The Fining Pot
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles to Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 3. This is the text that we will be using for our point of departure in our study. You will recall, as we have been studying the book of Proverbs, we began by selecting proverbs that emphasized certain principles. Then we gathered around those principles the proverbs that illustrated or amplified those principles. We have been doing this in the second section of the book of Proverbs which is designated The Personal Proverbs of Solomon , beginning with chapter 10 and continuing through chapter 22, verse 16.

We said that in this section there were a number of individual proverbs that did not lend themselves to the discussion in the manner to which have just made reference; rather, they were special texts in which special truths from the Word of God were emphasized, some of the texts being the text for some of the greatest sermons that have ever been preached from the platforms of this world.

We have been endeavoring to take these verses individually and learn exactly what God would have us know about them. We ask you to notice with us chapter 17, verse 3, which we have designated, as far as subject matter is concerned, The Fining Pot . Notice, as we read:

Proverbs 17:

3 The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.

How Fining Pots were Used

I think if we are to understand the significance of this proverb, we are going to need to understand what we are talking about in relation to the fining pot—that is, how the fining pot was used in Scriptural times. Let me give you a bit of information along this line, all of it taken from the Word of God, but not scriptural statements as such.

Liquids and metals were refined in different processes in Bible times. In respect to liquids, the process was one of filtering. In respect to metals it was one of melting the metals with intense heat. The refiner's art—and by the way, it was an art—consisted of the separation of dross from the pure ore after it had been reduced to a fluid state in the fining pot or the furnace.

Solvents were added, such as the alkali described in Isaiah, chapter 1, verse 25. In The King James text I think you will find it mentioned under the word tin . Also, lead was used in this refining process as described in Jeremiah, chapter 6, verse 29.

The impurities in the metal, whether it be silver or gold, adhered to the things to which I have referred: the tin, the lead or the alkali. The refiner was enabled to draw off from the fining pot the pure metal whether it be silver or whether it be gold.

The furnaces used were not always the same. Some of the furnaces were holes in the ground, which were called fining pots , and that is the kind of instrument referred to in our text. Other of the furnaces were built above the ground and were of various kinds of construction. They were always referred to as furnaces . No matter what instrument was used—fining pots or the furnace—the success of the refining process rested primarily upon the shoulders of the refiner who was a real artisan. According to Malachi, chapter 3, the refiner sat down at his work and watched the refining process very carefully and let the purified metal run off at exactly the right moment. If it was one moment too soon or one moment too late, then the refining process was not a success. As a matter of fact, Jeremiah speaks of a refining process which was a failure because of the very things that I am talking about.

Refining Represents God's Dealing with His People

I would like to mention to you that all of the information which I have hurriedly given to you and all of the information which you will find in the Bible concerning the refining process in Bible times (notice what I am saying) is given there as an illustration of the way that God deals with His people. That is the only reason it is given. Incidentally, that is a good thing to keep in mind. Oftentimes you will find people leveling accusations at the Word of God because it does not speak of a particular practice or a nation or a people that occurred at the same time, and history books speak widely of that event. Folk say, “If the Bible were accurate it would not have failed to mention something as widely known as this particular thing.” The only time the Bible makes mention of anything is when it serves a purpose in relation to collimating spiritual truth. The reason that the Bible gives the refining process that I have described is not because the Bible is a book that tells you how to refine silver and gold, but because the refining process is a good illustration of the way that God deals with His people.

With that thought in mind, I would like for you to go back to verse 3 again, and notice the words:

Proverbs 17:

3 The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.

Notice first that word trieth . It comes from the Hebrew word bachan , and it means “to examine,” or “to prove.” When God is trying the hearts of men, He is examining them to see what is there which ought not to be there, and He is proving them. He is testing them to see that of which the individual is really made and how he is going to stand in certain circumstances, whether or not he can be depended upon as far as God Himself is concerned. Sometimes he is proven in order to nullify the accusations of Satan and because Satan is constantly accusing the brethren as he did Job. You will recall that one day Satan did appear to accuse men before God, saying, “No one really loves You. No one really cares for You,” and God said, “Have you considered My servant, Job?” Without repeating the story of Job, you recall that in a technical sense he was placed in the hands of Satan that Satan might do unto him and with him what he would within the limitations that God set in order that he might be proven. It was God's trying his heart in the furnace of affliction.

