In 2022, we had all watched the atrocities perpetuated on the Ukrainian people by the invading Russian armies. NATO has documented many war crimes, and when we see their reports on the news, we cringe at man’s inhumanity to man. Every war has had its atrocities. But, as I read the account of the Assyrian king, describing his brutality towards his defeated enemy, it’s hard to imagine anything could be worse. He writes, “I burnt many captives from them. I captured many troops alive; I cut off of some their arms [and] hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, and extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made a pile of the living [and] one of the heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city. I burnt their adolescent boys [and] girls.”[1] Because of the repeated sins against mankind as a whole, God will send judgment on the Assyrians and their leaders and their capital city of Damascus. Amos tells the people what God is about to do to them, “So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. I will break the gate-bar of Damascus and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and him who holds the scepter from Beth-Eden; and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir, says the Lord.”

The flood was God’s judgment on the sins of mankind. At the end of the flood, God promised Noah that he would never again bring a flood upon the whole world as judgment for man’s sin. Instead of water, God will send fire. It seems that the image of “sending fire” is God’s metaphor for judgment on sin. God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah as a form of judgment, and this has become the picture of God’s judgment for sin. In the book of Ezekiel, God says, “I will send fire on Magog and on those who dwell securely in the coastlands, and they shall know that I am the Lord.” God also promises to send fire upon Edom, Moab, Temah, and others. Then, In Hosea 8:14, the prophecy is on Israel and Judah “For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds.” God used the flood to purify the world, but he preserved his remnant. God uses fire to purity his people, but he preserved a remnant. God always promises his people redemption, not judgment, from their sins. Isaiah 43:1-2 says, “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’”

“Most of the Psalms were born in difficulty. Most of the Epistles were written in prisons. Most of the greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers of all time had to pass through the fire. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress from jail. Florence Nightingale, too ill to move from her bed, reorganized the hospitals in England. Semi-paralyzed and under the constant menace of apoplexy, Pasteur was tireless in his attack on disease. During the greater part of his life, American historian Francis Parkman suffered so acutely that he could not work for more than five minutes at a time. His eyesight was so wretched that he could scrawl only a few gigantic words on a manuscript, yet he contrived to write twenty magnificent volumes of history. Sometimes it seems that when God is about to make preeminent use of a man, he puts him through the fire.”[2]

[1] Smith, Gary V. 1998. Amos. Mentor Commentaries. Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.

[2] Galaxie Software. 2002. 10,000 Sermon Illustrations. Biblical Studies Press.