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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Metals in the Bible

The Wikipedia says: "A metal  is a material (an element, compound, or alloy) that is typically hard, opaque, shiny, and has good electrical and thermal conductivity." Most of the elements of the periodic table are metals, although most metals are not well known to the general public. There are also alloys, combinations of more than one metal. Most of the metals and alloys now used, or at least known now, were not known in Bible times. Here's Numbers 31:

21 Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who went to the battle, “This is the statute of the law which Yahweh has commanded Moses: 22 however the gold, and the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, 23 everything that may withstand the fire, you shall make to go through the fire, and it shall be clean; nevertheless it shall be purified with the water for impurity. (World English Bible, public domain.)

The five elemental metals listed in that passage, all those named except bronze, seem to have been all the metals known to humans at that time, unless you count mercury, which, under normal conditions, is a liquid, and, therefore, doesn't fit the "hard" part of the definition given at the beginning of this post. The Wikipedia article referenced in the previous sentence says that mercury has been found in Egyptian tombs from 1500 BC. Mercury is called a metallic element.

The King James Version translates nĕchosheth as brass, as early as Genesis 4:22. The Hebrew word is chalkos. But modern versions, including the New King James Version, translate these words as bronze, not brass. Bronze is mostly copper, with some tin and sometimes other metals, hence, as an alloy, it is not an elemental metal. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, and apparently zinc was not known to the ancients. I'm not sure why the KJV uses brass, not bronze. Perhaps the meanings of those words, in English, have changed since the KJV was translated.

Let's consider some of the mentions of the metals known to the ancients, in the Bible:

Gold was used to establish wealth, as early as Genesis 13:2, where Abraham's wealth is mentioned. There are other times, in the Old Testament, where gold is stated in terms of wealth. Gold was used in coins, sometimes, or wealth in gold was made into jewelry or drinking vessels.

Idols were sometimes made of gold. (See Exodus 20:23, for example.)

In Exodus 25, and following chapters, God told Moses to use gold in the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings and implements. In 1 Kings 6, and elsewhere, gold was similarly used in the temple. 1 Chronicles 22:16 says that David had gathered silver, bronze and iron, in addition to gold, for use in temple construction.

In Joshua 6:24, and elsewhere, gold taken from the Canaanite tribes was put in the treasury of the tabernacle.

In 1 Kings 10, King Solomon had shields (or possibly targets) made of gold. One commentary says that these were ornamental, used to impress visitors. Another suggests that these were used in warfare, with wood and leather used, in addition to the gold, in these devices.

Gold was used to hire armies from other kings, in 1 Kings 15, and elsewhere.

In Job 22:25, Eliphaz says that, if Job had a right relationship with God, God would be gold and silver for him. (Job did have a right relationship.) In Job 23:10, Job says that, when God was finished with trying him, he, Job, would come out pure and valuable, like gold. In Job 31:24, Job says that, if he had put his trust in gold, in riches, he would deserve punishment.

Proverbs 22:1 says that favor, presumably God's favor, is more valuable than gold.

In Daniel 2, Daniel has a vision of a statue made partly of gold. His interpretation is that that gold represents Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom.

In 1 Corinthians 3:12, Paul says that some people's foundation will be gold, but some will be of less durable substances.

Revelation 21 says that the streets of the city in the Final Kingdom will be made of gold.

Silver was used much like gold in Bible times, as wealth, and jewelry, and in constructing sacred implements, and the Tabernacle. Often, the phrase, "silver and gold," is used, to signify wealth. Note also:
Joseph was sold for silver coin in Genesis 37:28.

Leviticus 27 gives the value of different sexes and ages of persons, in silver.

In 2 Samuel 24, David bought the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite, for silver coin. That site later was the site of Solomon's temple.

Judas was paid in silver for betraying Christ, in Matthew 27.

Some people worshiped idols made of silver, and of gold.

The first mention of metal in the Bible seems to be Genesis 4:22, which names Tubal-Cain as an artificer in bronze and iron.

Bronze, like gold and silver, was used extensively in the tabernacle, and also in Solomon's temple. 1 Kings 8 indicates that the main altar for sacrifices was a bronze altar.

Numbers 21 says that the people of Israel complained, and that God sent serpents among them. Moses made a bronze serpent, placed on a pole, and the people were to look upon it, and did not die if they did so. In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that that serpent on a pole was symbolic of His own coming death, raised up on a cross. That passage comes right before the well-known John 3:16. Unfortunately, that same bronze serpent became an idol, and was worshiped, many years later.

2 Samuel 21 mentions a spear made of bronze, and 2 Samuel 22 mentions a bronze bow.

1 Chronicles 15 says that cymbals, used in worship, were made of bronze.

Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 2 describe marvelous beings which have parts like bronze.

Bronze items were used as idols. That happened to the bronze serpent Moses made, and is mentioned in Revelation 9.

In Deuteronomy 27, Moses tells the people to construct an altar made from stones which no iron tool has been used on. Solomon's Temple was constructed of stones similarly untreated.

In Joshua 6, iron, taken from the conquest of Jericho, was set apart, added to the treasury of the Lord.

The Bible describes various armies as having chariots of iron. The bed of Og, king of Bashan, was made of iron, perhaps with softer material on the iron, although the Bible doesn't say that. Goliath's spearhead was made of iron.

Psalm 2 is one place where it says God will judge with a rod of iron. Revelation is another.

Sometimes, the phrase "iron sharpens iron," from Proverbs 2, is used as symbolic of friends, or fellow believers, acting in such a way as to make both of them better people.

Although more or less pure iron is still used today, most iron is used as part of steel, which is an alloy. Steel was known in Bible times, but probably not known in the lands of the Bible.

There are four references to tin in the Bible, but it doesn't seem to have had any great significance in commerce, or worship, except in the form of bronze.

Lead is seldom mentioned in the Bible. The first scripture given, in the second paragraph, is one such place. The others are here, here, here and here. None of these seem to have great spiritual significance, compared to that of gold, silver and bronze.

Thanks for reading. Be thankful that God made all of the elements possible.

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