Fire is not only a source of heat it is an agent for riding impurities in metal. Metals, both precious and non-precious, are mentioned in several passages concerning the land of Israel (Job 28:1-2, 6, 15-16; Dt. 8:9). While the Israelites did not have the vast resources for metal production that their neighbors did, they still used items made from iron and copper for household utensils and weaponry (Is. 44:12). Precious metals were also important. The Bible contains almost 400 references to gold, often pairing it with silver. The most illustrious use of these metals was in the construction of both the Tabernacle and Temple. They were used for the structures as well as the pieces used in worship and were usually the first things carried off by conquering armies (Jer. 52:19).
It is not surprising to me that life can be like the fire used to purify metals at times. We face struggles and suffering throughout our days here on earth. Struggles and suffering can occur when we make poor choices or sometimes they happen because we take a stand for our faith. But many times God is using our difficulties to mold and shape us to be more like Jesus. The best image of this type of fire comes to us from the prophet Malachi. The refiner’s fire of Mal. 3:2-3 (which has been greatly sanitized in many worship songs) was a fire of such intensity that only the purest of metals would remain after it was done. The refiner was skilled in knowing when to apply more heat, and what metals would separate at different degrees. By skillful application, he was able to rid the ore of its slag or dross, but the fire had to be large and hot. The main purpose of the refining process is not to destroy but to purify. The metaphor illustrates that suffering fulfills a divine plan to remove impurities of character. The picture of a refiner is a persistent one in the prophets (Is. 1:25; 48:10; Jer. 6:29-30; Ezek. 22:17-22). Joyce G. Baldwin wrote, “The beauty of this picture is that the refiner looks into the open furnace, or pot, and knows that the process of purifying is complete, and the dross all burnt away, when he can see his image plainly reflected in the molten metal.”
The Lord’s work as a refiner of men is also described in Is. 1:25, Is. 48:10, Jer. 6:29, Jer. 9:7, Zech. 13:9, Dan. 11: 35, and Dan. 12:10. The process of refining metal occurs in stages. As each layer of slag is burned off the fire is intensified so that in the end only the purest metal remains. Interestingly the process is both one of destruction (getting rid of what is undesirable) and purification (keeping that which is desired). It is a theme which is picked up by Paul in 1 Cor. 3:10-15 where the purity of one’s “house” will be tested by fire. What remains here is a “home” that has the Lord as its foundation.
There a two great lessons about the Lord that we can learn from His role as a Refiner. The first is that like the smelter who applies different degrees of heat to separate the purest part of the metal from the dross, the Lord will also apply a separating process to His people upon His return to separate those who truly serve Him from those who do not (Mt. 13: 24-30; 25:31-46). The second is that God’s refining fire is meant for our good (Heb. 12:3-11) and that the outcome of our fiery struggles is glorifying to God (1 Pet. 1:6-7) and has an eternal benefit (Js. 1:1-3)
I recently ended up in the ER due to the excruciating pain of passing a kidney stone. Thinking of how our bodies are designed to daily purify themselves and the painful consequences of when they don’t really drove home the picture of God as a Refiner. Cleaning out the sin in my life can sometimes feel as painful on the emotional level as removing a kidney stone on the physical level. But as Baldwin noted, when the Refiner looks into my “purified metal” after He has applied the fire of my trials, He knows I’m at my purest when He sees His reflection. May it be so with me (Heb. 9:11-14; 1 Jn. 3:1-3)!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre