by Dave Skipper
Story Summary: 05 Supernatural Fire
[1 Kings 18:36-39]
In marked contrast to the preceding wildness, Elijah calmly kneels and prays to Yahweh, the one true God, that he would reveal his power by answering with fire. And, would you believe it, fire indeed falls from heaven, licks the water dry, and consumes not only the animal and the wood but even the altar of stones – going above and beyond all expectation and possibility! The people of Israel looking on start crying out, “The LORD, he is God! The LORD, he is God!”
Sounds & Structure
As this is the miraculous climax of the story, or at least of part 1, I knew that I definitely wanted to use the sound of real fire. I recorded about an hour’s worth of crackles and spits from a cabin log fire to edit. There is just a little bit of the sound of metal tongs tucked in there too. The track actually starts off with a recording of crickets in a field, and this gives off a perfect suspenseful vibe – the tension in the air is electric while understated. The noisiest part of the track uses a recording of waterfall – this may seem incongruous when it’s supposed to represent fire, but it made sense for me on three fronts: firstly, the physical motion of a waterfall is the closest commonplace natural phenomenon mimicked by the action of fire coming down from the sky onto the altar, in fact reminiscent of the poured water that has already taken place; secondly, the textural manipulation of this sample has more of a digital noise flavour which connotes the otherworldly nature and origin of the fire; thirdly, fire and water imagery are closely connected in the Bible, so in many ways they are complementary rather than contradictory (a bit more on this below). This was one of the most surprising tracks for me in how it turned out sonically. I had assumed that it would be the noisiest, most powerful, most bombastic, most in-your-face track to reflect the sheer wonder and enormity of what took place at this point in the story – I mean it’s just an extraordinary happening! But, typical of the way God works, his power comes in the context of calm… one solitary prophet praying quietly on his knees is a tremendous contrast to the 450 ravers dripping with blood! Yes, the fire is dramatic, but there is something understated, controlled, even, can we say, humble about it. This is the majesty of the true King. So the way that all of this is exemplified by the track was not what I was planning or anticipating when I prepared to record it!
Not a strange fact, but rather a strange desire: I really want to get some high quality field recordings of volcanoes (both outside and inside)… and of the inside of different stars…! That will be fiery noise par excellence… one day it will be possible, but I don’t expect to be able to go get any such recordings myself in this lifetime!
The most obvious thing happening here is that God shows that he is God: in control of the elements, the Creator and Sovereign over all things. But recalling that Elijah instigated this contest as a focus point for Israel to renew their side of the covenant that God has made with them, there are many details and elements that are pregnant with meaning. I can only touch briefly on a few of those things here.
The animal sacrifice represented a substitute taking God’s fire of judgment in place of the people, and so it signified a purifying from sin and a fresh start back to Israel’s original calling to be a light and blessing to all nations. Baal was proven to be no saviour (unable to deal with the problem of sin), and no lord either (impotent to bring fire) – i.e. no god at all. Ultimately, this episode anticipates the final and greatest sacrifice for sin, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who took the fire of his Father’s wrath against sin so that his people can be purified and restored to the family of God.
It is interesting to note that when the sacrificial system was set up under Moses centuries earlier, no man was permitted to start the fire for the altar – the original kindling had to come from God himself, meaning that salvation and purification can only be 100% God’s work, initiated and completed by him. (In fact, we read in Leviticus 10 of two priests named Nadab and Abihu who offered ‘strange fire,’ unauthorised fire before the Lord, and they were struck down dead by fire from heaven. Elijah knew that for the sacrifice to be acceptable and effective, and for the covenant to be truly kick-started again, the fire had to come from God alone.
Another dimension here is of baptism by fire, following the altar’s baptism by water. This dual-baptism is a microcosmic picture of world judgment and restoration: the world was destroyed by water in the global flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-9), and thereby cleansed from wickedness and renewed; and the world is destined to be destroyed once more by fire at the end of history, for a final cleansing from the cosmic curse of sin and death, to be remade into a new eternal creation in which there will be no more tears or death (2 Peter 3 and revelation 21). Furthermore, this dual-baptism takes place in the life of Christians: water baptism following Jesus’ example and command, symbolising cleansing from sin and new birth, and baptism by the fire of the Holy Spirit, God himself dwelling in each believer (the Holy Spirit is often associated with fire in Scripture; see Acts 2, for example).
So, Elijah’s fire from heaven is not just high drama, it is a message of hope and salvation, of averted judgment and a new start!