Chapter 1
Refined in the Furnace of Affliction

Isaiah 48:10

Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.

It would be great if we did not have to go through periods of harshness, hurt, humiliation, hindrances, and being heart-broken. Most of you probably feel that you can do without those times of trials, tribulations, testing, and trauma. Pain and problems, obstacles and obstructions, burdens and barriers, stress and struggles, complications and complexities have a way of wearing us down and sucking the life out of us.

Yet, it is in those difficult circumstances, in those furnaces of affliction, that character, maturity, faith, courage, humility, and determination are developed and nurtured in the heart of a person. This is especially true in the life of a person who has drifted away from God, but is drawn back to the Lord through the trial. God afflicts, chastens, or breaks in order to bring forth blessing in our lives.

Dr. J. Hamilton said this about the issue of brokenness.

When we look into Isaiah chapter 48, we find God's people in the furnace of affliction. They were placed by the Lord in a breaking process and chastened by the Lord for their attitudes and actions. They were being refined to remove the dross out of their lives, to become moldable like liquid silver, and cleansed like pure silver that reflects the image of the refiner like a mirror on the wall.

So why were they in the furnace of affliction? Isaiah 48 reveals a number of reasons why God's people were being refined in the furnace of affliction.

I. Insincerity or Hypocrisy

Isaiah 48:1-2

Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness. 2 For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; The Lord of hosts is his name.

God's people were hypocritical and insincere and it displeased the Lord. They did not keep their promises to the Lord even though they talked about depending on Him. They made mention of God, but not in truth and righteousness.

This word "truth" is the word 'emeth {eh'-meth} which means "faithfulness, sureness, reliability, stability, and truth." God's people did not have these traits in the their lives. Their "God talk" was all talk and no walk.

Does this describe you? Are you one thing on Sunday and something else the rest of the week? What are you like when you get home? Are you selfish or hateful to your family, husband, wife, or parents? What are you like when you get to work or school? Are your actions and your language filthy?

If you are insincere and hypocritical in your devotion to the Lord, understand you are not fooling anybody. You are not fooling God and others around you. People know a fake when they see one and so does God. God may use the furnace of affliction to remove the insincerity and hypocrisy from your life. He refines us, not because He hates us, but because he is trying to help us.

Some may ask, "Does hypocrisy really bother the Lord that much? Is it really a big deal?" Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 15.

Matthew 15:7-9—Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew 23:28—Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

When we are hypocritical or inconsistent, we become stumbling-blocks to others. They focus upon us, instead of the Lord.

Romans 14:13—Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

1 Corinthians 8:9—But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

Hypocrisy ruins us and others who dwell upon our faults. We are to live our lives in such a way that we would not be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip. Amen! A farmer once said to a friend, "I have some delicious apples growing in my orchard. If you come over, I'll give you a bushel." He repeated the offer, but his friend never came. Finally, the farmer asked, "John, why didn't you accept my offer?"

John said, "Well, to tell you the truth, I have tasted them. As I went along the road a few weeks ago, I picked up one that had fallen over the wall and frankly, I have never eaten anything so sour!"

The farmer laughed and replied, "Oh, I thought that might be the case. Those apples around the outside were placed there because we have many boys in the neighborhood. In order to protect my crop, I selected the sourest varieties of apples to plant around the outer edge of my orchard. When the boys tasted these, they gave up stealing, thinking that all the fruit was just as bad. However, if you will come with me, you'll find that I grow a very different quality on the inside. You'll really enjoy them because they are as sweet as honey."

Folks who judge the church by its worst members, make the same mistake when they allow the "sour apple hypocrites" to keep them away from the "orchard of sweet fellowship" they might enjoy with God's saints.

II. Inflexibility

Isaiah 48:4

Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;

God refined His people in the furnace of affliction because they were inflexible or stubborn in their sinfulness and disobedience to the Lord. Their brow was like brass. In other words, they were hard-headed. Beloved, when we get hard-headed with the Lord, we pay a price and we invite a trip to the furnace of affliction. Stubbornness with God leads to a boat-load of problems.

