God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 22, 2014
“I can make lead float.” The boy looked at his father in disbelief and said, “Daddy, nobody can make lead float.” “I can,” the man said. “Put on that leather apron.” The son watched his father put a few chunks of ore into a crucible. The crucible was clamped into place over the fire, and together they pumped the bellows. They watched until the ore had melted into what looked like a dark liquid in the crucible. “Now,” said the father, “hand me that little hunk of lead.” “This?” said the boy, holding a dark chunk of cold ore. “No—that’s keseph nimas. Rejected silver.” “Is it really silver”? asked the boy. “No, that’s the point. There’s nothing worthwhile in it at all. There’s the lead over there.” They dropped the lead into the crucible with a tongs and watched. It sank at first, and bubbled, and then rose to the surface. “Now, watch,” said the father as he pumped the bellows. Dark swirling streams and chunks were drawn to the lead from every edge of the crucible. “What’s happening?” asked the boy. “The lead is acting as flux,” the father said. “It’s drawing all of the impurities out of the precious silver and into the worthless lead. So when the assayer comes, we’ll have almost pure silver to show him.” “What if there’s no silver at all?” “Then it’s rejected—it’s useless. It won’t be worth anything at all.”
Here at the end of Jeremiah chapter 6, the Lord commands his prophet to test Judah the way an assayer tests precious metal to see whether the nation was worth anything at all to the Lord.
27 I have made you one who tests metals.
My people are what is tested.
Learn about them
and examine their ways.
28 They are all stubborn rebels,
walking in slander.
They are hard as bronze and iron.
All of them are corrupt.
In these verses, Jeremiah is called to test Judah the way an assayer tests metal. In the second half of verse 28, the Hebrew just says “They are bronze and iron, all of them are corrupt.” I have interpreted a little by saying “as hard as” before “bronze and iron,” so that the reader will more easily understand that there is a comparison being made between these metals (which might mistakenly be thought to be valuable) and the silver which God is looking for, but which won’t be mentioned until verse 30. The people are corrupt. They have fallen short of God’s simple requirement of faith, and there is no faith to be found.
29 The bellows blows hot
to melt away the lead with fire,
but it is completely refined for nothing,
the evil is not removed.
30 Call them rejected silver,
because the LORD has rejected them.
The lead was used as flux to draw out all of the impurities from the silver being refined, but in this case, the lead has failed. Either there is no silver at all in the mixture—no faith at all—or else the lead has failed to remove anything, and the people were still corrupted with sin. As the tested metals analogy melts away and we see the Lord’s point, we realize that both statements are really true in the case of Judah. First, there was no faith. The people had rejected God. Second, the call of the prophet to repent had not produced any repentance, and the people were holding on to their sins. So the Lord’s judgment based on Jeremiah’s assay was: “Call them keseph nimas—rejected silver.”
We might think that by testing the people, God was looking for good deeds; things people did to show their faith. That would be only partly true. Behind every good deed is the faith that produces it. Anything that doesn’t come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). And “anything” means anything at all. If a Jew took a bull up to the temple to slaughter it and pray for a good harvest, but did it only as a superstition, or because he knew he wouldn’t be able to sell his crop unless he had been seen at the temple, then he wasn’t doing it out of faith at all, and even though it seemed like a marvelous thing, it was worthless. On the other hand, what about a little child who loves his Savior? I know a little boy who loves to have an ice cream cone for his bed time snack. He will eat his ice cream and then jump into the bathtub. He washes his hair and does a pretty good job getting clean—and yet when he steps out of the tub, he still has ice cream on his face. From a human perspective, he hasn’t done a very good job getting clean. And yet he has faith in Jesus, and God looks at his bath as a good work, a work done in faith, and God loves that little boy as his own dear child. What God is looking for in us is the motive for our good works: our faith in him. Make every effort to strengthen your faith by hearing the word of God and receiving his forgiveness in worship and in the sacrament. Our faith drives everything in our lives, and we have it by the grace of God.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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