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Refined like Silver

The author of Psalm 66 recalls a recent season of God’s intervention in his life, and in the lives of his community.

Between verses 8 – 12, the psalmist speaks vividly of a difficult time when God ‘tested them’. Whatever they experienced, it felt like they were being refined like silver.

In ancient times, to make pure silver, a sample of lead ore was heated, which separated the lead (along with the small traces of silver it contained) from the other compound elements. The lead and silver were further set apart by heating them in a furnace of bone ash which absorbed some of the lead. The silver rose to the surface as ‘dross’ which was then refined twice more, again by intense heat, to remove the impurities.

A lot of heat was needed, during a number of processes, to produce a pure, shiny, beautiful silver.

The heat in the psalmist’s life consisted of several different pressures and challenges. He and his community were brought into ‘prison’ (v 11a), perhaps referring to a time when they felt hemmed in or restricted by their circumstances. Whatever happened next was like somebody laying heavy burdens on their backs (v 11b).

Perhaps even worse, the psalmist then laments, “you let men ride over our heads” (v 12). Although the sovereignty of God had not changed, the cruel treatment by others was a particularly painful time for them to endure. However, throughout the ordeal, the faith community never lost sight of God’s hand. Rather than respond in anger to those who were applying the heat to their lives, they saw that it was God who was testing them.

The last part of the verse describes how they went through both fire and water. Passing through water might have been like the cooling of the heated silver back to a comfortable temperature – an end to the suffering.

Right from the outset the psalmist and his friends knew that it was God who had “preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping” (v 9). He did that by inviting the refining process. It was the Lord who fired up the furnace and allowed others to confine them and lay loads on their backs. But He always saw the vision of beauty to come – precious pure silver revealed through the cool, refreshing water at the conclusion.

God then brought them to a place of abundance (v 12). This is always the goal of our loving Heavenly Father. It may be the transformation of a once broken or darkened heart; it might be the blessings of greater freedom or new paths of ministry.

And, naturally, the joys of abundance will stir the heart back to more praise to the One who always treats us like ‘true sons’ (Heb 12: 7 – 8): “Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard” (Ps 66: 8).

Suggested prayer: “Lord, when times are tough, help me to recognise your sovereign hand, especially if you are using the circumstances to purify my life and my heart. Let me not become angry or frustrated with others especially if it is you who is refining me like silver. Amen.”