The forging of metals is as old as mankind. It is claimed in the ancient Book of Enoch that the fallen angel Azazel taught mankind the art of working with iron and other metals.
Other traditions also talk about either demonic or divine intervention to help mankind learn the skills of metallurgy, to make weapons and kill other men.
BIBLICAL ORIGIN OF SMITHING
The Holy Scriptures though, view on the origin of iron working, is that Tubal Cain, the son of Lamech, the son of Cain was the first iron worker.
“And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer (forger) of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.”
It is interesting that the actual Hebrew word latash means forger but at the same time can be interpreted as instructor; as he did not literally forged every artificer but instructed them.
Tubal means “the product of” as of the origin of a flow of water, therefore the meaning of the name of Tubal-Cain is the one that comes from Cain, or the Heir of Cain.
This tells us that the ancient Jewish scriptures assigns to Cain the invention of destructive weapons. Lamech the son of Cain killed a man with his own hands and Tubal Cain his grandson taught mankind the art of smithing, that is to forge weapons out of iron and brass.
In other words, iron working is related in scripture as the art of making weapons and claimed its origin on violent men as Cain, Lamech and Tubal Cain.
USES OF IRON IN ANCIENT ISRAEL TIMES
The use of iron as a weapon is mentioned again in the book of numbers where it states that the ritual of cleansing weapons and other metals taken as a battle booty. (Numbers 21:22,23)
The first mention of an utilitarian use of iron (other than iron weapons) is mentioned in regard to the Giant Og, king of Basham, who had an iron bed made for himself. (Deut. 3:10,11)
The iron furnace or iron forge, which is the chamber where the iron is molten into a paste by fire, is mentioned in Deuteronomy 4:2; where the captivity in Egypt is compared to it. This is interpreted that any struggles that God brings us into during our lives are meant to forge us into a new creation, as the smith forges the raw steel into any useful thing.
Now, it is important to mention that the description of the promised land includes the abundance of metals, including iron, as one of the good things to be found in it. Iron in 1500 BCE was then a valuable commodity that deserved to be mentioned. (Deut. 8:7-10)
The second time an utilitarian use of iron is mentioned can be found in Deuteronomy 19:5 where it describes an iron axe head slipping from the wood and killing a man.
In general though iron is associated in scriptures as a symbol of war, death and struggle; this becomes evident when The Lord states that no iron should be used in the building of his altar, and in a different passage tells the Israelites that he will make the heavens like iron for them because of their pride. (Deut. 27:4,5; 28:23. Lev. 26:19)
IRON SHOES AND THE METAPHORICAL USE OF IRON
No one would even think about making for themselves iron shoes; however in the Holy Scriptures it is mentioned metaphorically that tribe of Asher would be blessed with iron shoes, meaning strength and perhaps long life. If you wear iron shoes nothing can hurt you. This reminds us of steel toe shoes that are mandatory for those who deal with heavy things in construction and specially in the iron industry. This was the blessing of Moses to the tribe of Asher; therefore I will call them from now on the “Moses shoes”.
“Iron and brass are thy shoes, And as thy days -- thy strength.”
IRON IS A TREASURE
The value of iron in ancient Israel is stated in the book of Joshua, where it says that along with the gold and brass, iron should be kept in the treasury. (Joshua 6:19; 24)
Of course, iron was created by God and He is the one that commanded its use as a weapon. He himself claims that responsibility.
"Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals And brings out a weapon for its work; And I have created the destroyer to ruin.”
However He also predicts that mankind will eventually live in peace and use iron only for agricultural tools and other peaceful uses:
“… And they have beat their swords to ploughshares, And their spears to pruning-hooks, Nation doth not lift up sword unto nation, Nor do they learn any more -- war.”
So lets forget about weapons and concentrate now in the use of iron for the good of mankind, not for its destruction; because the ultimate purpose of iron working is to bless people, once God deliver us from “the furnace of Egipt”.
THE RESPECTED ART OF METAL WORKING
The art of forging metal is actually described by the prophet Isaiah:
“The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm…”
We learn that from the above mentioned banning of iron workers by the philistines but also from the story of the exile in times of king Jehoiachin, where iron workers are some of the skilled men that were brought to Babilon to serve king Nebuchadnezzar. (2 Kings 24:11)
2 Kings 24:11
Then he led away into exile all Jerusalem and all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths, none remained except the poorest people of the land.
Iron tools were used in the construction of the first temple:
1 Kings 6:7
“And the house, in its being built, of perfect stone brought thither hath been built, and hammer, and the axe -- any instrument of iron -- was not heard in the house, in its being built.”
This has been interpreted as if the temple was built not using iron, but that is wrong. The implication is that the stones were shaped far from the temple site and brought it to be placed without the sound of the irons. It is said that because it was built with respect.
Now, the use of iron tools to shape marble and other hard stones implies that the people of Israel new metallurgy very well. Well enough to produce chisels harder than marble or granite.
This is even more evident when we see the mention of iron saws. (1 Chronicles 20:3)
Ancient Iron Gates
Iron gates are also mentioned in the Scriptures in relation to the construction of the temple of Salomon.
The leaves for the gates are the doors of the gates of the temple, which means that the gates were made of iron, and it is also mentioned the iron hardware.
This use or ornamental iron implies that the Israelites knew how to protect the iron from rusting; in light of the fact that they use it along with brass for the construction of the Holyb Temple.
2 Chronicles 22:2,3
“And David saith to gather the sojourners who are in the land of Israel, and appointeth hewers to hew hewn-stones to build a house of God.3 And iron in abundance for nails for leaves of the gates, and for couplings, hath David prepared, and brass in abundance -- there is no weighing.”
Iron alloys in the scriptures
The question on how did the ancient people like the Israelites carved marble and granite because it is needed modern steel alloys.
Well, the scripture reveals how the carving was made in stone:
With a pen of iron and lead -- For ever in a rock they may be hewn.
An alloy of iron and lead makes no sense, but remember, many of the words in the bible are generics. The word for lead is opheret, which is a derivative of a word that simply means dust.
Lead is very similar to Vanadium as one can see in this pictures. An alloy of Iron and Vanadium is used in modern times to create very hard tools that can engrave the toughest stones.