2.5 Water & Fire: Cleansing vs. Transformation
Volume 2: Studies in Contrast—Chapter 5
Water & Fire: Cleansing vs. Transformation
“Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough.’” (Proverbs 30:15-16) Solomon was right: there are three insatiable realities in this world—four if you count unrealized potential separately. What he didn’t say (since it’s a proverb—it’s up to us to figure this out) was that Yahweh’s plan of redemption is designed to deal with each of these ravenous realities. Sheol is obvious: it is appointed unto all men to suffer physical death, and one way or another we will all eventually be separated from these mortal bodies. What’s not quite as obvious is the lost potential represented by the “barren womb,” those who lives—whether physically or spiritually—are never given a chance to see the light of day. Christ spoke of the need to be born of both water and the Spirit: to fail in either regard is to demonstrate the insatiability of the barren womb.
And what of water and fire? Both symbols (as we saw previously) are utilized to reveal Yahweh’s character. Fire (as a form of light) illuminates our way, and its heat allows precious metals like gold and silver to be purified through the separation and removal of contaminants. This makes it a perfect metaphor for the process of attaining holiness. Water too has multiple symbolic functions. As Solomon points out, the thirsty land can’t get enough, for water speaks of life, of refreshing and restoration, and in the end, of spiritual indwelling. But water is also an agent of cleansing, a ubiquitous scriptural theme.
Thus although we tend to see water and fire as enemies and opposites, they are presented in Yahweh’s glossary of metaphors as allies, parallel to each other, working side by side toward the goal of our reconciliation with Him. Unlike some other subjects in our study of contrasts, we don’t see a progression from one to the other (as from chaos to order, or from darkness into light), but rather a collaboration of two very different things, both crucial if Yahweh’s plan is to be realized in our lives. They are two means toward the same broad end, a symbiotic system. They’re right and left feet alternating steps on the path toward our righteousness and redemption. Both are necessary; both are moving in the same direction. But we must be careful not to place the right foot in the left boot: God has chosen to use water and fire to teach us two very different lessons.
Perhaps the most striking example of water and fire operating side by side is God’s design for what stood outside the tabernacle—every detail of which illustrated in some way Yahweh’s plan for our redemption. Once a worshipper entered the courtyard from the east (and there was only one way in), he’d encounter two significant items before he reached the tabernacle proper. First was the altar: “You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.” (Exodus 27:1-2) This was basically a big barbeque upon which the sacrifices were to be roasted. Its materials are significant: it was basically a wooden box (that is, it was made of something that had once been alive), but it was encased in bronze (read: judgment), ostensibly so the “living part” could withstand the heat of the fire. The square shape of the altar speaks of order, design, and purpose. Taken together, these symbolic elements unmistakably connect the altar to Yahshua’s Messianic mission. The tabernacle’s model had to be portable, so it was only about seven and a half feet across. The scaled-up altar specified for the Millennial Temple (see Ezekiel 43:13-17) will be huge, about twenty-one feet square, standing some fourteen feet off the ground.
The lesson of the altar was that something innocent had to die in order to cover—to atone for—the sins of mankind. The carnage was graphic, but this was, after all, a picture of what would happen to our Savior Yahshua upon a Roman cross at Calvary, something far more brutal. In both places, the blood of the sacrifice would be poured out onto the ground (or was captured to be sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy Place). The flesh of the sacrifice would serve one of two purposes, both symbolic of Christ. It could be eaten by the priests (and, depending on the type of sacrifice, shared with the worshipers), which would nourish them, symbolically transferring the life of the sacrifice to the people. Or, in the case of the olah (the “burnt offering”), the sacrifice would be completely consumed in the flame, a picture of the Messiah’s total commitment to our reconciliation, the voluntary subjection of His body to judgment on our behalf. Both modes of sacrifice are, in their own ways, predictive of what Yahshua achieved for us. And fire is the agent that brought it all about.
We need to realize that the death of the sacrifice (whether Christ’s or the animal’s) is not enough by itself. Yes, the spilling of innocent blood is significant and necessary, but it does not complete the process of redemption. The life of the innocent has to mean something; it must be invested with purpose. And further, this innocent life has to be somehow linked to the guilt of the petitioner. And that’s where fire comes in. The fire transforms the sacrifice: that which was placed upon the altar does not leave that place unchanged. As the sacrifice is eaten by the worshipper and the priest, its death provides life-giving nourishment—the same symbolic death-into-life transformation we saw earlier.
The point of substitutionary sacrifice is that the death of the innocent must provide something of value to the guilty—something he could not have gotten on his own. As far back as the Garden of Eden, that was God’s pattern. There, innocent animals were slain so that Adam and Eve’s shame could be covered. But this sacrifice would have been a pointless waste if our parents had refused to put on the garments Yahweh had given them. Here at the altar of sacrifice, the sin of the guilty one was transferred to the innocent sacrifice, which was “judged” by fire in his stead. These things were previews of Yahshua’s sacrifice, in which he bore the penalty for the sins of all mankind, enduring the judgment of God on our behalf. But as I said, His sacrifice is only as efficacious as our willingness to receive it. It’s up to us to decide: is Yahshua the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, or was He just another dumb criminal executed by the Romans? There is no middle ground.
The worshiper, having confronted the altar’s fires and having been transformed by association with the innocent sacrifice, found there was still something separating him from intimate fellowship with Yahweh in the sanctuary: “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet.” The basin, or laver, was a shallow pan or bowl supported by a pedestal base—all of which was cast in bronze, indicative, as before, of judgment. Bear in mind that in scriptural usage, judgment is a legal term: it doesn’t so much mean condemnation as it does separation—the innocent set apart from the guilty, or in this case, the clean from the defiled. Aaron and his sons (in other words, the priests: those who job was to intercede between the people and their God) were to use the bronze basin to wash their hands and feet as they ministered. “When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to Yahweh, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die.” (Exodus 30:17-20) The hands represent what one does—his works. And the feet symbolize where he goes—his walk through life. Note that Yahweh is grimly serious about this cleansing: to appear before Yahweh defiled by the world’s filth is a death sentence.
The priests’ washing their hands and feet at the bronze laver is, as usual, a metaphor for something that carries over into the daily life of every believer. But in practical terms, what does it mean for us to “wash” ourselves? Yahweh explains: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together, says Yahweh: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:16-18) The adage “cleanliness is next to godliness” is an old wives’ tale; it’s not really a scriptural concept. But it’s close: symbolically, cleanliness is godliness: it’s a metaphor for the elimination of evil intentions and oppression, leading to the practice of justice, mercy, and compassion. The surprising thing is that it apparently doesn’t matter how indelible the stain of our sins seems to be; it is not beyond Yahweh’s power to make clean. But deciding to do it is up to us: the command is “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean.” Yahweh won’t force us to repent.
David came to know this truth all too well. When convicted at last of the reality of his own heinous sin, he pleaded, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:1-3, 7) The reference to hyssop (a small mint-like shrub) reminds us of the ordinance of the Red Heifer, described in Numbers 19. The ashes of a red heifer sacrificed for the purpose were to be mixed with water and sprinkled, with hyssop, upon someone to make them symbolically pure—and specifically, to ritually purify someone who had touched a dead body. (Note, however, that verse 9 pointedly states that the water is for the purification of sin, linking sin to death). David put two and two together, associating his own sin with the death he had earned: the “dead body” he had “touched” was his own. And as bad as his sins were—adultery, murder, and the misuse of his God-given throne in perpetrating his crimes—David knew that if Yahweh washed him, he would be truly clean. He also realized that God would do whatever it took to “blot out his transgressions”—using a stiff bristle brush and lots of elbow grease, in his case. But his repentance was real. He was ready for whatever was coming.