1. Stubbornness toward God causes us to be Uncommitted and Unresolved to serve the Lord

Psalm 78:8—And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.

The Hebrew can also read "a generation that did not make firm its heart and whose spirit was not faithful with God."

Isaiah 46:12—Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness:

Jeremiah 7:24—But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.

The word "imagination" is from the Hebrew word sheriyruwth {sher-ee-rooth'} which means "stubbornness, hardness, or firmness." This word comes from a Hebrew root word which means "twisted or firm, like a rope that is made hard and firm by being twisted." When we are stubborn, our heart gets hard and twisted.

This is what happened to Jonah. He was stubborn with the Lord about going to Nineveh and the Lord used a great fish to refine him like a furnace.

2. Stubbornness toward God makes us Unfaithful in our worship of Him. God considers it as Idolatry

Judges 2:19—And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.

1 Samuel 15:23—For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

The word "iniquity" is derived from the Hebrew word aven {aw-ven'} which means "the trouble or sorrow that comes from iniquity." It comes from an unused Hebrew root word that not only means to pant or exert yourself, but to exert yourself in vain. This word is describing a waste of time and effort.

When we are willful and put our own plans before the Lord, we waste our lives away. If we have this kind of attitude when we try to worship God, our worship is in vain because it does not come from a committed, sincere, devoted heart to the Lord.

A stubborn spirit leads to trouble, sorrow, and the dissatisfaction that comes from trying so hard to get your own way, but to no avail. Sorrow comes from also getting your own way and finding it does not make you happy or satisfy your needs. Stubbornness is compared to idolatry because we have exalted our own will above God's will and Word. What we want to do is more important than what God wants us to do.

3. Stubbornness toward God makes us Unteachable. It robs us of common sense and wisdom

Throughout my lifetime, I never cease to be amazed at the thinking or reasoning of backsliders. They have no wisdom or common sense at all. It is as if they are bent on destroying themselves and they really don't care if they do. You can warn and plead with them, but they won't listen.

Proverbs 5:13—And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!

Exodus 8:15—But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.

Isaiah 30:9—That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:

1 Kings 12:13—And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men's counsel that they gave him.

The word "roughly" is the same Hebrew word that is translated "stubborn." Many children have felt the sting of their stubbornness as they have rejected the counsel of their parents or pastor.

When Pharaoh saw that relief had come from a plague, he became stubborn. He refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had predicted.

Exodus 8:19—Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.

Ecclesiastes 4:13—Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

4. Stubbornness makes us Unwilling to submit to the Lord because we are Proud and Arrogant

Exodus 10:3—And Moses and Aaron came in unto Pharaoh, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? let my people go, that they may serve me.

Romans 10:3—For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

Acts 7:51—Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

When a person gets proud, he gets peevish, pessimistic, and tends to be a problem. Pride has a way of creating a multitude of problems for a person that could be avoided if he was not so cocky or arrogant.

5. Stubbornness toward God leaves us Unfulfilled

God uses our own stubbornness to chasten us when we refuse to obey Him. Getting our own way becomes a burden, leaving us unfulfilled, dissatisfied, or miserable. Getting your own way is not always the best thing for you. It can leave you empty and also create further problems for your life by the foolish choices you make.

Psalm 81:11-12—But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. 12 So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels.

Psalm 106:15—And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.

Leviticus 26:21—And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.

Jeremiah 18:12—And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. The word "imagination" can also be rendered "stubbornness."

Romans 2:5—But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The word "hardness" can also be rendered "stubbornness."

History is filled with examples of people who were wealthy and famous, but ended their lives by killing themselves with guns, knives, or drugs. These were people that obviously were not happy, even though they had anything money could buy.

God was refining His people in the furnace of affliction. Why? We have covered two reasons thus far.