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Genesis 22:1 says God tested Abraham by commanding him to offer Isaac. The purpose of this study is to consider whether or not God tests people today in a sense similar to the test He gave Abraham.
To “test” means to examine, experiment, or prove.
In the bad sense, this same word is often translated to “tempt.” Temptation means a test that tends to entice or seduce someone to do wrong. Often, the tempter wants the person to fail the test and do wrong, resulting in spiritual harm. It is not intended to be helpful.
In this sense, Satan and his workers tested Jesus and other people throughout history, hoping to lead people to fail and commit sin. But God never tempts people in this sense (James 1:13).
In the good sense a test may examine someone to give them an opportunity to demonstrate character, integrity, etc., with the hope that they will do what is right, resulting in their benefit. It is intended to be helpful.
A schoolteacher tests or examines students to give them opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned. A good teacher hopes the students do well and pass the test. But if students show a weakness, the teacher hopes to help them improve.
Manufacturers test their products to make sure they work properly. An engineering friend often described the great lengths his department used to test their products. Obviously they hope the product will pass the test; but if it shows a weakness, the goal is to improve it.
Doctors regularly do examinations and tests to determine whether or not patients have diseases. They hope patients prove to be healthy; but if a problem is found, they hope to cure it.
We can think of many other examples of good tests.
Judges 6:39 – Gideon tested God’s instruction by exposing a fleece overnight to dew.
1 Kings 10:1 – The queen of Sheba tested Solomon’s wisdom with hard questions.
Proverbs 17:3 – Metal is tested to determine if it is gold or silver (like the prospectors in Western movies take ore to the assay office).
Daniel 1:12-14 – Daniel’s diet was tested to see if it was better than the king’s diet.
Luke 14:19 – A man who bought oxen wanted to test them (like test driving a car).
Tests may be challenging, difficult, and even unpleasant; but they can have a useful purpose. The one who is tested has the opportunity to demonstrate his strengths or abilities. If a weakness is found, he has opportunity to improve.
This is the sense in which God tested Abraham. The question is: Does God still test people today in this sense. Consider the Bible teaching.
(1 Samuel 17:39; Ecclesiastes 2:1ff)
Exodus 15:24-26 – When the people of Israel complained because of thirst, God tested their obedience to His statutes, then He would not put the plagues of Egypt on them.
Deuteronomy 13:3 – When false prophets tried to mislead the people, God was testing them to know whether they loved God with all their heart and soul. (Note that sinful people brought the temptation, but God used it as a test.)
Psalms 11:4,5 – God’s eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. He tests the righteous, but hates the wicked.
Psalms 17:3 – You have tested my heart; You have tried me and have found nothing.
* Psalms 26:2 – Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart. (139:23)
* Proverbs 17:3 – The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.
* Isaiah 48:10 – I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Jeremiah 9:7)
* Jeremiah 17:10 – The Lord searches the heart and tests the mind, to give every man according to his ways.
(Exodus 20:18-21; Ecclesiastes 3:18; Judges 7:4; 2:22; 3:1,4; Job 23:10; 1 Chronicles 29:17; 2 Chronicles 32:31; Psalms 7:9; 66:10; 81:7; Jeremiah 6:27-30; 12:3; 11:20; 20:12)
Consider more closely several examples. What did they involve? What was their purpose?
Genesis 22:1– God tested Abraham (Hebrews 11:17-19). Note what the test involved:
1) A command/requirement – God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac (verse 2).
2) A choice – The command was challenging, difficult: not something one might naturally choose to do.
3) Success was possible, but so was failure. The requirement was not beyond the person’s ability. Yet in order to be a true test, the person could really choose to disobey.
4) It gave an opportunity to demonstrate faithfulness to God. Note that God stopped Abraham when he had demonstrated willingness to obey (verses 10-16).
5) God rewarded and praised obedience (verses 15-18). The results also taught important lessons and produced growth and improvement.
