Of Smoke and Fire, Oven and Torch, Covenant and Pentecosts

When you heard the Voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with Fire, … you said: ‘Surely Jehovah our God has shown us His Glory and His greatness, and we have heard His Voice from the midst of the Fire. … Now therefore, why should we die? For this great Fire will consume us; if we hear the Voice of Jehovah our God anymore, then we shall die.  For who is there of all flesh who has heard the Voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the Fire, as we have, and lived?    [Deuteronomy 5:23-26]

An engaged couple had come to me asking that I would marry them.  My usual practice was to require that they go through a premarital counseling series with me.  To say the least, they were two strong personalities, which clashed every so often.  As we finished the sessions, one turned to me and asked, “So what do you think our chances are?”
My reply was that their marriage was going to be filled with a lot of fire, and it depended on how they would handle that fire as to whether it would warm them or destroy them.  Some couples have used such energy as an asset to create a firmer bond.  But other couples literally fly apart in a matter of years, if not months.

Pentecost considers another “fiery” intimate relationship, a bit different one, that starts long, long ago, in fact almost 600 years before Israel stands at the foot of Mt Sinai.  In Genesis 15[:7-18], Abram (Abraham) takes certain animals, splits them down the middle, and lays the pieces opposite to each other.  The animals had once been whole, animated, vibrant, alive, but now they are torn apart, their Blood, their soul, their life is drained away and only carcasses are left – a dramatic picture language of how broken Covenant takes a living unity, tears it apart and leaves behind only carrion for the vultures.

Verse 18 tells us, “on that same day Jehovah cut Covenant with Abram”: when darkness had come, “a smoking firepot and a fiery torch” passes between the animal pieces.  The ceremony means that Jehovah is pledging His own death should He break Covenant – He will participate this deeply in this intimate relationship with a human.  In the book of Zechariah, His breaking of the Covenant is prophesied, which will be carried out when Jesus goes to the Cross.  But why is “a smoking firepot and a fiery torch” used in this Covenant-pledge by God?

When Israel stands at the foot of Mt Sinai to now become God’s nation on this earth (which occurs on the “first” Pentecost!), and “smoke” covers the mountaintop [Exodus 19:18; 20:18], it is also called a “cloud” [Deuteronomy 4:11], the same word used for “The pillar of the cloud [that] did not depart from them by day, to lead them on the road; nor the pillar of fire by night, to show them light and the way they should go” [Nehemiah 9:19].  The “pillar of cloud and fire” did not just lead God’s People [Exodus 13:21-22], it also protected them from the pursuing Egyptians [Exodus 14:19-20].

So although “smoke” can indeed indicate judgment, particularly against God’s enemies [Joshua 8:20-21; Judges 20:38,40; Psalm 74:1; Isaiah 34:10], as Israel looks upon the cloud of majesty on this mountaintop, very much in their field of vision is that cloud that has given them guidance, protection, and perhaps even shelter from the burning sun.  The “pillar of cloud and fire” descended on Moses’ own temporary Tent of Meeting and was the sign of fellowship and communication, as He “spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” [Exodus 33:7-11].  It is in this context when Moses asks, “Please, show me Your glory” [v 18] – is this merely “business” or is it the request of a someone who wants to get to know his Friend better?  One would think, therefore, that the “smoke” or the “cloud” is that way by which Jehovah makes His presence – and friendship and companionship – “visible.”

And then once the Tabernacle is raised, “the cloud covered the Tabernacle of Meeting, and the Glory of Jehovah filled the Dwelling” [Exodus 40:34].  And there is also the “cloud” of incense smoke that fills the Holy of Holies, representing the prayers – the communication – of the People, protecting the High Priest, “lest he die,” as he performs his yearly consecration duties before the Atonement Cover (or “Mercy Seat”) on the Ark of the Covenant  [Leviticus 16:13].

The “firepot” is a portable clay firepit or stove [Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament], not the iron “furnace” of Deuteronomy 4[:20] nor the “furnace” of affliction of Isaiah 48[:10]. but rather this is where one cooks and bakes [Leviticus 2:4; 7:9; 26:26].  Although it too (rarely) can indicate judgment [Malachi 4:1; Psalm 21:9], the “firepot” may have been chosen over the “furnace” because it suggests a home-like feel – that since Covenant declares the personal unity between the two who are Covenanting, it is, as it were, a joining over the hearth.

This would be in keeping with the picture of God’s desire to come to live with humans, notably in Bethlehem in the birth of Jesus Immanuel (“God with us”); with the intriguing emphasis that heaven as where Jehovah comes to live with us (not the reverse!) in a Covenant of Peace [Ezekiel 37:26-27; Revelation 21:3]; as well as the Holy Spirit’s coming to dwell within us [I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19].

