Gold: zahav, masculine noun (Strong’s 2091).
Sounds like: zaw-hawv
Gold is a precious commodity and it has been treasured for centuries. In the list of items that denoted wealth in the Bible, gold was at the top. It had a significant footprint in the Hebrew Bible showing up over 380 times. The first mention of gold came early in the Creation text of the Bible:
Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold [ha-zahav]. And the gold [u-za’hav] of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there as well.
The Pishon River flowed around the land of gold. The other rivers had no mention of anything being associated with them, but this first river surrounded a land rich in gold and that was worth mentioning.
Gold in the Tabernacle
Gold was associated with royalty and preeminence and it was the perfect metal to decorate God-space. Not surprisingly, gold was lavishly used to decorate the Ark of the Covenant:
Exodus 25:10-18 (see also Exodus 37)
“Now they shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. You shall overlay it with pure gold [zahav], inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold [zahav] molding around it. You shall also cast four gold [zahav] rings for it and fasten them on its four feet; two rings shall be on one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. And you shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold [zahav]. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.
And you shall make an atoning cover of pure gold [zahav], two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. You shall make two cherubim of gold [zahav]; make them of hammered work at the two ends of the atoning cover.”
Gold had a big presence in the Tabernacle. Along with the Ark, here was also:
- A wooden table overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:23-28)
- Dishes, pans, jars and libation bowls made of gold (Exodus 25:29)
- A lampstand of pure gold (Exodus 25:31-37)
- 50 clasps overlaid with gold to hold up the curtains (Exodus 26:6)
- Curtain pillars overlaid with gold (Exodus 26:32, 37, Exodus 36:36)
- An altar of incense overlaid with gold (Exodus 30:1-5, Exodus 36:38)
- Priestly garments made of gold sheets, gold thread and gold filigree settings for decorative gemstones, along with gold bells for the hem of the robe (Exodus 39:1-26)
- The plate of the holy crown of pure gold, which was inscribed with an engravement: , “Holy to YHWH.” (Exodus 39:30-31)
All in all, this Tabernacle was a shiny place. Eventually the Hebrew people desired to have a more permanent structure for worshipping YHWH and king Solomon took on the job of building the Temple in Jerusalem. It was lathered in gold:
1 Kings 6:21-22
So Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold [zahav]. And he extended chains of gold [zahav] across the front of the inner sanctuary, and he overlaid it with gold [zahav]. He overlaid the entire house with gold [zahav], until all the house was finished. Also the entire altar which was by the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold [zahav].
Again gold was everywhere, including:
- a golden floor (1 Kings 6:30)
- flower, palm tree and cherubim carvings, overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:28, 32. 35)
- the table, the lampstand, the cup, the shears, the spoons, the bowls, the ladles, the tongs, the candle snuffers, and the firepans were made with gold (1 Kings 7:48-50 & 2 Chronicles 4:19-22)
- even the hinges on the doors, and the doors themselves that led to the Most Holy Place were made of gold (1 Kings 7:48-50 & 2 Chronicles 4:19-22)
Solomon also made large shields of beaten gold (1 Kings 10:16), small shields of beaten gold (1 Kings 10:17), an ivory throne overlaid with gold (1 Kings 10:18), and drinking vessels and utensils of pure gold (1 Kings 10:21).
Solomon was obscenely wealthy. He amassed an incredible fortune through war profits, and gifts of tribute. One of the gifts of tribute was from the Queen of Sheba. She was a Gentile Queen from the East who had heard about the wisdom of a King in Israel and she felt compelled to visit him and test him. After being impressed by his intellect and wisdom, she presented vast amounts of gold to Solomon:
1 Kings 10:1-5, 10 (see also 2 Chronicles 9)
Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon in relation to the name of YHWH, she came to test him with riddles. So she came to Jerusalem with a very large entourage, with camels carrying balsam oil and a very large quantity of gold [w-zahav] and precious stones. When she came to Solomon, she spoke to him about everything that was in her heart. And Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was concealed from the king which he did not explain to her. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built, and the food of his table, the seating of his servants, the service of his waiters and their attire, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings which he offered at the house of YHWH, she was breathless…
…Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold [zahav], and a very large amount of balsam oil and precious stones. Never again did such a large quantity of balsam oil come in as that which the queen of Sheba gave King Solomon.
