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Afflictions: God's Furnace to Refine Us

Jeremiah 9:7 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do, because of my people?”

Verse 7 comes in the midst of a section about the great affliction that God’s people were undergoing. In a preceding verse, verse 5, the prophet Jeremiah explained that the people had become weary with life. They were weary like many of us are weary. The word “weary” meant physical or psychological weariness. It was used of the weariness of a runner (Jer 12:5). Also used of weariness of adultery (Is 16:12). It was often used in situations where the author was saying, poetically, that there is an excess of sin so great, that it has caused the weariness of the person or society.

And in this passage, the Israelites were weary from too many pagan advisors, they were weary from too much sexual immorality, they were weary from too much deceit and deception. Their weariness came as they pursued exploits that did not feed or strengthen the soul, but rather that which took from them and drained them of spiritual and emotional energy.

And yet, we also see the loving, compassionate response of God in the midst of His people rebellion against Him. God who is good and kind and loving and merciful does not want to see His people weary from their sins. Their sins are an affront to Him, but they also harm the people. And like so many other occasions, when God says “don’t” He’s really saying “Don’t hurt yourself.”

And so even though the entire society was on a freight train towards destruction, God has not forsaken His people. He could have left them on that runaway train, but here in this passage, He loves them too much to let them chase after that which would harm them both now and forever. He loves them too much to silently watch as they chase after false gods of the day who could not save, restore/refresh the soul or give eternal life. So God wisely and justly goes about the process of refining them so that their heart is pure and dedicated to Him, the true source of joy and peace.

The word “refine” is the Hebrew word “tsarap”. Tsarap meant to smelt or refine (CHALOT, 311). It meant to separate the dross from gold or silver by fire and to purge away the impurities (Gesenius, 719). Tsarap was used for gold and silversmiths as they were refining metals before working them into fine vessels. Various aspects of the refining process are vividly used for judgment on and purification of sins: blazing furnace, bellows etc… God seeks to remove from His people all wickedness and sin so that they can endure His holy presence. Oftentimes, God refines us in the furnace of affliction (Is 48:10). The righteous person endures God’s refining without questions in Him (TWOT, 1972b).

The process of sanctification looks very much like the process of metallurgy and refinement. Through heat, the ionic bonds between disparate metals is broken. Like substances begin to cling together and dross begins to form. This dross is not a new product, it was always there, just bonded with the gold so that the luster of the gold was dimmed. Now it is separate, free floating within the molten metal. And now in a globular form, it can be scooped up and thrown out.

Likewise, in our own soul—there are patterns of sin so ingrained in the core of our being that we (and perhaps others) don’t even know that they are there. Patterns of beliefs, responses, desires, methods—all which are at odds with the Lord’s pure, kind, righteous ways. These impurities hinder and hold back our forward growth in Christlikeness and so often we don’t even know they exist. Yet God does and they dim the luster of our radiance of Christ, they dim our joy, they dim our impact in this world. So in each of our lives, God is in the process of refining us so that these disparate “metals” will break apart and become evident to us, so that we might confess them, forsake them, and appeal to the Holy Spirit to remove them from our souls.

I heard the other day that a metallurgist was once asked how he knew when all the impurities were gone. He replied he knew the metal was perfectly pure when he could see his own face in it’s reflection. Beloved, God is removing the dross from our life, so that He can see His reflection in us.

Our response to God during times of affliction ought to be grateful acceptance of the adversity which we are facing, knowing that it is either judgment from God which we must endure, refinement from God which makes us more holy, or it is sovereignly allowed by God that we might be vessels to bring Him glory. Within each possible reason that lay behind the affliction, there is a good and pure purpose for which we can thank and praise God.

Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...