Leviticus 9:24 – Fire from God

Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests over a period of 7 days. Then on the eighth day Aaron assumed the role of High Priest.

Aaron and his sons brought all of the required offerings. Then Aaron and Moses blessed the people.

God showed His glory to the people and accepted their offerings.

Leviticus 9

24. And there went out fire from before the Lord and it consumed upon the Altar the burnt offering and the fats; and all the people saw and they sang out and fell on their faces.

Background

In the book of Exodus, God commanded the Jewish people to build the Tabernacle:

Exodus 25

1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2. Speak to the people of Israel, that they bring Me an offering; …

8. And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.

This commandment also contained a promise that God’s Divine Presence would be in the Tabernacle.

They built the Tabernacle as God commanded (see Exodus 39:32,42,43).

After the Tabernacle was completed, God designated a 7-day period when Aaron and his sons were initiated into the priesthood.

Finally, on the 8th day, Aaron assumed the duties of the High Priest. Moses told the people that they would behold God’s glory on that day.

Leviticus 9

4. … for today the Lord will appear to you. …

6. And Moses said, This is the thing which the Lord commanded that you should do; and the glory of the Lord shall appear to you. …

After Aaron and his sons completed the offerings for that day, God’s glory did appear.

Leviticus 9

23. And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.

We’re now ready to understand Leviticus 9:24.

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Leviticus 9:24 Meaning

24. And there went out fire from before the Lord and it consumed upon the Altar the burnt offering and the fats; and all the people saw and they sang out and fell on their faces.

went out fire – Daat Mikra explains that the fire came out from the clouds of glory that covered the Tabernacle during the day (see Exodus 40:34-38).

But from earlier verses (for example, Leviticus 9:10) we know there was already fire on the altar.

The midrash explains that the altar should have fire from God and from the priest.

Sifra Dibbura DeNedavah 5

10. “And the sons of Aaron, the priest, shall put fire upon the altar.” Even though fire descends from Heaven, it is a mitzvah to bring man-made fire.

the burnt offering – this means the 4 burnt offerings that had been brought that day: Aaron’s (Leviticus 9:2,12), 2 for the people (9:3,16), the daily offering (9:17). [Ibn Ezra]

fire

the burnt offering and the fats – Daat Mikra concludes from these words that up to this point the offerings had not been burnt. This must mean that Aaron placed them near the existing fire, but not on the fire.

all the people saw and they sang out – these events happened immediately one after the other. [Daat Mikra]

they sang out – Hebrew vay’yaronu. The 3-letter root is reish-nun-nun. The underlying idea of this root is “express emotion.”

Based on this idea, the word may be translated as: exalted, were jubilant, sang for joy, or rejoiced.

Rav Saadia Gaon comments that this teaches that they sang a particular song even though it’s not recorded in the Torah. Even though we don’t know what they sang, this word means it was a song and a praise.

Ibn Ezra understands this word to mean they shouted out.

and fell on their faces – Now they knew that the Tabernacle had been properly completed and that the Divine Presence was dwelling in it. [Steinsaltz]

Daat Mikra writes that falling on their faces is a sign of complete submission to God.

New Fire

Rabbi Sorotzkin asks why this miracle of fire consuming the offerings made such an impression on the Jewish people.

He points out that they had seen fire from God many times before.

Exodus Chapter 13

21. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire …

They had been accompanied by this pillar of fire for almost a full year since leaving Egypt.

A short midrash adds one word that gives us a deeper insight.

Sifra Mechilta DeMiluim 20

“And there went out fire from before the Lord.” When they saw a new fire descending from on high and lapping up upon the altar the burnt offering and the fats, they opened up their mouths in song.

The midrash calls this a “new” fire.

Rabbi Sorotzkin explains that this is the way of a constant miracle. Eventually, it becomes accepted as natural in the eyes of most people. Then it no longer makes an impression.

But, now, they saw a “new fire.” This event made a fresh impression on them because it was a sign of new love from God toward the Jewish people.

Miracles May Not Work for Long

As a side note, people often say they would believe if only they saw a miracle from God. The truth is, miracles don’t have a good track record.

In the Torah, we often find that people who experience a miracle soon revert back to their old habits.

Solomon’s Temple and Fire from God

King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem about 500 years after the dedication of the Tabernacle.

The climax of the Temple’s dedication was similar to what happened with the Tabernacle.

2 Chronicles Chapter 7

1. Now when Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house.
2. And the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house.
3. And when all the people of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshiped, and praised the Lord, saying, “For He is good; for His loving kindness endures forever.”

The midrash reveals another connection between the Tabernacle and the Temple.

Sifra Dibbura DeNedavah 5

10. The fire that descended in the days of Moses did not depart from the copper altar until they came to the Temple. The fire that descended in the days of Solomon did not depart from the burnt-offering altar until the days of Manasseh.

The phrase “they came to the Temple” means the building of the Temple.

Manasseh the son of King Hezekiah reigned after his father for 55 years.

Chapter 21 of 2 Kings enumerates many of Manasseh’s evil deeds.

Early in his kingship he removed the altar (thus extinguishing the fire) that Solomon built and replaced it with altars for foreign gods.

We read about his repentance in Chronicles:

2 Chronicles Chapter 33

16. And he rebuilt the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed on it peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.

He repented near the end of his life and tried to restore proper worship to the Temple. But the fire that descended in the days of Solomon did not return to the rebuilt altar.


A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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