When Yeshua's disciples offered to call down fire from heaven as a sign of rebuke and displeasure on a Samaritan village who refused to accept Yeshua when He was travelling to Jerusalem, He in turn rebuked the disciples for making the suggestion saying, "The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them" (Luke 9:56, NASB). At least in part this may have been because a physical miracle would have compelled a response from the Samaritans and destroyed the possibility of a faith, free-will response which was was Yeshua was seeking.
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 7:1-3; Isaiah 29:13-14
Application: Do we often long for a physical sign or response from G-d to show that He has accepted our worship or is pleased with out actions? While natural enough, a dependence on miracles destroys our faith and makes it impossible for us to please G-d.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
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