Glorious Themes for the Redeemed
C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
Gold as a Substance
Though gold is a comparatively rare and very precious metal, it is mentioned more frequently in both testaments than any other metal.1 Biblically, as the lion among the beasts, as the cedar among the trees, so is gold among the metals.
Gold is the first metal referred to in the Bible, Gen. 2. 11, 12, and we are told that the river which watered the garden afterward divided into four heads, the first of which compassed the whole of the land of Havilah and 'the gold of that land is good'. By way of spiritual application we may say of the Bible as a whole that certainly 'the gold of that land is good', as also it is plentiful in its pages. The revealed and written words of God were for psalmists 'More to be desired . . . than gold, yea, than much fine gold', 'better unto me than thousands of gold and silver', and loved 'above gold; yea, above fine gold', 19. 10; 119. 72, 127.
Gold is also the last metal referred to in the Bible, Rev. 21. 18, 21, where the great city itself seen 'descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God', and its street, are alike 'pure gold' [Grk. chrusion kataron].* The whole sweep of salvation history, which opens in the garden of God and is to be brought to its divinely appointed end under the heavenly administration of the city of God, is interwoven with glorious themes like so many golden threads through the tapestry of divine revelation.
For Webster gold is ductile, malleable, pure, elemental, undented, in colour bright, shining, expressing light, considered indestructible, durable, expressing beauty, rustless, stainless, of intrinsic value, basic worth, opaque which indicates substantiality. As it is unalloyed naturally, it calls for no processing apart from that of refining.2
No less consuming diligence is called for from the believer than that which drives those who seek out and mine the gold-bearing rock face or who carefully pan out secondary deposits of golden grains in sandy river beds. Go in for the gold that does not perish!
Gold as a Snare
Possession of gold was and is a pre-eminent mark of the wealthy, so that job would not make gold his hope, or say of fine gold that it was his confidence, for by such attitudes he would have denied the God that is above, 31. 24. Moses warned Israel of the snares their military successes in the conquest of the land would bring, among which would be the coveting and stripping of the silver and gold plating upon the Canaanite idols before destroying the images themselves, Deut 7. 25. Israel's first military success on entering the land occasioned the lust in Achan's heart to promote that covetousness when he saw the forbidden spoil and took and hid a garment from Shinar, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold. How that sin against the Lord troubled the whole nation until it was discovered, confessed and judged, Josh. 7. 20-26. The nation once settled in the land flowing with milk and honey became surfeited and carnal as Moses had forecast. When they had eaten, and were filled, and had built their goodly houses and dwelt in them, when herds and flocks multiplied, and silver and gold was multiplied, their heart became lifted up, and they forgot the Lord their God, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, see Deut. 8. 11-17. Even the monarchy, that later was to be raised up among them, would be similarly exposed, and kings were warned in advance against greatly multiplying to themselves silver and gold, a major safeguard against such forbidden excesses being in their writing out and reading their own copy of the Torah, see 17. 14-20. How different will be the behaviour of the king yet to emerge in the land, who will not regard the God of his fathers but shall magnify himself above all, and shall honour the God of fortresses, and a God whom his fathers knew not he shall honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things, Dan. 11. 37-38. Later still peoples' love of opulence, luxury, finery and jewellery, as they decked themselves with ornaments of gold etc, drew forth the condemnation of prophets who warned of divine judgement which would leave them naked and vile, Jer. 4. 30; Ezek. 16. 13; cf, Rev. 17. 4. God's servants today need to depend upon Him in their pathway, Matt. 10. 9, and never to covet another's silver, gold, or apparel, Acts 20. 33.
Gold in Simile and Symbolism
In figurative speech, whether metaphor or simile, gold universally represents true value against which one is able rightly to assess the value or appropriateness of some other thing. Examples are, as a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman without discretion, Prov. 11. 22; gold may be comparatively plentiful but lips of knowledge are a precious jewel, singularly rare, 20. 15; loving favour should be chosen rather than silver or gold, 22. 1. The refining of gold by which all dross is removed demonstrates that fire only brings out gold's own perfection, as does God's refining of His own people.
