on Acts 2 :3
Cloven tongues like as of fire - The tongues were the emblem of the languages they were to speak. The cloven tongues pointed out the diversity of those languages; and the fire seemed to intimate that the whole would be a spiritual gift, and be the means of bringing light and life to the souls who should hear them preach the everlasting Gospel in those languages.
Sat upon each of them - Scintillations, coruscations, or flashes of fire, were probably at first frequent through every part of the room where they were sitting; at last these flashes became defined, and a lambent flame, in the form of a cloven tongue, became stationary on the head of each disciple; a proof that the Spirit of God had made each his temple or residence. That unusual appearances of fire were considered emblems of the presence and influence of God, both the Scriptures and the Jewish writings amply prove. Thus God manifested himself to Moses, when he appointed him to deliver Israel, Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:3; and thus he manifested himself when he delivered the law on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:16-20. The Jews, in order to support the pretensions of their rabbins, as delivering their instructions by Divine authority and influence, represent them as being surrounded with fire while they were delivering their lectures; and that their words, in consequence, penetrated and exhilarated the souls of their disciples. Some of the Mohammedans represent Divine inspiration in the same way. In a fine copy of a Persian work, entitled Ajaceb al Makhlookat, or Wonders of Creation, now before me, where a marred account of Abraham's sacrifice, mentioned Genesis 15:9-17, is given, instead of the burning lamp passing between the divided pieces of the victim, Genesis 15:17, Abraham is represented standing between four fowls, the cock, the peacock, the duck, and the crow, with his head almost wrapped in a flame of lambent fire, as the emblem of the Divine communication made to him of the future prosperity of his descendants. The painting in which this is represented is most exquisitely finished. This notion of the manner in which Divine intimations were given was not peculiar to the Jews and Arabians; it exists in all countries; and the glories which appear round the heads of Chinese, Hindoo, and Christian saints, real or supposed, were simply intended to signify that they had especial intercourse with God, and that his Spirit, under the emblem of fire, sat upon them and became resident in them. There are numerous proofs of this in several Chinese and Hindoo paintings in my possession; and how frequently this is to be met with in legends, missals, and in the ancient ecclesiastical books of the different Christian nations of Europe, every reader acquainted with ecclesiastical antiquity knows well. See the dedication of Solomon's temple, 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.
The Greek and Roman heathens had similar notions of the manner in which Divine communications were given: strong wind, loud and repeated peals of thunder, coruscations of lightning, and lambent flames resting on those who were objects of the Deities regard, are all employed by them to point out the mode in which their gods were reported to make their will known to their votaries. Every thing of this kind was probably borrowed from the account given by Moses of the appearance on Mount Sinai; for traditions of this event were carried through almost every part of the habitable world, partly by the expelled Canaanites, partly by the Greek sages travelling through Asiatic countries in quest of philosophic truth: and partly by means of the Greek version of the Septuagint, made nearly three hundred years before the Christian era.
"A flame of fire seen upon the head of any person was, among the heathens, considered as an omen from their gods that the person was under the peculiar care of a supernatural power, and destined to some extraordinary employment. Many proofs of this occur in the Roman poets and historians. Wetstein, in his note on this place, has made an extensive collection of them. I shall quote but one, which almost every reader of the Aeneid of Virgil will recollect: -
Talia vociferans gemitu tectum omne replebat:
Cum subitum, dictuque oritur mirabile monstrum.
Namque manus inter, maestorumque ora parentum.
Ecce levis summo de vertice visus
Iuli Fundere lumen apex, tactuque innoxia molli
Lambere flamma comas, et circum tempora pasci.
Nos pavidi trepidare metu, crinemque flagrantem
Excutere, et sanctos restinguere fontibus ignes.
At pater Anchises oculos ad sidera laetus
Extulit, et coelo palamas cum voce tetendit:
on Acts 2 :3
And there appeared unto them - There were seen by them, or they saw. The fire was first seen by them in the room before it rested in the form of tongues on the heads of the disciples. Perhaps the fire appeared at first as scintillations or coruscations, until it became fixed on their heads.
Tongues - γλῶσσαι glōssai. The word "tongue" occurs often in the Scriptures to denote the member which is the instrument of taste and speech, and also to denote "language" or "speech" itself. It is also used, as with us, to denote what in shape resembles the tongue. Thus, Joshua 7:21, Joshua 7:24 (in Hebrew), "a tongue of gold," that is, a wedge of gold; Joshua 15:5; Joshua 18:19; Isaiah 11:15, "The tongue of the sea," that is, a bay or gulf. Thus also we say "a tongue of land." The phrase "tongue of fire" occurs once, and once only, in the Old Testament Isaiah 5:24, "Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble (Hebrew: tongue of fire), and the flame consumeth," etc. In this place the name tongue is given from the resemblance of a pointed flame to the human tongue. Anything long, narrow, and tending to a point is thus in the Hebrew called "a tongue." The word here means, therefore, "slender and pointed appearances" of flame, perhaps at first moving irregularly around the room.
cloven - Divided, separated - διαμεριζόμεναι diamerizomenai - from the verb διαμερίζω diamerizō, "to divide, or distribute into parts." Matthew 27:35, "they parted his garments"; Luke 22:17, "Take this (the cup) and divide it among yourselves." Probably the common opinion is, that these tongues or flames were, each one of them split, or forked, or cloven. But this is not the meaning of the expression. The idea is that they were separated or divided one from another; it was not one great flame, but was broken up, or cloven into many parts, and probably these parts were moving without order in the room. In the Syriac it is, "And there appeared unto them tongues which divided themselves like fire, and sat upon each of them." The old Ethiopic version reads it, "And fire, as it were, appeared to them and sat on them."
And it sat upon each of them - Or "rested," in the form of a lambent or gentle flame, upon the head of each one. This showed that the prodigy was directed to them, and was a very significant emblem of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit. After the rushing sound and the appearance of the flames, they could not doubt that here was some remarkable interposition of God. The appearance of fire, or flame, has always been regarded as a most striking emblem of the Divinity. Thus, Exodus 3:2-3, God is said to have manifested himself to Moses in a bush which was burning, yet not consumed. Thus, Exodus 19:16-20, God descended on Mount Sinai in the midst of thunders, and lightnings, and smoke, and fire, striking emblems of his presence and power. See also Genesis 15:17. Thus, Deuteronomy 4:24, God is said to be "a consuming fire." Compare Hebrews 12:29. See Ezekiel 1:4; Psalm 18:12-14. The Classic reader will also instantly recall the beautiful description in Virgil (Aeneid, b. 2:680-691). Other instances of a similar prodigy are also recorded in profane writers (Pliny, H. N., 2:37; Livy, 1:39). These appearances to the apostles were emblematic, doubtless:
(1) Of the promised Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of purity and of power. The prediction of John the Immerser, "He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire" Matthew 3:11 would probably be recalled at once to their memory.
(2) The unique appearance, that of tongues, was an emblem of the diversity of languages which they were about to be able to utter. Any form of fire would have denoted the presence and power of God; but a form was adopted expressive of "what was to occur." Thus, "any divine appearance" or "manifestation" at the baptism of Jesus might have denoted the presence and approbation of God; but the form chosen was that of a dove descending - expressive of the mild and gentle virtues with which he was to be imbued. So in Ezekiel 1:4, any form of flame might have denoted the presence of God; but the appearance actually chosen was one that was strikingly emblematical of his providence. In the same way, the appearance here symbolized their special endowments for entering on their great work - the ability to speak with new tongues.
on Acts 2 :3