“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Three of the great building projects in the Bible outshone them all are the Tabernacle of Meeting in Exodus 35:30-38:31, which includes the Ark of the Covenant, Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 5-7; and rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 3. While all of these projects employed skilled craftsmen from many trades (some older commentaries call them “artificers”), expert planning and coordination was also required to be successful.
I studied architecture and drafting as a teenager, then worked as a planner/expediter in my thirties, so I can appreciate the up-front work that went into these projects, what today is called “project management.” But in the above examples it was not man, but God, who was the creative artist, the ‘design engineer’. And although the Lord could relay His designs through the prophets, His people here on earth were needed to implement them.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezaleel … And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:1-5).
Then Hiram king of Tyre answered in writing, which he sent to Solomon …
“And now I have sent a skillful man, endowed with understanding, Huram my master craftsman skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, purple and blue, fine linen and crimson, and to make any engraving and to accomplish any plan which may be given to him, with your skillful men and with the skillful men of my lord David your father” (2 Chronicles 2:11, 13-14).
Bezaleel and Huram were obviously multi-talented master craftsmen, able to build many types of useful objects, both practical and artistic. In fact, in ancient cultures, smiths & craftsmen in general were so valuable to society at large that they were among the first to be captured & exiled whenever a country was conquered by foreign invaders (2 Kings 24:14, 16).
Most of us however, are limited to but a few talents. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, as long we identify and utilize those talents for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
Nothing is too hard for God. If you are not sure of what God-given talents you have, and really want to identify them, don’t wait for His intervening hand, pray for Him to reveal these to you (Mark 11:24).
You might be quite surprised at the latent talents that have been lying dormant your entire life.
This article presents three specific crafts, providing examples of how God utilizes His powers to help us become more like Him. Although much of what follows from the Old Testament was directed at the Israelite people as a whole, it can easily be applied to the individual.
Pottery: The Potter
For babes in Christ, who have no shape, form or direction; a “blank slate” desiring to be worked by God from the foundation up.
Woodworking: The Craftsman
For those who have been believers in Christ for awhile, but are stubborn & rebellious by nature; who desire above all else to be reworked in God’s image (this writer included).
Metalsmithing: The Refiner
The toughest of all, for those who are not saved, whose hearts have been hardened and/or blackened by abuse, neglect, and/or demonic influences; who need a thorough purging of sins by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The Word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the Word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” (Jeremiah 18:1-6).
“Take me, mold me, use me, fill me … call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me. I give my life to the Potter’s hand” (Darlene Zschech).
The ability of the potter to mold the clay in his hands to any pattern or purpose as he pleases symbolizes God’s mind in dealing with His own. The LORD is a jealous God, for “the potter is envious and at enmity with the potter”; every potter praises his own pot. It is God’s right to deal with saints and sinners alike according to His own perfect counsel. ~ Paraphrased from All Trades and Occupations of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer.
Finished clay pottery, by its very nature, is brittle and frail, for when a vessel is broken it cannot be easily reassembled by human hands. Not so with God’s handiwork. Unlike a clay vessel, no matter how beautiful & righteous it may be, if one backslides or falls out of obedience, God is able to work the vessel and remold it yet again. However, God’s molding is never complete until the day we are taken up in Jesus’ salvation (1 Thessalonians 3:16-17).
“Your hands shaped me, kneaded me together, round about —and now would You devour me? Remember, You kneaded me like clay will You turn me back to dirt?” (Job 10:8-9).
“Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth!
Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands?’” (Isaiah 45:9).
“Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory … But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (Romans 9:21-23; 2 Corinthians 4:7).
But for the wicked who refuse to repent:
“[The Lord has said to Me] ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’” (Psalm 2:9).
“Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross are burning lips and a wicked heart” (Proverbs 26:23 NASB).
The precious sons of Zion, weighed against fine gold, how they are regarded as earthen jars,
the work of a potter’s hands! (Lamentations 4:2 NASB).
Among the varied productions with which Nature has adorned the surface of the Earth, none awakens our sympathies, or interests our imagination so powerfully as those venerable trees which seem to have stood the lapse of ages, silent witnesses of the successive generations of man, to whose destiny they bear so touching a resemblance, alike in their budding, their prime and their decay.” —John Muir
“But the tree must be brought down, humbled to the earth in the dust of the ground, then the tree might be used to form an instrument … Working the wood the good Craftsman should cut & bend and remold us.” — John Michael Talbot (paraphrase of Daniel 4:10-17)
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying … ‘And they shall make an ark of acacia [‘shittim’ KJV] wood … And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold … You shall also make a table of acacia wood … And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around” (Exodus 25:1, 10, 13, 23-24).