In the Bible gold symbolizes glory. This may represent the pure, personal, essential nature, the unique excellence, intrinsic glory of deity. In these cases it often attracts an adjective to enhance its quality, for example such phrases as 'pure gold', '(most) fine gold', compare 'choice gold' (cf. the pagan use of gold in the manufacture of gods, Exod. 32. 1-4; 1 Kgs. 12. 28-30; Isa. 46. 6). These forms of gold are most prominent in the divine specifications of the tabernacle and temple which were revealed to Moses and David respectively. They were veritable houses of gold, every wit of which uttered His glory, typological treasure-houses of whose spiritual wealth the half has not been told. In them God's presence was to be known in the midst of His people.
Gold symbolizes also that manifest and acknowledged glory which radiates through all of God's ways and works, and at His presence. When both tabernacle and temple were completed according to God's specification and duly consecrated 'the glory of the Lord filled' them, so that neither Moses nor the priests were able to enter or to stand and minister in that inaugurating aura of awesome glory, Exod. 40. 34-35; 1 Kgs. 8. 10-11; cf. Rev. 15. 8. Since in His temple 'everything saith, glory', in the temple throne-room of heaven on which the temple on earth is modelled, the four living creatures ascribe glory [doxa] and honour and thanks to the One who sits upon the throne. Also the four and twenty elders fall down and worship Him saying, 'Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and power: for thou didst create all things', 4. 9, 11; cf. 7. 12.
John, in writing of the glorified man Jesus Christ ascribes to Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and who made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father 'the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen', Rev. 1. 5-6. He later describes how many angels take up the theme of the worthiness of the Lamb along with the elders and the four living creatures, saying with a great voice, worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing, 5. 12. That divine righteousness has been vindicated and is displayed in the glorified Christ in the presence of God is yet another truth symbolized in the golden sanctuaries. The believer who considers himself to be rich is counselled to buy gold tried in the fire that he might be truly rich, having that perfected divine righteousness that alone withstands the searching fire of God's own judgement to God's glory, Rev. 3. 18; cf. 1 Pet. 1. 7.
Gold and Silver
Silver [Heb. keseph/Grk.'arguros; 'argureos; 'argurion; cf.'argurokopos-in all about 30 refs] is another costly metal often juxtaposed with gold in the Bible.3 Both metals are symbols of great value and enduring worth, though for the wise man a good name counts for more, Prov. 22. 1. The most lasting and precious use to which they can be put is in their dedication to the Lord who gave them and for the furtherance of His work, 2 Chron. 5. 1; 24. 14; 2 Kgs. 16. 8. They also symbolize God's initiatives in grace and glory in other contexts, His determination to redeem (silver) and to glorify (gold).
Consider an Old Testament example. In some circumstances 'speech is silver, silence golden', but the wise man of Proverbs writes,
'A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver', Prov. 25. 11.
The writer lays great stress on the attractiveness and effectiveness of seasonable speech, whether its content be comforting or corrective; for the latter see verse 12. The two verses have been entitled by one, 'Finely said -Finely taken'. His choice of simile to make the first point is most apt, for even a priceless ornament consisting of 'apples of gold' needs a distinctive and yet complementary frame or setting to enhance its own glories.
Weigh more carefully the wealth in the wise man's words. Our translation commences with 'A word spoken' [dabhar dabhur], for it is this that becomes the means by which one communicates that which first has been comprehended. But for such a communication to catch the ear, to arrest the attention and to achieve its purpose in the listener perceiving all that is being conveyed, it is imperative that the word be 'fitly' spoken. The Hebrew phrase so translated ['al-'opbnaw only here = lit. upon its wheels] suggests that the communication is conveyed without friction and effort, reaching its destination as though on wheels. Swiftly and smoothly it creates the perfect unifying setting to suit the saying.
The most glowing description of such a 'word spoken' and of its attractiveness and effectiveness is that it is as 'apples of gold'. The word translated 'apples' [Heb. tappuach] is derived from a root meaning 'to breathe' or 'to breathe out', and the fruit chosen indeed does exhale a fragrant smell. Yet it is not the actual perfume exuded but the unalloyed preciousness and the unchanging permanence exhibited by these glorious 'apples of gold' [Heb. zahabh] that are emphasized. Gold is the costly substance out of which these 'apples' are made, cf. v. 12, and it does not simply describe the colour of literal apples. The attractiveness of the most perfect of apples (even a 'golden delicious!') soon deteriorates, but these skilfully crafted apples of gold remain aglow in their own intrinsic, untarnished and unchanging glory. Of course, the plurality of apples, chosen as a simile for the singular comprehensive 'word spoken', highlights the several separate 'words' which contribute their own glory to the one communication.
