The phrase Akal Esh is a Hebrew term that loosely translates to “consuming fire.” The word Akal means to eat (or consume) while the term Esh means fire. When put together, the two terms mean consuming fire and the phrase is used to emphasize God’s divine nature. The significance of the phrase “Akal Esh” in Jewish tradition lies in its portrayal of God’s strength and the call to reject idolatry and worship only Him because he is not only a consuming fire but also a jealous God.
God as a Consuming Fire in the Bible
The first scripture where God is described as a consuming fire is Deuteronomy 4:24, which states, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” This was a warning to the Nation of Israel to desist from Idolatry. This scripture portrays the God of Israel as intolerant to competing loyalties and the Israelites were thus given a stark reminder of the consequences of idolatry.
Prophet Isaiah continues to expand on this metaphor when he portrays God’s name as coming from afar and burning with anger. Check it out;
See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire (Isaiah 30:27).
In this vivid imagery, the prophet portrays God’s righteous anger against sin. The use of fire in the image is meant to portray the judgment and destruction that follows sin. The weight of God’s burden and the intensity of His indignation are depicted as a forceful fire that consumes everything in its path, highlighting the severity of divine judgment.
In the book of Hebrews, reference is made to the first mention of God as consuming fire in the book of Deuteronomy. Hebrews reiterates the fact that “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). The mention of this in the New Testament portrays the immutable nature of God – he is the same unchangeable God in both the Old and New Testament. The fact that Hebrews refers to him as “Our God” is a reminder to every believer that every believer can face God’s wrath if we fail to observe his commands.
The Meaning of God as a Consuming Fire
As we have already established, God as a consuming fire is used in tandem with His character of being a jealous God. However, to understand it better, we have to consider both the negative and positive connotations of the phrase.
Negative Connotations: God’s Wrath and Judgment
Akal Esh signifies judgment and God’s wrath. And there are lots of examples of this in the scriptures. For instance, when the Israelites made a golden calf and worshipped it in the wilderness, God descended with his wrath, and all of those who had bowed their knee to the idol were killed by the sword. (Exodus 32:25-29). Another example is found in the book of 1 Kings 18 when the prophets of Baal were killed after the contest on Mt. Carmel.
God’s judgment can also be seen in several New Testament scriptures. For instance, when Ananias and Saphira lie to God, they are struck dead in the temple (Acts 5:1-11). A few chapters later, King Herod accepted worship from people thereby setting himself up as an Idol in their eyes. This attracted God’s wrath and he was eaten with maggots and died (Acts 12:18-25).
These examples serve to demonstrate how the wages of sin are death and how these wages are paid to the sinners as a result of God’s wrath.
Positive Connotations: God’s Purifying Power and Transformation
Even though the Akal Esh is seldom thought of as positive, it also holds an important positive aspect – that of purifying power. The metaphor suggests that God’s fire not only destroys but also purifies, burning away impurities to refine character and instill holiness. A classical example of this is that of Job. While his friends were sure that he was suffering because he had sinned and had therefore attracted God’s wrath, Job knew he had done nothing wrong. This explains why he said;
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job 23:10
The end of the book of Job vindicated him and his friends finally realized that God was not just a consuming fire of wrath but also a consuming fire of purification and transformation.
The Duality of Akal Esh
As we have established, the phrase consuming fire can be both positive and negative. In other words, Akal Esh can convey both transformation and judgment. This is a paradox since the same God that releases his wrath on the sinner also believes in the transformation of the sinner into a righteous believer. On one hand, the believer is reminded to toe the line because there are dire consequences of living in sin. In the same breath, the sinner is invited to repent and thereby escape God;’s wrath. On the other hand, the believer is encouraged to endure hardships as a good soldier of Christ because “the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2)
The metaphorical name Akal Esh, depicting God as a consuming fire, offers a profound exploration of the divine nature. Rooted in biblical references from the Old and New Testaments, this imagery conveys a God whose consuming fire embodies both judgment and transformative power. The negative connotations of God’s wrath against sin and unfaithfulness are counterbalanced by the positive connotations of His purifying and refining work in the lives of believers.