In practically the same breath, he pleaded, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12) David had first asked Yahweh to cleanse him of his iniquity, achieved symbolically with water (which separates us from our impurities by washing them away). Now he asks God to create a clean heart within him by renewing what motivated him. That’s the function of fire: separating us from our impurities by destroying that which is worthless—the “wood, hay, and stubble” of our lives, or in David’s case, a sin-polluted heart. This is purification by fire wrought upon the altar of sacrifice—the transformation of death into life.
Both water and fire are spoken of in scripture as agents of purification, but they do their jobs in entirely different ways. John the Baptist spoke of this divergence—the difference between cleansing and transformation—when contrasting his baptism with that of Yahshua’s. “I baptize you with water because of repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11) The cleansing David had sought represented, in a way, the baptism of John: it was born of a contrite heart, humility before God, and real repentance—a desire to turn around and walk in Yahweh’s path instead of his own lusts. This was the cleansing of the bronze laver—something each of us needs every time we wish to approach God, which ought to be all the time. But baptism with fire—that corresponding to transformation at the altar, ultimately the baptism of the Holy Spirit into which Yahshua immerses us—was also in view. As I said, both things must be confronted before one is able to step into the tabernacle of meeting with Yahweh.
John’s description of the One he had come to announce wasn’t just plucked out of thin air. It was a paraphrase of this prophecy from Malachi: “The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says Yahweh of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to Yahweh.” (Malachi 3:1-3) Yahshua the Messiah, called here “the Messenger of the Covenant,” is prophesied to achieve both modes of purification. First He uses the fire of the refiner of metals—liquefying gold or silver to separate it from its impurities, releasing it from association with the worthless dross of its natural state. And then He will cleanse us using soap and water, washing away all the world’s filth that so easily accumulates on us. So, you might say, He intends to purify us inside and out.
One group in particular is singled out for special attention here: Yahweh’s mention of the Levites signals the future Millennial aspect of this purification process. Their restoration to a place of service in a glorious rebuilt temple is described in detail in Ezekiel, chapters 40-46. Although Ezekiel witnessed some very strange ecstatic visions, there is not the least hint in these chapters that what he’s being shown is anything other than literal future history. He even names a sub-clan of Aaron’s family (Zadok) who alone will be entrusted with the duties of the priesthood during Yahshua’s thousand-year reign.
The same sort of purification process—through both fire and water—is prophesied (in the past tense) by the Psalmist: “For You, O God, have tested us; You have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; You laid a crushing burden on our backs; You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet You have brought us out to a place of abundance.” (Psalm 66:10-12) This has only been fulfilled in the most tentative of terms in the past. Although their fiery trials and “crushing burdens” have been a grim reality for millennia, you could hardly call any blessing Israel has enjoyed since the Babylonian exile “a place of abundance.” But the Tanach is peppered from one end to the other with specific prophecies foretelling this very scenario—a time of great tribulation and testing, during which Israel will return as a nation to Yahweh, followed by their restoration, renewal, and unprecedented blessing. But as any child ought to know, you can’t come to the dinner table until you’ve washed up.
This coming glorious restoration of Israel—both spiritually and politically—is by far the most oft repeated prophetic theme in the entire Tanach, characterized as a byproduct of the return and reign of Yahshua our Messiah. But notwithstanding the miraculous rebirth of Israel’s political existence in 1948, it is still probably the least likely scenario one could imagine, given the world’s current and ongoing state of geopolitical unrest. A billion Muslims would like nothing better than to see Israel pushed into the sea. Even her staunchest allies (like America) betray her on a regular basis. And the vast majority of her population remains at enmity with Yahweh. So how can a rational man today believe these “outlandish” prophecies of a new Jewish golden age? I personally find it easy, if I keep in mind the other, equally unlikely, prophecies that have already come to pass in exacting detail—mostly dealing with the Messiah’s first advent.
David tells us why we can trust God’s pronouncements: “The words of Yahweh are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Psalm 12:6) It’s not that Yahweh’s words needed to be purified or cleansed, but rather that they have already been tried, tested, and proven true in the crucible of human history. Interestingly, the “earthen” furnace used to contain and focus the heat of the refining process is the word l’eretz—which could just as well be translated “in the world.” That is precisely where God’s word is vindicated—in events played out before the eyes of mankind. The reference to having been “purified seven times” speaks, I believe, of completion, of perfection, of there being so much evidence of the veracity of the words of Yahweh, that we are left without excuse. Anyone can guess a coin toss correctly once or twice. But in already-fulfilled Messianic prophecy, Yahweh has “called it” four or five hundred times in a row. Are you really prepared to bet against Him on the next flip? No, Yahweh’s words have been thoroughly refined in the furnace of human experience. They will not be proven wrong.
You and I, on the other hand, get things wrong all the time. That’s why cleansing in water is such a big part of the Torah’s prescriptions for living: until the process of our transformation is complete, we will still need periodic cleansing, for we still live in a dirty world. There are two types of water cleansing that appear side by side all the time in the Torah. Typical is this instruction pertaining to the Day of Atonement: “He who lets the goat go to Azazel [that is, ‘as the scapegoat’] shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.” (Leviticus 16:26)
To “wash” one’s clothes is the Hebrew verb kabas—to launder; specifically to render clothes clean and soft by treading, kneading, or beating them in water. (The meaning is consistent with the Old English verb “to full.” It’s the agitation and manipulation our washing machines do for us these days.) Since our clothing is symbolic of our standing or status before God (something we’ll cover in detail in a future chapter), to clean it in this way indicates that there is a certain amount of labor or effort required of us in the process of making these “garments” clean, i.e., enabling us to participate in our own sanctification. Don’t get me wrong: we can’t work to achieve our salvation. But remember, the “fine linen, clean and bright” in which the Bride of Christ was arrayed (see Revelation 19:8) was defined as the “righteous acts of the saints.” Although our righteousness is imputed to us, our acts are something we ourselves perform. (Remember what James said about “faith without works?” It’s dead.) So although water is the agent of cleansing in which the clothes are washed (and if you’ll recall, water is one of the seven symbols Yahweh uses to define His own character), the more we work at it, the cleaner our “garments” are likely to get. In other words, we’re not passive bystanders with God: we get to actively participate in our shared relationship, and our own actions determine how close and intimate this relationship will be. In the end, it’s the same thing Paul was talking about: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
The second recurring type of cleansing is the bathing of the body. This is the Hebrew verb rahas, to wash or bathe—to remove soil or impurities from your body using water, either through immersion (read: baptism) or the application of water to the skin. Since a derivative definition means “to be abundant,” it would seem that the basic tone of the word would favor the “immersion” idea. Rahas describes both ceremonial ritual washing and normal personal hygiene in scriptural usage. Out of seventy-two occurrences in the Bible, two thirds of them appear in the Pentateuch, and a third show up in a single book, Leviticus. For example, “And whoever sits on anything on which the one with the discharge has sat shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.” (Leviticus 15:6) There are no fewer than thirteen such precepts commanding cleansing with water in Leviticus 15 alone. The reason for all this ritual cleansing, and the consequences of being lackadaisical about it, is stated pointedly in the chapter’s conclusion: the holiness of Yahweh demands it. “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling My tabernacle that is in their midst.” (Leviticus 15:31) The point of the symbol is that one must be clean if he wishes to enter Yahweh’s tabernacle—Yahweh’s plan for our redemption. That’s why the bronze laver was stationed outside the sanctuary.
