“Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, ‘This is the requirement of the law that the LORD gave Moses: Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water.” Numbers 31:21-24, NIV
The Israelites had just gained victory over the Midianites, and they brought back the spoils of battle. Since the Israelites were God’s holy people, they were required to follow strict rules to not defile themselves or the rest of their camp. To protect themselves from defilement, God gave them this command: purify all the spoils with water and fire.
The Bible uses the example of the refinement of gold and silver many times in the Bible. Job used the idea first, in Job 23:10. “…he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
This act of refinement is compared to God’s testing of our hearts. Daniel received a vision in which he was told of the testing: “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” (Daniel 11:33-35. NIV)
Some of the wise will stumble so that they may be refined… God allows his people to make mistakes so that they can grow in character and learn from the mistakes.
“For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off. See, I have refined you, though not as silver. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:9-10, NIV)
We are tested in the furnace of affliction. To refine gold and silver, a smithy melts it down it a very hot fire, and the fire burns away any impurities in it. This causes the precious metal to become more pure.
But according to Isaiah, God tests us in the furnace of affliction. We are made pure by passing through the fires, surviving the trials that God tests us with.
“Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people? Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks with deceit, with his mouth each speaks cordially to his neighbor, but in his heart he sets a trap for him. Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’” (Jeremiah 9:7-9, NIV)
God must refine and test His people to reveal their intentions. If they are true to Him and striving to be good, then they will become pure from the affliction; but if they are with evil plans, then God will surely punish them like He did with Israel once Israel and Judah split into 2 nations, and Israel grew corrupt.
“Son of man, the house of Israel had become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron, and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver. Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you have all become dross, I will gather you into Jerusalem. As men gather silver, copper, iron, lead and tin into a furnace to melt it with a fiery blast, so will I gather you in my anger and my wrath, and put you inside the city and melt you. I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath, and you will be melted inside her. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you will be melted inside her, and you will know that I the Lord have poured out my wrath upon you.” (Ezekiel 22:18-22, NIV)
“Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:8-12 (NIV)
God judged his people in the old testament, but where do we fit in? We, God’s chosen people, can read some wonderful news in the book of Malachi. (2:17-3:5) “You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” You ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?” “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple: the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerer, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.”
Jesus is the Master Refiner. We are made pure through Him! 1 Peter 1:3-9 explains it like this: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
As all impurities are burned away from gold in the refinement process, our imperfect deeds will be burned away to reveal our pure intentions. I Corinthians 3:11-18 says “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”
When we do our works according to God’s wishes and dedicate our lives for Him, then we will surely receive the inheritance which Jesus is preparing for us.
“In the whole land,” declares the Lord, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” (Zechariah 13:8-9, NIV)
(Example of a time you “traveled through flames”) “Not literally, but that time Kathryn got sick with the [ovarian] cyst and had surgery, I was pretty afraid for her. I didn’t eat for days and lost 20 pounds during that time. I thought death was around the corner…” -quote from Lacy’s fencing manual
(Example of a time you “traveled through water”) “We had just gone to Germany. I was still new. We had barely been there a week. That Sunday (our first Sunday at GK) all the youth were going to camp. I was in new territory. I only knew Kristina from letter writing once or twice. And yet, I was swept up to join the youth group, to go to Camp Gemunden. I didn’t want to go to camp [because I was a shy girl], but it was good for me. It was fun, and it strengthened my friendships while I was in Germany.” -quote from Kat’s fencing manual