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Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian /
Christian Growth/ God’s Tests

 

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Tests And Trials

©2002 by David Servant

Please Note: Each coloured link within the article will lead you to a related topic on a different page of this site. However while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may or may not agree with the views expressed on those pages.

Part I:  All About Tests [This Page]
Primeval Tests
Wilderness Hardships
"Hello, Mr. Trial!"
This is a Test...
The Training of the Twelve
Passing the Test by Faith

Part II: Who's in Control Here?

Part III: Tried and Found True

Part IV: Wrapping it Up

 

 

Primeval Tests
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Jesus Christ, Luke 16:10).

I once heard a story of a wise, elderly man who owned a dry-cleaning business. Periodically, he would hire young men to help him run his shop.

The first day on the job, every new employee was instructed by the shop owner to carefully check the pockets of each bundle of dirty clothing. Unknown to that new employee, the owner secretly placed a quarter in the pocket of one pair of trousers that the beginner was to check.

If the new employee, upon discovering the quarter, brought it to his employer so that it would be returned to its rightful owner, he was hired permanently. If the trainee pocketed the quarter, at the end of the day he was asked not to return, and for good reason: The owner had learned that the man who can’t be trusted with small things is not going to prove himself trustworthy with larger things. If an employee would steal a customer’s quarter, he certainly couldn’t be trusted to operate the cash register when the owner was absent.

This is the very first principle we too must grasp if we are to understand anything about God’s tests: Trust must be earned.

God is every bit as wise as the elderly man who owned that dry-cleaning business. He, too, only promotes those whom He can trust. For that reason, just like the dry-cleaning owner, God will test us to see if we can be trusted. We will be given occasions to prove ourselves—opportunities to earn God’s trust.


The Original Test
Who was the first person God tested? The first person to be tested was the very first person, Adam. As one who was given a free will, Adam had to be tested to see if he would obey or disobey. For that same reason, all free moral agents must be tested. Let me explain further.

God did not create us as robots but, rather—as the theologians like to say—as “free moral agents.” We are not programmed to obey or disobey, but are given a choice.

The reason for this is obvious. If God had created us as robots, we would not have possessed a capacity to love Him. If you want to know how God would have felt with a race of robots, just place a puppet on your hand and have him turn toward you and tell you that he loves you. Is your heart warmed? Of course not, because that puppet is only saying what you are making him say.

God created people with free wills because He wanted to have a family that would love Him. If people were not given a choice in the matter, then love for God would have been an impossibility. Robots can’t love.

For that reason, all free moral agents must be tested to see if they will love God—as revealed by their obedience or disobedience. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).


Why the Tree?
People sometimes ask a question that relates well to this concept: “If God didn’t want Adam to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then why did He ever place that tree in the garden of Eden?”

That’s a good question, and the answer is quite simple. Although God did not want Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, He did want to see if Adam would eat from a tree He had designated as forbidden.

{1} If Adam had been placed in an environment where nothing was forbidden, then it would have been the same as if God had created Adam as a robot without free choice. Adam would have been a robot by virtue of his environment. If nothing had been forbidden, Adam would not have had any choices to make regarding obedience or disobedience. That is why God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. It was a test. “Will this free moral agent obey Me or disobey Me?”

Keep in mind that it was not Satan who placed the tree of knowledge in the garden—it was God Himself. God didn’t have to place it there, but He did. Yet no one can accuse Him of tempting Adam, because He placed every other tree in the garden that was “pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). Adam could never justifiably say to God, “It’s your fault that I ate the forbidden fruit because there was nothing else for me to eat,” or “It’s your fault that I ate of this tree because all the other fruit looked unappetizing to me!”

There is a vast difference between tempting and testing. God never tempts anyone, but, as we will learn, He tests everyone. It was Satan who tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit—not God.


Understanding the Tree
Many have tried to make the tree of the knowledge of good and evil into something that it wasn’t. (Some have even claimed it was symbolic for sex.) The Bible, however, tells us it was a literal tree with literal fruit. The fruit looked good and tasted good just like every other tree in the garden. The forbidden fruit contained no magical or special power. The only difference between the forbidden fruit and all the other fruits was that it was forbidden.

If it was no different than the other trees, why then was it called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”? Simply because Adam had no knowledge of good or evil until he sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. Prior to his fall, all he had ever experienced was good. As we read the first and second chapters of Genesis, we observe how many times God said that something He made or did was good. Adam knew nothing of evil or sorrow. Having no knowledge of evil, he consequently had no knowledge of good either.

After Adam sinned, however, he then possessed the knowledge of good and evil, because good and evil became a part of his daily experience. Now he could look back and say, “I really had it good before I was expelled from the garden.” Or, “God was very good to cover us with these animal skins.” Or, “The devil certainly was evil to tempt us to disobey God.” You and I can hardly imagine what it would be like not to have such knowledge.

The main thing we need to understand is that God tested Adam, and Adam failed his test. The Bible plainly states that God tested many others, and we will study their lives in later chapters. My ultimate purpose is for you to begin to recognize God’s testings in your own life. Once you do, it will make a difference in the way you live.

I realize that a few readers might beg to differ, not believing that God tests anyone. But if such readers will continue reading, their thinking will be changed. They will discover that the Bible undeniably teaches that God tests all of us.


Abraham’s Test
Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham....And He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:1-2, emphasis added).

Here we read that God tested Abraham. Some who read the King James Version have been quite disturbed by this particular passage because it states that God tempted Abraham. We know, of course, that God tempts no one according to James 1:13: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one.”

Thankfully, the New King James Version has corrected this error in Genesis 22 and translates it tested rather than tempted.

Exactly how did God test Abraham? He told Abraham to sacrifice his own son, a very difficult thing to do. God wanted to know, “Does this man fear Me? Does this man love Me more than he loves his own son for whom he waited so long?” God Himself said, after Abraham passed his test, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen. 22:12, emphasis added). It’s obvious that God’s purpose was to test Abraham’s devotion and love for Him.

God was not only interested in knowing how much Abraham loved Him; He is obviously quite interested in knowing how much all of us love Him. Jesus said, for example, that we can’t be one of His disciples unless our love for our loved ones seems like hate in comparison to our love for God (see Luke 14:26). God deserves and wants our hearts’ devotion.

I’m certain that God will never ask us to kill any of our children. He, in fact, never intended that Abraham would kill Isaac, but stopped him once it became clear that Abraham was willing to do so. We are, however, sometimes faced with a test of having to decide whom we love the most—God or our loved ones.

A pastor who is a friend of mine told me about a young girl in his church who had been recently born again and whose atheistic father forbade her to go to that “fanatical church.” She continued to faithfully attend, however, and finally her father delivered an ultimatum: “If you want to follow Jesus, then you will have to move out of our house—and I will no longer consider you my daughter.”

She thought about it for a while, and then said: “Daddy, I love you with all my heart, but I love Jesus more because He died for me. If I must sacrifice living with my earthly father because of serving my Heavenly Father, then I will leave.”

Her father was so astonished by her convictions that out of curiosity he attended her church the next Sunday—and he was gloriously born again! Praise God that this young girl didn’t back down from following Jesus. She passed a difficult test and in the process received another new father.


The Test of Our Love and Obedience
God told Abraham to do something that must have been very difficult, and our tests may also seem severe. Of course, any commandment from God brings a test with it. Will we obey or disobey?

For example, Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to do good to those who despitefully use us. How many of us are passing that test?

When people mistreat us, it is a test. God, of course, doesn’t inspire or motivate people to wrong us, but no one can argue that He certainly allows them to mistreat us at times. Those are the times when our love and obedience are tested, and when we have an opportunity to grow spiritually.

God’s desire for all of us is that we become like Jesus, whose most outstanding attribute was and is unselfish love. From the cross, He even prayed for the soldiers who were dividing His garments. How are we ever going to grow more perfect in love unless we run up against people who seem difficult to love? It’s easy to love those who love you, but Jesus said even the heathen do that. The true test of our love is when people mistreat us.

