These words were originally Mosesí words; you will find them in Deuteronomy 4:24. There, Moses warned that Godís people must serve God alone. They must not pray to images, and they must not serve false gods. God is a jealous God. In other words, he wants his people to belong only to him.
ĎJealousí means to desire something in a very intense (strong) manner. So fire is a powerful word-picture for Godís attitude here (see Deuteronomy 32:21-22). Fire burns in such an intense manner that nothing can control it. That is like Godís desire for his people. He very much wants them to respect him and to be completely loyal to him.
Fire sometimes describes punishment in the Bible (Hebrews 10:27); but that is not always so. When God spoke to Moses on the mountain called Sinai, his glory (greatness) appeared as a fire (Exodus 24:17). When Israelís people travelled through the desert, Godís fire gave them light at night (Exodus 40:38). That fire showed Godís love for Israel. Song of Solomon 8:6 describes love as a fire.
The ideas of love and punishment may seem opposites, but that is not really so. Because God loves his people, he punishes their cruel enemies. We must make sure that we belong to Godís people, and not to his enemies. Fire is much more powerful than us, so we cannot really control it. The same fire that cooks our food can destroy our houses. The same fire that warms us can kill us.
God, of course, is much more powerful than anyone or anything else. But we can know whether we are his friends or his enemies. We can know his love. We can be sure that he is using his great power to defend his people. And for that reason, we must respect him.
Next part: Christian love (Hebrews 13:1)
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© 2014, Keith Simons.