There is another word that is translated by our English word try that I think we should keep in mind. It is not in our text, but we will be noticing it in various passages of Scripture which we examine, and I think it is only fair that we recognize this word since there are only the two which are used in the manner of which we are speaking. This is the Hebrew word tsaraph , which may be translated by the words purged away , or by the word refined . It gives us another reason God uses a refining process to illustrate how He deals with the human heart. It illustrates the fact that God finds it necessary in the furnace of affliction to purge away out of our lives that which is displeasing to Him. You might look upon this phrase, purge away , as describing the corrective judgment which God brings into our lives because we are not walking in the light that we have. He refines us in this process so that we are placed back in fellowship with Him, which is necessary sometimes so that we are in the place where God is able to bless us, for He can only bless those who are in right relationship to Him.

Fining Pot Essential

As we are talking about the fining pot, let us keep in mind that God is going to use it as the manner in which He is dealing with the human heart. I would suggest to you, as we consider this refining process, some things which are needful for you to know, for if you have not been in the furnace of affliction, you will be. Mark what I say to you: You may not recognize it at the time for what it is, but most certainly you will be in the furnace of affliction before you finish this pilgrim journey for one principle reason, and that is the refining process to which we have made reference is an absolute essential. There is no way to have the gold that God can use without the furnace, and there is no way to have the silver that God can use without the fining pot. It is absolutely essential.

This truth is brought to our minds by what we find in I Peter, chapter 4, verse 12. You will recognize the familiar words in this verse. They are needed for all people of all days because of the kind of life many of us are called upon to live. We read:

I Peter 4:

12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

What is brought to our attention in this verse is: “the fiery trial is to try you”—no doubt about it, no way to escape it. The very grammatical construction of the verse indicates that the fiery trial is part of your being a child of God. Therefore, do not think it strange when it happens to you, as though some unusual thing has happened unto you because it is part of your relationship to the family of God.

This is brought to your attention even more definitely by what you read in Hebrews, chapter 12. This chapter deals with the chastening of the child of God. We are not discussing this chapter in its entirety; we are only referring to it, but will you notice the paragraph which begins with verse 6:

Hebrews 12:

6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Notice in verse 6: Everybody God loves, God chastens. Notice in verse 7: If you endure this chastening, God deals with you as sons; for what son is not chastened by his father? As a matter of fact, if there is no chastening in your life, then you are not the sons of God. You are illegitimate. You do not actually belong to Him.

I would suggest to you that you keep in mind the word chastening is not related altogether with the idea of punishment. The word chastening actually means “child trained,” and so God trains you in any number of ways. Sometimes there is unconfessed sin in your life and you are chastened for that unconfessed sin, but let us not relate our thinking solely to the idea of unconfessed sin. If there is unconfessed sin in your life, I hope that you will confess it. If there is unconfessed sin in your life, I hope you will do more than confess it. I hope you will forsake it because the same God who encourages us to confess our sins also encourages us to forsake them. In this very book we are studying we read: “He that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall have mercy.” I repeat, let us not think of this chastening as being related solely to punishment for unconfessed sin. Let us recognize it for what it is—a matter of training. It is essential. There is no way to escape it.

The reason for it, other than punishment to which I have referred, is that just as in the refining of the metal, be it silver or gold, the impurities rise to the surface; so when God puts you and me in the furnace of affliction, the impurities in our lives (not necessarily sin, I re-emphasize) that would keep us from being the kind of metal that God can use rises to the surface. There are some of us who do not realize these impurities are in our lives until we go through the furnace of affliction. It takes the refining pot; it takes the furnace of affliction to cause us to realize the impurities are there.

The impurities, the imperfections, have held back the blessings of God for perhaps many months, many years, and only when we enter the refining pot do we discover the impurities are there. As they rise to the surface and are lifted off, then God is able to bless our lives.

Turn with me, please, to Isaiah, chapter 1, and notice verse 25. God is speaking to the nation of Israel because of her impurities and imperfections. God is dealing on the basis of principle, so the scriptural principle is for us even though we are not of Israel. Notice verse 25, where God is saying:

Isaiah 1:

25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:

Notice what He said: “I will purge away all thy dross.” I think a happier translation of Isaiah, chapter 1, verse 25, is found in one of the later renditions of the Bible. The Living Bible , for example, renders this verse by the words: “I myself will melt you in the melting pot and skim off your slag.” That fits in better with the picture we are trying to describe. God puts us in the melting pot and when the impurities rise to the top, He skims them off as the refiner skims off the slag.

