Silver is one of the precious metals mentioned frequently in the Bible. It symbolizes value. Proverbs uses silver alone with gold as significant measures of the even greater value of wisdom: “The profit gained from wisdom is greater than the profit gained from silver. Its yield is better than fine gold” (3:4).
A SYMBOL OF PURIFICATION
The process of heating silver to burn off the dross and other imperfections is a metaphor used throughout Scripture. God’s Word itself is described in value beyond silver: “The promises of the LORD are pure, like silver refined in a furnace and purified seven times” (Ps 12:6). The purification process was sometimes used as a symbol for the way God tests and refines people: “You have tested us, O God. You have refined us in the same way silver is refined” (Ps 66:10; see also Isa 48:10). A silversmith would have to attentively watch the silver, getting it to just the right heat, in order to purify the metal. God also watches us as he put us through fiery trials, never leaving us for an instant and only allowing the situation to progress to the point where it is helpful for our sanctification.
NOT AS VALUABLE AS ITS SEEMS
Frequently, however, the presence of silver indicates that something extremely valuable is being overlooked. A chief example of this is Judas’s willingness to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Another example from the Old Testament involves the payment of ransom or tribute by Israel to gain or retain the favor of other nations in direct disobedience to God. King Menahem of the northern kingdom used silver to buy off the king of Assyria: “King Pul of Assyria came to attack the country. So Menahem gave Pul 75,000 pounds of silver to gain his support and help strengthen his hold on the kingdom. Menahem raised the money from all the wealthy men in Israel. Each gave 20 ounces of silver for the king of Assyria. Then the king of Assyria left the country” (2 Kings 15:19-20). Later, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, tried this approach with King Sennacherib of Assyria, offering silver and gold, but eventually he realized that the only way of escape for him and his people was to trust in God (2 Kings 18-19). In the New Testament, silver is usually mentioned as the equivalent of money, used in exchange for goods. But peter makes clear in his first letter that silver cannot purchase what is most valuable: “Realize that your weren’t set free from the worthless life handed down to you from your ancestors by a payment of silver or gold which can be destroyed. Rather, the payment that freed you was the precious blood of Christ, the lamb with no defects or imperfections” (1 Pet 1:18-19). Shortly after the resurrection of Jesus, when Peter and John were asked by a lame beggar for help, they gave an unexpected answer: “But Peter said, ‘I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 NLT). The picture of future Babylon in Revelation includes mention of great wealth in silver and gold that not only proves useless against evil but reinforces resistance to God. Valuable items from a worldly point of view become part of the symbolic false ideal that must be destroyed as the kingdom of God comes in fullness (see Rev 18). Peter was right; silver is one of many things that we consider valuable but that has no potential in providing for us what we really need the most a resolution of our sins and hope of eternal life.