If you’re looking for it, you can detect a subtle undercurrent in the use of rahas in scripture: that of bathing in anticipation of romantic encounter. And frankly, I think this may actually get closer to the heart of God’s real issue with cleanliness and purity. The Song of Solomon is a visceral look at how Yahshua really feels about us, and how (if we’re His bride) we feel about Him: we’re head over heels in love. It’s something you can’t analyze, critique, or understand as an outsider; you can only experience it for yourself. So we read, “I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. ‘Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.’ I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me.” (Song of Solomon 5:2-4) We are attractive to our Lover because we are clean. We see the same thing in the story of Ruth. Naomi counsels her widowed daughter-in-law in how to be attractive to Boaz (the Torah’s kinsman-redeemer—a prototype for Christ): “Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:3-4) Ruth had already demonstrated her faithfulness and character: Boaz knew who she was. But Naomi was right: to be attractive to Boaz, to get close to him and stay there, Ruth would have to be clean. Is our relationship with Yahshua really any different?
Leviticus 13 and 14 are a treatise on what to do with systemic impurity, something that’s given the code-word “leprosy” in scripture. This goes far beyond a single identifiable malady (today called Hansen’s disease, a bacterial infection affecting the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes), for it also describes spots that show up in garments of wool, linen, or leather, and even colored streaks that show up on the walls of someone’s house (presumably mold or fungal infestations). The Torah offers no advice about how to cure this plague; it only prescribes what to do when you discover it—the idea being to separate the infected person or thing from the congregation. Quarantine the unclean person, burn the clothes, tear down and haul away the wall—whatever it takes to achieve separation (read: holiness). I found it fascinating that cleansing with water is part of the process—but only after the suspected “leper” had been examined and declared clean. “And the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day, and if the diseased area has faded and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only an eruption. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean.” (Leviticus 13:6) The washing with water does not cure the leprosy; it merely confirms the status of purity that has already been pronounced by the priest.
But what if the man actually has this contagious disease? “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46) Our liberal society today would whine, The leper has rights, too—he must be allowed to mingle freely in society! God disagrees: His agenda is holiness—setting His people apart from the contagious hazards of the world. In case you haven’t picked up on it, “leprosy” is a metaphor for sin, and more than sin—it illustrates a life that leads to death: the condition of the willfully lost. It seems to me that today’s “lepers” still announce themselves. Oh, they might wear three thousand dollar Italian suits and ride in limousines, but the things they say still proclaim, “Unclean, I’m unclean!” The problem is, the world has become one big leper colony. There are only small pockets of the faithful left: the “camp” is under siege.
The point I want to make is that no amount of washing can make a “leper” clean. As Moses said, “He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease.” Washing is only efficacious after his lethal disease has been cured. Did you ever notice that the Tanach records no Israelite ever being cured of leprosy under Torah rules? Miriam (Moses’ sister) was struck—and cured—before the precept was delivered. Naaman was a Syrian, not an Israelite. Azariah, a.k.a. Uzziah (II Kings 15:5) was never cured. It’s not until Yahshua arrived on the scene that anyone was ever cured of “leprosy” (which, as we saw, is code for “sin leading to death”). It is only after we are saved by grace through faith in Yahshua’s atoning sacrifice that “washing our clothing” (i.e., working toward a closer relationship with our God) or “bathing our bodies” (making us desirable and attractive to the One who loves us) does us any good at all.
We’ve been talking about cleansing and purification, and most of us tend to consider these good and pleasant things. Unless you’re a ten year old boy, you probably associate cleanliness with comfort, with contentment. Even if the course of life demands that we get dirty and sweaty from time to time, we inevitably feel better after we’ve gotten ourselves “cleaned up.” But the filth, sweat, and grime we’ve washed away don’t find the cleansing process pleasant at all: from their personified point of view, it feels like wrath, like rejection, like condemnation. Purity is a good thing if you’re a person; if you’re dirt, not so much.
So not surprisingly, we find both fire and water identified in scripture as instruments of God’s wrath. We often fail to comprehend that when these tools are wielded by Yahweh in anger, they are actually agents of cleansing. Thus we read: “How long, O Yahweh? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” (Psalm 89:46) The answer is, “Until you are pure—until the corruption and impurities of your idolatry have been separated from you in the heat of My crucible, skimmed off and discarded.” To whom is He speaking? It would be a mistake to assume that all such passages are addressed strictly to Israel, and that gentiles therefore need not pay them any heed. What’s true for Israel is also true for gentiles, even if the truth is spoken in a different dialect. The family of Israel is, in Yahweh’s eyes, a trial balloon, a test market, a focus group; they are His prototype for the called-out assembly, the ekklesia, the Church. Put another way, they are the lens through which Yahweh’s plan for mankind’s redemption is brought into focus.
As if to make my point for me, Yahweh speaks to Israel (characterized in this passage as Jeshurun—literally, “upright,” or “law-keeping”) through His servant Moses, declaring, “For a fire is kindled by My anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.” (Deuteronomy 32:22) This warning of the impending purification through fire comes on the heels of a promise that Israel will be “provoked to jealousy” by a bunch of relative nobodies—whom history has subsequently shown to be the predominantly gentile ekklesia. So Moses concludes his song by informing us, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.” (Deuteronomy 32:43) We’re all in this together.
Isaiah 5 tells a parable about Yahweh planting a vineyard in the earth. Although it should have been fruitful and bountiful, considering all the labor and resources God lavished upon it, it brought forth only wild grapes and pitifully poor harvests. So He determined to “lay it waste.” The vineyard is identified as Israel and Judah in verse 7: they were the ones tasked with bringing Yahweh’s plan of redemption before the world, just as a vineyard is tasked with bringing forth good grapes. “As the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of Yahweh of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of Yahweh was kindled against His people, and He stretched out His hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger has not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 5:24-25) This “tongue of fire” has been Israel’s grim reality, with only short periods of respite, from Isaiah’s day to this—twenty-seven hundred years now.