The New American Standard rendering of the Scripture presents this verse in other words which will help you to get exactly what I am trying to say to you because the important thing is to remember the impurities are there. In The New American Standard , we read: “I will smelt away your dross with lye, and remove all of your alloy.” The word lye is a better word for the translation for the word translated skim in your King James Text . Notice: “I will smelt away your dross with lye and will remove all of your alloy.”

You know, one of the greatest criticisms that is leveled at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the criticism of hypocrisy. So often you feel everybody you know is a hypocrite, and certainly individuals whom you are trying to reach will tell you one of the reasons that they are not interested in coming to church, as they put it, is there is so much hypocrisy. To be honest, most of us would have to admit that their accusation is absolutely true, but I wonder if the reason the hypocrisy is there so often is that so few of us have gone through the furnace of affliction, so few of us have been in the fining pot.

Refining Proves Strength

As we continue thinking about this refining process, I would like to suggest to you that it proves the strength of the metal that is being refined. Turn, please, to Isaiah, chapter 48, and notice verse 10. We are still talking about the nation of Israel, of course, but the application is to all men who are put into the fining pot or into the furnace. Notice:

Isaiah 48:

10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.

That verse does not convey a lot of information, does it? As a matter of fact, it seems a bit contradictory. It seems as though the silver is the purifying agent the way that it reads, but really it is the silver that is being purified. When we read, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction,” it would lead you to believe that God had chosen Israel while they were in the furnace of affliction, and nothing could be farther from the truth. He chose them while they were on the trash heap and like so many things from the trash heap, they needed purifying. They needed refining, and for that reason, I would suggest that you consider The Living Bible rendering of this particular verse as it reads: “I refined you in the furnace of affliction, but found no silver there.”

Notice carefully what the text says: “…but found no silver there.” You see, the refining process is to prove the metal. Here was a piece of metal. Maybe silver was in it, and maybe it wasn't. It was put in the refiner's furnace and after all the process it had gone through, no silver was found at all. Sometimes God puts you in the refiners pot to prove whether or not you are what you claim to be, to prove whether or not you have the strength you think you have.

An Illustration of Refining

There are many illustrations about that in the Word, but I would like for you to notice one that is recorded there in II Chronicles, chapter 32. You will notice that it is speaking of some men among whom is a man by the name of Hezekiah. In verse 27, we read:

II Chronicles 32:

27 And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honour: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of pleasant jewels;
28 Storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks.
29 Moreover he provided him cities, and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance: for God had given him substance very much.
30 This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.

If we could stop right there we might say, “Where did he need any refining? Why should he need to go into the furnace of affliction? Look at verse 31:

II Chronicles 32:

31 Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.

Notice: “…God left him, to try him.” You are familiar with the story of Hezekiah, how the ambassadors came from Babylon to inquire about a miracle that had been performed in the land. You remember what that miracle was. Hezekiah became very ill, and Isaiah, God's spokesman for that day, came to him and said, “Hezekiah, you are going to die. You are ill and your illness is going to be fatal, so set your house in order and get everything straightened out. This is God's message to you. You are not going to get well.”

Hezekiah was like most of us, I suppose. He didn't want to die. A lot of folk talk about Heaven and they are not too interested in making a rush trip up there. He didn't want to die. He wanted to live, so he turned his face to the wall and he prayed. If you will notice his prayer, he never asked for God's will. He just pleaded with God like a spoiled child: “God, don't let me die. Give me a little more life. Don't take me now.” Not one time did he say, “LORD, I would like to stay here. There are so many things I would like to do, but maybe You have a better plan for me. If You do, it is all right.” Instead of that he said, “Let me stay; let me stay,” and God said, “All right. I will let you stay. I will heal you.”

