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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Iron

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Metal that was basic material for weapons and tools in biblical period. The Iron Age began in Israel about 1200 B.C., though introduction of the metal into daily life occurred slowly. The Bible mentions iron in conjunction with Moses and with the Canaanite conquest, but at this time iron was rare and used mainly for jewelry. The availability of iron was a sign of the richness of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:9 ), and articles of iron were indications of wealth (Deuteronomy 3:11 ; Joshua 6:19 ). Excavations of Israelite sites dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries have uncovered rings, bracelets, and decorative daggers made of iron.

In early forging techniques iron was not much harder than other known metals and, unlike bronze and copper, it had to be worked while hot. As improved metalworking techniques became known, however, iron gradually became the preferred metal for tools such as plows, axes, and picks as well as for weapons such as spears and daggers. Iron chariots were a sign of great power in warfare (Joshua 17:18 ; Judges 1:19 ; Judges 4:3 ).

Older scholars taught that the Philistines held an iron monopoly over Israel. Increased availability of iron corresponds to the period of Philistia's collapse, and 1Samuel records that the Philistines prevented smiths from working in Israel (1 Samuel 13:19-21 ). However, excavations in Philistia have uncovered no more iron implements than in Israelite cities. This suggests that the prohibition of smiths in Israel may refer to workers in bronze rather than iron or that for a period of history the Philistines had an economic and perhaps technological advantage, being able to control the iron industry.

Most likely, iron became common throughout the region due to disruption of sources of other metals and to increased trading to the north and over the sea. After 1000 B.C. iron became widely used. David emphasized the importance of taking metals as spoils of war, and he later used stockpiles of iron and bronze in preparation for building the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:3 ).

Iron is frequently used symbolically in the Bible. Related to the hardness of iron it is used as a threat of judgment (Psalm 2:9 ; Revelation 2:27 ) or as a sign of strength (Isaiah 48:4 ; Daniel 2:40 ). The imagery includes other aspects of ironworking: the furnace was a symbol of oppression (1 Kings 8:51 ), and the cauterizing effect of hot iron was used by Paul to describe those with no conscience (1 Timothy 4:2 ). See Arms and Armor ; Minerals and Metals ; Mining; Philistines.

Tim Turnham


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Iron'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/i/iron.html. 1991.

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