When people wrong us, we should view it as a time to grow spiritually—to exercise the love we claim to have. We should view those unfeeling people as blessings in disguise to help us grow. They give us a chance to be like Jesus. If we can’t handle minor offenses, God won’t be able to entrust us with more responsibility, because the more God uses us, the more people will criticize us.


Back to Abraham
Unlike Adam, Abraham passed his test. Once he did, God said to him:

    “By Myself I have sworn,” declares the Lord, “because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens....And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:16-18, emphasis added).

Once Abraham passed his test, it resulted in God greatly blessing him and also promising to make him a great blessing to others. The same thing happens when we pass God’s tests—we get blessed, and God can make us a greater blessing to others. Once we have proved ourselves trustworthy, then we can be promoted.

Are you passing your tests? If you think you still have room to grow, keep reading!

    For the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 13:3, emphasis added).

 

In the Wilderness
From looking at the two preliminary examples of Adam and Abraham, we understand the primary purpose of God’s tests: He wants to know what is in people’s hearts. Adam and Abraham are not the only examples of this fact. Speaking of King Hezekiah, the Bible says: “God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31).

Statements like these often raise the eyebrows of thinking Christians. How can God learn what is in somebody’s heart if He already knows everything?

God certainly knows all there is to know. Realize, however, that until free moral agents are tested, there is nothing to know. Only after they are tested and react is there something to know. That is why we must be tested, so that God can have knowledge of our reactions.

Certainly in eternity past God could look down through time and see the reactions of free moral agents to their tests, but unless they were tested at some point in time, there would have been nothing for God to look down in time and see. Thus, in order for God to foreknow the outcome of someone’s test, that person must be tested at some point in time. It is at that point of testing that the knowledge of the reaction becomes available to know and, in God’s case, to foreknow. When God says after someone’s test, “Now I know…,” He must be speaking from the perspective of time as we know it.


Israel’s Tests
Let’s continue looking at some examples of biblical people whom God tested. In this chapter, we’ll journey with the ancient Israelites to the promised land as they faced some God-ordained tests.

The story of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to Canaan is not only a historical account, it is also symbolic of our own spiritual journey as we grow in Christ. In fact, the Israelites are called the “church in the wilderness” in Acts 7:38 (in the King James Version and in the margin of the NASB). In addition, many other biblical parallels between Israel and the church exist.

For example, the Israelites were delivered from the destroying angel by applying the blood of the Passover lamb to their doorposts (see Ex. 12:7-13). Likewise, we have been delivered from the wrath of God by the blood of Christ, who is called our Passover in 1 Corinthians 5:7 and the Lamb of God in John 1:29.

They were delivered out of slavery and an evil kingdom, just as we have been delivered from slavery to sin, Satan, spiritual death, and the kingdom of darkness.

Israel passed through the Red Sea, which the New Testament teaches corresponds to our baptism in water (see 1 Cor. 10:2).

When Israel stood on the far side of the Red Sea and saw the dead bodies of Pharaoh’s soldiers washing up on the shore, they knew that the power of their former oppressor was broken. So should we realize that Satan’s power and authority over our lives has been annulled.

Those are a few of the similarities between the “church in the wilderness” and the church today. Because God never changes, we can learn a lot about how He will work in our lives by studying how He worked in the lives of the Israelites. God is still testing His people as they journey to their “promised land.”


He Took Them Out to Bring Them In
God not only took Israel out of Egypt, His intention was to take them to a destination—the promised land of Canaan. Canaan, however, does not represent heaven to new covenant believers because there will be no battles to fight in heaven. There are no “giants in the land” there. Canaan’s land represents our coming into our full inheritance and growing to our full stature in Christ.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have just been satisfied with getting out of Egypt. You sometimes hear them say, “Thirty-five years ago I was saved! How I praise God for that day! Please pray for me that I’ll hold out to the end.”

Don’t forget that God delivered us out of something to bring us into something. Don’t be satisfied with just getting out of Egypt—move on into the promised land! Grow up in Christ and receive all that God has provided for you! Our goal should be to become more like Jesus and walk in His full provision. [Also See Life in The Land of The Promise Made to Abraham]


God’s Plan
As we examine Israel’s exodus from Egypt, we first take note that it was God who supernaturally led His people on their journey. Moses didn’t stop at a travel agent on his way out of Egypt to request a map marked with the best route to the promised land. God led His people according to His divine route, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about it. How did He lead them?

    And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people (Ex. 13:21-22).

Let’s also read verse 17 of the same chapter:

    Now it came about when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and they return to Egypt” (Ex. 13:17).

God knew His people were not ready to face anyone in battle yet. But was God concerned that Israel didn’t have regimented troops or sufficient weaponry? No, because in later battles, God would make it very clear to His people that He could give them victory over their enemies against all odds. In fact, sometimes God even increased the odds against His people (as in the story of Gideon).

The reason the Israelites were not ready to fight the Philistines was because their faith in God was insufficient. As God Himself stated, seeing the Philistines would have filled the Israelites with fear. Those who are full of fear are void of faith.

God knew, however, that in order for His people to ultimately possess the promised land, they would need to grow in faith, because they would face formidable foes in Canaan. When the Israelites finally did possess Canaan, it was not through their own strength but by faith in God. The battle of Jericho is just one example. The Psalmist, commenting on Israel’s conquest of Canaan, wrote:

For by their own sword they did not possess the land; and their own arm did not save them; but Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy presence, for Thou didst favor them (Ps. 44:3).


God’s Method for Building Faith
So put yourself in God’s shoes. If you were God, and you had a group of three million people who needed to grow in faith, how would you help them grow?

You know exactly what you’d do. You’d lead them into some minor difficulty where they would have an opportunity to trust you. Then you would deliver them from their problem, and hopefully their faith in you would grow.

That is exactly what God did shortly after Israel’s exodus. He supernaturally led His people to the edge of the Red Sea where they were trapped. They had no escape from Pharaoh’s advancing army, and it appeared as if they would be massacred.

Let’s look at this scene from God’s standpoint and from Israel’s standpoint. Notice once more that it was God who directed Israel’s journey to the precise place He wanted them to camp by the Red Sea:

    Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea” (Ex. 14:1-2).

God’s purpose was to bait Pharaoh. He wanted the Egyptian despot to think the Israelites were confused and lost in the wilderness, and that is precisely why He told them to “turn back.” Furthermore, God wanted Pharaoh to notice that the Israelites were strategically vulnerable to attack. Notice the very next verses in which God said:

    “For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 14:3-4).

So there we have God’s bird’s-eye view of the entire situation. He put Israel into a difficult situation for the express purpose of performing a delivering miracle on their behalf and bringing glory to His name.

If you had been in Israel’s situation, what would you have done? Would you have rejoiced when you saw Pharaoh’s advancing army, trusting that God was about to work a miracle on your behalf? Or would you have reacted as Israel did when they surveyed their predicament? They prepared to die:

    And as Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and so they became very frightened....Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?....it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Ex. 14:10-12).

I’m sure you know the rest of the story. God split the Red Sea and Israel walked through on dry land. Even that took some faith on their part, as Hebrews 11:29 tells us: “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing on dry land”(emphasis added).


Walking by Faith
Can you imagine walking down, down, down, to the bottom of the Red Sea, and on either side of you, walls of water are piled up, and somehow the water is not falling back on you? I can picture two Israelites walking through that great valley of water. One says to the other behind him, “Hey, do you have any idea how that water is being held back?” The other one says, “I don’t know, but would you mind walking a little faster?”

Why did God split the Red Sea rather than instantly build a bridge over it? Or why didn’t God simply fly Israel across to the other side? Surely God could have instantly built a bridge across the Red Sea if He had wanted to. And if God transported Philip the evangelist, and if He is one day going to transport all of us at the rapture, then surely He could have transported Israel to the other side of the Red Sea. So why didn’t He? Simply because He wanted their faith to grow. He wanted them to trust Him and believe that the waters would not fall back on them.

After an experience like that, Israel should have had a little more faith in God and realized that nothing is too difficult for Him. They should have learned that God’s word can be trusted no matter how impossible the circumstances appear.

Can you see how this applies to you and me? Sometimes God may lead us into situations where it seems as if we are trapped. There is no human way of escape. God doesn’t want us to question Him or complain—He wants us to have faith and rejoice, believing that He will deliver us through His power.

The Bible tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (see Heb. 11:6). What does it mean to have faith? It means to believe God’s Word above all else, even the testimony of our senses. We must remember, however, that, for the most part, if there were no trials, there would be no need for faith either. Most miracles in the Bible began as problems.

How are you doing in your walk of faith? Are you a grumbling Israelite? Then you need to begin to obey Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

When we complain, we reveal our lack of faith. If God permits difficulties to come our way as He did with His people at the Red Sea, from His standpoint, it is only so that He can work a miracle on our behalf. These present difficulties are wonderful opportunities for our spiritual growth.


If You Don’t Pass the First Test...
The children of Israel obviously failed their first test at the shore of the Red Sea. Psalm 106:7 comments: “Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Thy wonders; they did not remember Thine abundant kindnesses, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.”

God doesn’t give up easily. One chapter and three days later, He led them to another place where they would have an opportunity to trust Him again. The pillar of cloud led them out into the desert, and after three days, their water supplies were exhausted:

    And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying “What shall we drink?” Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them (Ex. 15:22b-25, emphasis added).

Have you ever been thirsty with no way to quench your thirst? Quite possibly you haven’t because most of us can turn on the water faucet and get a drink any time we grow a little thirsty. But imagine being one of the Israelites. Your mouth is parched, and there is no water in sight. In every direction all you can see is sand and stones. You are very weary from walking. Your children keep complaining for water. The desert sun is hot.

Suddenly someone spots a patch of green on the hazy horizon. Is it a mirage or an oasis? Your pace quickens, especially when you see the pillar of cloud heading in the direction of the distant greenery. Soon three million hopeful people are racing with you to what surely must be an oasis. The leader of the pack shouts, “A lake!” and a crescendo of joy rises from the huffing and puffing multitude. The first man to the water’s edge puts his lips to the surface with an expression of delightful anticipation but immediately spits out his drink with a grimace —the water is putrid, undrinkable. With questioning eyes, a mass of panting people look heavenward.

We must not forget that it was God who led His people to those waters. Is it possible that God didn’t know the waters were undrinkable before Israel arrived? When Moses cried out to the Lord about their predicament, did the Lord respond, “Oh I’m sorry Moses, I didn’t realize those waters were undrinkable. If I had, I would have made sure they were purified before you all arrived. Sorry! I’ll try to do better next time”?

No, God knew full well those waters were bitter long before the people of Israel ever got there. In fact, He knew the exact dimensions of the lake, how much all that water weighed, the exact temperature of the water at every depth, and how much of it would evaporate that day.

So why did God lead the Israelites to the bitter waters of Marah? We plainly read the answer to that question in verse 25. God was testing them. “Are My people going to trust Me in this situation? Will they lift their hands and praise Me, believing they are about to witness another miracle of My provision, or will they doubt, complaining and grumbling once again? Are they ready to take possession of the promised land?”

It is quite obvious that Israel failed this test; but still, God in His mercy made the bitter waters sweet. Thank God for the mercy He has shown us when we’ve doubted Him and complained. Now it’s time to start trusting Him fully.


The Hyper-Sovereignists and the Non-Sovereignists
This is a good place to mention a little something about God’s sovereignty—a subject we will study in greater detail later on. There seem to be two extreme views that Christians adopt concerning this topic.

    Some Christians, had they been in Moses’ place during this incident of the bitter waters of Marah, would have stood up and proclaimed, “We know that God is in control, and so this has happened for a reason. Let us not question God, but let us trust Him; He has some unknown reason why He wants us to drink these bitter waters. Why He wants us all to become ill or die is beyond our understanding, but we must not question Him. His ways are higher than our ways.” Then they would have piously drunk the bitter waters and become deathly ill.

    The other group of Christians would have reacted differently. One of their spokesmen would have stood and proclaimed, “We know that God is always good to His people. The Bible says He is love. And so there is no way that it could have been God that led us to this place! It must have been the devil! We’ve been deceived, so let’s rebuke the devil and backtrack to where we were when we were certain it was God who was leading us!”

Can you see how both viewpoints are partially right, but also partially wrong? The first group, the “hyper-sovereignists,” are correct in seeing God’s sovereign control over their circumstances. They are wrong, however, in accepting everything that happens as God’s final and ordained will for them. When a hyper-sovereignist experiences difficulties, he thinks those difficulties must be God’s ordained will, and that his job is to patiently endure all his sufferings.

The second group, the “non-sovereignists,” are correct in believing that God loves them and wants them to be blessed. They are wrong, however, in not seeing God’s sovereign plan being worked out in their daily circumstances. To them, anything that brings any difficulty has no divine purpose. There is a balance here, and I hope by the end of this book you have a clearer understanding of that balance.

If God brings us to difficult places or allows difficulties to come our way, it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t love us. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that He wants us to humbly accept those difficulties as our lot in life. He wants us to confidently trust His revealed will in the midst of the trial, believing that He will keep His promises. He wants us to use those difficulties as stepping stones to greater faith and spiritual maturity.


Test Three
What happens when you fail one of God’s tests? That’s very simple—you take the test over. In fact, you may take the same test over and over again until you finally pass or you prove yourself to be a hopeless case.

If you pass the test, do you know what that means? It means you are in a position to receive more of God’s blessings. It also means that God can use you to be a greater blessing to others (as we noted when Abraham passed his test with Isaac).

Since Israel failed their second test, God mercifully gave them yet another opportunity to trust Him. Just a few verses after the incident of the waters of Marah, God tested His people again. This time the test was not centered around allowing His people to become thirsty—this time He allowed them to become a little hungry:

    And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:2-3).

You can see they were not exactly displaying a lot of faith in God. In the very next verse, God responded by devising a test and giving the Israelites yet another opportunity to trust Him:

    Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. And it will come about on the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily” (Ex. 16:4-5, emphasis added).

This scripture plainly says that God was testing them to see if they would walk in His instruction concerning the manna.

Did Israel pass this test? No, because the very first day there were those who gathered too much and those who gathered too little, yet each person’s portion miraculously (and mercifully) turned into exactly one “omerful”—the portion that God said each should gather (see Ex. 16:17-18).

God had also instructed that no person should “leave any portion of it until morning,” but some did. As a result, it bred worms and became foul just as God had warned. Obviously, the person who gathered more than what God had commanded, or who tried to keep some for the next day, was demonstrating that he doubted God would provide every day.

Sometimes (but not all the time, or forever) we may have to trust God for daily provision. I have at times, and God has always been faithful. Once, during a lean time, someone whom I hardly knew stopped by and gave my wife and me two gift certificates from a local grocery store worth fifty dollars. God provided! “Give us this day our daily bread” became a prayer to which we could relate. [Also See

That was a precious time in my walk with God. I learned to trust God, and my faith grew. Much of the time it looks as if God is not going to come through, but I’m not concerned with what it looks like—I’m trusting God’s Word, and He always comes through. It seems as if it is usually at the last minute. If you trust God, trials are times to see miracles.


Back to the Israelites
The children of Israel should have known it was God’s will for them to have food and water to drink. In both situations, instead of grumbling, they should have begun to praise God, trusting that He would provide.

Looking back forty years at the incidents about which we have just read, Moses wrote the following divinely-inspired commentary:

    “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:2-3, emphasis added).

God wanted the people of Israel to learn to depend on Him for everything. They, however, were very much like some of us—proud and self-sufficient. We need God for salvation (to go to heaven), but in everything else, we can make it just fine on our own, thank you. As a result, God will have to teach us the same lesson by allowing situations to arise in our lives where we can only look to Him.

Remember that God only humbles those who are proud. You may never have to learn this lesson if you already realize that apart from God you are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing.

All of these “humbling” situations are an indication that God is working to bring us to full stature—to be like Jesus. Jesus was full of faith, and so are those who are Christ-like. Jesus was fully dependent upon His Father, and we should be likewise.

Moses finished his discourse with these very significant words:

    “In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you, and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end” (Deut. 8:16, emphasis added).

God’s purpose in testing His people was to do good to them in the end, which, of course, is His purpose in testing us.

How can tests bring blessings in the end? There are several ways. First of all, the person who trusts God in the midst of adversity is the person whom God can trust with greater blessings, because that person knows that God is his source.

Let me apply this truth in the area of money since the Bible tells us that all our wealth is a stewardship from God. A believer who becomes prosperous without realizing that God is the one who enabled him to make money is a believer whose money may very well draw him away from God. In fact, that is basically what Moses said during his discourse we have been reading:

    “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth...”(Deut. 8:17-18a).

The person who knows that God is the source of his wealth is a person whom God can trust with more money—because he will be a better steward of that which has been entrusted to him.

Moreover, the person who trusts God in the midst of adversity is also the person whom God can trust with greater responsibilities. If we can’t overcome the small challenges that come to stop us from doing small things for God, how can we ever expect to overcome the bigger obstacles that Satan sends when God calls us to do even more for Him? As has been said, “Great faith is a product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come after great trials.”

Strive to be found faithful by trusting God during small trials, and He will see to it that you are promoted to a place of greater usefulness. Our faith will continually grow as we feed it with God’s Word and exercise it in the midst of difficulties.

    Footnote 2 I realize that the King James Version doesn’t say that God tested Israel, but that God proved Israel. I can honestly say that the King James is the only version I know of that translates it prove rather than test. Every modern version says test, including the New King James Version. It is my understanding that the word test did not exist in the English language four hundred years ago when the King James Bible was translated, and that the word prove had a meaning that was somewhat equivalent to our modern word test. So that is why you don’t find the word test anywhere in the King James Version. But I can assure you, after many hours of research of the original Hebrew, that test is without a doubt the most accurate rendering here and in the other Bible references which I will quote. If you have any doubts, I encourage you to see the Appendix.
     

Midnight Praise

    For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink....Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were....Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction... (1 Cor. 10:1-11).

In the above scripture, the apostle Paul told us why the stories about the Israelites have been written down and preserved—for our benefit, that we might not follow their poor example. The people of Israel continually failed test after test, and when they ultimately believed the evil reports of the ten spies, God gave them up as hopeless. Because of their unbelief, they failed to enter the promised land (see Heb. 3:19).

I always think of the wandering Israelites when someone tells me, “Well, if God wants me to have something, He’ll just give it to me.” That is obviously not true. God wanted the Israelites to possess the land of Canaan, but they failed to gain it. Whether or not they possessed their inheritance was up to them, not God.

The Israelites never learned to trust God, disregarding the testimony of their circumstances. Consequently, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years where the majority eventually died. Then God began working with the new generation. (And they were obviously tested themselves, for example, at Jericho.)

You and I don’t want to follow the poor example of that first generation of Israelites, but unfortunately, too many of us are doing just that. We’re always grumbling and complaining about the problems we face even though our Bibles tell us that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We never learn to trust God in the midst of difficulties even though we know God loves us dearly. Our faith falters. As a result, we never experience the degree of blessing that God intends for us to enjoy or become the ministers of God’s blessings that God intends us to become.

James admonished:

    Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (Jas. 1:2-4).

One translation says that when we encounter difficulties, we should “welcome them as friends.” How many of us are doing that? When a trial comes knocking at our doors, do we say, “Praise the Lord! HELLO, MR. TRIAL! You arrive as an opportunity for me to prove God’s promises are true, and once you’re gone, I’ll be a better person for having had you around! My faith will be even stronger; I’ll have a good testimony to share with others; and I’ll be even closer to being ‘perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’!”?

Difficulties come to all of us, but it is the one who has faith in God who comes out better after the trial is over. The person who doesn’t trust God’s promises may never find deliverance from his situation, just like the Israelites who wandered and died in the desert.


The Majority is Not Always Right
Essentially, the Israelites failed every test they faced in the wilderness, culminating with their refusal to enter the promised land because they feared the Canaanites. There were “giants in the land,” and they felt like grasshoppers in their sight.

What they needed to do was look not at the size of the Canaanites but at the size of God. Then the Canaanites would have looked like ants! Because the Israelites didn’t have the right perspective, they all eventually perished in the wilderness. Everyone, that is, except Joshua and Caleb, the only two men who believed that God’s promise was more trustworthy than their circumstances. Eventually, they possessed the land.

Sometimes those of us who are disregarding our circumstances and trusting God’s Word feel like we are in a minority, and we are. Think about Joshua and Caleb. They were the only two out of more than a million others. But personally, I’d rather be classified with the minority who are living in the land that flows with milk and honey than with the majority whose bones are six feet under!


Paul and Silas Under Fire
Prayers of grumbling and complaint rarely receive an answer, but there is something about rejoicing and praising that catches God’s attention. Why? Because God responds to faith, and faith is expressed through joy. A wonderful example of this principle is found in the New Testament in Acts 16.

Paul and Silas were following God’s leading during their second missionary journey when Paul received a vision in the night. In the vision he saw a man over in Macedonia (in modern-day Greece) calling out to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So he and Silas set sail for Macedonia, and upon their arrival preached the gospel first in a city named Philippi.

Things went well at first—a woman named Lydia was saved, and a young girl was dramatically delivered from a demon. Then the trouble started. Paul and Silas soon found themselves beaten with rods by the local Roman authorities and thrown into prison.

Now before we go any further, allow me to ask you: Who was it that led Paul and Silas to Philippi? You’re correct, it was God Himself.

Did God know beforehand that Paul and Silas would be beaten and thrown in jail? Of course He did. Therefore, Paul and Silas could rest in God’s guidance and His sovereignty. They knew they were in God’s perfect will.

What was their response to their adversity? The Bible says that about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God! What happened? Suddenly there was a great earthquake, and every prisoner’s chains were unfastened. The unsaved jailer almost committed suicide (he would have spent eternity in hell) but was gloriously saved along with his whole family. A few hours later, the now born-again jailer served Paul and Silas a hot meal in his own home. Glory be!

I’m afraid that many of us, if we had been Paul and Silas, might have acted differently. Instead of praising God, we’d be grumbling to the jailer about the room temperature and the food. The jailer would have concluded that Christians are no different than anyone else. Then, during our prayers, we’d be asking God why He didn’t love us anymore.

Paul and Silas, however, had faith in God. Did they have faith that God was going to deliver them from prison? No, they couldn’t have faith for such a thing because God has never promised us that we will always be delivered from the persecution we suffer. They could, however, believe that “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), because they knew they were in the center of God’s will and that He loved them. We should follow their example. It was from a prison cell that Paul wrote the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4).


Faith that Overcomes
Let’s examine one more example of a man who knew what to do when trouble arose. His name was David, and he authored numerous psalms during difficult times in His life. We could look at many examples of his faith during trials, but let’s just now look at Psalm 3. David wrote this one when he was running for his life from his own son, Absalom:

    O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God” (Ps. 3:1-2).

So there you have the problem stated. Too many Christians would have ended their prayer right here with, “in Jesus’ name, Amen.” David knew better than that.

    But [that means there is something else to consider besides the problem] Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me [that means those folks who are out to get me aren’t going to get me], my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me [Notice he didn’t say, “I sure do hope He heard me”] from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept [There’s no sense staying awake all night and fretting]; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me [They didn’t get me while I was sleeping because God was watching over me]. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about [Why should I be afraid of all of them if God is on my side?]. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For Thou hast smitten all my enemies on the cheek [My faith is strong because I’ve seen you deliver me from my enemies before]; Thou hast shattered the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; and blessing be upon Thy people! (Ps. 3:3-8).

What did David do during that time of adversity? Did he say, “God, I know you are sovereign, and so I accept this trouble from you. Please help me to accept it as my lot in life”?

No, David trusted God for deliverance. What happened as a result? David was delivered, as we know from reading about the very trial he was facing (see 2 Samuel 15).

God didn’t love David any more than He loves you. If, however, you want the kind of results David enjoyed, you’ll have to trust God like David did. So remember, faith shouts; doubt pouts.


This is a Test...

The Bible is full of stories about people whom God tested. Numerous scriptures explicitly state that God tested certain persons, and an abundance of stories plainly reveal examples of the same principle. Any time God instructed someone to do something that required faith or obedience, it could be considered a test from God. For example, when He instructed the new generation of Israelites to silently circle Jericho for six days, their faith and obedience were tested as a result of God’s command. Praise God that on that occasion, they passed the test. Their parents no doubt would have failed it.

Let’s look at a few examples of people whom the Bible emphatically states God tested. Once you see a few of these examples, you’ll notice many other biblical stories about how God tested certain persons.

We’ve already read about God’s testing of Abraham and the nation of Israel. Later we will study David, Joseph, Philip, and Paul, all of whom the Bible straightforwardly declares were tested by God. Our objective, of course, is to help you better understand God’s working in your own life.


Hezekiah
Hezekiah, a godly king of Judah, reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. Of him it is written: “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).

Hezekiah faced a number of difficulties during his reign, but he also witnessed God’s power as he trusted Him for deliverance. It was during Hezekiah’s reign that Assyria invaded Judah, and an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers who were camped around Jerusalem. Later, Hezekiah experienced divine healing from a terminal illness, and he lived fifteen years longer than he would have otherwise. After his dramatic healing, however, we read:

    But Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit he received, because his heart was proud; therefore wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. However, Hezekiah humbled the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come on them in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 32:25-26).

Hezekiah became proud but then repented. Keep this in mind as we continue following Hezekiah’s story.

When the son of the king of Babylon heard of Hezekiah’s amazing healing, he sent some envoys to Jerusalem to bring Hezekiah a present. While the envoys were there, Hezekiah vainly showed them all of his treasures: “There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:13b).

Shortly thereafter, the prophet Isaiah foretold to Hezekiah that the day would come when all his treasures would be carried away to Babylon. Concerning this incident, the writer of 2 Chronicles adds an interesting footnote:

    And even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart (2 Chron. 32:31, emphasis added).

Hezekiah obviously wrestled with the temptation to be proud, and God was watching him during this particular incident of the Babylonian envoys. God “left him alone” so that He might know what was in Hezekiah’s heart. This is an important fact. Our actions reveal what is in our hearts.

As I’ve previously mentioned, God’s primary purpose in testing people is to discover what is in their hearts. In Hezekiah’s case, God wanted to know if the king was still proud, so He allowed him the opportunity to show off his treasures to the Babylonian envoys. As the Babylonians were learning about Hezekiah’s hidden riches, God was learning about Hezekiah’s hidden heart motives. I wonder what God is learning about us when He leaves us alone?


Later Generations of Israelites Tested
During the times of the judges, we discover another biblical example of God’s testing of His people. Soon after Gideon died, Israel reverted to idolatry. And God said:

    “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not listened to My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not”....Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them....And they were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the Lord...(Judg. 2:20-22; 3:1,4, emphasis added).

God permitted several heathen nations to remain within the territory of the Promised Land in order to test Israel. God had commanded Israel not to intermarry with them or serve their idols. In other words, God tested Israel by permitting them to be tempted. How could God know if His people would obey Him concerning His commandment not to serve foreign gods and intermarry with foreign nations unless there were some foreign nations living near Israel?

Did Israel pass their test? The very next verse tells us the answer:

    And the sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods (Judg. 3:5-6).

They miserably failed their test, and as a result, God disciplined them by selling them “into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia” (Judg. 3:8).

We’ll explore this theme in greater detail later, but I want you to see now that God may test us at times by allowing us to be tempted.


More Tests
If you began this book thinking that God doesn’t test anyone, I hope you are convinced otherwise by now. If not, let me throw in a few more biblical examples.

During the time of Isaiah, God said that He had tested Israel and found her wanting: “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10, emphasis added). Times of affliction are always times of testing.

Years later, the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah:

    “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind [inner man], even to give to each man according to His ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer. 17:10, emphasis added).

Here again we learn that God has a purpose behind His tests. Once He sees our actions (or reactions) He then will reward or discipline us accordingly.

Predicting a remnant who would one day serve Him, the Lord said through the prophet Zechariah:

    “And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zech. 13:9, emphasis added).

Here again is the theme of testing through affliction. Like gold when it is refined in the fire, so affliction reveals the impurities in us.

David affirmed that God tests everyone in Psalm 11:

    The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked... (Ps. 11:4-5a, emphasis added).

Anyone who maintains the idea that God doesn’t test anyone is going to have to disagree with a number of the Bible’s authors. Anyone who is honest with the Bible, however, will have to agree that God tests people. As I mentioned before, we will later look at scriptures that prove God tested Joseph, David, Philip, and Paul. In the appendix, I’ve included a listing of every scripture that mentions God’s testing of people if you’d like to research it for yourself.

Now let’s examine a few examples of biblical individuals whom God obviously tested although the Bible doesn’t explicitly say so by using the actual word test.


Solomon’s Test
Solomon’s motives were tested when the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you” (1 Kin. 3:5). Solomon asked for wisdom to rule Israel wisely, and God was pleased with his request:

    “Because you have asked this thing and not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days” (1 Kin. 3:11-13).

Solomon’s aspiration was not the accumulation of money, living a long life, or receiving the honor due a king, nor was he preoccupied with revenge. He wanted to serve. Jesus said that if we want to be great, we should become servants of all (see Mt. 20:26). Because Solomon had a servant’s heart, God made him great. Only a servant can be trusted to be a godly leader.

The New Testament parallel to Solomon’s story is found in Matthew’s Gospel. There Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

What are you living for? The accumulation of more money? Prestige? Popularity? Power? Or are you living to further God’s kingdom upon this earth, and to live in way that is pleasing to Him? You may have never searched your heart to answer those questions honestly, but you can be sure that God already knows the answer, because you’ve been tested.


A Few Others...
If we wanted to we could look at the tests of many other Bible characters—people like Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Elijah, Elisha, Jehoshaphat, Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. We would find some who passed their tests and others who failed. Apparently even Jesus Himself was tested:

    Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1, emphasis added).

This scripture plainly states that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness that He might be tempted by the devil. God tested Israel in the same manner when He permitted them to be tempted (in Judges 2 and 3). Here again God used Satan’s temptations as a test. Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Jesus could only be fully qualified to be our Savior if He was sinless. How could He possibly be declared sinless unless He had been tempted in every way? Praise God that Jesus passed every test—the only man ever to do so.


Faith Without a Test is Not Faith at All
Actually, there is no such thing as faith without a test. Faith “is the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith means trusting God’s promises in spite of what we see or how we feel or what the circumstances bring. Faith means disregarding the testimony of our physical senses, but rather, holding fast to God’s promise. If you are going to exercise your faith, it will be tested.

Jesus instructed us to “believe we receive when we pray,” and if we will, then He promised that we will have our request (see Mark 11:24). For some requests, we must stand in faith for a certain length of time, believing God has answered our prayer before we actually see the answer. It might be one second or it might be one year, but there is always a time when our faith is tested.

The Bible teaches us that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Without tests, however, it is impossible to exercise faith because faith is not needed for that which can be seen.

What takes the highest priority in your life? Is it what you see with your eyes and hear with your ears, or God’s eternal Word? We need to put God’s Word in its rightful place, as our ultimate source of truth. We should judge everything that comes into our minds with the question, “Does that agree with what God has said?” If it doesn’t, then it’s an imagination we need to “cast down” (see 1 Cor. 10:5, KJV).

If you want to have God’s best in your life, you’ll have to learn to take God at His Word, disregarding the testimony of your senses and circumstances. Your faith will be tested, but when it is, simply rejoice in the midst of trial and continue to stand upon God’s promises, knowing the outcome in advance. The Bible promises, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (Jer. 17:7).


The Training of the Twelve
Jesus trained His twelve disciples using the same method God used to train the people of Israel after the Exodus. He often placed them in challenging situations where they had opportunities to extend their faith. In this chapter, we’ll examine a few of their “training exercises” in Jesus’ spiritual boot-camp. Since God never changes, we can expect to be trained just as they were. Tests and trials are opportunities to grow.

Once when Jesus boarded a boat with His disciples on the Sea of Galilee, Scripture records that He said, “Let us go over to the other side” (Mark 4:35).

    Question number one: Was Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee?

The answer is: Of course He was. Jesus lived in perfect obedience to His Father’s will. He and His disciples were in God’s perfect will to go over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

After embarking on their journey across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and the twelve found themselves assaulted by a “fierce gale of wind” (Mark 4:37), and their boat began to sink as waves broke over its side. Jesus was amazingly asleep during all of this.

    Question number two: Did God know beforehand that gale-force winds would assault the Sea of Galilee when His Son and the disciples were traveling across it?

Of course He did. If God is all-knowing, then it certainly didn’t catch Him by surprise.

    Now the final question: So why did God lead His Son and the disciples to travel across the water during a time when He knew there would be a gale?

Certainly it was not because He wanted them all to drown. Could the reason have been that God wanted to give them an opportunity to trust Him?

No doubt if you had been in the boat that evening, you would have started praising the Lord when the storm hit, trusting that you were going to make it. (Right? Of course!) The disciples, however, weren’t quite up to your level of faith! Unfortunately, rather than exercise faith, the disciples exercised their fear, and woke Jesus who subsequently rebuked the wind and the sea.That is not the end of the story, however. Once the winds were calm again, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

It’s clear that Jesus expected His disciples to have faith, and the reason is because He had told them it was His will to go over to the other side of the sea. They should have at least believed that they would make it to the other side, but they didn’t. They expected to drown.


Taking the Test Over
What happens if you don’t pass one of God’s tests? You get to take it over again. This incident we have just been studying can be found in the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Just two chapters later, Jesus sent His disciples out on the Sea of Galilee once more to go “to the other side.” On this occasion, however, He didn’t get in the boat with them. This time He wouldn’t be there to rescue them.

Perhaps you already know that the Sea of Galilee would be better described not as a sea but as a lake. It’s only about seven miles wide and fourteen miles long. From a vantage point on one of the high hills that surround it, you can see the whole body of water and almost any boats that are on it.

Sure enough, the winds began to rise on the lake, coming from the direction to which the disciples were rowing. It wasn’t a severe gale, but it was enough to challenge their little faith.

Were the disciples in God’s perfect will? Certainly. They were simply following Jesus’ directions, who was undoubtedly being led by the Holy Spirit. God wanted them to go to the other side to minister to the people in that region. In fact, Jesus would shortly be traveling to the same location, only He wouldn’t use a boat to get there. So the disciples were in God’s perfect will, following God’s plan.

Did God know that the wind would be contrary that evening on Galilee? Of course He did. No one can intelligently argue that God didn’t know in advance what would happen.


Row, Row, Row Your Boat...
The disciples departed on their voyage sometime in the evening (see Mark 6:46-47). So let’s say they departed at 7:00 P.M. At most, those twelve grown men had to row about five miles, perhaps even less (from Bethsaida to Capernaum).

They made progress at first, but after they had rowed about three and-a-half miles, the wind began to blow against them. Still, they kept on rowing. When Jesus came walking to them on the water, however, the Bible says that it was about the “fourth watch of the night” (Mark 6:48). That means somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 A.M.! What should have taken no more than a couple of hours took perhaps eleven hours, and at least eight hours!

Now can you picture the scene in that boat? Those twelve rowers were exhausted. Their backs, shoulders, and arms were sore. They should have been in bed hours ago. They were extremely sleepy. They had been on the water for as many as eleven hours. And they were making no progress.

    I can imagine Philip saying, “Guys, this is ridiculous. Let’s just put up the sail and head back.”

    Andrew: “NO WAY! We haven’t come this far to quit!”

    James: “That’s right, and Jesus said for us to go to the other side. Remember how just two chapters ago we got rebuked when we panicked out here?”

    Peter: “Oh sure. But that was different. Jesus was with us then. This is ludicrous!”

    John: “Okay, boys, now settle down. Let’s walk in love toward each other just like Jesus has been teaching us.”

    Bartholomew: “Look who’s talking—the one who secretly wants to sit at Jesus’ right hand in His kingdom! And you’re telling us we should walk in love?”

    Thaddaeus: “All right already! Hey, maybe we should do like Jesus did and rebuke this wind!”

    Thomas: “I doubt that would make any difference.”

So you get the picture. I can imagine Jesus viewing the whole scene from His mountain perch and sadly shaking His head as He listened to the disciples’ arguments echo across the lake. After waiting eight to eleven hours for them to exercise a little faith, He sighs heavily, stands up, walks down the mountain, and starts walking toward them on the water.

When the twelve disciples saw Him walking by them on the water, they practically jumped out of their skins! Mercifully, Jesus assured them that they were not seeing a ghost, and then taught all of them a lesson about faith.

Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matt. 14:28). Jesus replied, “Come!” and Peter stepped out onto the water. He was literally walking by faith. He knew he was in God’s perfect will out there upon the water because he had a promise from Jesus on it.

But then he began to doubt as he looked at the wind and the waves. This is impossible! he thought to himself, and he quickly began to sink. Mercifully, Jesus resuced him and got him safely back to the boat. As He did, Jesus said to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31).

Clearly, it was doubt that caused Peter to sink, and it seems reasonable to conclude that doubt kept the disciples on the lake all night. There is no record of any attempt on their part to exercise any faith, and the Bible says that they were “straining at the oars” when Jesus came to them (Mark 6:48).

That reminds me of so many of us. We’re straining at life’s oars, trying with all our strength to overcome our difficulties. We should do what the twelve should have done. We should drop our oars beside us (that means quitting all our own striving and straining and worrying) and lift our hands in praise to God, trusting for His help. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, but through Him, we can do all things.


Other Tests
Space does not permit me to do an exhaustive study on the spiritual growth of Jesus’ twelve disciples or to look at every opportunity God gave them to stretch their faith. Let me briefly point out, however, that they had to trust God for daily provision when Jesus sent them out by twos. He didn’t allow them to take along any money or even a bag to carry basic provisions (see Matt. 10:9-10). They had to trust God every single day.

Months later, Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” (Luke 22:35). They had learned to trust God to meet their needs.

The twelve had to learn to trust God for the words they would speak because Jesus did not even permit them to prepare a defense before their accusers. They would have to trust the Holy Spirit to give them “utterance and wisdom which none of their opponents would be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:15).

Peter once had to trust that God would supply his tax money out of a fish’s mouth (see Matt. 17:24-27).

Nine of the disciples failed to trust that Jesus had given them authority over all unclean spirits. Finding them unable to cast out a demon from a young boy, Jesus sternly rebuked them for their lack of faith (see Matt. 17:14-20).

