|Liquid gold - Courtesy RGBStock.com|
TO CHEW ON: "I will bring one-third through the fire,
Will refine them as silver is refined,
And test them as gold is tested
They will call on My name;
And I will answer them.
I will say, 'This is My people';
And each one will say, 'The Lord is my God' " - Zechariah 13:9
This chilling prophecy was fulfilled in the near term for Israel in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was overrun and sacked by the Romans. The connection is clear because of the picture of the struck shepherd and scattered sheep (Zechariah 13:7) that precedes it. Jesus, who referred to Himself as the shepherd (John 10) quoted words from Zechariah 13:7 to warn His disciples of what would happen with them when He would be struck down (Matthew 26:31). The disciples were scattered first at His crucifixion, and after the establishment of the church by persecution. Jerusalem was destroyed by fire, as predicted.
However, I believe we can view this prophecy of refining as something that is for the entire church age. "No clearer picture of Jesus and His suffering church is given in the Old Testament" says the Reformation Study Bible comments on verse 9.
As we look at some of the places the Bible mentions refining / testing, we see the methods God uses to refine and what He wants to accomplish.
- Job's test (through a complete turnaround in fortunes and bad health to boot) was to prove what he was really made of (Job 23:10).
- The writer of Proverbs talked of God's correction as a proof of His parenthood and love (Proverbs 3:12).
- Isaiah spoke of God's "hand against you" that was meant to "purge away your dross and take away all your alloy" —a picturesque way of saying God's tests are a way to rid us of all that isn't the real thing (Isaiah 1:25).
- In another place Isaiah talked of testing in the furnace of "affliction" (Isaiah 48:10). "Affliction" - oniy - means "affliction, poverty, misery."
- In our passage the refining through fire was meant to bring the tested ones back to God. They pray, He answers, and they are reunited in a new identity and loyalty (Zechariah 14:9).
- In Malachi the ministering tribe—Levites—were refined so that their ministry would be acceptable (Malachi 3:3).
- Peter talked about faith developing through testing—faith that showed itself to be genuine and that results in "praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7).
- Peter further reminded us to expect such testing rather than be surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12).
Testing, affliction, refining through fire… I don't particularly want them. You probably don't either. Still, such tests will probably come our way in one form or another.
I love the challenge in Paul Baloche's song "We Will Hold On." In the first stanza he speaks of the kind of tests we've listed above—being "persecuted and reviled ..."
In Stanza 2, he talks of another kind of test—one that might be more familiar to many of us: "We are tested by the blessing / With all the comforts of the world surrounding" (emphasis added). That's a test that's much more to our liking, though probably as telling a test as any and as easy to fail. For the temptation is to think we don't need Him and try to get by on our own.
Whatever test comes our way, let's accept the challenge of the Bible to stay with God. As Baloche puts it: "We will hold on to Your love" - Paul Baloche ("We Will Hold On" from the CD Glorious, Integrity Music, © 2009).
PRAYER: Dear God, help me to pass all the tests You send my way. Be very close to our brothers and sisters around the world whose lives are a series of fiery refinings. May I be prepared for a time when the same may be true of me. Amen.
MORE: "We Will Hold On"
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.