Hezekiah was the type of man who liked having a sign, so God said, “What kind of a sign do you want? I have healed you, but what kind of a sign do you want?” Hezekiah said, “ I don't really know.” He was outside with the sundial and God said, “Do you want the sundial to go forward ten degrees? If you do, I will just hurry up the sun and you will know that you are healed.” It is amazing how much we have to have proof, isn't it? Hezekiah was shrewd and he said, “Well, the sundial is going to go forward. I know that and I never will be sure, but it shouldn't go back, so let it go back.” God let it go back and then (this is the part of the story I want you to get) He sent Isaiah to Hezekiah, and Isaiah accepted God's diagnosis of Hezekiah's illness. Hezekiah had blood poisoning. God said, “I am going to heal you.” What did Hezekiah do? Did he jump up and start to run and say, “I am healed; I'm healed?” He could have. Some people have done that by the grace of God as God heals them miraculously. Instead, he waited until Isaiah came and put a poultice of figs upon the place where the trouble was, and that poultice of figs—we would call it an ordinary cold remedy, which was all they knew then—drew out the blood poisoning and Hezekiah's life was saved.

Did you notice what the Spirit of God called the miracle? You see, God does use human means and human instruments to perform His miracles, but the sad thing about it is that Hezekiah did what so many of us do. Hezekiah, while he was demanding in a sense that God heal him, made Him a lot of promises. He told God that he would do nearly anything if he could just live, but if you glance at verse 26, you will read:

II Chronicles 32:

26 Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah said, “I don't care what happens to my nation as long as it doesn't happen in my day. Lord, just don't let me get involved.” When the ambassadors of Babylon came, instead of recognizing it as a tremendous opportunity to be used of God, if you read the story in the book of Isaiah, he did nothing but boast and brag about his accomplishments and his riches. God said, “I knew it. I knew it all along, but there wasn't any way for anybody else to know; there wasn't any way for Hezekiah himself to know, but I knew that Hezekiah would not really do what he said he would do when he had the opportunity. That was why I was going to take him out of the earth before he had to face that failure, but he wanted to stay. He thought he could do the job, so I let him.”

Do you learn something, Beloved, that you might term a derivative of what we are talking about? If you insist on it enough, God will let you have your way. If you are sick, and you want to get well bad enough and you demand it of God, He may let you have your way, but it may not be His way. God, in the very sickness that He has brought into your life, may be trying to spare you something that He knows you won't be able to face when the real testing time comes.

Refining Makes Stronger

The furnace of affliction sometimes proves the strength of the metal and oftentimes indicates that there is a real need for improvement because another thing that happens in the refining process that I would like to call to your attention is that the refining process makes the metal stronger. The finer's pot makes the metal stronger than it was when you first started out.

None of us like the heat, do we? We like to get away from it. None of us would willingly go into the furnace of affliction. None of us would willingly invite this chastening of God, but if it turns out that it is in the plan of God for us, we should not shirk it because it most certainly will make the metal stronger.

Turn in your Bible, please, to Psalm 105 and notice in this history of the nation of Israel a reference to Joseph. You will find the paragraph beginning in verse 17, where we read:

Psalm 105:

17 He sent a man before them [that is before Israel], even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:
18 Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
19 Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.
20 The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.
21 He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance:
22 To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom.

In this paragraph I would like for you to notice particularly verse 19:

Psalm 105:

19 Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.

Beloved, I suspect that this is the most common furnace of affliction that any of us are called upon to go through, when God puts us in that furnace where He gives us promise after promise after promise after promise after promise, and doesn't let one of them prove true. He only gives them to us. We can quote them and we can remind Him of them, but they haven't come true for us. Somebody else comes along and says, “Have you ever thought about…” and they quote you such and such a verse? You say, “Yes, I have thought about it very often.” “Well, I want to tell you how God used that verse for me.” You say, “I am glad He used it for you, but He doesn't have to use it for me.” Down deep inside you began to wonder. Down deep inside you kind of find yourself saying, “God, how come You used it for him and You didn't use it for me? Why don't You work for me? You worked for him.” It is a testing time, a trying time. Notice here in Psalm 105:

Psalm 105:

19 Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.

But by and by God kept His promise, and when He kept His promise, he was stronger than he was before God kept the promise.

“Peter,” God said, “Satan has desired to have you that he might sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you, and when you are turned about [he was already a Christian] strengthen your brethren.” Before that experience Peter didn't have enough strength to help anybody, but after he went through the furnace of affliction, he was made the stronger for it.

