I wish to begin by asking a couple of questions. I invite you to interact with me by answering the questions through raising your hand. First, let me give you both questions so that you can think about them a moment. Second, I will repeat the questions and you respond by raising your hand.

[Perhaps I need to declare a disclaimer: this is not a scientific poll.]

The two questions I want you to think about a moment:

Do you regard "testing" basically to have negative objectives?

Do you regard "testing" basically to have positive objectives?

Those two questions are very general. There are no right or wrong answers. I am merely asking you how you emotionally react to the testing process.

Everyone who regards "testing" basically to be a negative thrust with negative objectives, raise your hand. Thank you!

Everyone who regards "testing" basically to be a positive thrust with positive objectives, raise your hand. Thank you!

Hopefully you realize testing can be positive or negative. When testing seeks to impose a sense of failure, it is negative. When testing is a method of discovery, it is positive.

Whatever your basic feeling about testing is, I want you to set that feeling aside for a few minutes. I want you to think rather than emotionally react.

  1. I want you to read several scriptures with me.
    1. I want to begin in Judges 2:18-23.
      When the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He 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." So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
      1. I especially call to your attention verses 21, 22:
        Judges 2:21,22 "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."
      2. I see several things in this statement:
        1. God was quite angry with the Israelites, but He had not "given up" on them.
        2. They were capable of depending on God, capable of repenting, but God could not predict which way they would go.
        3. God left some of the nations around them to determine if the Israelites would live in God's ways or if they would live in the ways of idol worshippers.
        4. Chapter 3 begins with a listing of the nations God left to test them.
      3. This evening I call this concept of testing to your attention by beginning in Judges, but I want you to note it was a common approach God used to determine the hearts of Israel.
    2. Read with me Exodus 15:22-26.
      Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 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. And He said, "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer."
      1. These are the ancestors of the people we read about in Judges 2, the ancestors God had just literally delivered from Egyptian slavery.
      2. These people have recently, with God's help, crossed the Red Sea and have begun the journey toward Sinai through the wilderness.
      3. They arrive at Marah (bitterness) and cannot drink the water because it is bitter.
      4. These people who were delivered from Egypt by God's ten mighty acts and who crossed the Red Sea by God's mighty act grumble.
      5. By God's direction, the water is made drinkable (sweet) to "test them," to challenge them again to place their confidence in God.
    3. Read with me Exodus 20:18-21.
      All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin." So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
      1. This is the same people, now at Mount Sinai, immediately after receiving the ten commandments.
      2. The experience terrified them--they associated the entire experience with extreme danger.
      3. Moses explained the point of the experience was not their terror, but their reverence.
        1. God wanted them to hold Him in such awe that they reverenced Him and showed their reverence by forsaking evil in order to obey Him.
        2. Note the purpose was to test them--to give them opportunity to move closer to God.
        3. If they were to move closer to God, they had to view God in awe, not in terror.
    4. Read with me Deuteronomy 8:1-5.
      "All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. 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. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with 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. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son."
      1. These are the second generation adults following Israel's departure from Egypt who are now ready to enter Canaan.
      2. Note that the forty years of experience in the wilderness were to have these effects on them.
        1. To humble them.
        2. To test them.
        3. To make them realize that depending on God was of greater importance than existing to acquire physical necessities.
      3. The entire experience, including the concept of testing, was associated with discipline, the kind that parents provide the children as an act of love and guidance.
    5. Read with me Deuteronomy 13:1-3.
      "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; 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."
      1. I ask you to notice this: here God's purpose in testing was to allow God to "find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul."
      2. If God was to know that they loved Him, they had to reveal their love for Him.

  2. Let me share with you some thoughts about God's testing Israel.
    1. First thought: if God was to have and sustain the relationship He wanted with Israel, God had to change their view of Him, and testing was part of that process.
      1. God had to change their perception of Him: God is our friend and healer, not our enemy.
      2. God had to change their basic realization in life: God is the source of our help and strength, not a danger to us.
      3. God had to change their basic reality in life: God is our provider; He can sustain us.
    2. Second thought: testing was for God's benefit as well as Israel's.
      1. It provided God opportunity to know Israel's hearts.
      2. It provided Israel opportunity to reveal their hearts to God.
    3. God tested Israel, but Israel was not to test God.
      1. This was not an "inequity" to be explained by "God is God and Israel is not God;" there is no unfairness or injustice involved.
      2. God was (and is) knowable and changeless--His love for Israel was certain and unchangeable.
      3. Israel (humanity in general) was fickle and deceptive.
      4. Israel needed testing, and God did not.
      5. Israel could depend on God, but God could not depend on Israel.

  3. There are some basic lessons very relevant to godly human existence today.
    1. If God is to have a relationship with us, we constantly must be growing in our expanded view of God.
    2. God wants to know our hearts, and testing reveals our hearts to God.
    3. God needs to test us because we are fickle and deceptive; we do not need to test God because He is knowable and changeless.

The type of testing dealt with in the scriptures we read contains a distinction between the divine act of testing and the human act of testing. When this kind of testing is initiated by people, it commonly begins with doubts and distrust. When it begins by God's initiative, it creates an increased opportunity for good for people. When people test other people, they commonly expect the worst. When God tests people, He challenges them to rise to their best.

Those who have the goal of belonging to God welcome God's testing for two reasons. (1) It provides the opportunity to show their hearts to God. (2) It helps them come closer to God by depending on Him.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 13 October 2002
previous next in series

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell