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Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words
Tsâraph (צָרַף, Strong's #6884), “to refine, try, smelt, test.” This root with the basic meaning of smelting and refining is found outside the Old Testament in Akkadian, Phoenician, and Syriac. In Arabic an adjective derived from the verb means “pure, unmixed,” describing the quality of wine. Tsâraph has maintained the meaning “to refine” in rabbinic and modern Hebrew, but lost the primary significance of “to smelt” in modern Hebrew.
The verb occurs fewer than 35 times in the Old Testament, mainly in the prophets and in the Book of Psalms. The first occurrence is in the story of Gideon, where 10,000 are “being tested” and only 300 are chosen to fight with Gideon against the Midianites: “And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there …” (Judg. 7:4). The meaning in this context is “to test,” to find out who is qualified for battle. The only other occurrence of the verb in Judges is equivalent to a noun in English: “smith,” in this context a silversmith (17:4). Jeremiah describes the process of smelting and refining: “The bellows [blow fiercely], the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away” (Jer. 6:29), and the failure of refining the silver leads to rejection (Jer. 6:30). The process (smelting) and the result (refining) are often considered together. It is difficult to separate them in biblical usage. Hence, the work of the smith involves smelting, refining, and particularly the use of the refined metals in making the final product: “The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains” (Isa. 40:19). He used a hammer and anvil in making fine layers of gold used in plating the form (Isa. 41:7).
Tsâraph is also used metaphorically with the sense “to refine by means of suffering.” The psalmist describes the experience of Israel in this way: “For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou … laidst affliction upon our loins.… We went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” (Ps. 66:10-12). God’s judgment is also described as a process of refining: “And I will … purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin” (Isa. 1:25). Those who were thus purified are those who call on the name of the Lord and receive the gracious benefits of the covenant (Zech. 13:9). The coming of the messenger of the covenant (Jesus Christ) is compared to the work of a smith: “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire.… And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver …” (Mal. 3:2-3). The believer can take comfort in the Word of God which alone on earth is tried and purified and by which we can be purified: “Thy promise is well tried, and thy servant loves it” (Ps. 119:140, RSV; cf. Ps. 18:30; Prov. 30:5).
Tsâraph has the following translations in the Septuagint: purao (“to burn; to make red hot”) and chruso-o (“to gild; to overlay with gold”). The KJV gives the following translations: “to refine; try; melt; founder; goldsmith.” In the RSV, NASB, and NIV the verb “to test” is given instead of “to try.”
Two nouns derived from the verb tsâraph occur rarely. Tsorpi occurs once to mean “goldsmith” (Neh. 3:31). Matsrep occurs twice and refers to a “crucible”: “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace is for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts” (Prov. 17:3; cf. Prov. 27:21).
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Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Test'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/t/test.html. 1940.