The weight of 120 talents of gold was roughly 9000 lbs of gold. It is estimated that one talent was equivalent to 15 years of labour for one man, so it would take that same one man 1800 years of labour to amass the amount of gold the Queen of Sheba gave Solomon. It was a phenomenal amount of abundant wealth!
God’s Gold into Golden Idols
Solomon’s excessive amount of wealth was impressive but that amount of riches can be dangerous to one’s humility:
One who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage.
Yeshua also made the same point but with a bit more punch:
[Yeshua:] “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Of course in the early years of the Hebrew people, wealth seemed like a far distant thing. Wandering in the wilderness and farming nomadically did not come with a lot of wealth. Riches were something only imagined to be found in the far kingdoms. Every day life did not include gold, instead it included dirt on your hands and dung on your feet. Simple meals, good health and a solid night’s sleep for your family and farm animals was what wealth looked like to the average Hebrew person in the later days of the book of Genesis. This was what wealth looked like to Jacob’s twelve sons and one daughter. No one imagined owning elaborate gold, except perhaps Joseph, the dreamer.
Joseph was the second youngest son of Jacob. In many ways his life reflected Yeshua’s life. His family rejected him and tried to kill him but instead they made the decision to sell Joseph into slavery. He was purchased by traders heading to Egypt, sending Joseph into exile. He would be separated from his family and everything he knew.
Yeshua, along with his parents, was also sent into exile to Egypt as a young infant. But eventually they made their way back to Israel and they settled in Nazareth where Yeshua grew up and was likely trained by His father in carpentry. As we know, He did not take up the carpentry trade, instead he took the role of a rabbi and preached and healed throughout the region of Galilee and beyond.
Similarly, Joseph was a slave in Egypt but he did not stay in that role. Incredibly he moved up the ranks from the lowest to the highest in all of Egypt, apart from Pharoah. He gained Pharaoh’s favour and Pharaoh rewarded him with a vast amount of political power and wealth (including a gold necklace):
[Pharaoh to Joseph:] “You shall be in charge of my house, and all my people shall be obedient to you; only regarding the throne will I be greater than you.” Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “See, I have placed you over all the land of Egypt.”
Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen, and put the gold [ha-zahav] necklace around his neck. And he had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed ahead of him, “Bow the knee!” And he placed him over all the land of Egypt.
Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”
With this new political power, Joseph was able to save his own family from death. They were at the brink of starvation and at the complete mercy of their brother, who they did not recognize in his Egyptian royal form. They begged for sustenance and he delivered. He saved them from destruction.
In parallel, many did not recognize Yeshua in His royal form, but they begged for sustenance and He delivered, and saved them from destruction.
One of the Psalms, written anonymously, put into poetical form the early history of the Hebrew people. There is a section which highlighted Joseph’s part in the story and how eventually Egypt turned on Joseph’s people, but YHWH delivered them and they escaped with Egypt’s wealth of gold and silver:
And He [God] called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They forced his feet into shackles, he was put in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of YHWH refined him.
The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples, and set him free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler over all his possessions, to imprison his high officials at will, that he might teach his elders wisdom.
Israel also came into Egypt; so Jacob lived in the land of Ham. And He made His people very fruitful, and made them stronger than their enemies. He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal cunningly with His servants.
Egypt began to see the growing population of Hebrew people as a threat and they tried to tear them down physically, mentally, socially and financially. To rescue them from oppression, YHWH chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. After the plagues YHWH “brought the Israelites out with silver and gold [w-zahav] and among His tribes there was not one who stumbled.” (Psalm 105:37).
YHWH rescued the people from Egypt’s oppression and with them came silver and gold. They were saved by God, but it didn’t take long for them to take the wealth they brought with them and turn it against YHWH:
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him.”
Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold [ha-zahav] rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
So all the people tore off the gold [ha-zahav] rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then he took the gold from their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool and made it into a cast metal calf; and they said, “This is your god, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
This was just the beginning of centuries of idolatry to follow.
The people followed YHWH and then they failed spectacularly and worshipped idols. After realizing that life was a disaster without YHWH, they would return to Him and He would welcome them home with open arms (just like the prodigal son). But it wouldn’t be long before they became complacent and they would slip back into idol worship… and that worship led to their destruction:
[YHWH:] Israel cries out to Me, “O our God, we know You!” But Israel has rejected good; an enemy will pursue him.
They set up kings, but not by Me. They make princes, but without My approval.
With their silver and gold [u-z’havam] they make themselves idols, to their own destruction.
Idol worship was chaos worship and all who followed in its path were led to their own destruction. The Psalmist highlighted the fact that those who worshiped idols would become like idols… unable to speak, blind, deaf and finally, devoid of breath:
Psalm135:15-18 (see also Psalm 105:2-8)
The idols of the nations are nothing but silver and gold [w-zahav], the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.
Those who make them will become like them, yes, everyone who trusts in them.
Idol worship was really rather ridiculous. The people took the natural wealth that God had provided and then tried to denounce His divinity by creating replacement-gods with material given to them by YHWH, the one true God:
[YHWH:] You also took your beautiful jewels made of My gold [mi-z’havi] and of My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images so that you might commit prostitution with them. Then you took your colourfully woven cloth and covered them, and offered My oil and My incense before them.
Creating gods out of the natural resources that YHWH provided was very narrow-minded and short-sighted, as well as being an insult to the God who had lovingly created them.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Day of YHWH when idols made of gold and silver would disappear in HIs Presence:
Isaiah 2:12, 17-22
For YHWH of armies will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is arrogant and haughty, and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be brought low…
…And the pride of humanity will be humbled and the arrogance of people will be brought low; and YHWH alone will be exalted on that day, and the idols will completely vanish.
People will go into caves of the rocks and into holes in the ground away from the terror of YHWH and the splendour of His majesty, when He arises to terrify the earth.
On that day people will throw away to the moles and the bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold [z’havow], which they made for themselves to worship, in order to go into the clefts of the rocks and the crannies of the cliffs before the terror of YHWH and the splendour of His majesty, when He arises to terrify the earth.
Take no account of man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?
When all is said and done, what good does gold do for anybody when life on earth is done? The prophet Ezekiel also envisioned people’s relationship to gold and material wealth at the end of the age:
“They will fling their silver into the streets, and their gold [u-z’havam] will become an abhorrent thing; their silver and their gold [u-z’havam] will not be able to save them on the day of the wrath of YHWH. They cannot satisfy their appetite, nor can they fill their stomachs, because their wrongdoing has become a cause of stumbling.”
Amassing gold, wealth and abundant material possessions is, for the most part, a rat-race of disappointment. Many of us feel like we’re constantly in need of more and can never quite attain enough. Why do we frantically pursue that which we cannot keep at the end of our days? And that begs the question: what kind of treasure is worth pursuing in our lifetime?
Refined Like Gold
Besides highlighting gold as a commodity, the Bible also used gold metaphorically, like something to be refined. There were many instances in the Tanakh (Old Testament) of YHWH refining HIs people, so that they would be pure and shiny reflections of YHWH here on earth.
Job suffered terribly in his lifetime and he had a hard time seeing God in the midst of his pain, but he knew YHWH was there. Job saw his suffering as a test, a refining moment for him, and he knew he knew he would pass the test and come through it shining like gold:
[Job:] “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He acts on the left, I cannot see Him; He turns to the right, but I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way I take; when He has put me to the test, I will come out as gold [ka-zahav].”
YHWH remembered His faithful people, like Job. They would be tested and refined, but He would be there for them:
“And it will come about in all the land,” declares YHWH, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it.
And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold [et ha-zahav] is tested.
They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘YHWH is my God.’”
Malachi, the last of the Tanakh prophets, related YHWH’s promise of a Covenant Messenger who would come like a refiner’s fire:
“Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a way before Me. And the Lord, whom you are seeking, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says YHWH of armies.
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like launderer’s soap. And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold [ka-zahav] and silver, so that they may present to YHWH offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to YHWH as in the days of old, and as in former years.
