Today in his sermon, our local pastor discussed the barbaric ritual by which the children of Israel as well as the surrounding peoples were sacrificed through the fire to Molech. The context where this is discussed originally, Leviticus 18:20-24, reads as follows: Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her. And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion. Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you.” It was my pastor’s contention that these are all fairly characteristic sins in our society, and that the proponents of pedophilia and bestiality will attempt the same sort of process by which sympathy is increased in order for such things to become mainstream. Like him, I too would bet good money on that happening. Yet it was not my wish to merely recapitulate a message on God’s mercy and judgment, for it was an excellent message and I feel it necessary to add nothing to it. Instead, I thought it would be worthwhile to compare what exactly the Bible talks about things being put through the fire, and what implications can be drawn from these distinctions.
We know, for example, from the above passage, as well as others, that God did not appreciate the children of Israel being passed through the fire, to their destruction, and it was one of the characteristic sins that led to the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The reasons for this are somewhat important. The first command given to mankind was to be fruitful and multiply. Children were to be seen as a blessing, a gift from God, and anything that turned children from a gift into a sacrifice, from something that was to be treasured and raised up in a godly fashion to something that was discarded as dust and ashes and treated like yesterday’s garbage, was a great act of evil against the design of humanity. In our world, children are often viewed as an unwanted burden, and there is clearly a belief that the world is full, is overpopulated, and that a reduction or holding the line on population is the goal, at least when it comes for some people.
The next context in which things passing through the fire is concerned regards the items that are purified after being seized as plunder in the holy war between Israel and Midian, which can be found in Numbers 31:21-24, which reads: “Then Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who had gone to the battle, “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord commanded Moses: Only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can endure fire, you shall put through the fire, and it shall be clean; and it shall be purified with the water of purification. But all that cannot endure fire you shall put through water. And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day and be clean, and afterward you may come into the camp.”” Here we see a characteristic biblical comparison in terms of purification between that which can handle fire, namely metals, which are purified by fire, and that which cannot handle fire, like human beings, being purified by water in what is something symbolic of baptism.
It is this sort of purification of character, as it was through the fire, that is discussed in a few other characteristic biblical passages. Zechariah 13:7-9 gives a solemn prophecy that refers to the refining of the character of the righteous remnant as follows: ““Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion,” Says the Lord of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; then I will turn My hand against the little ones. And it shall come to pass in all the land,” Says the Lord, “That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one–third shall be left in it: I will bring the one–third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”” One sees the same level of meaning in Revelation 3:18-19, when Jesus speaks about the brethren of Laodicea: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
A related use of this, but somewhat distinct, refers to the prophecy given in Isaiah 43:1-7 about how God will bring back those who have suffered in exile and tribulation, and how He will take care of the righteous remnant that is left behind. As it is written: “”But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you; therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth—Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”” Here we see that despite the trials and tribulations that are suffered by the remnant of Israel, that they will not be destroyed even as they pass through the fire or through the water, but they will be brought back where they belong by God, who will stand with them and be with those whom He has called.
What can we see from these examples? Clearly there is a wide difference between the godly and ungodly uses of putting something through the fire. When the Israelites and their neighbors passed their children through the fire, they were doing it for destruction. There was no attempt to refine the character of their precious children, only to sacrifice them to demonic spirits. The same is true when we sacrifice the children of our own day and age to the Molech of convenience. That said, whenever God causes or commands something to be passed through the fire in this life, it is for refinement and purification, so that people may find their character improved, and so that they may see God’s care for them and regard for them. To what extent do we serve to help refine others or to help lead to their destruction? Let us hope that our presence in the lives of others, if it is to be a matter of putting others through the fire, is for the benefit of those we are around. Let us be a blessing, rather than a curse, to those who we deal with through the course of our complicated lives, and as we are refined through the fires of our existence.