God’s anger was directed toward Israel, but this judgment, this purification by fire, will eventually—on God’s schedule—reach the entire world. The lessons—and the judgment—will be extended to the gentiles for precisely the same reasons they were visited upon the Jews: we too (most of us) have “rejected the law of Yahweh of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” The Law of Yahweh speaks of Christ, so to reject the Torah is to reject the Messiah it reveals; and “the Word of the Holy One of Israel” (as we learned in the first chapter of John’s Gospel) is Yahshua of Nazareth—the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. So the gentiles will join Israel in being purged and cleansed in the fires of separation. In a passage that both berates Israel for its idolatries and predicts its rebirth, Isaiah foresees the means of Israel’s deliverance: the purification by fire of all flesh. “For behold, Yahweh will come in fire, and His chariots like the whirlwind, to render His anger in fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will Yahweh enter into judgment, and by His sword, with all flesh; and those slain by Yahweh shall be many.” (Isaiah 66:15-16)
Rejecting Yahweh’s law and despising His Word are perfectly adequate reasons for the fiery anger of God, of course. But the Isaiah 5 passage is far more specific and detailed than this in identifying why the people need to be purified. Verse 8 warns against oppressive greed, specifically “accumulating houses,” gobbling up property until the poor have been “priced out.” Verse 10 condemns a lifestyle centered on pleasure seeking, amusement, and dissipation. Verse 13 begins a diatribe against arrogance and pride, especially as manifested in a refusal to know and honor Yahweh. Verse 18 derides those who are willfully tied to their sin, justifying their transgressions with lies and daring God to do something about it. Verse 20 denounces those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute light with darkness, and sweetness with bitterness. 21 speaks against prideful conceit, thinking one is smarter than he really is (according to Yahweh’s standards). 22 singles out those who seek to excel at performing iniquity—such as developing a capacity for drinking alcohol or a knack for skirting the law.
Jude reminds us of one more specific condition that begs for cleansing by fire: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 7) The cities of the plain (see Genesis 19) had embraced a state of depravity that precluded choice. One could not live there and serve Yahweh openly without being continually oppressed, tormented, and persecuted as a hated outsider (as Lot was—see II Peter 2:7-8, Genesis 19:9). An examination of the Sodomites’ attitudes as revealed in the text tells us that they were defined by more than mere sexual perversion: every single item on the Isaiah 5 list describes them to a tee.
Ezekiel extends the list: “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out My indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 22:29-31) Sin, he says, attempts to tear down the defenses of holiness surrounding God’s people. Yahweh was looking for someone willing to draw a line in the sand and stop the inroads of transgression—or at least try. But all He found was compromise, a refusal to call evil out for what it is. It reminds me of America today: even those who know better are unwilling to take a firm public stand against such obvious evils (by scriptural standards) as extra-marital sex, substance abuse, homosexuality, abortion, the core doctrines of Islam (or any other manmade religion), and what Zeke singled out here—the abuse of power.
Don’t misconstrue my words here. I’m not preaching a doctrine of hatred; quite the opposite—a timely warning of impending doom is an act of kindness, a demonstration of love. If the building is on fire, we rightly sound the alarm; if we truly love sinners, we won’t keep it a secret that the spiritual hazards they’re playing with can kill them. Nor am I suggesting we should attempt to force sinners to behave as if they were saints with a view toward somehow “sanctifying” them. That would be a fool’s errand. But we should be very clear in unequivocally declaring what God calls evil to be evil, for evil’s would-be victims deserve to be warned of the coming judgment. It is not our job to dispense God’s wrath—He’s perfectly capable of taking care of His own affairs. But it is our duty to “stand in the breach” and call sin what it is—a road that leads to death, impurity that will sooner or later have to be separated out from among us by fire.
Be not deceived: the prerogatives of fire are Yahweh’s, and His alone. The time, place, and object of the fire’s purging attentions are all Yahweh’s exclusive purview. I realize that our folklore connects fire with Satan, presumably because the devil is destined to be tormented in “hell-fire” (whatever that is) for eternity. But Satan doesn’t control fire; he can’t conjure it up at will. This was demonstrated unambiguously one day at Mt. Carmel, as Elijah and four hundred and fifty priests of Ba’al held what you might call a “prophets’ duel.” Elijah said (and I paraphrase), “Look, folks, it’s time for all of us to put our money where our mouth is. Let’s sacrifice two bulls, you to your god Ba’al, and me to mine, Yahweh. But don’t light the fires—we’ll let whoever the true and living God is reveal Himself by doing that. What do you say?”
“‘And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of Yahweh, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.’ And all the people answered, ‘It is well spoken….’” The priests of Ba’al (who, I suspect, were only pushing Ba’al worship because of the profit and power it could bring them) had no choice but to play the game. They were no doubt laboring under the misconception that Yahweh was no more real than Ba’al was—that these were merely competing local deities, or more correctly, competing religious scams. So the priests of Ba’al fooled about all day long trying to entice their god to light their fire—without success. Finally, as the sun was nearing the horizon, Elijah said, “Enough of this; you guys have had your shot.” After soaking his sacrifice in water ’til it was soggy (just to make things more interesting), he prayed, “‘Answer me, O Yahweh, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Yahweh, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of Yahweh fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘Yahweh, He is God; Yahweh, He is God.’” (I Kings 18:24, 37-39) That is the proper response to a demonstration of Yahweh’s judgment by fire. But in truth, this sort of “putting God to the test” should not have been necessary. The people had the Torah and the Psalms. They had the testimony of Moses, Samuel, David and Solomon—more than sufficient to reveal who the real God was. Do we really need to see fire from heaven to compel us to repent? If so, shame on us.
And what of those who have gladly received the testimony of scripture? Will we too be tried, tested, and purged by fire? Yes and no. We ourselves have already been purified—washed clean, as it were, by the atoning blood of Yahshua. But we are still living in the world as mortal believers. We still encounter things that make us dirty, just by walking through life. We still have to make choices every day, and they’re not always flawless because we’re not flawless. Everything we do or say is an opportunity to honor Yahweh. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail. These works, however, will be the only thing about us that will be subjected to the fires of judgment. Paul explains: “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:11-15) One’s “house” here is his mortal life. What, if anything, will be left behind as a lasting and precious legacy, edifying to others and honoring to Yahweh?
If we analyze this, we find that the “house on fire” metaphor has three possible outcomes. First (and best) is the man whose house is built upon the solid foundation of Christ, and who has subsequently built a life out of “materials” that are guaranteed to hold up in the crucible of time and adversity: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self control. That house will survive the fire quite nicely. Second is he who has built his house on the same firm foundation, but of materials that can’t withstand the heat—religious tradition, personal wealth, pride of intellect, or misplaced political correctness. This house will burn like a campfire marshmallow, but the foundation will stand firm, so at least the “homeowner” will have someplace to pitch a pup tent after the fire—he’ll still have an address. But the third case is doomed to total destruction. This is the man whose foundation is something—anything—other than Yahshua the Messiah. If the foundation goes up in smoke, it doesn’t really matter what’s built upon it: that’s gone too. Even if the homeowner has his neighbors convinced that his house is made of love, peace, patience, and all the rest, none of it will survive, for the foundation itself will have been proved vulnerable and inadequate.
When will all this judgment by fire take place? The Torah provides the answer, if we’re willing to take God at his word. “Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Yahweh. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.” Read: You can’t work your way into heaven. In the end, you must rest in Yahweh’s finished work. “You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:2-3) The whole “Sabbath” concept is largely lost on Jews and Christians alike. Yahweh’s six-plus-one pattern is ubiquitous in scripture—especially in the Torah, where the foundations of God’s truth are laid. Is the Sabbath rule really just a semi-pointless burden imposed upon us by a micromanaging deity, or is it symbolic of something earth-shakingly significant in Yahweh’s prophetic revelation to us? Both the Old and New Testaments (Psalm 90:4 and II Peter 3:8) equate one day with a thousand years in God’s view. If this is literally true (and not merely hyperbole about Yahweh’s patience) then we can conclude (as did the ancient rabbis) that God is planning to deal with mortal, fallen mankind for a total of seven thousand years. But—and this is important in our present context—the last of these seven millennia is characterized as a “day of solemn rest,” in a word, the Sabbath. Its character is described as such in dozens of prophetic passages in the Tanach, and its duration is specified, in Revelation 20, to be precisely one thousand years.