Refining Makes Suitable

I would like to add that the refining process makes the metal suitable for God's use. Turn to Zechariah, chapter 13, verse 9. Let me remind you that every piece of silver and every piece of gold that was used in the temple went through the refining process. God said that he could not use one piece of silver or of gold until it had been in the refining furnace, until it had been in the fining pot. In Zechariah, chapter 13, we are talking about the nation of Israel, and in talking about the nation of Israel, we notice that in this particular passage of Scripture, God is dealing with the remnant that will be left during that time that is to come upon the earth known as the Tribulation , when Israel will really be in the furnace of His affliction. Notice what He says:

Zechariah 13:

9 And I will bring the third part [the remnant] through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: [then notice what happens] they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.

Beloved, the nation of Israel, as a nation, will never be able to say, “The LORD is my God,” until they have gone through the furnace, and God will never be able to look upon them and say with endearing terms of love, “They are My people,” until they have gone through the furnace. I might say that God says here that He didn't even hear them until they had gone through the furnace. I am wondering if it isn't true that some of us may have to go through the refiner's furnace before God will be able to hear us, before God will be able to do the thing that we asked Him to do. You see, it is as though we are asking God to do something for us and He is saying, “There is no way for Me to do it now.” Paul said, “I have many things to tell you Corinthians, but I couldn't tell you now.” After they had gone through the furnace, he could tell them.

I would like to emphasize that the methods that God uses are never the same for every person, and I would like for you to keep in mind that there is a diversity in God's dealing with mankind. In the Scriptures to which we have referred already, for some He used the refining pot and for others He used the furnace. For some He used lead to get out the impurities and for others He used lye, but all were different, and He used what was needed.

I feel that I have to inject this here because we are human. So often we feel that if God doesn't deal with everybody else in exactly the same way that He deals with us, then it is not God that is dealing, and we want everybody to go into the same refining pot and the same furnace, and we have the tendency to wish whatever we are going through on somebody else. So often we are saying to ourselves, “Why me? Why not him?” God works different ways with every individual. That is the only answer.

The Refiner Watches Over All the Process

The last thought I want to leave with you brings a great deal of courage to my heart. It is something that makes the furnace of affliction bearable. Remember that Daniel was cast into a furnace, and the furnace was heated seven times hotter than it had ever been heated before. The ordinary heat of that furnace would have consumed any individual, but in the perversity in the minds of the people who hated Daniel was the desire to make it even worse. They heated it seven times hotter than they ever had before. What do you recall concerning the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace? They were walking around in the midst of that fiery furnace, and when they came out of that fiery furnace, their clothes were not singed and there was not even the smell of smoke upon them. Why? Someone was there watching the furnace. Who was it? The Son of God, and that is the thought that I want to leave with you. The refiner watches over all the process of refining.

Turn to Malachi, chapter 3, and you will notice again a reference to God and His dealing with Israel. Notice verse 3:

Malachi 3:

3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

The thing that I am interested in at the moment is the statement: “…he shall sit as a refiner…” You see, the refiner sat very close to the furnace and he kept his eye on what was going on. He withdrew the purified metal at exactly the right time.

May I remind you that God is not going to let you stay in the furnace any longer than is good for you. That might not seem so to you, but it is in the Word of the living God that He will not let you stay in the furnace too long.

Notice what is recorded in Job, chapter 23. Job was in the furnace of affliction and it was a distressing thing. He describes it, but in verse 10, he said:

Job 23:

10 But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

What is Job saying? He is saying, “God is watching over the furnace and when all of the impurities are gone and the slag comes to the surface, then I shall come forth as gold.” When Job said, “He knoweth the way that I take,” he could just as well have said, “He knows how hot the furnace is.” Sometimes you may not think He does. Sometimes you may wonder if He does, but He does, and it won't go up one degree more than it should. He will be watching out for you.

One last reference is in Psalm 11, verse 4:

Psalm 11:

4 The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.
5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

The LORD trieth the righteous, but the interesting thought about this verse is found in the words, “…his eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men.” Do you see what you are reading? His eyes are beholding, but you don't see the pupil of His eye. You can't look in his eyes and know that He is looking at you…his eyelids have covered His eyes, and it looks as though He has gone to sleep, and that is where the test comes. As long as you know He is awake, you can bear it; but when it looks like He has gone to sleep, that is where the test comes but remember this: “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”

Conclusion

The fining pot is for silver and the LORD trieth the hearts. Have you been in the fining pots yet? You will be, and I hope you will know how to act when you get there.


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