He Will Sit as a Smelter

Malachi uses the word picture of a metal refiner to describe how God will separate those who are truly his own from those who are not. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3).

Smelting is the process of heating up an ore, which is a mixture of rock and metal, to separate out and purify the metal. The picture at the top of this post depicts various stages in the processing of metal, from smelting the ore in a furnace to pouring it into molds. This painting comes from an Egyptian tomb that dates to about the 15th century BC.

Copper ore has a blueish or greenish tint that is relatively easy to spot. This kind of ore has been mined in the area of Timna, in southern Israel, for millennia.

Copper ore at Timna Park in southern Israel, an ancient source of copper.

Ore in its original state is not useful. To extract the valuable metal it must be heated to an extremely high temperature, causing the metal to melt and to separate from the rock matrix. In antiquity this was accomplished in a furnace similar to the one shown below. Air was forced into the fire to increase its temperature. The four large circular stones in the photo below would have originally been covered with leather and used as bellows to force air into the bottom of the furnace.

Furnace at Timna Park for smelting copper.

As a result of the intense heat, the metal slowly melted and collected at the bottom of the furnace. The waste material of melted rock and other impurities was sloughed off as slag.

Slag from the ancient copper workings at Khirbet en-Nahas, across the valley from Timna.

In Malachi’s word picture, those Israelites who were disobedient and rebellious toward God were like slag, a waste product to be skimmed off and throne away. The landscape surrounding ancient smelting sites is littered with piles of slag that was discarded as the smelters worked to get the precious metals. For Malachi this represented the uselessness of Israelites who had forsaken God. The remnant who followed God, however, were of much value. Malachi compared those who would “bring offerings in righteousness” to precious gold and silver. Perhaps he had in mind something like the precious gold and silver bowls shown here.

Gold and silver bowl from Parthia, 2nd-1st century BC

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