It is 'the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the glory of kings is to search out a matter', Prov. 25. 2. Yet surely the treasure once found, those 'apples of gold', need setting 'in pictures [maskith - figure, picture, that which can be beheld, a show piece] of silver' to arrest the mind's eye of the beholder/hearer. We see a series of individual cup-like silver lacework holders linked together artistically in true filigree fashion. They form a beautiful, costly, composite silver showpiece in its own right; yet it is its complementary function to set out and set forth the apples of gold for which it has been created. It distinguishes each golden apple in its own silver cup-frame, while displaying all the golden apples in one attractively interlinked silver set piece. Such beauty would be in the eye of all beholders, and leave its lasting impression in their perception. Just so, a comprehensive communication fitly spoken, gliding upon its wheels, would convey its 'word' as 'words on wheels' to their desired destination.
Consider a passage in the New Testament also where silver and gold are found together.'1 Peter in writing to believers in the Dispersion, reminds them that:
'ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold'.
From the passage in which these words are found, 1 Pet. 1. 13-21, he answers a number of questions concerning the subject of redemption. For example:
From what is it that we are redeemed apart from guilt and condemnation? The verb 'redeemed' [lutroo] has in view a ransom for captives, cf. Luke 24. 21; Tit. 2. 14, and the noun [lutrosis] was for the Jew specially associated with the freeing of the nation from the Egyptian house of bondage, cf. Deut. 7. 8. This in turn becomes a bold figure for buying those who believe out of a 'vain manner of life' inherited from their fathers, the life of bondage worse than that suffered by the nation in Egypt. Theirs is redemption, a liberation from the bondage to sin, which still holds the world in its thraldom, and a freeing from that vain and empty round of slavery handed down from father to son.
By what are we redeemed? Peter supplies the answer of God in both negative and positive terms. On the one hand, we are redeemed not by silver and gold, two of the noble and precious metals coveted by man. They are hardly regarded as corruptible or perishable. When used together and in the diminutive form, coins of silver and gold are meant, the currency for the release of captives in ancient societies. Yet, as the prophets insist, silver and gold have no power to save, Ezek. 7. 19; Zeph. 1. 18. Isaiah already had heralded the divine invitation to him 'that hath no money', promising also that 'ye shall be redeemed without money', 55. 1; 52. 3.
Positively, Peter reminds us that the inestimable price paid for our liberation was that of the precious blood of Christ, the chief characteristic of which therefore is its incorruptibility; cf. Rev. 1. 5; 5. 9; Eph. 1. 7. How uniquely 'precious' was His blood for it was that of God's Messiah, and as Paul describes it, 'the blood of God's own (Son)', Acts 20. 28 JND. Clearly, paschal imagery informs the significance of the sacrificial death of Christ here. The simile chosen for His blood is that it was as of a lamb in its innocence and patience, without blemish in its inward blamelessness, and without spot in its outward perfection. How His once-for-all passover work excels the corruptible blood of the many lambs that had been slain, for His was voluntarily and intelligently submissive and sacrificial, it was morally meaningful and messianically final. John the Baptist directed men to Him, saying 'Behold, the Lamb of God', the great antitypical paschal lamb, cf. John 19. 31-32, 36; though see also Isa. 53. Therefore, we are redeemed by blood not by silver and gold, by precious blood and not by perishable metals.
For what are we redeemed? Two answers may be gleaned from the context. Firstly, the costliness of our redemption fosters in us the attitude of godly fear. We are to pass our time here living reverently before the Father, knowing that the preciousness of Christ's sacrificial death calls for holiness of life from us! Secondly, the Christ who died was raised from the dead and given glory by God5, one of the divine intentions in this being that we might live confidently toward God. Our faith throughout the present life and our hope of glory in the future are to be in God alone. The passover-exodus liberating event followed by Israel's pilgrimage to their promised inheritance in the land of Canaan, 1. 4, typologically set before us the great privileges and responsibilities of our redemption and expectation of glory. Can we refrain, then, from spreading His glory?