So what does our Exodus 35 passage have to do with it? Fire, as we have seen, is associated with Yahweh’s judgment, wrath, and the cleansing of the earth. So whatever fiery wrath there is in the earth’s future will take place during the first six thousand years of Yahweh’s timetable for man, because “kindling fire” is prohibited on the Sabbath. And any way we figure it, we are rapidly closing in on the end of the sixth millennium since the fall of Adam. Whatever awaits us—judgment or redemptive vindication—is right around the corner. Open your eyes, folks: scores of political, demographic, socio-economic, environmental, and prophetic “doomsday” factors are beginning to converge, to come into focus. It’s the end of the world as we know it (which is not to say it’s actually the end of the world). I don’t want to alarm you, only alert you.
If Exodus 35:3 means what it seems to, then, Yahweh’s judgment by fire upon this earth will have been accomplished before the end of the sixth millennium. That judgment includes not only the world in general (during the last seven years of this age, known as the Tribulation), but also the judgment of the church-age believers’ works that we previewed in I Corinthians 3. This is an event prophesied in scripture as the “Judgment Seat of Christ” (see Romans 14:10, II Corinthians 5:10), something logistics suggest will take place in heaven, between the rapture and Christ’s second coming.
Yahweh’s wrath, as I said, is expressed through both fire and water. As fire burns away the worthless elements in our midst, floods sweep away everything that is not solidly anchored. Moses tells us, “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by Your anger; by Your wrath we are dismayed.” (Psalm 90:3-7) If men truly comprehended their frailty, the vulnerability of their mortal existence, would they stand as they do in the corridors of mortal power and shake their fists in the face of God? I think not.
Isaiah too speaks of the futility of self deception in the face of Yahweh’s power. “Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, and the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine! Behold, the Lord has One who is mighty and strong; like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest, like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters, He casts down to the earth with His hand.” (Isaiah 28:1-2) who is this “mighty one” of Yahweh’s who, like a class-5 hurricane, destroys those who are drunk on their own delusions of grandeur? The prophet explains (sort of) a few verses later: it’s Yahweh Himself sitting in judgment—presented as the Messiah in His glory: “In that day Yahweh of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of His people, and a spirit of justice to Him who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.” (Isaiah 28:5-6) It’s up to us to choose how Yahweh will appear to us—as a crown of glory or as a destroying tempest, as the spirit of justice or a storm of hail and overflowing waters. Put another way, we may choose between being washed clean in the clear, cool waters of the bronze laver standing before the tabernacle, or being washed away in a torrent of God’s wrath. Gee, that’s a tough one.
Throughout these prophecies, Israel (in one form or another: Ephraim, Judah, Samaria, Jeshurun, etc.) is singled out for condemnation far more than any other people. Why does Yahweh seem to be picking on them? I believe the reason is something I’ve mentioned before: Israel’s job is to be the actors on God’s stage, while we in the audience are supposed to be paying close attention to the play because the story impacts all of us. Israel has been admonished, warned, and cautioned until God’s prophets are blue in the face, but they have not listened. So history records not only their rebellions, but also Yahweh’s sure and swift punishment—up to and including the loss of their entire national identity for over eighteen hundred years.
But the Bible is also replete with dire warnings to the nations—everybody else. And these warnings have not yet been brought to fruition. So because Yahweh’s wrath seems slow in coming, most of the world assumes that it’s not coming at all—that God is either weak, uncommitted, nonexistent, or is somebody other than Yahweh. But His willingness to deal decisively with Israel’s rebellions proves that God is none of these things. He is, rather, patient to a fault, willing to give us every opportunity to repent. We err if we mistake this patience for senility. My point is that in light of Israel’s grim experiences, we would be foolish indeed to ignore Yahweh’s warnings to the world, warnings like this: “According to their deeds, so will He repay, wrath to His adversaries, repayment to His enemies; to the coastlands He will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of Yahweh from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; for He will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of Yahweh drives.” (Isaiah 59:18-19) Just because it hasn’t happened yet, don’t assume it won’t. Yahweh’s wrath in response to Israel’s folly has been revealed constantly over the centuries; but although His retribution against the rest of the world has been deferred, it will come as suddenly as a flash flood. There will be no escape if we haven’t heeded His warnings and moved to high ground.
Man is only dimly aware, I’m afraid, of the trouble he’s in. All too often, we see progress in terms of improving our conditions in this life, not preparing for the next. We conceive of God in terms of our own perceived needs, not His glory—and certainly not His agenda. If we really understood that it is Yahweh’s intention to bless us, would we continue to seek shelter and sustenance elsewhere? Probably not. As a father, I would have thought it very strange—and not a little hurtful—if my children had refused to accept the food, clothing, and shelter my hard work had earned for them, or the care and nurturing their mother had lavished upon them, and instead insisted on “making their own way” at the age of five or six. And yet, that’s a pretty good picture of how we treat Yahweh sometimes, whether out of ignorance, rebellion, or damnable arrogance. But the prophet writes, “Yahweh is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue His enemies into darkness.” (Nahum 1:7-8)
Water and fire are both seen in scripture as God’s tools of transformation, and not only metaphorically in terms of our personal character being purged, cleansed, and purified. These elements are also seen remaking the very earth upon which we dwell. Here part of the contrast is chronological. The flood of Noah is in our history; the transformation of earth through fire is yet future. Let us examine the scriptural record of both events with an eye toward discovering what connection, if any, exists between them.
The flood account is found in Genesis 6-8. After introducing Noah and his family, Yahweh reveals why a flood was deemed necessary: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” The word translated “corrupt” is the Hebrew verb shachat, meaning to destroy, spoil, corrupt, ruin, decay, or be rotten. From God’s point of view, life on earth was beyond saving, like a moldy six-month-old banana. “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy [shachat] them with the earth.’” (Genesis 6:11-12) Can you really “destroy” something that’s already that far gone? Well, sort of: God used the same word to describe what He would do, as if to say “I will corrupt the corrupt,” or “I will destroy those who are destroyed.” All you can really do with rotten fruit is hold your nose and take out the trash. The reference to “all flesh” may make it seem to us that man is but one small part of the biosphere that had “spoiled.” But in the Hebrew, it’s pretty clear that God is focused only on punishing mankind (though innocent animals would suffer as a result of our crimes). The word “flesh” is basar, based on a similar verb meaning to bear news, publish, preach, or announce—there is a decidedly man-centric flavor to the word family. Basar was seen as a fundamental component of one’s humanity, as in “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of Yahweh; my heart and flesh [basar] sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:2)
Another word we need to examine is “earth.” This is the Hebrew eretz, which is so broad in its usage, it’s worthless as a technical description. It can mean land, earth, the whole world, a country, territory, region, or plot of ground, soil, the land of Canaan, or even “the land of the living” (as opposed to Sheol, although Sheol itself is also referred to as an eretz). So when God says, “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven,” He’s not necessarily stating that the flood will cover the entire planet (though He’s not ruling it out, either). He’s merely stating that the flood is designed to destroy all mortal men—those in whom is the breath (that’s ruach, normally translated “spirit”) of life. In other words, He is focused on every descendant of Adam and Eve: humans who have the capacity for spiritual indwelling through their neshamah, as we shall see shortly. Animals have souls (the nephesh) but they are never spoken of as having indwelling spirits (ruach).
