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Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Ever burning on the altar, first kindled, according to Jewish tradition, from heaven (Leviticus 6:9; Leviticus 6:13; Leviticus 9:24). But Scripture represents the altar fire as lighted naturally before this. Knobel observes the rule Leviticus 1:7, "the sons of Aaron shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire," must refer to the first burnt offering; the rule afterwards was to be that in Leviticus 6:13; Exodus 40:29; Leviticus 8:16; Leviticus 8:21-28; Leviticus 9:10; Leviticus 9:13-14; Leviticus 9:17; Leviticus 9:20. The heavenly fire in Leviticus 9:24 did not kindle the fuel but consumed the victim. So God testified His accepting sacrifices (Judges 6:21; Judges 13:19-20; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1; probably Genesis 4:4). Hence, the Hebrew for "accept" is "turn to ashes" (Psalms 20:3 margin).
The ever burning fire symbolized Jehovah's ever continuing sacrificial worship; so in the New Testament, Hebrews 13:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:17. This distinguishes it from the pagan idol Vesta's fire, the Magian fire, that of the Parsees, etc. The fires of Moloch and the sun god were nature worship, into which Sabeanism declined from the one God over all; the Jews often fell into this apostasy (Isaiah 27:9; 2 Kings 23:11-12). The "strange fire" (Leviticus 10:1) is generally explained common fire, not taken from the holy fire of the altar. But no express law forbade burning incense by ordinary fire, except the incense burned by the high priest in entering the holiest place on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:12), and probably the rule was hence taken as to the daily incense offering. They presented an incense offering not commanded in the law, apart from the morning and evening sacrifice.
Being an act of "will worship" it was "strange fire." Nadab and Abihu probably intended to accompany the people's shouts with an incense offering to the praise of God. The time and the manner of their offering were "strange" and selfwilled. So, the fire of the holy God (Exodus 19:18), which had just sanctified Aaron's service, consumed his two oldest sons. So the gospel that saves the humble seals death to the presumptuous (2 Corinthians 2:16; Colossians 2:23). (See .) Fire by its pure, penetrating, all consuming agency, symbolizes the holiness of God which consumes sin as a thing that cannot abide in His presence (Hebrews 10:27; Hebrews 12:29). The risen Lord's "eyes are like a flame of fire" (Revelation 2:18; Revelation 2:23) "searching the reins and hearts." He shall come "in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that, know not God and obey not the gospel" (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
The flaming fire marked His manifestation in the bush (Exodus 3:2). Again the same symbol appeared in the pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21-22), in His giving the law on Sinai (Exodus 19:18); so at His second advent (Daniel 7:9-10; Malachi 3:2; Malachi 4:1; 2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10). John the Baptist, as the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament dispensation, declared of the Messiah, "He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire," referring to His judicial aspect, "burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:11-12). Fire also symbolizes the purifying of believers by testing dealings (Malachi 3:2), also the holy zeal kindled in them as at Pentecost (Acts 2; Isaiah 4:4). The same Holy Spirit. who sanctifies believers by the fire of affliction dooms unbelievers to the fire of perdition.
In 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, "every man's work ... the (judgment) day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is ... if any man's work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." As the "gold," "hay," etc., are figurative, so the fire. Not purgatorial, i.e. purificatory and punitive, but probatory; not restricted, as Rome teaches, to those dying in "venial sin," the supposed intermediate class between those entering heaven at once and those dying in mortal sin and doomed to hell; but universal, testing the godly and ungodly alike (2 Corinthians 5:10; Mark 9:49).
This fire is not until the last day, the supposed fire of purgatory is at death. The fire of Paul is to try the works, the fire of purgatory the persons, of men. Paul's fire causes loss to the sufferers, Rome's fire the supposed gain of heaven at last to those purged by fire. A Christian worker, if he builds converts on Christ alone, besides being saved himself, shall have them as his crown and special reward (2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 John 1:8). But if his work be of unscriptural materials, that the fire will destroy, he shall lose the special "reward" of the work so lost, but himself shall be saved because in Christ, "yet so as by fire," i.e. having a narrow ESCAPE (Zechariah 3:2; Amos 4:11; Judges 1:23).
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Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Fire'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/fbd/f/fire.html. 1949.