Summer is winding down towards the cooler weather of fall, however, the fire season is in full flame, as we in the Treasure Valley experience the smoky results of the devastating fires that are burning around us, once again endangering property and lives. This pattern seems to have turned into an annual event for late summer, yet we can be thankful that it is only the smoke we are dealing with and not the actual fires.
Smoke is an interesting phenomenon and word, which in the English language we use to express a surprising variety of ideas. Idioms such as the following ones are very familiar to us in our daily conversations:
“There’s no smoke without fire”
“Put that in your pipe and smoke it”
“Go up in smoke”
“Smoke and Mirrors”
“Smoke the peace pipe”
In the Bible, God also uses smoke figuratively to help us grasp different spiritual concepts. For example, at times it is used to represent God or his presence, such as when Moses spoke with God at Mount Sinai or the pillar of smoke that led the children of Israel through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. When God gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments, the whole mountain was ablaze and covered in smoke from his presence.
“On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.” (Exodus 19:16-18)
The idea of smoke being a symbol of power, glory and even God’s wrath is woven throughout many of the Old Testament writings. In fact, Peter, on the day of Pentecost when the church was started, quoted from the Old Testament prophet Joel, these words that describe God’s awesome and powerful Spirit in action:
“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . . And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;’” (Acts 2:14-17, 19)
This symbolic use of smoke is even seen throughout Revelation, the final book of the Bible. In some cases, it is used in a context of offering up prayer and worship to God, and at other times it is used to signify God’s power and even wrath as he deals with evil.
“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.” (Revelation 8:3-4)
“and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” (Revelation 15:8)
We can see there is no “smoke screen” in the Bible when it comes to God’s power, majesty, and authority. We would do well to read the “smoke signals” before us and as the first Christians did on Pentecost, make peace with the Lord on his terms.
“May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”