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B'resheet/Genesis 19:24 ... sulphur and fire, from Adonai, from heaven
The well known epithet "a fire and brimstone preacher" is based upon this verse as the two words are translated by the King James version of the Bible. The word , brimstone or sulphur, is related to the word , gofer, which only occurs in B'resheet 6:14, the word used to describe the material used to build the ark; a wood that is heavy with resin so that it burns, cracks and spits, not just with the heat of the wood, but with the extra heat of the burning resin, like pitch or sulphur. The same phrase is found in Ezekiel 38:22: "an overflowing rain, with hailstones, fire and brimstone" (NASB). also turns up again in the description of Hell found in Isaiah 30:33: , "like a torrent of brimstone" (NASB), "a stream of sulphur" (Artscroll).
Hirsch focuses on the second half of the text: "from Adonai, from heaven". He is concerned lest people should look at the geographic region of the Dead Sea, see what geologists would refer to as the volcanic nature of the district and explain the destruction of S'dom and Amorah as a completely natural occurrence. On the contrary, Hirsch sees the inclusion of the otherwise redundant phrase - for the verse starts by saying that "G-d rained upon S'dom and Amorah ..." - as an explicit corrective to ensure that we should know that this judgement was brought about specifically and deliberately by G-d Himself, because the sin of the cities has risen before Him, rather than as the inevitable result of the build-up of sin over generations and G-d simply allowing the natural geology to act for Him.
When we readHaShem's warning to the Israelites: "You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out" (Vayikra 20:22, NASB), it can be easy to see sin in the same way as food poisoning. Eat food that is contaminated with bacteria or toxin and the stomach reacts by vomiting the offending material out again; a G-d-given natural systemic response to protect against pathogens. Often the body system waits until the level of threat has reached a particular level or threshold before triggering the evacuation, the while attempting to contain the invasion by normal digestive means. This view is supported by G-d's comments to Avraham that, "in the fourth generation [your descendants] shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete" (B'resheet 15:16, NASB) and Kefa's reminder that "The L-rd is ... patient with you; for it is not His purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn from his sins" (2 Peter 3:9, CJB).
While G-d's patience and forbearance give us all many opportunities to know Him in Messiah Yeshua, to forge a relationship with Him, to set our house in order, to be ready for the return of Yeshua, we should not let that blind us to the fact that G-d does sometimes act, in a completely unexpected and sovereign way - be that by natural or spiritual means, to bring judgement on an instant basis. Yeshua told the story of the rich man to whom G-d said, "You fool! This very night you will die! And the things that you have prepared - whose will they be?" (Luke 12:19, CJB) - natural means; while after Kefa's rebuke, "On hearing these words, Ananias fell down dead; and everyone who heard about it was terrified" (Acts 5:5, CJB) - supernatural means.
As we are to be ready, "for the Son of Man will come when you are not expecting Him" (Matthew 24:44, CJB), remembering that "It will go well with that servant if he is found doing his job when his master comes" (v.46, CJB), we should keep short accounts with the L-rd, aware that we could be with Him tomorrow - by either natural or supernatural means, but either way at His express command.
Further Study: Psalm 11:1-7; Luke 17:26-30
Application: Many people find it difficult to stay connected to the reality of G-d's sovereignty in the natural phenomena that surround us every day. Take a moment to remember that our G-d, who loves and cares for His people, can also act in swift and awe-inspiring judgement among the sons of men. Do not be surprised or frightened, but make sure that you are ready for Him at any time.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
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