Psalm 105:19 The Word of the Lord—Tried by Fire
Psalm 105:19 The Word of the Lord—Tried by Fire
By Christina Wilson
November 16, 2012
Reading through and studying the epistles of Peter with a women’s Bible study group recently, I, like they, became impressed by Peter’s theme of bearing up in a Christ-like way under trials of persecution and under sufferings for righteousness’ sake. Peter speaks of the testing of his readers’ faith as being similar to the refinement of gold by fire. That gold, even though refined, or purified, by fire, nevertheless perishes, whereas the faith of his readers, if proved genuine by means of the trials, will result in eternal praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ comes again.
NIB 1 Peter 1:5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
He also writes—
NET 1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you.
The Epistle of James carries a similar theme—
NET James 1:2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,
NET James 1:12 Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.
The metaphorical theme of persons being tested by fire, as metals were so refined, purified, and tested, is abundant in the Old Testament. The verses below are examples, although in the case of some of them, it may be necessary to view the Septuagint to see the theme of purification by fire revealed.
NET Psalm 17:3 You have scrutinized my inner motives; you have examined me during the night. You have carefully evaluated me, but you find no sin. I am determined I will say nothing sinful.
LXE Psalm 17:3 Thou has proved mine heart; thou hast visited me by night; thou hast tried me as with fire, and unrighteousness has not been found in me: I am purposed that my mouth shall not speak amiss.
NET Psalm 26:2 Examine me, O LORD, and test me! Evaluate my inner thoughts and motives!
LXE Psalm 26:2 Prove me, O Lord, and try me; purify as with fire my reins and my heart.
NET Psalm 66:10 For you, O God, tested us; you purified us like refined silver.
LXE Psalm 66:10 For thou, O God, has proved us; thou hast tried us with fire as silver is tried.
NET Proverbs 10:20 What the righteous say is like the best silver, but what the wicked think is of little value.
LXE Proverbs 10:20 The tongue of the just is tried silver; but the heart of the ungodly shall fail.
NET Job 22:25 then the Almighty himself will be your gold, and the choicest silver for you.
LXE Job 22:25 So the Almighty shall be thy helper from enemies, and he shall bring thee forth pure as silver that has been tried by fire.
NET Zechariah 13:9 Then I will bring the remaining third into the fire; I will refine them like silver is refined and will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, 'These are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"
LXE Zechariah 13:9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and I will try them as silver is tried, and I will prove them as gold is proved: they shall call upon my name, and I will hear them, and say, This is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.
NET Jeremiah 9:7 Therefore the LORD who rules over all says, "I will now purify them in the fires of affliction and test them. The wickedness of my dear people has left me no choice. What else can I do?
LXE Jeremiah 9:7 Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will try them with fire, and prove them; for I will do thus because of the wickedness of the daughter of my people.
In the Old Testament, not only are people tried as by fire, but also the word of the Lord itself is tested—
NET 2 Samuel 22:31 The one true God acts in a faithful manner; the LORD's promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him. (New English Translation)
LXE 2 Samuel 22:31 As for the Mighty One, his way is blameless: the word of the Lord is strong and tried in the fire: he is a protector to all that put their trust in him. (Septuagint)
NIB 2 Samuel 22:31… the word of the LORD is flawless. (New International Bible)
KJV 2 Samuel 22:31… the word of the LORD is tried: (King James Version)
CSB 2 Samuel 22:31… the word of the LORD is pure. (Christian Standard Bible)
CJB 2 Samuel 22:31 "As for God, his way is perfect, the word of ADONAI has been tested by fire; he shields all who take refuge in him. (Complete Jewish Bible)
ESV 2 Samuel 22:31… the word of the LORD proves true; (English Standard Version)
GNV 2 Samuel 22:31… the word of the Lord is tryed in the fire: (Geneva Bible)
Each of the above translations brings out in its own way the concept of testing, refinement, and purification that we previously saw from both the New and Old Testaments, in which people were so being tested, purified, and refined by trial. But here in 2 Samuel, it is the word of God being tested, rather than people. Notice that several of the versions (above) bring out the concept of being tried (tested) by fire.
It is important to note, however, that in the Samuel verse, although it was the word of God being tested, it was being tested from the point of view of men who took their refuge in Him. The men who trusted in God’s word were the ones walking through the fire in faith, depending on His word to prove true, which it did.
