Why did the priests have to keep the fire always burning in the temple?

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The Lord and fire

Divinity and fire are often connected in the Bible (Deuteronomy 5:4; Psalms 50:3; Malachi 3:2), and this is because of the power, glory, and its cleansing effects. As a fire separates the metal from the dross, so God by His work refines the rightouss and also by His judgments separates the good from the evil.

In the Old Testament, the Lord appeared to Moses in the wilderness in the form of a burning bush (Exodus 3:2). And after the Exodus, He walked among His people in the form of a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21–22). The fire represented the presence of the Almighty (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 9).

Fire always burning in the temple

In the temple, the Lord commanded His priests saying, “A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out” (Leviticus 6:13). The fire on the altar was a reflection of God’s moving power and His continual ministry on behalf of His children.

The temple fire was originally kindled by God Himself: “and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24). No other source of fire was acceptable to God. When the sons of Aaron attempted to put a foreign fire, they were slaim by God (Numbers 3:4).

The Jews affirm that this fire burned continuously through their sojourning years in the wilderness. It was again sent down during the dedication of the new temple by Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1) and presumably continued until the Babylonian captivity. Some Hebrew traditions even claim that it continued for more than 1,400 years never being allowed to be put out until the final destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in 70 AD.

New Testament

In the New Testament, John the Baptist prophesied that the Messiah was to baptize people with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). And after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit at the Day of Pentecost came down and filled the people taking the form of “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3).

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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