Yeshua & Gold
Yeshua came like a refining fire. He certainly put on the heat and got people hot and bothered! But He wasn’t there to sit back and let things go as they had been. He had a purpose and a plan.
Hundreds of years before Yeshua arrived, the prophet Zechariah envisioned a priest-king who sat on a throne and wore a golden crown. He who would be called Branch:
…Take silver and gold [w-zahav], make an ornate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘YHWH of armies says this: “Behold, there is a Man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of YHWH. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of YHWH, and He who will bear the majesty and sit and rule on His throne. So He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’
Yeshua’s humble beginnings didn’t seem fit for a long-awaited priest-king, but at His birth certain star-gazing Magi from the east lands thought differently. When they came into His Presence He was just an infant, but they treated Him like a royal King:
…the star, which they [the Magi] had seen in the east, went on ahead of them until it came to a stop over the place where the Child was to be found. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And after they came into the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary; and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented to Him gifts of gold [Greek: chryson], frankincense, and myrrh.
These gifts had meaning (see also the postings on frankincense and myrrh). As we read earlier, the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) was lavishly decorated with gold. Yeshua was the New Temple, the place where God was with us… Emmanuel:
The Jews then said to Him [Jesus], “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and yet You will raise it up in three days?”
But He was speaking about the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
Later, the disciple John had a vision of what God’s Kingdom looked like; there was gold, but there was no Temple:
And the street of the city was pure gold [Greek: chrysion], like transparent glass.
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
When the Magi came to visit the infant Yeshua, they recognized that the little Child in front of them was a Great King worth worshipping and they gave Him treasures worthy of royalty. Did Yeshua walk around with gold in His pockets or around His neck? No, he grew up as a carpenter’s son and later lived as a nomad, a wandering preacher. So where did the gold go?
Just after receiving the gold, Mary, Joseph and the infant Yeshua had to flee to Egypt to escape the murderous gaze of Herod. The gold, frankincense and myrrh would likely have funded their rushed trip to the land of Pharaoh. Yeshua did not hoard his honorary gifts. They were likely long gone before He began His ministry.
It’s a good lesson to learn. God provided for Joseph and Mary in their great need. The wealth they received had a purpose. It was for surviving not hoarding.
We are not to hoard wealth if we have any, we are to share it, in order to lift others up. Paul expressed this idea in one of his letters to Timothy:
2 Timothy 2:20-21
Now in a large house there are not only gold [Greek: chrysa] and silver implements, but also implements of wood and of earthenware, and some are for honour while others are for dishonour. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be an implement for honour, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
Free yourself from slavery to “things” and live free from the clutter that life tries to place on your shoulders. The greatest wealth is family and human friendships. People are the greatest commodity worth investing in! Humans are the children of God, but so many are lost in this world. Our riches come from pointing the Way home… putting people back on track to the Heavenly Kingdom where we will receive treasures in heaven beyond our wildest dreams:
[Jesus:] “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Where is your heart? Is it in your bank account? Or is it with YHWH in His heavenly garden Kingdom?
Yeshua died like a sacrificial lamb. He went to the grave and defeated death, so that we would no longer be slaves to death, but instead we would be free in life. Yeshua’s sacrifice opened the Kingdom doors so that all could enter in and see YHWH, face to face, when our time on earth here is done. That is the treasure worth living for!
Yeshua was a sacrificial lamb, slaughtered to redeem us. It would not be golden riches and material wealth that would save us, it would be blood… one source of life to save all lives:
1 Peter 1:17b-19
…conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of the Messiah.
It wasn’t that long ago that I survived with overdraft protection, and lived paycheck to paycheck, rarely being able to pay our bills on time. But it’s good to know that Yeshua would have lived much the same way, relying on the kindness of strangers and the good graces of YHWH His Father. Gold is not the bringer of happiness, but YHWH can be, if you let Him. There is great wealth that awaits you, if you open your heart to the riches of being a follower of Yeshua. He alone can take our hand and lead us home… where the streets are paved with gold and YHWH waits with open arms.
Next week: The Name