Twice (can you guess why it was twice?) all twelve had their faith stretched to pass out a few loaves and fishes to feed a multitude. You may have noticed that when Jesus fed the five thousand (the initial time He multiplied food), He first asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” John’s divinely-inspired commentary states, “And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do” (John 6:5-6, emphasis added).

Concerning this same story of the feeding of the 5,000, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that Jesus’ disciples came to Him and requested that He send the multitude away to the surrounding villages to buy food to eat. Jesus’ response was startling: “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” (Matt. 14:16). They, like Philip, were also being tested. Jesus was watching their response. Would they respond in faith or doubt?

If Jesus tells you that you can feed a multitude with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, you can. Just start distributing what you’ve got, and you’ll see a miracle. Unfortunately, the twelve hadn’t grown to that level of faith yet, and their response was one of unbelief: “We have here only five loaves and two fish” (Matt. 14:17).

On numerous occasions the disciples had to exercise their faith as they ministered to needy people. Jesus had commanded them: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons...” (Matt. 10:8). All those things take faith to do.

Again, I don’t have the space to examine every incident of the apostles’ training. I just wanted you to see that God trained them in a very similar manner as He did the children of Israel. He will, of course, work with us in the same way because He never changes. Are you beginning to recognize God’s tests in your own life?


Jesus Tests the Sick

Once we begin to understand the subject of God’s tests, we soon notice many other biblical examples of people who were obviously tested. Jesus, for example, sometimes tested the faith of people He healed.

Why would Jesus test someone’s faith? Simply because there are counterfeits to authentic faith. What appears to be faith must be tested to determine if it is, in fact, authentic faith. In order for faith to be proved true, it must be tested.

Let’s consider a few incidents when Jesus tested people’s faith.


Five Faith-Filled Fellows
We’ll begin with the story of the four men who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof. Their determined faith is certainly inspiring.

At first, the four men couldn’t find a way to get their paralyzed friend into the house at which Jesus was preaching in Capernaum. The windows and door were filled with people listening to His teaching, but that didn’t stop them. They decided to make their own way directly through the roof.

Now think about what they did. Who owned that house? Those four men must have realized that after they dug an opening (see Mark 2:4), the person who owned the house would be upset, and someone would have to repair the roof. Perhaps they assumed that once their friend was healed, the owner of the house would likely show them some degree of mercy.

So they started pounding on the roof and digging through it. Can you imagine the scene inside the house? I don’t suppose that digging a hole through a hardened, clay roof is something you can do quietly. Imagine the thud of large rocks or the scraping sound of some digging tools reverberating through the house as the four men slowly progressed. Imagine small chunks of dried clay falling from the ceiling and landing on people’s heads. Surely the air in the house must have become choked with dust, with people coughing and wiping it from their eyes. There had to have been a commotion, and surely someone went outside to yell at the men who were destroying the roof!

Finally the four friends broke a small opening, and a shaft of light stretched from the ceiling to the floor—easily seen because of all the dust particles in the air.

Next they began tearing away at the edges of their hole to enlarge it to fit their friend’s stretcher. More noise and dust. More coughing and choking and wiping dirt from eyes. By the time those four men peered over the edges of their hole to see if they were on target (above Jesus), they must have seen a pretty hostile crowd staring back up at them! Beyond that, they knew full well that they were about to disrupt the whole meeting to an even greater degree when they lowered their friend into the room!


Jesus’ Reaction
What was Jesus doing all this time? We don’t exactly know. I find it hard to believe that He continued preaching during the commotion. One thing we know He didn’t do: He didn’t stop the men from digging a big hole in the roof.

No record in any of the Gospels mentions that Jesus told someone near a window to stop the men from digging their hole, or that He Himself yelled up at the men once their hole was big enough for His voice to be carried to the roof. The Bible simply says that Jesus “saw their faith” (Mark 2:5). That’s all we know of Jesus’ reaction—He was observing their faith.

Why didn’t Jesus stop the men from digging? Because in that clay, which stood between Jesus and their friend, was the proof of their faith. Every piece of clay that was torn from that roof was a testimony to the faith of those five persistent men.

If the devil was the same then as he is today, then those men’s minds were assailed with doubts and discouragement as they started digging: “The owner of this house is going to have you put in jail!” “Can’t you hear all the people coughing and choking in the room below you? Are you crazy?” “What if your friend isn’t healed? Then you’ll really feel stupid for this stunt!” But they would not be denied. There faith persevered.

I like to imagine Jesus folding His arms, leaning up against the wall, and just watching that hole in the roof grow larger and larger, as a smile grew larger and larger on His face. I love to see faith—it pleases Me, He says to Himself. There is no record of Him becoming angry over the matter.

Finally, the four men lowered their paralyzed friend on a stretcher by ropes in front of Jesus—a difficult task in itself. They believed if they could get their friend to Jesus, Jesus would heal him. And He did.

What would have happened if they had initially brought their friend to that house, and finding no way in, had said, “Well, if it was God’s will for our friend to be healed, God would have made a way for us to get to Jesus”?

Had they adopted such a line of reasoning, their friend would not have been healed, even though we know (from reading the story as it turned out) that it was Jesus’ will for the paralyzed man to be healed.

I wonder if any other sick people came to that house that day, hoping to be healed, and not finding any way in, became discouraged, and then went home, still sick. We don’t like to think of that, but it’s a real possibility. If such a thing happened, then their faith didn’t pass the test of perseverance.


Blind Bartimaeus
He ought to be called “Believing Bartimaeus,” in light of his tenacity to be healed.

Bartimaeus was sitting on a road outside Jericho, begging as he did every day. Apparently, he heard a crowd passing by and, upon inquiry, discovered that it was Jesus who was leading the people, someone about whom Bartimaeus must have heard.

Bartimaeus immediately “began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:47).

Jesus, however, didn’t immediately stop or seemingly take any notice. Perhaps Jesus didn’t hear him at first. However, I suspect Jesus must have heard him because Bartimaeus was making such a disturbance that “many were sternly telling him to be quiet” (Mark 10:48a).

If Jesus did hear him, then why didn’t He immediately respond? Because the man’s faith had to be proved; and if it was going to be proved, it had to be tested.

Bartimaeus had plenty of opportunity to be discouraged and quit. Again, the Bible says that many were sternly telling him to be quiet. For most people, such rebukes would have discouraged them enough to stop their shouting for Jesus. And that would have been the end of any healing that was about to come their way. Bartimaeus, however, could not be discouraged. The Bible says, “He kept crying out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:48, emphasis added). He would not be denied!


The Reward of Persevering Faith
Finally, Jesus stopped and called for Bartimaeus to come to Him. Note that Jesus didn’t walk over to Bartimaeus; He expected Bartimaeus to walk to Him—even though he was blind.

Again, Jesus was observing his faith. If Bartimaeus really believed that he’d receive his sight, he’d make it to Jesus no matter how many times he stumbled to get there.

Beyond all this, the Bible says that when Bartimaeus realized that Jesus was calling for him, he cast aside his cloak and “jumped up” (Mark 10:50). I’ve heard that in Jesus’ day, blind people wore a certain cloak that identified them in public as being blind. If that is true, we can easily see Bartimaeus’ faith—he cast aside his cloak because he believed he soon wouldn’t need it.

Also notice that he “jumped up.” That means he was excited. People who have faith are excited because they are expecting good things.

Then came the final test. Bartimaeus stood in front of the one He believed would restore his sight. Jesus asked him what seemed to be a ridiculous question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). You would think Jesus would know that a blind man would want to see. Of course He knew, but once more Jesus was testing Bartimaeus’ faith. When people possess true faith, you can always tell by their words.

Thankfully, Bartimaeus did not respond with, “Well you see, Jesus, I was kinda hoping that you might heal me if you are willing and able.” No, his faith was plainly evident by his response: “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” (Mark 10:51b). There was no doubt in his heart that Jesus could and would heal him. And Jesus did.

