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Displaying items by tag: judgment
Saturday, 31 July 2010 14:03

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.

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Jeremiah 11:11 says, “Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them.” This verse has always troubled me, even from my very early days in Christ. I can remember asking some Christians about it only a few weeks after I gave my life to the Lord. How is it that God would not accept a repentant people? How is it that they have gone so far from Him that He would not take them back? How can we say, “No sinner is so far from God to be beyond the reach of His mercy?” in light of this verse where God clearly says He will not accept these Jews back even if they repent. Well, here are some brief thoughts:

For one thing, we are talking about the refining judgment of God. We must remember that God is perfectly holy and loving. Likewise He is absolutely just. Thus, He will punish all sin and bring judgment upon all those who harm one another as well as His glory. The greatest harm we can do to someone else is to keep them from the life-giving, soul-nourishing person and presence of God. And that is exactly what was going on in Jeremiah’s day. The priests and leaders had forsaken God and taught the people to do so as well. Thus, nationally and individually, the people were thwarting themselves and even their descendants from knowing God.

Likewise, God must be of His word. He must be trustworthy. He must keep His promises. The doom they face has now been forecasted by Jeremiah through the preceding 11 chapters. For God to relent at this point would damage the credibility and reliability of the prophet. Deuteronomy 18: 20-22 explains that a true prophet will always be accurate in his predictions, if even one prophesy fails to come to pass, that prophet has spoken presumptuously. Thus, God must bring this judgment to pass.

Likewise, the unwillingness to relent here is speaking of the physical, literal judgment of God. While it is clear that there are spiritual implications to being rejected by the Lord here in this text, none the less, the primary unrelenting judgment to come is in the physical realm and will specifically be in the form of the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

Third, we are talking about national judgment, not necessarily individual judgment. Since the nation had perverted its ways, and since they were led astray by the false teachers and priests, the nation as a whole had gone over the edge. As a nation they were being judged by God. Yet, if an individual (such as Jeremiah and his followers) were to turn to God, God indeed would accept them back. We’ll get to this in a few moments.

Fourth, in polytheistic societies, the religious leaders don’t just call upon one god. Rather, they call out to all of them. We see this idea in verse 12, that the people will call out to a multitude of gods. Sure they would call out to YHWH but it would be a cacophony of supplications going to many gods simultaneously. God cannot respond with mercy in that situation. God is judging them for being polytheistic and it would be illogical for Him to relent of that judgment when they ask for His help in addition to asking another dozen or so gods for similar help. It just couldn’t be. For that matter, when we today syncretistically mix God in with a smorgasbord of religious ideas/philosophies, we are equally not going to receive His mercy and grace.

Lastly, we must place this passage alongside Jeremiah’s other words later in this book. For instance, the Lord speaks through him in 29:11-13 saying, “I know the plans that I have for you…plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Clearly we see, that when the individual is wholly and solely dedicated to God Himself, alone, then indeed He does respond in grace and mercy. God wants our sincere heart—“sincere” meaning unmixed, unalloyed—and God wants us fully and whole dedicated to Him. When we turn to Him, and seek Him with our whole hearts, He is loving and gracious to bring us into fellowship with Him.
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