Last year damaging wildfires swept through several states. During one of them, Nicole Jolley feared for her life. Flames surrounded her car and filled it with smoke. She called her husband on her cell phone, convinced she was speaking to him for the last time. “Nick, I’m gonna die, and I’m not gonna make it out of here, there are flames everywhere, and I don’t know what to do,” she told him. “Don’t die, run,” said her husband. “If you’re going to die, die fighting. You have to run.”
Today’s reading speaks of a great fire that devours the lush forests of Lebanon and Bashan. Lebanon was famous for giant cedars that covered its mountain slopes. Bashan was a fertile plateau where cattle, sheep, and goats often grazed. Isaiah and Ezekiel mentioned the oaks of Bashan (Isa. 2:13; Ezek. 27:6). The fire depicted in these verses would destroy land and animal so that those who tended them wailed in grief. As a result of this devastation, “the lush thicket of the Jordan is ruined” (v. 3).
Was this fire literal or figurative? Many scholars believe the fire is a symbol of God’s judgment. Despite the mention of Lebanon, Bashan, and the thicket of the Jordan, the details are quite general. If the language is meant to be figurative, then both the trees and the shepherds may be understood as symbols of leadership. The prophet Ezekiel used the cedar to symbolize Judah’s king and nobles in a parable (Ezek. 17:3, 4, 12). Jeremiah called leaders of Judah shepherds (Jer. 23:1–4). Zechariah follows suit and condemns false shepherds in Zechariah 11:17.
Scripture often employs fire as a symbol of divine judgment. The Bible especially speaks of God’s wrath in this way (Deut. 32:22; Jer. 4:4). God’s judgment is a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24).
Mark Wagner, executive vice president, welcomes the prayers of the Moody family for the Moody Bible Institute’s executive cabinet and its key role in maximizing our potential for ministry. Thank God for His grace and sufficiency in every task!