One of the oldest metals known to man. Today it is rated the most abundant, most useful, and cheapest of all metals. It is the fourth most plentiful element in the crust of the earth, while the earth’s core is said to be nearly 90 percent iron. The Bible record reveals that it was used in the making of tools, nails, gates, weapons, fetters, instruments for writing, and even false gods.
Pure iron in commerce is uncommon. Pig iron contains about 3 percent carbon plus small amounts of other elements. Wrought iron has much less carbon. (Job 40:18) The many varieties of steel are simply iron alloyed with carbon and other additives to give them special characteristics. “Steel” in the King James Version, however, is a mistranslation for “copper.” (2Sa 22:35; Job 20:24; Ps 18:34; Jer 15:12) Because of the crude furnaces and smelting methods, the iron in Bible times was never totally purified but was an alloy of carbon and other elements. Tubal-cain of the fourth millennium B.C.E. was the first person known to forge and work with iron.—Ge 4:22.
Meteoric iron was one type used at an early time by man. In Egyptian tombs iron beads have been found that have proved to be meteoric in composition. But man was not limited to that source of supply. He mined iron oxides and sulfides and smelted the same, notwithstanding the high temperatures needed to melt iron. (Job 28:2; Eze 22:20; see REFINE, REFINER.) However, its use was quite limited compared with copper and bronze, which could be worked cold. Nevertheless, iron doubtless was especially valued because of its great strength and utility. Iron was included among the spoils of war highly esteemed by the Israelites. (Nu 31:22; Jos 6:19, 24; 22:8) But more than captured iron was to be their portion. Moses promised that upon reaching Palestine, they would find iron deposits, and so it proved to be. (De 8:9) Other sources of iron mentioned in the Bible included Tarshish, as well as “Vedan and Javan from Uzal.”—Eze 27:12, 19.
In their conquest of the Promised Land, the Israelites were confronted with war chariots equipped with iron scythes. (Jos 17:16, 18; Jg 1:19) At one point during Saul’s reign, “there was not a smith [metalworker] to be found in all the land of Israel.” Because of a ban imposed by the Philistines, only the king and his son Jonathan had a sword; Israel was forced to take all metal tools down to the Philistines to have them sharpened.—1Sa 13:19-22.
Later, however, King David gathered together huge quantities of iron for use in the temple construction. Under Solomon’s reign there was contributed “iron worth a hundred thousand talents,” or, according to many translations, “a hundred thousand talents of iron.” (1Ch 22:14, 16; 29:2, 7) If the reference is to the value of the iron and if the talents were silver, then the iron was worth $660,600,000. If the reference is to the weight of the iron, then it amounted to about 3,420 metric tons (3,770 tons).
Figurative Usage. The iron furnace is a symbol of hard and hot oppression (De 4:20; 1Ki 8:51; Jer 11:4); iron yokes, unbreakable bondage. (De 28:48; Jer 28:13, 14) In a figurative sense iron symbolizes hardness (Le 26:19; De 28:23), stubbornness (Isa 48:4; Jer 6:28), strength (Jer 1:18; Da 7:7; Re 9:9), kingly power, and judicial authority (Ps 2:9; Re 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).