When God says, “Everything that is on the earth shall die,” He’s not necessarily talking about “everything,” as in the entire zoosphere of the planet. The word is kol, literally “all,” so this could be legitimately rendered, “Everyone in this land shall die.” “But I will establish my covenant with you [Noah], and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” (Genesis 6:17-18) “Then Yahweh said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.’” (Genesis 7:1) “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood.” (Genesis 7:7) That’s the central lesson: Yahweh has provided deliverance for those who are found righteous before Him. Everyone else will die. It’s a timeless, universal truth. Which is not to say it’s popular.
There’s a reason I’ve gone out of my way to point out that although the record suggests a worldwide deluge, it doesn’t technically specify one. Researchers have found scant scientific evidence to prove a worldwide universally lethal flood about five thousand years ago, and therefore, they take great delight in calling God a liar. But perhaps their mocking is misplaced: there is evidence (recorded in humanity’s collective mitochondrial DNA) of a severe constriction, a narrowing of the human genome, sometime in our not-so-distant past—just what you’d expect to find if the Genesis narrative were true. At any rate, the skeptics fail to see Yahweh’s point in describing things this way. What is that point? As usual, it’s a parable: life on this planet exists at Yahweh’s pleasure; it’s not guaranteed to endure one minute beyond what He has purposed or promised. This is a lesson that will take on monumental significance as we approach the end of this age.
So what really happened? Let me preface my hypothetical remarks with the flat statement that I believe everything Noah saw with his own two eyes was recorded faithfully and accurately. But he couldn’t see what was happening over the horizon or half a world away, so Yahweh filled in the blanks in terms that were both spiritually symbolic and prophetically significant. In other words, He told us the story the same way He described the creation process: the narrative was designed to teach living spiritual truth, not lifeless historical fact. It’s not that the stories aren’t true, but we have to read through the poetry of spiritual implication to arrive at the prosaic data—something that would hardly be worth exploring were it not for the scoffers trying to lead us astray. I believe Yahweh is happy to let us “read into” the flood narrative a worldwide, universal catastrophe (even if it “only” caused total devastation in regions into which Adam’s descendants had settled) because Noah’s flood is a preview, a precursor, a prophecy, of something yet in our planet’s future—another cleansing, another purging of evil, this time by fire.
“For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” (Genesis 7:4) Any meteorologist can calculate that there isn’t remotely enough water vapor in the atmosphere at any one time for it to rain all over the world for six weeks straight, nor enough water held in clouds to cover the earth’s surface thousands of feet deep in water. But this “impossible” thing is precisely what Yahweh told Noah was about to happen. Noah counted the days, and the prophecy came about just as God had said. But note that Yahweh specifically points out that ordinary rain wasn’t the sole cause of the flood. “On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” (Genesis 7:11-12) Once again, the actual Hebrew words shed light on the nature of this event. “Fountains” is ma’yan: a spring or fountain, a spontaneously gushing source of water. “Burst forth” is the Hebrew baqa’, meaning to split, to cleave, to break open or tear apart. It speaks of violent upheaval. And “windows” is aruba, more accurately translated “sluice gate,” that is, something through which a great deal of water is purposely and forcefully directed, as in a millstream. The tone of the word is betrayed by its root verb, arab, which means to lie in wait, to ambush. This flood was no gentle spring rain that merely went on longer than usual. It was, rather, a violent, purposeful, multiple-source “water ambush.”
What could cause both an upheaval of subterranean aquifers and weeks of unceasing rain? How about a large meteor or comet strike? In 2005, Dallas Abbott, an adjunct research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., estimated the date of a massive meteorite strike 900 miles southeast of Madagascar to have occurred within the lifetime of Noah, “around 2800 B.C.” The “Burckle Abysmal Impact Crater” (named after Lloyd Burckle of Columbia University) left by this impact measures eighteen miles wide, which is huge, considering it’s some 12,500 feet beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean (and we all know what water does to muzzle velocity). The impact of such a large missile into these depths would have easily displaced enough water to account for forty days of rain over much of the earth’s surface. It isn’t just the displacement, either; it’s also the extreme heat generated by the meteorite’s entry and impact. One sample of the bolide’s ejecta contained pure nickel with drops of oxidized nickel. Because nickel melts at 1453 degrees C, the projectile had to have reached temperatures at least that high. Thus it is no stretch at all to envision millions of tons of water vapor being sent aloft during such an impact—and deposited back to the earth over the next forty days and nights as an unrelenting rainstorm.
The initial impact, of course, would have caused a devastating tsunami. It doesn’t really matter how long Noah stayed afloat or how long the rain fell: civilization would have been wiped out in the first hour. The famous Chicxulub impact, the dinosaur-killer 65 million years ago, was estimated to have generated a tsunami thousands of feet high. Though it was perhaps ten times the size of the Burckle meteorite, it impacted on land, though near the shoreline. Imagine what a projectile almost a mile across could do if it hit open water. If you think about it, a tsunami of this magnitude in itself could be aptly described as “the fountains of the great deep bursting forth.”
Actually, researchers have postulated at least two similar meteor strikes, based on chevron dunes in Australia, India and Madagascar, some deposited over 500 feet above sea level. Abbott’s study reports, “We postulate a Shoemaker-Levy type event with multiple sites of large impact, including one site in the northern hemisphere.” The Shoemaker-Levy reference, of course, speaks of the spectacular comet strike on Jupiter in 1994 in which the missile broke up into a “string of pearls” sort of configuration before making multiple impacts on the planet. The implication is that several pieces of Noah’s earth-killer asteroid impacted the earth at widely scattered locations, but at roughly the same time. The second site is the Mahuika impact crater near New Zealand, in about a thousand feet of water. Other possible impact sites include the Kanmare (Serpent) and Tabban (Rainbow) craters in the South Pacific, and one in the Mediterranean near the Rhone delta in Southern France (which could account for the well-documented Black Sea inundation, breaching the Bosporus and permanently flooding prehistoric shoreline settlements under 300 feet of water). The Burckle impact, of course, would have been the one that picked up Noah’s 450-foot ark like a twig and tossed it from its building site (probably on the Tigris/Euphrates plain) northward toward the mountains of Ararat.
How much energy did the Burckle impact release? It’s hard to comprehend the scope of the thing, so I’ll try to provide a point of reference. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II released about 15 kilotons of energy. (The largest bomb ever made was the Soviets’ 50-megaton AN602, detonated in 1961.) It is estimated that the Krakatau volcanic explosion in 1883, the most violent volcanic explosion ever experienced by man, blew with a force of 150 megatons—about 10,000 times that of Hiroshima. But the Burckle impact (not including Mahuika and the others) weighed in at about two million megatons—over 1.3 billion times as powerful as the Hiroshima explosion! Would this event have been powerful enough to cause the kind of devastation Noah describes? You tell me.