Glory, glory, everlasting, be to Him who bore the cross;
Who redeemed our souls by tasting death, the death deserved by us.
1. There are over four hundred references to gold in the O.T. though this involves the use of six Hebrew synonyms [batsar, zahabh, charuts, kethem, saghur, paz]. All but some fifty of these translate one of these Hebrew words [zahabh]. In the NT. there are some forty references to gold all of which are derived from the same root. [Grk. cnruseos, chrusion, chrusos, chrusoo; cf. also chrusodaktulios, chrusolithos, chrusoprasos].
2. The refining process [tsaraph] is often adopted in simile and metaphor, Jud. 7. 4; Pss. 12. 6 ; 17. 3; 1 8. 30 /2 Sam. 22. 31; Pss. 26. 2; 66. 19 (2); 105. 19; 119. 140; Prov. 30. 35; Isa. 1. 25; Jer. 6. 29 (2); Dan. 11. 35; 12. 10;Zech. 13. 9(2); and the refiner himself [tsuraph = participle] also has his literal place, Neh. 3. 8, 32; Isa. 40. 19 (2); 41. 7; 46. 6; jer. 10. 9, 14; 51. 17, and in simile, |ud. 17. 4; Prov. 25. 4; Jer. 9. 7 ; Mai. 3. 2, 3*. The process is known from the 3rd millennia B.C. - see Egyptian wall-relief in tomb from reign of Teti period, 2350-2220 BC, IDB 2. 437. Perhaps also the six Mikhtam [a tech. term from kethem = golden] Psalms, all of which are psalms of lament, four being historically from the period of David's struggles, belong here?, Pss. 16; 56; 57; 58; 59; 60.
3. In the O.T. 'gold' is often found following silver: Gen. 13. 2; 24. 35, 53; 44. 8; Exod. 3. 22; 11. 2; 12. 35; Num. 22. 18; 24. 13; Deut. 7. 25; 17. 17; 29. 16 ; Josh. 6. 19, 24; 2 Sam. 8. 11; 21. 4; 1 Kgs. 7. 51; 15. 15, 18, 19; 2 Kgs. 7. 8; 16. 8; 18. 14; 20. 13; 23. 33, 35 (2); 2 Chron. 1. 15; 5. 1; Ezra 1. 4; 8. 25; Pss. 105. 37; 115. 4; 135. 15; Prov. 22. 1; Eccles. 2. 8; Isa. 2. 7; 60. 9; Jer 10. 4. Ezek. 7. 19; 38. 1 3; Dan. 11. 8; Hos. 2. 8 ; Jol. 3. 5 [4. 5]; Zeph. 1. 18; Zech. 6. 11.
'gold' first at: Exod. 25. 3; 31. 4; 35. 5, 32; Num. 31. 32; 1 Kgs. 10. 32; 2 Kgs. 25. 15; 1 Chron. 18. 10; 22. 14, 16; 28. 15, 16; 29. 3, 4, 5, 7; 2 Chron. 9. 14, 21; 24. 14; 25. 24; Ezra 1. 11; 5. 14; 6. 5; 7. 16 (2), 18, 22; Ps. 119. 72; Song 1. 11; Dan. 2. 3, 35, 45; 5. 32, 35, 45; 11. 34, 38; Ezek. 28. 4; Zech. 14. 14; Hab. 2. 19; Mai. 3. 3.
4. In the NT. silver is paired with 'gold' at Acts 3. 6; 17. 29; 20. 33; Matt. 10. 9; 1 Cor. 3. 12; 2 Tim. 2. 20; 1 Pet. 1. 18; Rev. 18. 12.
5. The glory theme [doxa] in 1 Pet. 1. 11 (sufferings first), 21 (raised and given glory); 4. 11 (to whom be glory and dominion), 13 (when his glory shall be revealed)
re. believers, 1. 7 (praise honour and glory at the appearing); 4. 14 (Spirit of glory and of God resteth); 5. 1 (partaker of glory), 4 (receive a crown of glory, fades not away, ct. 1. 24), 5. 10, called to his eternal glory. Selwyn's 1 Pet. Add. note pp. 253-58 observes that all the nuances of 'glory' [doxa] in NT are represented in 1 Peter, and that half of the uses are eschatological, as are references to two other terms, viz. 'revelation', and 'salvation'.