Consuming Fire (# 1057)

22 08 2016

***: Good Morning
Adams Rubble: Good Morning. I hope you had a nice walk to the library.
***: Yes, I have things to discuss. I went to look up the Hebrews reference to God as a consuming fire.
Adams Rubble: Oh goody. I am all ears. Did you find more than one interpretation.
***: Yes, there are three in the Interpreters Bible. The first two may be a closer reading to most , but you and I are going to like the third. The phrase is a direct quote from Deuteronomy, a note of warning. There can not be a love that is not a consuming fire; without it our love would die. Human love is not worth having unless it burns like a fire of hatred for all that would destroy the one who is loved.
Adams Rubble: Egads, I disagree with the premise if not the reading too. What is number 2.
***: I did a little reading about the Book of Hebrews which is helpful for seeing this reading. There is some controversy about the author of the book which goes all the way back to Clement I who died in 99 CE. While Clement assigns authorship to Paul, it shows that discussion about the authorship began very early. The style is very different from the Pauline Epistles. The book apparently shows the thinking of a very small and extinct Christian community. It was included in the Canon because it is Christian.
Adams Rubble: You seemed to be showing some fiery enthusiasm for this investigation.
***: Here’s the good part. The author used priestly and sacrificial terminology in the book. He sees Jesus (the book uses Jesus exclusively!) as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Adams Rubble: Wasn’t there a reference to Melchizedek in the Sacrifice of Isaac exhibit?
***: Yes. The priest Melchizedek met Abram after a great victory and brought the victors bread and wine. There was rabbinic discussion of this incident. Melchizedek is the first person in the Torah to be recognized as a Kohen (priest). Since all Kohens must be descended from Kohens, some of the rabbis taught that the line of Kohens began with Abraham’s descendants. Some believe Melchizedek was descended from Shem, the son of Noah. I presume the author of the Book of Hebrews believed that Melchizedek was the first Kohen.
Adams Rubble: So Hebrews believed that Jesus was the priest but also the sacrificial offering? Oh, the consuming fire: sacrificial fire?
***: That is the gist of the second reading of the passage. The perfect is contrasted with the imperfect, i.e. the perfect Jesus sacrificed for our imperfections. Yes, one might think about the consuming fire as the sacrificial fire.
Adams Rubble: Wow. That is more interesting than the first reading. What more can there be?
***: Fasten your seat belt. In addition to being a “note of warning” the reference to God as a consuming fire, the “dominant idea is assurance”. God destroys the temporal things so that the timeless and unchanging might emerge in their glory.
Adams Rubble: Hmm, that has a familiar ring to it. I am thinking of the wrathful deities in Buddhism that attack wrong thoughts, stubbornness, etc. I kind of like the idea of deities who offer some tough love to shake us out of our stubbornness.
***: In this case like a purification of our souls. (see: Interpreters Bible, volume 11, 1995 edition for the three readings here).

I hate to leave this reading of the passage but I found another one in Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible, Volume 6. Cambridge, 1991. This is kind of a combination of the first two above. We can not worship God without reverence and fear. He is a God of strict justice. God displays divine justice in the “propitiatory” sacrifice of Jesus, his “soul and body an offering for sin”. This display of justice goes way beyond that seen at Mount Sinai when the law was received.
Adams Rubble: The ultimate consuming fire. Well this took a few interesting turns. Is that it?
***: There is one other unrelated item. The topic of the long summer/fall season on the liturgical calendar. Trinity Sunday is the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday. So the fourteen Sunday after Pentecost would be the same as the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Adams Rubble: Well i am glad that is cleared up :). Thank you.
***: All we have to now is to remember that today is another gift for us to enjoy.
Adams Rubble: Yes, this was not a bad start. Bye.
***: Bye.

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