The visible soot-producing mixture of carbon particles and gases from burning organic materials; also vapor or a cloud resembling smoke. Aside from the mention of literal smoke (Heb., ʽa·shanʹ; Gr., ka·pnosʹ) in numerous instances, there are a number of figurative uses of the word, and there is figurative meaning to the appearance of smoke itself.
Jehovah’s Presence, and His Anger. Jehovah has manifested his presence by a cloud of “smoke,” sometimes accompanied by fire. (Ex 19:18; 20:18; Isa 4:5) He symbolized his presence in this way at the visionary temples seen by Isaiah the prophet and by John the apostle.—Isa 6:1-6; Re 15:8; see CLOUD.
Smoke is also associated with Jehovah’s burning anger. (De 29:20) On the other hand, those in Israel who had fallen away to the worship of false gods were said to be “a smoke” in God’s nostrils, signifying that they provoked his great anger.—Isa 65:5.
A Warning or Portent. Smoke signals were used in warfare to communicate messages between cities or divisions of an army. (Jg 20:38-40) It was also an evidence that something was being destroyed by fire, as, for example, smoke rising from a distant city. (Ge 19:28; Jos 8:20, 21) Or it could metaphorically refer to an army on its way to accomplish destruction, which often included the burning of conquered cities.—Isa 14:31.
Consequently, a rising column or cloud of smoke came to be used symbolically as a token of warning, a portent of woe to come or of destruction. (Re 9:2-4; compare Joe 2:30, 31; Ac 2:19, 20; Re 9:17, 18.) The psalmist says of the wicked: “In smoke they must come to their end.” (Ps 37:20) Smoke also symbolized the evidence of destruction. (Re 18:9, 18) Smoke that keeps ascending “to time indefinite” therefore is evidently an expression denoting complete and everlasting annihilation, as in Isaiah’s prophecy against Edom: “to time indefinite its smoke will keep ascending.” (Isa 34:5, 10) Edom as a nation was wiped out and remains desolated to this day, and the evidence of this fact stands in the Bible account and in the records of secular history. Similarly, the everlasting destruction of Babylon the Great is foretold at Revelation 18:8, and a like judgment is entered against those who worship “the wild beast” and its image, at Revelation 14:9-11.
Other Illustrative Uses. Just as smoke normally dissipates quickly and disappears, so it sometimes figuratively denotes that which is transitory. It is used with regard to: God’s enemies (Ps 68:2), idol worshipers (Ho 13:3), and the shortened life of the afflicted one (Ps 102:3).
“As vinegar to the teeth and as smoke to the eyes, so the lazy man is to those sending him forth,” says the proverb. Just as smoke causes the eyes to sting and smart, so the one who employs a lazy man does so to the injury of his own purposes.—Pr 10:26.
The psalmist, waiting for Jehovah to comfort him, says: “I have become like a skin bottle in the smoke.” (Ps 119:83) Skin bottles, such as those used in the Middle East, hanging on the wall when not in use, became dried up and shriveled from the smoke of the house. So the psalmist had become at the hands of those persecuting him.
Jehovah, in describing his creations to Job, calls attention to Leviathan, saying: “Out of [its] nostrils smoke goes forth, like a furnace set aflame even with rushes.” (Job 41:20) Many Bible scholars believe that God here had reference to the crocodile, which, when coming up out of the water, breathes out a thick, steamy vapor with a thundering sound.
Sacrificial Smoke. Another Hebrew word, qa·tarʹ, has reference to making sacrificial smoke, whether that of incense or of another sacrifice on the altar. (1Ch 6:49; Jer 44:15) Such sacrificial smoke was viewed as a pleasing odor ascending to the One to whom it was offered.—Ge 8:20, 21; Le 26:31; Eph 5:2.