The Torah Text
The Israelites are afraid, contemplating the Canaanite nations they are about to battle. Moses reminds them: “Know then this day that none other than Adonai your God is crossing at your head, a devouring fire; it is God who will wipe them out. God will subdue them before you, that you may quickly dispossess and destroy them, as Adonai promised you” (Deuteronomy 9:3). What does it mean for God to be a devouring fire?
Ibn Ezra’s Commentary
אש אוכלה. במהירות על כן אמר מהר
Deuteronomy 9:3 A DEVOURING FIRE. The metaphor a devouring fire connotes a rapid destruction. Thus, Scripture subsequently says quickly.
Reflections for the Path
The beauty of metaphor is that it can establish connections between unlike objects that assist our understanding. The slipperiness of metaphor is that it isn’t always obvious which of the metaphor-object’s traits we are supposed to connect to help us understand our object. When we say God is a consuming fire, might there be an implication of angry heat, of total destruction, of potential danger even to those who start it…? Ibn Ezra says that here we are to learn about fire’s quickness. Just as one spark can rapidly escalate into fast-moving damage, so too God will help the Israelites succeed in battle swiftly.
Where might you call on quick-fire assistance? Perhaps in a to-do list, or enduring a difficult set of circumstances.
For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.