Anthropologists are aware of at least 175 local flood legends that parallel the Genesis account—some sources count as many as 500 of them. Though most of the stories have degenerated to the realm of tribal folklore, a surprising number of them have many of the same features: destruction by water, preservation in a vessel of some sort, humans and animals spared, birds employed to assess the situation, and most significantly, God’s involvement, including a divine warning of impending doom. These traditions in themselves are strong circumstantial evidence of an historical cataclysm in our common past, not to mention the world’s repopulation pattern, spreading outward from a single locale. That being noted, it’s fascinating to me how single-mindedly anti-theistic our scientific community can be. Enthusiastically seizing upon a golden opportunity to trash Yahweh’s reputation, a scientist featured on the History Channel’s treatment of the Burckle Crater remarked, “We no longer need God to explain the multiple flood legends.” Really? Then please explain to me how Noah (or any other flood-legend hero) knew to start building a big boat decades before a mega-tsunami wiped his world off the map. Smart people can be soooo dumb.
Anyway, the Genesis narrative continues: “The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep….” Again, because of the broad range of meanings that “earth” (eretz) can assume, we can’t be dogmatic about the universality of the actual event. But it’s clear that Yahweh wants us to understand His unapologetic willingness to destroy everything in response to man’s rebellion against Him. The worst mistake we could make would be to decide (in our infinite wisdom) that since the physical evidence for a worldwide deluge isn’t blatantly obvious, then Yahweh isn’t willing or able to carry through on His promises of future judgment. He told us what we need to know. He has led us by the hand to the proper conclusion. The message is crystal clear.
“And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.” This same English phrase, “the breath of life,” was used earlier, but there the word translated “breath” was ruach—literally, “spirit.” Here it’s neshamah, a word introduced in the creation account to explain the distinctively spiritual nature of man, as opposed to animals who are equipped only with a nephesh, or soul. If I’m seeing this correctly, it is the neshamah that gives man his unique ability among God’s creatures to be born of spirit in addition to flesh, a fundamental requirement, according to Yahshua, for eternal life (see John 3). Though we aren’t specifically told, my guess is that when Yahweh tells us “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth,” (Genesis 6:12) He may be indicating that most of mankind had received the spirit of Satan into their neshamah—they were “born from below,” as we are instructed to be “born from above.” If this is true, it’s significant, for we are given similar hints concerning the earth’s population by the end of the Tribulation. Review the conclusion to the prophecy of the “sheep and goats” in Matthew 25:31-46.
“He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.” (Genesis 7:17-24) We are reminded in no uncertain terms that our rebellions against Yahweh result not only in personal consequences but also collateral damage. The “creeping things and birds of the heavens” had not sinned against God, and yet they were swept away with man in his punishment. Their deaths were our fault. Logically then, “animal rights” activists should be the first in line to honor Yahweh (yeah, picture that). This principle didn’t end with the flood, by the way. Zechariah prophesies concerning a particularly squishy last-days plague: “And this shall be the plague with which Yahweh will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths…. And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.” (Zechariah 14:12, 15) In other words, if you don’t want the deaths of innocent animals on your conscience, don’t attack the God who made them—or the people He has vowed to protect.
“But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually.” (Genesis 8:1-3) How long did the flood last? It depends on what facet of the event you’re looking at. The bolide that created the Burckle crater was, I believe, the single cosmic event that set everything else in motion (bearing in mind that this was probably only one of several strikes from pieces of the same huge asteroid or comet). It’s (or their) timing and placement were completely under Yahweh’s control. The mega-tsunamis generated would have arrived within hours, destroying antediluvian civilization more or less instantaneously. The ocean water the impact sent aloft was precipitated back to earth as rain over the next forty days and nights (7:12). Waters deep enough to keep the ark floating freely prevailed for 150 days—five months (7:24). But it wasn’t until two and a half months later (8:4) that the water level had receded to the point where the boat was firmly grounded. I am reminded that when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, the storm blew through in hours but the flood persisted for weeks. Comparing Genesis 7:11 with 8:14, we learn that Noah (following God’s instruction) had to remain on the ark for a total of one year and ten days. Why were we given so much detail? I believe it’s to impress upon us that this was an actual historical event, not a fanciful myth told to intimidate small children and impress religious zealots. Why is that important? Because the same God who engineered the flood has promised to do something equally drastic in the face of our total depravity—not cleansing the earth with water this time, but transforming it with fire.
The flood left Noah’s world a radically different place. It was so different, in fact, the very atmosphere was recruited to display a sign guaranteeing God’s promise never again to destroy the earth with water: “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’” That’s the promise. The sign confirming the covenant was revealed next: “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember My covenant that is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Genesis 9:8-15) We’ll address rainbows at length in a future chapter, but for now, just notice that several of the elements of Yahweh’s self-portrait are involved in making them—water, light, air, and in the context of Yahweh’s covenant, the Word.
The point of all that is simply that Yahweh’s judgments have lasting consequences and teach timeless lessons. He doesn’t want us to forget. He leaves reminders behind. During the coming Millennial Kingdom, He is planning to leave a permanent and pungent memento of His wrath within a three-hour bus ride from Jerusalem: “For Yahweh has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever.”(Isaiah 34:8-10) Most of the world will eventually revert to a pristine state under Yahshua’s reign as the healing waters flow east and west from beneath the Millennial Temple (see Zechariah 14:8, Ezekiel 47:1-12). But Edom (southern Jordan) will be preserved as a hell on earth—an undying monument to man’s folly, a reminder of the results of rebellion. It won’t be pretty, but it will be effective. Israel will never again turn her back on Yahweh.
But that’s all in the future. Today, the only evidence we have that Yahweh is prepared to follow through on His promises of judgment is the record of the flood, written in stone, scripture, and our own DNA. Those who are willing to call God a liar to His face find it easy to deny such subtle evidence. Funny thing, though. Yahweh, through Peter, prophesied even this denial: “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” Not to be picky, but the “promise of His coming” can be found in a big impact crater on the floor of the Indian Ocean. “‘For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these [that is, by means of the heavens, the earth, water, and the word of God] the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”Deny it all you want, but be aware that God, from the very beginning, designed the flood of Noah to be prophetic of something in your future: “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”(II Peter 3:3-7) Same God, same word, same agenda, different method—fire instead of water. It appears the only thing He neglected to tell us is when.
Or did He? Appearances can be deceiving. First, let’s look at the Genesis record again. Yahweh said He’d put up with men’s corruption for only another hundred and twenty years (6:3). Then He told Noah to build an ark, telling him why he was going to need it and giving him plenty of time to get the job done (6:14, 17). Then, he gave Noah a seven-day “last minute” head’s up: the flood is on its way—get everybody aboard (7:1-4). In other words, Yahweh gave His man plenty of warning, both in the long and short term. Why wouldn’t He do that with the coming judgment by fire as well?
I believe He did: in the very next breath, Peter tells us when this conflagration is coming, in terms anyone familiar with Yahweh’s metaphors should be able to figure out. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day….” What? You say you didn’t see a timeline there? Don’t feel bad; hardly anybody does. I read that verse for fifty years before I finally got it. He’s not just poetically asserting that God is patient, although that’s certainly true; he’s explaining a symbolic formula Yahweh laid down in the very first chapter of the Bible: the six days of creation, followed by one day of rest, are a timeline. The formula was codified in the Torah—in the Ten Commandments, no less—as the Sabbath Law: we are to work on six days and rest on the seventh. Actually, this six-plus-one pattern pops up constantly in scripture, and it always means pretty much the same thing: there are six of “something” in which “doing” is appropriate and good, followed by a seventh of these things in which “resting” becomes the rule. That’s God’s pattern.
