This is what the Lord says: “Look, an army is coming from the land of the north; a great nation is being stirred up from the ends of the earth. They are armed with bow and spear; they are cruel and show no mercy. They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses; they come like men in battle formation to attack you, Daughter Zion.” We have heard reports about them, and our hands hang limp. Anguish has gripped us, pain like that of a woman in labor. Do not go out to the fields or walk on the roads, for the enemy has a sword, and there is terror on every side. Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us. “I have made you a tester of metals and my people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways. They are all hardened rebels, going about to slander. They are bronze and iron; they all act corruptly. The bellows blow fiercely to burn away the lead with fire, but the refining goes on in vain; the wicked are not purged out. They are called rejected silver, because the Lord has rejected them.” – Jeremiah 6:22-30
The book of Jeremiah continues to intrigue me and provide many interesting riffles and eddies. This passage starts out with what sounds like a relatively straightforward prophecy about an invader from the north. This invader is cruel and shows now mercy. They “sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses”. Then it starts to get a little weird. The men come “like men in battle formation to attack you”. This would seem to be a statement of the obvious, how else would they come? Is this enemy something more than “men in battle formation”?
The reputation of this army from the north instills in God’s people great fear, “We have heard reports about them, and our hands hang limp.” The word picture I get is that of a people petrified into inaction. It sounds like they have lost the battle without taking a swing at anyone. It is their internal fears and lack of faith in God that makes them cower in the corners of Jerusalem awaiting their fate.
In the midst of this desperate situation God is calling the people to repent in a dramatic way. They are to “Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.” I wonder whether there is more to this “destroyer” than an earthly army from the north wielding bows and spears.
It seems like there is a spiritual dimension to this prophecy. God is allowing a trial of sorts to determine which of His people will turn to Him rather than turn and run. The aggressor from the north is serving the role of a “tester” to determine which of God’s people will remain true under pressure, “I have made you a tester of metals and my people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways.” The people have become alloyed with the cultures and idols that they have allowed to pollute their spirits. This conflict will perform an assay of their souls.
God compares the people of Israel and Jerusalem to bronze or iron. When faced with a “furnace” they will be refined whether they like it or not. “The bellows blow fiercely to burn away the lead with fire, but the refining goes on in vain; the wicked are not purged out.” Bronze is an alloy of copper and other metals that was a revolutionary discovery that changed the world. It allowed weapons to be much harder and able to break other things and people more effectively. In order to separate the various metals in an alloy like bronze you can heat it in a furnace with bellows to get it really hot. Since different metals have different melting temperatures they can be separated in this way.
So this conflict and destruction from the north is to refine the people of Jerusalem to separate the valuable metals that are pure (the people willing to follow God’s commands) from the impurities and other metals that have alloyed with it (idols and other gods). This process will undoubtedly hurt and produce many sparks and flames that will cause great pain. The surest way to avoid a similar fate is to avoid becoming alloyed with modern-day idols and gods like money, power, etc.
Prayer: God help us to follow your commands and be like pure silver so that refining is not needed.