27 “I have set you as an assayer and a fortress among My people,
That you may know and test their way.
28 “They are all stubborn rebels, walking as slanderers.
They are bronze and iron,
They are all corrupters;
29 “The bellows blow fiercely,
The lead is consumed by the fire;
The smelter refines in vain,
For the wicked are not drawn off.
30 “People will call them rejected silver,
Because the LORD has rejected them.”
Just after my wife died a couple of years ago, a relative of mine sent me a book of promises from the Bible. They are verses selected for their hopefulness and their focus on blessings, and they are divided into topical sections. There are verses about grief and love and children and many other topics. Many of those verses come from the Old Testament prophets, and I remember that the first verse I ever memorized from the Bible was one that is included in that book.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I carried that verse in my heart through some pretty tough times, and as I studied more of the Bible, the truth of that verse was really driven home for me again and again. God really does love us, and He really does want the best for us. That is why He called out prophets like Jeremiah: to announce that hope to the world. But God also called His prophets for another purpose: to announce His judgment. Yes, we all love to hear about God’s love and forgiveness and blessings, but just as the Bible tells the story of His grace and mercy, it also tells the story of His judgment and discipline on rebellious mankind.
In his own lifetime, Jeremiah was persecuted for what he said, and often hunted for pronouncing the judgments of the Lord. Kings and princes hate to hear that God is about to bring His wrath down upon them, and yet that is what Jeremiah was called to say. As shown by the history of the Israelites, despite all that the priests and kings did to try to silence the prophets, God did indeed bring judgment upon His chosen people. But God had promised Noah that He would never again utterly wipe the earth clean of sinful man (Genesis 9:11), and so rather than completely destroying the Hebrews, God instead disciplined them. Or, to use the metaphor from today’s verses, God set His judgment on them to refine them in the fire of His wrath.
So here in these verses above, we see the third major role that God’s prophets play: to test the faith of God’s people. Jeremiah has been sent among the Jews to try their faith, to measure them against God’s standard of love and righteousness. Just as the prophet brings hope in the promises of God, and just as he is sent to pronounce judgment on the wicked, the prophet is also sent to convict the hearts of the faithful and bring them to repentance–a repentance that can avert God’s judgment on them.
5 “For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor,
6 “if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt,
7 “then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.”
Jeremiah was sent among the people as an assayer, one who would measure the worth if the people, who would separate the silver from the dross, who would test the strength of their faith against the glory of God. Bronze and iron may be strong, but they corrode and fall away. Lead is heavy and can be temporarily shined up, but it, too, is ultimately dull and worthless. The fires of the Lord’s chastening were coming, and if Israel would just repent and eject the wickedness from their midst like impurities being drawn off from molten metal, then they could emerge from the furnace as fine silver, reflecting the glory of the Lord their God. But if they would not repent and put off evil, then no matter how shiny they seemed to be, they would be rejected.
The same is true today. God’s final judgment is still coming, and because He is not willing that any should perish, He is calling all men to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) The times we face right now are the furnace in which He is testing the metal of our faith. Are we like iron, stiff and unyielding and ultimately weakened by time and circumstance? Are we like bronze that starts off shiny and golden but turns green with corrosion and ultimately turns black? Are we like lead, weighted down by the world and unable to put off the impurities of our lives? Or are we the pure silver, refined seven times in fires that would destroy most things, emerging from the furnace into the glory of Christ Jesus?
The Word of God still stands for us in place of Jeremiah, to be the assayer of our faith. We can constantly turn to the Bible to test our “metal,” and to be guided toward repentance. The future and hope we have is in Jesus Christ, who Himself was tried in the same fires we face and emerged pure and glorious. As co-heirs with Christ, if we will repent, if we will allow the Lord to chasten and mold us, allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, then we will not be the rejected silver but the refined. Read the words of the assayer Jeremiah, and know that although God may test us, He ultimately will bless us beyond all our measure or worth. That is a fine promise indeed!
10 For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
14 I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
Holy Father God, great indeed is Thy faithfulness! Test me, Lord God, and try me in the furnace. I do not want my faith to be as iron or bronze or lead or wood, but to be the refined silver that reflects the glory of Your beloved Son. May my heart be broken and remade in Your image, and my life be tested and no longer found wanting. I rest in Your hope, precious Lord, and submit to Your will. Amen.