Overwhelmingly in the Bible the description ‘pure’ refers to gold, and to pure gold in a particular context: the tabernacle. God has rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, and they are living in tents in the desert at Mount Sinai. God calls Moses up onto the mountain to meet with him and declares his intent to dwell among his people in a tent of his own. Exodus chapters 25-31 record God’s design specifications. Almost everything inside the tabernacle is either to be made of pure gold, or made of wood and covered in pure gold. These items play a role in the interaction between God and his people: the ark of the covenant, the table on which offerings were made, etc. For seven chapters, God goes on about pure gold. And so pure gold signifies that the thing in question is set aside for God’s purposes – his purpose being that God and people can live together.
Moses waits at the bottom of the mountain for a week, and then is gone for forty days and forty nights. The people decide that they do not know what has become of him, and that therefore they will make a representation of the god who rescued them. Moses’ brother Aaron instructs them to bring gold jewellery, given to the slaves as they left Egypt, with which he casts a gold calf. This misuse of gold angers God, and Moses, who on returning to the camp has the calf ground into gold-dust, the dust thrown on the water supply, and the people forced to drink this contaminated water. Then the camp is purified, in drastic measures: those who have not taken part are sent through the camp to kill their brothers, friends, and neighbours, and 3,000 are killed on that day. (This story is told in Exodus 32). A connection is established between pure gold and pure hearts before God.
This idea, of pure gold symbolising pure hearts, is developed later on in the history of God’s people, in the time of King David and his son King Solomon. In the ancient world, royal courts where centres of learning. David, the musician, compiles psalms; Solomon, the wise man, compiles proverbs. The idea of pure gold symbolising pure hearts is expressed in both psalms and proverbs. Proverbs 17:3 goes further, declaring: “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” A connection is established between the process of purifying gold and the process by which God purifies the human heart.
Interestingly, when Jesus appears in the story, he is described by John in these terms: “The Word became flesh, and made his tabernacle among us.” Just as long ago God had chosen to live in a tent among his tent-dwelling people, so Jesus living among us is described as the tabernacle. His flesh is like the tabernacle itself, and his total purity of heart like the pure gold inside the tabernacle. He is both God in our presence and the human who ministers to God on our behalf.
James begins his letter to the persecuted church by writing: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). He goes on to contrast purity and impurities of various kinds.
This, then, is the purifying process. Gold is heated in a furnace, and the impurities within it rise to the surface of the molten gold, where they are skimmed off and poured away by the goldsmith. In the same way, through the circumstances of our lives, heat is applied, and as we become increasingly uncomfortable the impurities within us rise to the surface. The things we would rather remained hidden, invisible within the gold. Things like anger; or evil desire; or ties of obligation to those who live opposed to God; or worrying about money, how we will eat or what we will wear. For example, when we are frustrated even by small ongoing things anger may come to the surface; when we are faced with serious or tragic circumstances, all kinds of reactions might surface. We have a choice: to allow these things to sink back into the gold when the pressure is relieved, so that we look good on the outside; or to ask God to purify us, so that we are changed.
Purity is concerned with being set aside for God’s purposes, for his use, in order that people can live with God in their midst. Purity is single-hearted devotion. God’s intention is to purify us: to bring to the surface the impurities in our heart and to pour them away. On our part, this requires confession. On God’s part, this is not merely forgiveness in the expectation that we will not be changed but he will continue to forgive: this is about transformation. This is the process by which we are changed from one degree of glory to another: from 9-carat gold, through the various qualities to 24-carat gold.
Can you identify impurities that God has removed from your heart in the past? Thank him for that work.
What circumstances are testing you at present? What impurities keep rising to the surface? Ask God to skim them off and pour them away.
Are you looking for ways in which you might be used for God’s purposes? Start each day this week dedicating yourself to him, making yourself available today.