Another verse comparing the Lord’s word to purified silver is the following—
NET Psalm 12:6 The LORD's words are absolutely reliable. They are as untainted as silver purified in a furnace on the ground, where it is thoroughly refined.
LXE Psalm 12:6 The oracles of the Lord are pure oracles; as silver tried in the fire, proved in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
NIB Psalm 12:6 And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.1
Other verses speaking of the testing of God’s word—
NET Psalm 18:30 The one true God acts in a faithful manner; the LORD's promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.
LXE Psalm 18:30 As for my God, his way is perfect: the oracles of the Lord are tried in the fire; he is a protector of all them that hope in him.
NET Psalm 119:140 Your word is absolutely pure, and your servant loves it!
LXE Psalm 119:140 Thy word has been very fully tried; and thy servant loves it.
NIB Psalm 119:140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
NET Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is purified; he is like a shield for those who take refuge in him.
LXE Proverbs 30:5 For all the words of God are tried in the fire, and he defends those that reverence him.
NIB Proverbs 30:5 "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
I have reserved the title verse until this point, because I find that it seems to combine all the elements we have been considering in this article so far. In it and its context we see the theme of persecution and righteous suffering that Peter and James discuss, we see the testing and purification by fire, and we see the testing by the word of the Lord (rather than upon the word of the Lord). Here is the verse in its immediate context—
NET Psalm 105:17 He sent a man ahead of them– Joseph was sold as a servant.
18 The shackles hurt his feet; his neck was placed in an iron collar,
19 until the time when his prediction came true. The LORD's word proved him right.
20 The king authorized his release; the ruler of nations set him free.
21 He put him in charge of his palace, and made him manager of all his property,
22 giving him authority to imprison his officials and to teach his advisers.
LXE Psalm 105:17 He sent a man before them; Joseph was sold for a slave.
18 They hurt his feet with fetters; his soul passed into iron,
19 until the time that his cause came on; the word of the Lord tried him as fire.
[19 μέχρι τοῦ ἐλθεῖν τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ τὸ λόγιον [אִמְרָה] κυρίου ἐπύρωσεν αὐτόν]
20 The king sent and loosed him; even the prince of the people, and let him go free.
21 He made him Lord over his house, and ruler of all his substance;
22 to chastise his rulers at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.
CJB … 19 until the time when his word proved true, God's utterance kept testing him.
NAU Psalm 105:19 Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him.
The plot in the well known passage above has been greatly abbreviated in Psalm 105. As we recall from the many Genesis chapters, Joseph, a righteous young man specially gifted by God, had been betrayed by his jealous brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. He became a trusted household servant in the home of Potiphar, until Potiphar’s wife again betrayed Joseph when he wouldn’t lie in bed with her. Joseph was thrown into prison for a number of years. At a certain time, he interpreted two dreams of his fellow prisoners, and both came true. Two full years after that time, Pharaoh began having his own disturbing dreams. The prison guard remembered that Joseph had once shown ability in the area of interpreting dreams and brought him before Pharaoh. When Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he was released from prison and placed second in command to Pharaoh himself. The outcome was that Joseph saved Egypt, surrounding nations, and his own family from starvation during the severe famine Pharaoh’s dream had predicted. (Genesis 37-47)
For reasons I will explain, I prefer the translations of Psalm 105:19 given above in the Septuagint, the Complete Jewish Bible, and the New American Standard.
1) The Greek shows two very similar phrases: τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦand τὸ λόγιον κυρίου, “the word of him” and “the utterance of the Lord”. The first refers to Joseph and can mean “his case”, “his situation”, “his affair”.2
In this sense, Joseph was in fetters and iron (verse 18) until his situation (verse 19) came up, or his case came up, or his matter was brought to attention.2 This happened twice—the first time, as mentioned, with his two fellow-prisoners, and the second time with Pharaoh.
2) The “utterance of the Lord” would be the word of interpretation that God gave to Joseph in interpreting all the dreams presented to him.
3) It was the accuracy in truthfulness of these utterances from the Lord given by the Lord to Joseph that proved him to be a righteous man—the two original dreams had come to pass just as Joseph had predicted. He was shown to be righteous, innocent of the charges against him, and in right standing with God, in that God had given him the correct interpretations of the baker’s and cup-bearer’s dreams.
NET Genesis 40:8 They told him, "We both had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them." Joseph responded, "Don't interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me."
