What is the fire that burns in Hell in Deuteronomy 32:22?

“For a fire will be kindled by my wrath, one that burns down to the realm of the dead below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains.”-Deuteronomy 32:22, NIV

The nation of Israel enjoyed an exclusive relationship with God.Just as long Israel obeyed God’s laws and offered exclusive worship to God the nation enjoyed His blessings but when they turned to false gods this course of action had devastating effects.The Bible portrays with graphic colours the way God felt during those times.The Jewish Torah explains the use of the word ‘aph’ for anger and its use in relation to the word ‘yaqat’ to describe God’s burning anger: “Cognitive linguists, scholars who study the interplay between cognition, physiology and language, have observed that people’s descriptions of an emotion and the metaphors they use to describe the emotion may reflect the physiological changes people perceive when they experience that emotion.The definition of אף (’ap) as anger reflects this phenomenon.

Anger is conceptualized, cross-culturally and across many languages – including in Biblical Hebrew – as physically embodied in heat.Therefore, anger’s perceived physiological effect in feeling hot, especially the nose becoming heated, leads to the characterization of anger as a burning nose or, for short, a nose.”(thetorah.com) In other words whenever the original Hebrew text literally reads “his nose burned hot,” it really means “he became angry”.With that in mind, most if not all Bible commentaries when dealing with Deuteronomy 32:22 or other verses that deal with God’s “burning anger” quickly surmise that everything associated with fire in the same verse must be a metaphor of the extent of God’s anger.For instance, the online Torah we referred to earlier makes the following comments for the rest of the verse in Deuteronomy 32:22: “The phrases “in my nose” and “down to the depths of Sheol” indicate the enormous span of God’s fire.  When God is angry (32:21), a fire burns within his nose like a breath high up in heaven, and then blows far beyond the confines of his body to burn down to the depths of Sheol (and presumably everywhere in between).” I don’t think this is the case at all and I will explain why.

Moses final words to the nation of Israel on Mount Nebo carry when read carefully, provide a multilayered prophetic message that deals not only with the future of physical Israel up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD  but reaches all the way down to our times and the end of civilization. The intention of this article is not to explain everything there is to be said about the 32nd chapter of the book of Deuteronomy and its prophetic message so I will treat the 22nd verse of this chapter under the light of an apocalyptic end of time fulfilment set.

I don’t think the entirety of this verse works as a metaphor in describing the extent of God’s anger and I’ll explain why.

When the Bible makes reference to God’s ‘burning anger’ it usually attaches this anger to an actual result that has been affected by God’s anger.For example, in Exodus 32:10 we read: “Now let me alone(=Lord) so that my anger may burn(=cause) against them and that I may consume them(=effect), but I’ll make a great nation of you.” The consummation of the Israelites by fire was not a metaphor but a very real outcome of God’s burning anger had Moses agreed to go along with this plan.Another example can be found in Numbers 11:1: “And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled(=fire as a metaphor), and the fire of the LORD(=real fire) burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.” God’s metaphorical fiery anger had a very real outcome, the consummation of some parts of the camp with real fire, fire coming down as punishment from God.

Having this clarification in mind let’s go back in Deuteronomy 32:22 and break down the metaphorical part from the literal part of the verse: ““For a fire(=literal fire) will be kindled by my wrath(=burning anger,fire as a metaphor), one that burns down to the realm of the dead below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains.” As in the case of Israelites in the desert, a literal fire burned the outskirts of the camp of Israel, so is the case here, a literal fire will consume the realm of the dead!Not only that but the same fire will devour the entire earth even the foundations of the mountains! This understanding creates, of course, more questions than it answers. What kind of place is Hell? Why is God lighting a fire in Hell? How can the realm of the dead burn with fire? Why would the earth be consumed by fire? And, does all this has to do with the end of the world?

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