Flame

Flame (prop. לִהִב, la hab, φλόξ), the incandescent vapor of fire, with which latter term it is usually found connected in the Bible. The only thing respecting fire which calls for explanation here is its symbolical use. In this we may distinguish a lower and a higher sense: a lower when the reference is simply to the burning heat of the element, in which respect any vehement affection, such as anger, indignation, shame, love, is wont to be spoken of as a fire in the bosom of the individual affected (Ps 39:3; Jer 20:9); and a higher, which is also by' much the more common one in Scripture, when it is regarded as imaging the more distinctive properties of the divine nature. In this symbolical use of fire the reference is to its powerful, penetrating agency, and the terrible melting, seemingly resistless, effects' it is capable of producing. So viewed, fire, especially a " flame [לִבָּה] of fire" (Ex 3:2), is the chosen symbol of the holiness of God, which manifests itself in a consuming hatred of sin, and can endure nothing in its presence but what is in accordance with the pure and good. There is considerable variety in the application of the symbol, but the passages are all explicable by a reference to this fundamental idea. God, for example, is called "a' consuming fire" (Heb 12:29; was שִׁלהֶבֶת an intense flame); to dwell with him is to dwell "with devouring fire" (Isa 33:14); as manifested even in the glorified Redeemer, " his eyes are like a flame of fire" (Re 2:18); his aspect when coming for judgment is as if a fire went before him, or a scorching flame compassed him about (Ps 97:3; 2Th 1:8) in these, and many similar representations occurring. in Scripture, it is the relation of God to sin that is more especially in view, and the searching, intense, all- consuming operation of his holiness in regard to it. They who are themselves conformed to this holiness have nothing to fear from it; they can dwell amid its light and glory as in their proper element; like Moses, can enter the flame-enwrapping cloud of the divine presence, and abide in it unscathed, though it appear. in the eyes of others " like devouring fire on the top of the mount" (Ex 24:17-18). Hence we can easily explain why in Old Testament times the appearance of fire, and in particular the pillar of fire (enveloped in a cloud, as if to shade and restrain its excessive brightness and power), was taken as the appropriate form of the divine presence and glory; for in those times, which were more peculiarly the times of the law, it was the holiness of God that came most prominently into view; it was this which had in every form to be pressed most urgently upon the consciences of men, as a counteractive to the polluting influences of idolatry, and of essential moment to a proper apprehension of the covenant. But in the new, as well as in the old, when the same form of representation is employed it is the same aspect of the divine character that is meant to be exhibited. Thus, at the commencement of the Gospel era, when John the Baptist came forth announcing the advent of the Lord, he spoke of him as coming to baptize with fire as well as with the Spirit, not less to burn up the chaff with fire unquenchable than to gather in the wheat into his garner (Mt 3:11-12). The language is substantially that of an Old Testament. prophet (Mal 3:2; Mal 4:1); and it points, not, as is often represented, to the enlightening, purifying, love-enkindling agency of Christ, but to the severe and retributive effects- of his appearance. He was to be set for judgment as well as for mercy; for mercy indeed first, but to those who rejected the mercy, and hardened themselves in sin, also for judgment.' To be baptized with the Spirit of light, holiness, and love, is what should ever follow on a due submissions to his authority; but a baptism with fire the fire of divine wrath here (Joh 3:36), growing into fire unquenchable hereafter should be the inevitable portion of such as set themselves in rebellion against him.

It is true that fire in its symbolical use. is also spoken of as purifying-the emblem of a healing process effected upon the spiritual natures of persons in covenant with God. We read, not merely of fire, but of refiner's fire, and of a spirit of burning purging away the dross and impurity of Jerusalem (Mal 3:2; Isa 4:4). Still it is a work of severity and judgment that is indicated; yet its sphere is, not thee unbelieving and corrupt world, but the mixed community" of the Lord's people, with many false members to be purged out, and the individual believer himself with an old man of corruption in his members to be mortified and cast off. The Spirit of holiness has a work of judgment to execute also there; and with respect to that it might doubtless be said that Christ baptizes each one of his people with fire. But in the discourse of the Baptist the reference is rather to different classes of persons than to different kinds of operation in the same person; he points to the partakers of grace on the one side, and to the children of apostasy and perdition on the other. Nor is the reference materially different in the emblem of tongues, like as of fire, which sat on the apostles at Pentecost, and in the fire that is said to go out of the mouth of the symbolical witnesses of the Apocalypse (Ac 2:3; Re 11:5). In both cases the fire indicated the power of holiness to be connected with the ministrations of Christ's chosen witnesses-a, power that should, as it- were, burn up the corruptions of the world, consume the enmity of men's hearts, and prove a resistless weapon against the power and malice of the adversary. COMPARE FIRE.

Definition of flame

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

 
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