NET Genesis 40:15 for I really was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews and I have done nothing wrong here for which they should put me in a dungeon."
Likewise, two full years later, none of the scribes and wise men in Egypt could interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but the words given to Joseph by God were seen by Pharaoh to be true.
NET Genesis 41:16 Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "It is not within my power, but God will speak concerning the welfare of Pharaoh."
Thus, the word of the Lord tested Joseph, and he was found pure—he carried no dross within himself; the fire of the Lord’s word proved him righteous of the charges against him; otherwise, the holy God would not have put His words into Joseph’s mouth. Everyone was able to see that Joseph passed the test.
4) The Hebrew for the word “tested” in verse 19 [צרף] means “refined” and is related to the noun form “smelter”, “refiner”.3 Smelting and refining are accomplished by fire.
5) Finally, the context demands a larger meaning for the outcome of Joseph’s testing by the Lord’s word than the NET Bible’s “right”, which seems to imply that he was “right” about the interpretation of the dreams. That particular word is a paraphrase of the Hebrew and leads to a circular statement, “The Lord’s word [about the dreams] proved him right [about the dreams].” No, the Lord’s word in Joseph’s mouth proved (tested) that Joseph was in right standing with the Lord and therefore a righteous, innocent person.
God’s word tests us. It proves us. It is a fire upon us, exposing either our purity or our dross.
NET Malachi 3:2 Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can keep standing when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire, like a launderer's soap.
Joseph passed the test, because he was standing in the will of the Lord; he was innocent and righteous before the Lord. He carried the word of the Lord within himself, and he was pure. There was no falsehood in Joseph.
As with Joseph, when the Lord judges us, it will be according to the standard of His own word, which He has given to all men.
NIB Isaiah 33:14 The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?"
Isaiah gives the answer in the next three verses: those who pass the test of obeying His word—
NIB Isaiah 33:15 He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil—
16 this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.
17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.
NET 1 Corinthians 3:13 each builder's work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done.
14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward.
15 If someone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
NET John 12:48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day.
NET Acts 13:46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, "It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles.
NET Romans 2:12 For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
NET 1 Kings 6:12 "As for this temple you are building, if you follow my rules, observe my regulations, and obey all my commandments, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father David.
Yes, the word of the Lord—His law, His standards, His commandments, His gospel of Jesus Christ—will test us on the last day. Yet we all know that no one can keep God’s law perfectly.
NET Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And, as Malachi asked, who then can endure the day of His coming? Who can keep standing when He appears? And, as the Psalmist answered—
NAU Psalm 24:4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully.
And who might that person be? Not I.
There is only one person who always had clean hands and a pure heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. And just as God’s word brought His standard of righteousness and judgment, His law, His word also brought Jesus Christ.
NIB John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
Through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, God has offered to all men that Jesus can stand in the sinner’s place at the judgment, which will be by the standard of God’s word. By the resurrection of Christ from the dead, God declared Christ to be righteous. If then Christ stands in a sinner’s place at the judgment, God will declare the sinner (replaced by Christ through faith in Him) righteous. This is the word of God.
NET John 10:10… I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
NIB John 5:24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
NET Galatians 2:19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
God has arranged that all men will be judged by the fire of His word. His word came in two forms: the law and the gospel.
NET Galatians 3:11 Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law …
NET John 5:24 "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.
God has given choice to each person to choose one or the other—to be judged by the standard of God’s perfect law or to be judged by the standard of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ through faith in Him. May all those reading this choose life by believing in Jesus Christ.
1 The Hebrew of Psalm 12:6 contains the word “seven”.
2 Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Copyright © 1998-2000 by International Bible Translators (IBT), Inc.
“6. matter under discussion, thing spoken of, affair: Matt. 21:24; Mark 11:29; Luke 20:3; Acts 8:21; 15:6, and often in Greek writings (Liddell and Scott, under A. VIII.); a matter in dispute, case, suit at law (as דָּבָר in Exo. 18:16; 22:8):”
3 A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament Based Upon the Lexical Work ofLudwig Koehler And Walter Baumgartner, by William L. Holladay, © Copyright 2000 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
“Hol7363 צָרַףnif.: impf. וַיִּצָּֽרְפוּ: be refined Dn 1210. † piel: pt. מְצָרֵף: smelter, refiner Ma 32. † (pg 311)”