It pops up again here in II Peter because, in the context of the final judgment, we need to comprehend Yahweh’s timetable for mankind: we will ultimately have only six thousand years in which to “work things out” with God—six thousand years, beginning with the fall of Adam, in which we must dwell on earth as mortals estranged from God, making our choices, doing our deeds, and figuring out what to believe and whom to trust. The problem is, after almost six thousand years of this condition, the scoffers almost seem justified in thinking everything will “continue as it was since the beginning of creation.” If you’re not of a mind to see it, Yahweh’s patience might be mistaken for His non-existence. That’s why Peter immediately explained, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”(II Peter 3:8-10) The point is, even though the lost world will be taken completely by surprise when Yahshua returns, Yahweh is clearly on a schedule. The train left the station when Adam fell into sin, and it won’t arrive at its final destination until the six thousand years have elapsed.
Moreover, it is my observation that there have been scheduled stops along the way: spiritually significant milestones spaced at precise one-thousand-year intervals. The fall, the flood, Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah, the building of Solomon’s temple, the passion of the Messiah in 33 AD, and a stunning 1033 AD confirmation (based on the odd Numbers 5 method for confirming a cheating wife’s unfaithfulness) in which Yahweh found both the Church and Israel to be adulterous and idolatrous (all of which I’ll explore in more detail a bit later)—these things have led me to the conclusion that we will arrive at the next “station,” the end of the line for us fallen mortals, in 2033 (and specifically, on the Feast of Tabernacles, the seventh and final holy convocation prescribed by Yahweh, falling on Tishri 15, October 8, 2033). If you’ll recall, I referred a few pages back to the Torah’s prohibition against kindling a fire (read: rendering judgment) on the Sabbath. Thus I expect “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” to be fully accomplished before the end of the sixth millennium. Yahweh too rests on the seventh “day.”
I’m the first to admit that there’s enough “connecting the dots” and scriptural interpolation involved in the “2033 theory” to make me less than dogmatic about it. I am personally convinced that it’s correct, but please remember: it’s only a hypothesis. I find it compelling, however, that there are literally hundreds of prophetic confirmations that seem to be converging on the same general timeframe. For example, of the thirteen or so signs of the “beginning of sorrows (or birth pangs)” Yahshua listed in the Olivet Discourse, all but one of them are everyday realities in our present world, and the last one—“great signs in the heavens”—seems to be gaining steam, at least sporadically. (On the other hand, the evidence supporting the "theory's" validity is positively overwhelming. See Volume 4 of The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website.) Only a blind man could fail to see it: “Mother Earth” (so to speak) is nearing the end of her six thousand year pregnancy. She will soon give birth to the wrath of God. It is so obvious, her friends are starting to ask if it’s twins!
We have established that Yahweh once cleansed the earth with water (apparently at the end of the first millennium of His revealed schedule), and He intends to purify it again, this time through fire, at the end of the sixth millennium. (Hmmm. Sort of reminds me of Yahshua’s two temple cleansings—one near the beginning and the other at the end of His earthly ministry.) And we have further noted that no judgment will take place during the seventh millennium, the thousand-year reign of our Messiah-King. But what will happen when the Millennium has run its course? Will things just peter out into oblivion? Will they simply revert to the way they were at some previous point in time?
No. Paul and others make it quite clear that all believers will eventually be given immortal, incorruptible bodies (see I Corinthians 15:35-58). These bodies, like those of Christ’s resurrection body, will be built for another kind of world than the one we now inhabit. It never ceases to amaze me—the lengths to which Yahweh went in creating a world where mortal creatures like us could survive and thrive. It’s the most amazing feat one can imagine, creating the perfect environment for supporting biological life—impossibly unlikely and balanced on a razor’s edge: a shift of a few percentage points in any of a hundred variables would make our planet as uninhabitable as Mars. I’d say we all owe Yahweh a big Thank You. But like I said, scripture reveals that someday we’ll inhabit bodies that have no need for such astrophysical heroics. What then? What happens when Yahweh’s Sabbath rest is over? Transformation of the universe—by fire.
We weren’t done with our passage from Peter. Without missing a beat, he describes the conclusion of the matter: “And then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed….” This is what led me to the outlandish conclusion that God created the entire vast universe just so He could inhabit it with people who could reciprocate His love. When the Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” he’s not just stating that the stars look pretty. The whole universe fairly screams that Yahweh its Creator is awesome. But when God’s purpose for having created the universe has been fulfilled, He will not be sentimental about keeping it around in its present form, for it, like us, is dying.
Naturally (since our response to Yahweh’s glory is the whole point) there is a moral to the story: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”(II Peter 3:10-13) Peter links the impermanence of the present universe to our need for holiness. That which will happen to creation—total transformation by fire—can be our destiny as well. Our requisite holiness and godliness are the result of Yahweh’s purging of everything worthless from our lives—leaving only the purity of His truth to define our existence. What will happen to the old universe? It will be replaced with a “new heaven and new earth.” And what will happen to our mortal lives? They will be replaced with new, eternal lives defined by the very righteousness of God (if we’re His, that is). Just as the old universe was perfectly suited to our mortal lives, the new one will be purposely built to accommodate us in our immortality. Now that’s what I call evolution.
The Psalmist concurs: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away.”(Psalm 102:25-26) When Yahweh finished His creation, He called it all “very good.” We need to come to terms with the fact that this doesn’t necessarily imply everlasting perfection on every possible level. It merely means that it was perfectly suited for the purpose God had intended for it—which in the end was to reveal His glory by demonstrating His love. In this respect, it’s sort of like the Law, the Torah, the original covenant. First we read, “The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul.” (Psalm 19:7) Then the writer to the Hebrews comes along and says, “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second…. In speaking of a new covenant, He makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:7, 13) What looks like a blatant contradiction is nothing of the sort. The Torah functioned exactly as it was intended to do, for it is a symbolic harbinger of Yahshua, His mission and His purpose. Any apparent “obsolescence” is due to the fact that Messiah’s role has now been fulfilled. A road sign’s significance is different once the destination has been reached. The same sort of thing is true of creation: what was once “very good” is on its way toward being a prime candidate for transformation.
Isaiah reports Yahweh’s intentions: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.”(Isaiah 65:17-18) We can only “be glad and rejoice” temporarily in the present creation, for we (not to mention it) are only temporary. But Yahweh is in the business of permanence.
We’ll give John the last word. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them…. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”(Revelation 20:11, 21:1) The closer we get to the eternal state, the nearer we are to seeing Yahweh in His true, undiminished glory. The present creation (including us) cannot stand in God’s presence. The whole point of building a physical universe was to provide a matrix in which God could interact with that which is not God, for God is love, and it takes two to tango, so to speak. Once we have all made our choice to love Him back (or not), the universe in which we live (as awe-inspiring as it was) will be transformed by fire into something even better—something perfectly suited to our new immortal reality—a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness dwells.