Exodus 16:4 – God sent manna as a test, whether or not the people would walk in His law. This involved:
1) A command/requirement – They must gather manna every morning, not keep it overnight, gather twice as much on the sixth day and not gather on the seventh day (verses 14-30).
2) A choice – not something one might naturally choose to do. Some kept it overnight, but it spoiled. Some did not gather extra for the seventh day.
3) Success was possible, but so was failure. The requirement was not beyond the people’s ability, but they really could choose to disobey.
4) It gave an opportunity to demonstrate faith and devotion to God. It was a test whether or not they would walk in God’s law (verse 4).
5) God rewarded and praised obedience. And people who disobeyed were taught important lessons to produce growth and improvement.
Deuteronomy 8:2,16 – God led Israel in the wilderness and fed them with manna, to humble and test them, to know what was in their heart, whether they would keep His commandments or not, and to do them good in the end. God tested people, not hoping they would fail so He could punish, but hoping they would succeed and be blessed!
Psalm 105:16-22 – Joseph was sold as a slave and imprisoned. God’s word tested him, but the king made him lord of his house, to teach wisdom to Joseph’s elders (his brothers). Note what this involved (see the account in Genesis 37-50).
1) A command/requirement – Joseph was expected to serve faithfully as a slave and prisoner despite mistreatment. Note verse 19: He was tested by God’s word.
2) A choice – The command was challenging, difficult. He was mistreated and suffered unjustly with no explanation why God would allow such suffering.
3) Success was possible, but so was failure. The requirement was not beyond Joseph’s ability. Yet in order to be a true test, he really could choose to disobey.
4) It gave an opportunity to please God.
5) God rewarded and praised obedience. Joseph became ruler over Egypt and saved his family from famine.
Genesis 50:20,21 – Joseph learned that God did this to save the family alive. (The results also taught wisdom to his elders – his brothers and family – Psalm 105:22.)
Note that God did no evil but He allowed Joseph to be mistreated by evil people (his brothers and Potiphar’s wife).
Consider: Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Job (Job 23:10); etc.
If God repeatedly tested Old Testament servants, why would He not test people today? The specific instructions today may be different, but why would God test them but not us?
2 Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do we hope we will fail? No, but if we find a problem, we hope to correct it.
1 Timothy 3:10 – Before men are appointed as elders or deacons, we must test to see if they are qualified. Do we hope they will fail?
1 John 4:1 – Test the spirits, because there are many false prophets. Do we hope teachers will fail the test? We should not; but if we find error, we should try to correct it. (Revelation 2:2)
If God expects us to test others, why be surprised that God would also test people?
Zechariah 13:9 – God will refine the remnant as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. As a result, He would call them His people and they would call Him their God. But this a prophecy of Jesus (verses 7-9) referring to the New Testament.
Matthew 4:1 – Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Satan’s intents were malicious, but the Spirit led Jesus there.
Hebrews 2:18; 4:15 – Jesus was tempted so He can aid us in our temptations. God allowed His own Son to face tests, like He allowed Satan to test Job and Joseph’s brothers to test Joseph.
John 6:6 – Jesus’ statement was intended to test His apostle Philip.
2 Corinthians 2:9; 8:8 – Paul’s teachings put the Corinthians to the test to see whether they were obedient in all things. And note that He did it by the things that He wrote.
1 Thessalonians 2:4 – Paul spoke, not to please men, but God who tests our hearts.
So, the New Testament clearly implies that God still tests people.
The Old Testament showed the characteristics of tests. Consider New Testament examples.
James 1:2-4 – We can rejoice even as we face trials, because the testing of our faith produces patience and makes us mature.
1 Peter 1:6,7 – Just as fire tests gold, so the genuineness of our faith is proved by various trials. These cause grief, yet we can rejoice because the result will be praise and honor.
Revelation 2:10; 3:10 – Suffering and trial would come on the churches of Asia and the whole world to test them. The devil would throw some Christians into prison, that they may be tested. Those who were faithful until death would receive the crown of life.
