Acts 2:3 KJVAnd there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
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; Psalms 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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