The passage above made me wonder what is so special about acacia wood. According to Isaiah 41:19 the acacia (Hebrew shittah) tree symbolizes the revival of life: “I [the Lord] will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree … I will set in the desert …” Acacias are well adapted to their environment, being able to withstand extremes of desert climate, as well as insects and decay.
As once-upon-a-time carpenter and woodworker myself, I have to admit there is a certain earthy, organic quality to working with wood. Unlike clay and metal, which are inanimate substances, wood was once a living tree, and knowing this imparts a special respect and significance to the work. Whatever the finished product might be, whether sculpture, furniture, or a doll house, the warm fuzzy feeling that the wood was once alive is always present.
Wood is amazingly compliant to the craftsman’s desires: it can be sawn, chopped, chiseled, gouged, carved, drilled, bored, routed, planed, bent, sanded and finished into virtually any shape, and still retain its integrity. Being quite stubborn and rebellious myself, it’s easy for me to see how God can take someone who is as stiff and obstinate as a live tree, and remold that person into a new creation, one better conformed to the likeness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17).
There is actually very little in the Bible about woodworking, except in the negative sense of idolatry. The writer of Isaiah 40-48 had quite a satirical sense of humor when he wrote:
The workman molds an image, the goldsmith overspreads it with gold, and the silversmith casts silver chains. Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution chooses a tree that will not rot; He seeks for himself a skillful workman to prepare a carved image that will not totter.
So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; He who smoothes with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, ‘It is ready for the soldering.’ Then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter” (Isaiah 40:19-20; 41:7).
“The craftsman stretches out his rule, he marks one out with chalk; he fashions it with a plane,
he marks it out with the compass, and makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house. Indeed he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it” (Isaiah 44:13,15).
[The LORD answered] “What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it,To make mute idols?
Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake! To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’ Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, Yet in it there is no breath at all. ~ Habakkuk 2:18-19
“Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken,
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7).
“Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10).
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace; they have become dross from silver. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out My fury on you’” (Ezekiel 22:17-22).
The Lord, with perfect wisdom and love, leaves His people in affliction till, their dross being purified, He sees them reflecting His holy image; just as the ‘refiner of silver’ sits watching his own image reflected when he knows the silver has been long enough in the furnace and withdraws it. —A. R. Fausset, Commentary on Malachi 3:3
The wicked and lost must be purified by forging in trials, by refining in tribulations. Smiths of all types are mentioned throughout the Bible, but here I want to focus on refining the raw material. A few years ago a friend of mine (whose professional name just happens to be Goldsmith) described how his father, a scrap metal dealer, would refine & separate different metals. The process is a simple and very ancient one:
1. Fill a large clay vessel with scrap metal of any kind.
2. Heat for several hours until all the metal is one boiling mass. Any trapped gasses boil off, dross floats to the top of the molten metal where it can be skimmed off.
3. Let cool 48-72 hours to room temperature.
4. Break away the clay pot. Each metallic element is neatly refined into its own layer by its specific gravity (e.g. magnesium and aluminum at the top; iron, nickel, copper, zinc, silver & tin in the middle; platinum, gold and lead at the bottom). It is then an easy task to separate the different metals.
The above process is a rather simplified allegory of God’s spiritual refining. Using the fire of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16-17), God flushes out the soulful dross, the “old junk” and then quenches the spirit with the living waters of Christ. Check out these details:
“But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day” (Deuteronomy 4:20).
“I will turn My hand against you, And thoroughly purge away your dross, And take away all your alloy. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 1:25; 48:10).
“Take away the dross from silver, and it will go to the silversmith for jewelry” (Proverbs 25:4).
“The Words of the Lord are pure Words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6).
“For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap he will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord and offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3).
“If He knew my ways, if He would test me, I would emerge like gold” (Job 23:10).
I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested” (Zechariah 13:9).
“For You, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver is refined” (Psalm 66:10).
“John answered, saying to all, ‘I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire’” (Luke 3:16-17).
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:17-18).
“The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, Fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms. Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint” (Isaiah 44:12).
“Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:19-21).