Note the similarities to Old Testament tests. People were (1) required to be faithful, (2) though it would be challenging. (3) Success was possible, but so was failure. (4) The test gave people the opportunity to demonstrate faithfulness to God, so that (5) God would reward them and bring them to maturity.
In many cases, Satan and his servants actually caused the problems. But God allowed them – as with Joseph, Job, and Jesus – to serve His purpose in testing. Understanding this helps motivate us to pass the test.
(2 Corinthians 8:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 4:12)
2 Corinthians 2:9; 7:11 – Paul had written instructing the church to discipline the fornicator (2:4-11; 1 Corinthians 5). He wrote to this end, that he might put them to the test, whether they would be obedient in all things. 7:11 – They proved themselves to be clear in this matter.
See how this fits the characteristics of a test. People were (1) given a Divine command, (2) though it would be challenging. (3) Success was possible, but so was failure. (4) The test gave them the opportunity to demonstrate obedience to God, so that (5) God would praise and reward them and bring them to maturity.
When sin exists in a congregation, how we handle it becomes a test of our obedience to God. Understanding this helps motivate us to pass the test.
(This and following examples are not called “tests,” but they fit the characteristics of tests.)
Matthew 6:7,8 – God knows our needs before we ask. If so, why should we ask? It’s a test! God knows our needs, but He wants us to express our trust in Him by asking in prayer.
As with other tests: We have (1) a Divine command, (2) it may not seem hard, but lots of people neglect it. (3) Success is possible, but so is failure. (4) The test gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our faith in God, so that (5) God can reward us and teach us to trust Him.
Mark 16:16 – He who believes and is baptized will be saved.
Acts 2:38 – Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.
Acts 22:16 – Be baptized and wash away your sins.
Despite these plain statements, people say we can be saved by just believing, so why do we have to do anything? And why would God think dipping in water is necessary to salvation?
Abraham, Joseph, and Israel could have raised similar objections against God’s commands – and they would have failed the test. The reason for the command is: It’s a test!
In salvation, God had to choose some way for people to demonstrate their faith. To forgive everybody unconditionally would violate His justice. To condemn everybody unconditionally would violate His love and mercy. So something must separate those who receive salvation from those who do not; and whatever God chose would constitute a test! So, He chose that people must believe in Him enough to repent, confess, and be immersed in water.
See how this fits the characteristics of a test? We have (1) a Divine command, (2) it may not seem hard, but apparently lots of people struggle with it. (3) Success is possible, but so is failure. (4) The test gives people the opportunity to demonstrate our faith in God, so that (5) God can forgive us and teach us to trust Him.
Sadly, lots of people fail this test. But like Abraham, you and I can obey and be blessed.
Matthew 19:21,22 – Why did Jesus command the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give to the poor? He doesn’t require that of everyone. But it was a test!
1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 16:1,2 – Why did Jesus say to meet each first day of the week to have the collection and the Lord's Supper? He could have picked other ways for us to remember Jesus’ death or to finance gospel preaching. Why do it this way? It’s a test! Those who really believe and appreciate God’s gifts will show our appreciation the way Jesus said to do it.
2 Corinthians 8:24 – Giving shows “the proof of our love”! It’s a test.
John 14:15 – If you love me, keep my commands.
1 John 5:3 – This is the love of God, that we keep His commands.
Many people claim obedience is not necessary. “Why do we have to do things just the way the Bible says?” “Why do we have to do anything at all?” Every command God has given tests how much we really love God and believe in Him! It’s a test! Will we pass or fail?
Hebrews 12:1 compares life to a race. But a race is a test. So all of life is a test! Why did God put us here on earth anyway? Why give us a guide to follow and expect us to live according to His word?
Years ago Christians often mentioned in their prayers and teaching that “this life is a proving ground.” God gives us the opportunity here to show how much we really love and believe in Him. He wants us to succeed, not fail. We can succeed; and if we do, He will reward us eternally.
How will you respond to the tests God gives you every day in life? Have you submitted to the test of baptism? Are you passing the test of life?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2020
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.