Let us look at the utterance of the apostle
which is crowned with this lovely terror:
“Our God is a consuming fire”
— George MacDonald (Unspoken Sermons)
Daniel 3 tells a very familiar story. Here’s the Cole’s notes version:
King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image of himself. Three Hebrew boys, fresh in their captivity, refuse to bow down before it. Nebuchadnezzar gets so mad, his face becomes distorted! He commands his men to stoke the fire and throw the boys into the furnace. The fire is so hot, it kills the executioners as the push the boys in.
The King looks in and sees four people standing in the flames, and one looks like a god! They pull the boys out, and find them without so much as the smell of the fire on their bodies. They survived the fiery furnace.
Unfortunately for Israel, they are about to encounter the same fate. In the last section, God indicted Israel for her many sins. In this section he delivers his judgment. They will be refined in his furnace.
. . .
In order to explain his judgment, God used the analogy of refining silver. In those days, silver was refined in two stages. Here God describes the second stage.
The silver along with all its impurities (copper, tin, lead, and iron) was heated up in a shallow, porous clay or bone container. When the refiner would blow a stream of air across the container, the impurities would produce a dross on the surface of the liquid silver.
In this passage, God declares that he will melt down his own people, and blow across the the surface of the container. To the exile’s surprise, it is the Jewish people who rise to the surface only to be discarded as waste!
Israel was in no way pure.
. . .
We sing a song today by Brian Doerksen:
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for you, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for you my Master
Ready to do your will
(1990 Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Music Services) )
We are singing about the same image. If God were to put us in his refining fire, would we pool on the bottom as pure silver—or float to the top to be skimmed off as mere dross?
. . .
The theme of purity by fire is not limited to the Old Testament:
- “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13, NRSV)
- “For indeed our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, NRSV).
When the consuming fire, Himself, tests us and our works, will we stand? Will we walk out of the furnace without so much as the smell of the flames on us—or will we escape by the skin of our teeth?
. . .
Refining Fire, your testing is a fearful thing. Develop and form in us the sort of life that will be able to stand your purifying heat. In Jesus’ name, Amen.