A Man to His Praise
1. The first part of this proverb uses an illustration that is identical to Proverbs 17:3.
2. However, a completely different application is made from it.
3. Proverbial illustrations can and should be applied in various situations.
4. This is an important principle in interpreting all of Scripture: one interpretation; many applications.
21a As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold…
A. Silver and gold
1. These were precious metals mined from the earth.
2. When found in their natural state, they were often riddled with impurities…
3. Pieces of raw earth would cling to the metal… other worthless metals and rock would be mingled into a vein of gold or silver in the earth.
4. Hence, when these precious metals were taken from the earth they were impure and needed to be cleansed and purified…
5. There were two processes for cleansing metals (and both are used as metaphors in cleansing and purifying people too).
a. Water – used to wash away sand and gravel from the chunks of metal mined from the earth.
b. Fire – used to burn and melt the metals to purify them.
6. Once refined, they were good to be made into coins or expensive jewelry.
7. When purified, the metals were much more valuable and useful. (Pure gold!)
8. Gold was used often in ancient times… and was quite abundant, yet still prized and given great value.
9. One man noted that there are 13 words for gold in the Bible.
B. The Fining pot
1. A crucible, a refining pot.
2. It indicates a metal pot in which the impurities of precious metals were separated out.
3. The fining pot was used for gold and silversmiths and for the process of refining metals before they were worked into fine vessels (Prov. 25:4).
4. Mal. 3:3 – a fining pot was used to REFINE and purify silver or gold. (Going from the figurative to the literal…)
5. Used only in: Prov. 17:3; 27:21.
C. The Furnace
1. Smelting furnace for metals; a kiln; an oven.
2. The furnace was a construction that was able to attain to extremely high temperatures to melt metals and remove the dross-impurities.
3. The furnace was the source of the heat on which the fining pot was placed.
4. Through this process, the metal mined from the earth is melted in the fire… and the dross removed.
a. It might appear that the gold would be destroyed in the fire, but in fact, the gold is purified by the flames and only the dross is removed…
b. The ore mined from the earth is both proved and improved.
• Proven to be true gold or silver by the results… (Fools gold and other shiny particles would not stand up to such a test…)
• Improved in quality – refined and purified.
c. Apart from the furnace, the dross would remain permanently in the metals.
• The purpose of the smelting is to REMOVE the pieces of raw earth that attach to the metal.
• Until the metals go through the fire, they are unfit for service… to be used various ways.
d. The refiner knows exactly how much heat to apply so as to purify and not to cause the metal to boil over and lose it.
• The refiner knows how valuable the gold is. He is extremely careful not to lose one ounce of gold in the process.
• Some sources tell us that the refiner allows the silver to be refined until he can see his image reflected in the pot. Then he knows it’s pure…
D. The Point in This Context
1. When a chunk of gold or silver ore is cast into the furnace, you are not really sure of how valuable the chunk of ore is until the dross is removed. Then you know how much is solid silver or gold.
2. Thus, the furnace reveals what the metals are really like… what that chunk of ore is really made of.
3. The test of fire reveals what the metal is really like.
1. Some people take this proverb to mean that the refining furnace is likened to praise given.
a. Whatever a man praises, that reveals what his heart is like.
b. Of course there is truth in this… but it is difficult to fit this interpretation with the illustration of the furnace.
2. It is better to understand this proverb as likening the refining furnace to praise received.
a. When a person is given praise, in a sense, it is a test.
b. Just as the refining pot reveals impurities in the metal, so does flattery and praise reveal impurities in man.
c. When a person is given an award, or praise, or a promotion, or applause of any sort, it is in reality a TEST.
d. This test tells you what the person is really like.
e. The way the metal ore reacts to the furnace lets you know what the metal ore is made of.
• A piece of fools gold will be revealed by the test of the furnace to be a fake.
• A piece of rock with a tiny flicker of gold in it will be proven to be not very valuable.
• A chunk of gold with a few specks of dross in it will react in the furnace in such a way (dross is removed) that proves the piece of ore to be of great value.
• The reaction to the test proves what the ore is really made of.
f. The way a man reacts to the test of praise reveals something about his character.
• Consider the example of Herod the king. (Acts 12:21-23)
» He was praised as a god and reveled in the applause and praise.
» God demonstrated what He thought of Herod’s response to praise: God smote him dead and worms ate his body!
3. Praise reveals some men to be proud.
a. Some men will expect praise.
b. Some men will prove themselves to be arrogant when praised because he really believes that he is great.
c. Some proud men will become irritated if they aren’t praised or when someone else receives it – because they felt that they themselves deserved it more… that they were better.
d. Some men receive praise and become conceited.
4. Praise reveals other men to be humble.
a. On the other hand, there are some men (and women) who receive praise in genuine modesty.
b. They are appreciative of the compliment, but don’t make a big deal out of it.
c. Humble men are humbled by praise – for they realize that they are undeserving and that whatever good was accomplished through them was really the Lord working in them… so GOD really should receive the praise.
d. They accept the compliment in humility and seek to deflect the real praise to God.
e. Matthew Henry’s helpful comments: “If, on the contrary, a man is made by his praise more thankful to God, more respectful to his friends, more watchful against every thing that may blemish his reputation, more diligent to improve himself, and do good to others, that he may answer the expectations of his friends from him, by this it will appear that he is a wise and good man.”
5. The purpose of the proverb is not that we should put others to the test to see how they react, but rather, that we should be careful about ourselves—how WE react to praise. Praise can be harmful.
a. How do we handle praise?
b. How do we handle it when others are praised and we are overlooked?
c. II Cor. 6:8 – The apostle Paul is a good example for us in “how to handle praise or criticism.” He received both.
• He did not allow the criticism to paralyze him. He used it for good – to improve his character and his ministry.
• He did not allow the praise to go to his head either.
d. One commentator noted concerning praise: “Thus vain men seek it, weak men are inflated by it, wise men disregard it.”
e. It is not good to BELIEVE flattery. Men may praise you just to be kind, and their flattery is likely exaggerated.
f. Prov. 26:28 – “a flattering mouth worketh ruin.” (especially if you start to believe it!)
g. Prov. 29:5 – “A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.”
• Believing flattery is like stepping into a trap. It can cause the head to puff up with pride.
• Even if it comes from a well-meaning friend. The result (if believed; if allowed to go to one’s head) can be ruinous… like a trap.
• It can also lead a man or woman into making a fool of themselves. If you sing a solo at church, someone is bound to praise you for it—whether your voice sounds like a nightingale or fingernails across a chalkboard. The one whose voice more closely resembles the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard would be best served by not singing again… but if they believe the flattery, they may keep on singing.
h. Be careful with flattery and praise.