The reach of the “firepot” may even be greater: Jehovah’s death, pledged in Covenant is carried out on the Cross at Passover, the festival whose key element is the Lamb: not only is its Blood used to create a doorway of life and an escape from death, the Lamb is also to be roasted and shared by all who are in the house [Exodus 12:1-14].  So also, after the Sin Offering, which pictures forgiveness, and the Whole Burnt Offering, which rededicates oneself wholly to the Lord, the Peace offering [Exodus 29:19-26, 31-34; Leviticus 3; 7:11-21, 28-36] is a partially burned, but also a partially cooked sacrifice as a type of communion shared between Jehovah, the officiating priest who represents God’s People, and the sacrificer.  Both sacrifices declare the salvation and also, as meals that are shared, the restored Covenant intimacy with God.

Convenience – Referring to the above, it offers a range of benefits: A world class drug at their doorstep. It improves secretion of testosterone and improves erection quality. The treatment is most suitable for young age like for those who are still under 18 years and a pregnant or breast feeding women also should avoid it. next page sildenafil viagra Spine decompression therapy may also be considered if an MRI confirms that the patient is suffering from herniated discs causing nerve pressure, resulting in chronic back pain, sciatica and spinal stenosis. The “pillar of fire,” along with the “pillar of smoke,” during Israel’s wilderness journey seems to echo the “flaming torch” which Abram sees.  As with smoke, fire can indicate judgment [Genesis 19:24;Deuteronomy 32:22; Isaiah 66:16], as it exposes the works of our hearts and hands [I Corinthians 3:13-15]; yet fire fights back the cold, providing a warm, livable space; it throws back the darkness; it transforms potentially dangerous raw meat into good food; it binds bread ingredients into one loaf; it refines what is precious; it welds things together; it brings fellowship and comfort to a hearth or a campfire.

Abram is long dead before Israel is the foot of Mt Sinai, and likely would not even have guessed at the connections with this later time.  Still God has often done things prophetically which may not be currently understood, yet later generations would recognize.  So why did He use “a smoking firepot and a fiery torch” to symbolize His presence and participation in Covenant?  Some commentators follow along the lines that the “firepot” is a furnace, the “smoke” is of the misery of Israel’s hardship in Egypt, the “fire” is the destruction of the enemies, and the “torch” is the light of God’s salvation.  Yes, that is a possibility.

But it is striking how “the smoking firepot and the fiery torch” parallel the “pillar of cloud/smoke and the pillar of fire,” that leads Israel in the wilderness, and how the “firepot” is only very rarely used as a symbol of affliction in the Bible.  What is also part of the picture is that as these symbols of Jehovah pass through the animals pieces, He is pledging His own death should He break Covenant, not the presumed destruction of the enemies nor the affliction of Abram’s offspring.  This is the only place in the Bible where God makes this Covenant pledge.

Numbers tells us that when the Tabernacle was first raised up, “the cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.” [Numbers 9:15-16]  “Appearance” in the Greek Septuagint version of this passage is the same word as in Acts 2:3: “There appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them” and which sets Pentecost into parallel with the Numbers passage – however, in Acts, the new “Temple” of the Holy Spirit is not a structure, but God’s New People, to which St Paul alludes:

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My People.    [II Corinthians 6:16]

After Adam and Eve sinned, these first humans were terrified of God because they rightly knew they deserved only condemnation and death from Him.  But that was not Jehovah’s intent when He came that late afternoon, He came with the call to repentance, He came to begin the process of restoring the lost communion.  In spite of that, ever since then, human nature has automatically assumed that whenever God comes to interact with humanity, it will be with judgment on His mind.

As with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 18:16-33], often the focus is on the apparently well deserved condemnation and destruction of these cities “gone wild.”  But what is often missed is what we actually see is the struggle of God’s love, as portrayed by Abraham, against God’s justice, as portrayed by God, and how far God’s justice will bend over backwards, almost to the point of being non-existent, for the sake of His Love.  Of the thousands of people that make up this territory, it is not half, it is not a quarter, not even ten percent, but rather ten people “then I will spare all the place for their sakes” [v 26] – He would not just spare the ten, He is prepared to spare all of the place.

In other words, we tend to miss what God describes in Exodus 33:19 in answer to Moses’ request to see His Glory: “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the [Covenant] Name of Jehovah before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” – goodness, Covenant, grace, and mercy.

Yes, God’s justice has to be satisfied because His law and His will are not trivial.  There is no argument there, because we have seen what must result because of mankind’s sin – we see its full extent when even God the Son Himself is not spared when the judgment descends on Him in our place.

Yet when it is Jehovah Himself Who makes the first move to establish the Covenant with Abram, one that reaches beyond the return of Israel to the Promised Land, His heartfelt desire is to bring about a communion that will culminate in Jesus.  Although the concept is throughout the Old Testament, the reality of Covenant cannot happen until It walks this earth on two legs in Jesus Christ, where two truly are actually made one, God and Man are in fact united into one Person.  Still this is exactly what God has in mind as He pledges Himself to Abram 2,000 years earlier.

Truly this is a fiery relationship, not in terms of obstinacy and disagreement (at least, not yet), but as we become aware on Pentecost, it is the fire of the Holy Spirit’s presence that marks this relationship.  It is here where the symbols of companionship, guidance, protection foretell God’s intensely personal, intimate involvement with human beings, which ultimately will be eternal through the Covenant which is the Person of Jesus.

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