Iron is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible, both literally in reference to the metal iron, as well as symbolically to represent strength, rule, and other attributes. As iron is one of the strongest and most durable metals known to man, it is often used metaphorically in the Bible to convey these themes. For Evangelical and Charismatic Christians seeking to understand scripture at a deeper level, examining the symbolic meaning of iron in the Bible can provide valuable insight.
- Iron represents strength, power, and durability throughout the Bible.
- God is described as having a rod or scepter of iron, symbolic of his unbreakable authority and rulership.
- Iron sharpens iron, conveying how believers can strengthen and refine one another through relationship.
- Chains and bars of iron symbolize bondage, oppression, and slavery.
- The iron furnace depicts hardship and affliction.
- Iron is used in various forms weaponry, showing its ability to protect people.
- The iron pillar invokes steadfastness and permanence amid turmoil.
- Iron was heavily used in the construction of the tabernacle and temple, pointing to strength, stability, and majesty.
Iron as a Symbol of Strength
One of the most frequent symbolic uses of iron in the Bible is to represent strength and durability. As one of the strongest metals known in the ancient world, iron was a powerful visual metaphor for unmatched strength.
“His bones are like beams of bronze, His ribs like bars of iron.” (Job 40:18 NKJV)
The implication is that the creature has incredible strength, such that even its bones and ribs are as sturdy as bronze and iron.
In Jeremiah, God promises to make the prophet “an iron pillar” who will stand firmly against opposition:
“They will fight against you, But they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you,” says the Lord, “to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:19 NKJV)
Here the iron pillar does not signify literal iron, but rather the firm, unbreakable resolve that God will give Jeremiah in the face of adversity.
God’s Rod and Scepter of Iron
One especially notable use of iron’s symbolic strength comes through references to God’s scepter or rod of iron, denoting his authority as supreme ruler and judge.
The psalmist writes:
“You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”’ (Psalm 2:9 NKJV)
Revelation later picks up this imagery in describing Christ’s second coming:
“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” (Revelation 19:15 NKJV)
In both passages iron conveys the unquestionable authority of God’s rule and the certainty of his righteous judgment against evil. As strong and unyielding as iron itself, God’s power will shatter evil completely.
Iron Sharpens Iron
A well-known proverb uses iron’s durability in a more positive light to describe how believers can strengthen one another:
“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 NKJV)
Here iron does not symbolize harsh judgment, but rather the refinement and development that can occur through relationship. As iron tools sharpen one another, so godly friendships refine character.
This concept of mutual strengthening and growth through fellowship remains key for modern Christianity. Just as two pieces of iron must come together for either to become sharper, so Christians must meet together for the “sharpening” that enables both to better follow Christ.
Chains and Bondage
In contrast to representing strength and authority, iron also symbolizes bondage and oppression at times in scripture. This stems from the frequent use of iron chains and shackles to imprison people in ancient times.
The psalmist thus prays to be delivered “from iron chains” (Psalm 107 NKJV), giving a visceral sense of the discomfort and restraint of being a prisoner.
Likewise, the books of Kings describe conquered kings being “bound in bronze fetters” (2 Kings 25:7 NKJV), vividly conveying their loss of power and status.
Revelation picks up the theme, speaking of Satan as an old serpent who “bound people for a thousand years with chains” (Revelation 20:2 NKJV). Here iron chains do not merely symbolize earthly captivity but spiritual bondage to sin and deception.
For these authors, iron epitomizes the distress of oppression versus the freedom found in God. As Christians, we can thus view iron chains as emblems of all that spiritually enslaves people and work to see them unshackled. The liberating truth of Christ frees people from every iron chain.
The Iron Furnace
At times the Bible uses “iron furnace” as an idiom for hardship and affliction. The description likely arose from the blazing heat and harsh conditions of iron foundries.
Deuteronomy forewarns that disobedience will lead God to “put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Deuteronomy 28:48 NKJV). Here the image of an iron yoke invokes the rigorous labor and oppression suggested by ironworks.
Other verses use the metaphor similarly in describing Egypt’s enslavement of Israel. God promises to deliver Israel from “the iron furnace” (Deuteronomy 4:20 NKJV), conveying the intensity of their bondage. The description reframes their backbreaking labor into the fiery trial of an iron foundry.
Though oppressive furnaces amplify hardship, God can bring believers through any challenge. Just as he delivered Israel from Egypt’s “iron furnace”, he provides strength amidst every fiery trial of life.
Weaponry and Protection
As a key metal for ancient warfare, iron also took on militaristic symbolism in scripture. Iron weaponry such as swords and chariots represented strength in battle.
Joshua 11 describes enemy kings assembling “people as numerous as the sand on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots” (Joshua 11:4 NKJV). The passage emphasizes iron chariots particularly, showing the fearsome nature of iron weapons.
Conversely, Psalm 105 proclaims how God “gave them the lands of the Gentiles…that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws” (Psalm 105:44-45 NKJV). God empowered his people to conquer Canaan through iron swords and chariots, demonstrating his provision.
While the violence of warfare should trouble Christians today, these verses illustrate God equipping his people via iron weapons in past eras. The metal conveyed literal protection then and spiritual shielding now as God guards his followers.
The Iron Pillar
The book of Jeremiah features a striking image of an iron pillar to symbolize resilience and permanence. When warning kings of coming calamity, God declares:
“They shall fight against you, But they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you,” says the Lord, “to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:19 NKJV)
Here the iron pillar represents the unwavering resolve and stability God furnishes to his people amid surrounding social upheaval. While impending disaster terrifies others, Jeremiah will stand firm as an “iron pillar” through God’s provision.
The passage finds resonance today wherever Christians feel beleaguered by external hostility or moral decline. No matter the cultural circumstances, God stays beside his followers as an unflinching iron pillar of strength.
Tabernacle and Temple Construction
References to iron in the construction of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple demonstrate its prominence and importance. Though other metals like gold and bronze feature more lavishly, iron maintains a subtle yet significant presence.
Exodus instructs using acacia wood overlaid “with bronze” for key tabernacle fixtures (Exodus 26 NKJV). But it also specifies making “its pots to remove its ashes, and its shovels and its basins and its forks and its firepans” out of “bronze and iron” (Exodus 27:3 NKJV). The combination of rare, expensive metals and common iron points to the use of whatever materials God supplied for his house.
The prominence increases in Solomon’s temple, where “all the doors and doorposts had rectangular frames; and window was opposite window in three tiers” made of “hewn stone” and “cedar beams” with “iron” fittings (1 Kings 6:4-7 NKJV). The iron fixtures threaded throughout the temple’s stonework show the importance of iron in constructing even the grandest spiritual dwelling.
Just as iron added structural integrity to these ancient buildings, so too does it reinforce modern Christian character. The iron within us helps form a spiritual “house” with the stability, strength, and purpose to glorify God.
This examination reveals how iron symbolizes vital attributes like strength, durability, righteousness, oppression, and refinement throughout scripture. A material used extensively in the Old Testament world, iron provided biblical authors with an accessible metaphor for conveying deeper spiritual truths. The complex symbolic profile of iron in the Bible gives insight for how modern believers can themselves exemplify or identify positive traits like solidarity and justice versus hardship and bondage in following Christ today. While only the word of God endures forever, the endurance and nobility of iron provide a helpful glimpse of God’s steadfast nature.