The fire shall ever be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.
- So careful is God of this continual burning, that, if you mark, it is reported over and over (see vers. 9, 12). To this end, the priest's care was to feed it with wood, and see to it day and night, and with no other fire might either sacrifice, or incense, be burned and offered to God. This fire was carefully kept upon the altar to the captivity of Babylon, and afterward found again of Nehemiah 2., 2 Macc. 1:18, 19. Of like from hence might grow that great honour and regard, which the heathens had fire in, whereof we read often. The Athenians in their Prytaneo, trod at Delphos, and at Rome, of those Vestal Virgins continual fire was kept, and of many it was worshipped as a God. The Persians called it Orismada, that is, holy fire; and in public pomp they used to carry it before kings with great solemnity. What might be the reason why God appointed this ceremony of continual fire upon the altar, and how may we profit by it?
1. First, there was figured by it the death of Christ from the beginning of the world; namely, that He was the Lamb slain from the beginning for mankind, and by this shadow they were led to believe that although as yet Christ was not come in the flesh, nevertheless the fruit of His death belonged to them, as well as to those that should live when He came, or was come; for this fire was continual and went not out, no more did the fruit of His passion fail to any true believer, even from the beginning. But they were saved by believing that He should come, as we are now, by believing that He is come.
2. Also this fire came from heaven (Leviticus 9:24), and so should Christ in the time appointed. This fire was ever in, and never went out, and so is God ever ready to accept our sacrifices and appointed duties, ever ready to hear us and forgive us, but we are slow and dull, and come not to Him as we ought.
3. No other fire might be used but this, and so they were taught to keep to God's ordinances, and to fly from all inventions of their own heads. For ever it was true, and ever will be true, "In vain do men worship Me, teaching for doctrines men's precepts." Our devices, seem they never so wise, so fit, so holy and excellent, they are strange fire, not that fire that came from heaven, not that fire that God will be pleased withal or endure. This fire coming first from heaven, and thus preserved, still preached unto them by figure, that as well did their sacrifices and services duly performed according to the law please God, as that did when first God sent His fire from heaven to consume it, in token of approbation, which surely was a great comfort to their consciences and a mighty prop to fainting, fearing weak faith.
4. This fire thus maintained and kept with all care, and "not suffered ever to go out," taught them, and still may teach us, to be careful to keep in the fire of God's holy Spirit, that it never die, nor go out within us. The fire is kept in by honest life, as by wood, by true sighs of unfeigned repentance, as by breath or blowing, and by meek humility, as by soft ashes. Oh, that we may have care to keep it in l what should I say? This continued fire taught then, and, though it be now gone and abrogated, may still teach us now, to be careful to keep in, amongst us, the fire of God's Word, the true preaching of His truth, to the salvation of our souls.
5. For the fire hath these properties — it shineth and giveth light, it heateth, it consumeth, it trieth: so the preaching of the gospel. "Thy Word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my path." St. Peter calleth it "a candle in a dark place," and many Scriptures teach the shining light of it. The heat in like sort: "Did not our hearts burn within us, whilst He talked with us, and opened the Scriptures? The fire kindled, and I spake with my tongue," saith the Psalm; and as fire it pleased the Holy Spirit to appear at Pentecost, to show this fruit of effect of the Word preached by their mouths, it heateth the heart to all good life, and maketh us "zealous of good works." The dross of our corruption by degrees it washeth, the stubble of our fancies it "burneth up and consumeth," so that we abhor the sins we have been pleased with, and hate the remembrance of evil passed.
6. Lastly, it trieth doctrine, and severeth truth from error; it trieth men, and discovereth hypocrites. All worthy motives to make us careful to preserve this fire perpetually amongst us whilst we live, and in a holy zeal to provide for it also when we are dead. So shall we live being dead; nay, so shall we assuredly never die, but with immortal souls, and never-dying tongues, praise His name that liveth for ever, and will have us with Him.
Parallel VersesKJV: The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.