I rejoice in Bartimaeus’ healing, but I wonder how many other sick people cried out to Jesus at some time or another, and became discouraged when He didn’t immediately respond. Or I wonder how many listened, unlike Bartimaeus, to the rebuke of the bystanders?

We too may need to persevere in faith and pass the test of patience once we have prayed for something that God has promised us in His Word. Additionally, we can be sure that God is listening to our words to see if we really believe His words.

Incidentally, you may want to read Matthew 9:27-31, where Jesus apparently initially ignored the cries of two other blind men. Yet, even though they were blind, they persisted to the point of following Him into the house where He was going. Then Jesus questioned them about their faith: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” If that isn’t testing someone’s faith, what is?

Those two blind men answered Jesus’ question in the affirmative and passed the final test. When He touched their blind eyes, Jesus said, “Be it done to you according to your faith” (Matt. 9:29).


Ten Tenacious Lepers
In this next incident, Jesus was just walking along, and as He entered a certain village, ten leprous men cried out to Him from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13). The reason they stood at a distance was because under the Law of Moses, they were not permitted to mingle with non-leprous people lest others become infected.

When Jesus took notice of them, He shouted back, “Go show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). Under the Law of Moses, a leper who was cleansed had to be examined by a priest, who would then declare him clean. That pronouncement officially permitted the leper to re-enter normal society. These ten lepers definitely had their faith tested. They had to believe that, by the time they got to the priests, their leprosy would be gone.

If you examine the Scripture closely, Jesus instructed these ten men to journey as many as fifty miles to be examined by the priests, who would have been in Jerusalem (see Luke 17:11).

In other words, Jesus said to them, “You want to be healed? Okay. Take a fifty-mile hike!” Only someone who truly believed would have obeyed Jesus’ instructions. Praise God that all of them believed, and they were “healed as they went” (Luke 17:14). Jesus told the one who returned to give thanks that his faith had made him well. His was a faith proved true by passing a test.


The Syrophoenician Woman
I personally can’t think of any person whom Jesus dealt with who had more faith than the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus Himself told her that her faith was great (see Matt. 15:28).

    At first she followed Jesus, crying out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed” (Matt. 15:22).

Jesus completely ignored her. The Bible says, “But He did not answer her a word” (Matt. 15:23).

Apparently, she continued following and crying out to Jesus because Jesus’ disciples asked several times that He would send her away—she was bothering them with all her shouting (Matt. 15:23). This woman, however, wouldn’t be denied.

    According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus escaped to a house, but this woman came into the house, and bowed in front of Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” (Matt. 15:25; Mark 7:24-25).

Jesus’ reply to her almost sounds cruel: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:26). This is why I told you that in my opinion, this woman had greater faith than anyone else with whom Jesus dealt. It’s one thing when bystanders try to discourage you—but it’s another thing when Jesus Himself discourages you! Her faith was severely tested by Jesus Himself.

Still this woman would not take no for an answer. She must have thought to herself, “Jesus didn’t say He wouldn’t deliver my daughter—He just said I was a dog. Fine, so I’m a Gentile dog, “but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” (Matt. 15:27).

Her faith had passed the test. It is obvious that this woman believed. Jesus responded by saying (surely with a great big smile), “‘O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once” (Matt. 15:28).


Did Jesus Really Believe This Woman Was a Dog?
Personally, I find it hard to believe that Jesus thought this woman deserved to be compared to a dog. Could He not have been speaking facetiously when He made His comment about it not being good to throw the children’s bread to the dogs? Certainly Jesus sometimes spoke facetiously, just as He used other figures of speech such as similes, metaphors, hyperboles, and so on. See Footnote below

Jesus was not the glassy-eyed mystic who spoke in a monotone voice with a British accent as some suppose. He was a superb communicator, and perhaps was mimicking the attitude portrayed by the average Pharisee of His day. He also said during the same incident, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). He had to be speaking facetiously, in light of the fact He healed and ministered to other non-Jewish people, and especially in light of the fact He finally delivered this poor woman’s daughter. If Jesus truly believed He was sent only to the Jews and that Gentiles deserved no blessings, then He should never have delivered this woman’s daughter, faith or no faith.

Regardless, this Gentile woman had her faith tested by Jesus, and she persisted in faith. So must you and I when our faith is tested. If we desired, we could look at many other similar stories, such as the healing of the Nobleman’s son, the Centurion’s servant, the woman with the issue of blood, or Jairus’ daughter. All had to believe in spite of contrary doubts and discouragement. All had their faith tested and all passed the test, receiving what they believed.

How about you? If you are exercising faith in God’s promises, God may very well test your faith for a time. Are you passing the test?

Bible1-Bar

InPlainsite.org Footnote: The Following Comment on the Syrophoenician Woman is made by Apologetics Press

“Based on a cursory reading of the text, one may be startled that Jesus referred to this Gentile woman as a “little dog.”

Jesus’ statement in this context certainly has not escaped the notice of the skeptical community. The prolific infidel Steve Wells documented hundreds of cases of alleged intolerance in the biblical text. Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician women is number 421 on his list. Of the episode, Wells wrote: “Jesus initially refuses to cast out a devil from a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter, calling the woman a ‘dog’. After much pleading, he finally agrees to cast out the devil” (2006).

Even many religious writers and speakers view Jesus’ statements to the woman as unkind, intolerant, racially slurred, and offensive. Dean Breidenthal, in a sermon posted under the auspices of the Princeton University Office of Religious Life, said concerning Jesus’ comment: “I suspect we would not be so bothered by Jesus’ unkind words to the Syrophoenician woman if they were not directed against the Gentile community. Those of us who are Gentile Christians have less trouble with Jesus’ invectives when they are directed against the Jewish leadership of his day” (2003, emp. added). Please do not miss the implication of Breidenthal’s comment. If the statement made by Jesus actually could be construed as unkind, then Jesus would be guilty of violating one of the primary characteristics of love, since love “suffers long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4), which would cast doubt on His deity. Is it true that Jesus exhibited an unkind attitude in His treatment of the Syrophoenician woman?

To the Jews First and Also to the Greeks
In order for one to understand Jesus’ statement, he or she must recognize the primary purpose of the comment. Jesus was passing through the land of the Gentiles (Greeks) and was approached by a woman who was not a Jew. While Jesus’ message would eventually reach the Gentile world, it is evident from the Scriptures that the Jewish nation would be the initial recipient of that message. In his account of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, Matthew recorded that Jesus said: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). When Jesus sent the twelve apostles on the “limited commission,” He told them: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).

Just before Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection, He informed the apostles: “[A]nd you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The sequence of places where the apostles would witness manifests the order in which the Gospel would be preached (i.e., the Jews first and then the Gentiles). In addition, the apostle Paul, in his epistle to the church at Rome, stated: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (1:16). Jesus’ statement to the Syrophoenician woman indicated that the Jewish nation was Jesus’ primary target for evangelism during His earthly ministry.

How Far Can an Animal Illustration Be Taken?
To our 21st-century ears, the idea that Jesus would refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” has the potential to sound belittling and unkind. When we consider how we often use animal terms in illustrative or idiomatic ways, however, Jesus’ comments are much more benign. For instance, suppose a particular lawyer exhibits unyielding tenacity. We might say he is a “bulldog” when he deals with the evidence. Or we might say that a person is “as cute as a puppy” or has “puppy dog eyes.” If someone has a lucky day, we might say something like “every dog has its day.” Or if an adult refuses to learn to use new technology, we might say that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In addition, one might say that a person “works like a dog,” is the “top dog” at the office, or is “dog tired.” Obviously, to call someone “top dog” would convey no derogatory connotation.

For Jesus’ statement to be construed as unkind or wrong in some way, a person would be forced to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” must be taken in a derogatory fashion. Such cannot be proved. [Kyle Butt, M.A. Jesus, the Syrophoenician Woman, and Little Dogs]

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Tests And Trials Part II