Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Examination Process

Not all tests are alike. Not all have exactly the same purpose or method.

Even God’s tests are not all designed to demonstrate exactly the same thing.

Some Old Testament examples may better demonstrate this.

Testing Shows Whether We Can Apply Previous Lessons

Sometimes God is testing whether his students are capable of applying a previous lesson to a new situation:
“There he tested them ...”
God had brought Israel through the Red Sea. They had watched Pharaoh’s army drown and had experienced God’s miraculous shepherd care for them. In these demonstrations, God was telling his people two things: (1) that he was powerful enough to meet their needs, and (2) that he was willing to meet their needs. Both the desire and the ability were there. Fully internalized, those two lessons provide everything necessary for a lifetime of faith.

But a lesson is only as good as the student’s ability to apply it in another context. Did the Red Sea experience teach Israel anything? Not really. At Marah, the nation had been three days without water. When they finally found some, it was undrinkable. So they grumbled against Moses. God directed Moses to a tree which, when its branches were thrown in the water, made the bitter waters potable.

Sadly, Israel fell right back into questioning the character and providence of God.

Testing Shows Whether We Trust the Teacher
“Behold, I am about to 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 they will walk in my law or not.”
Here the test was obedience to a command that at the time made little sense to the human mind. You’re hungry, so go gather as much manna as you need. But they were not to leave any over until morning. Israel were not to rely on their ability to gather and hoard once, but rather on God’s ongoing, daily provision. They had to believe the manna would fall tomorrow. These sorts of tests primarily demonstrate whether the students really trust their teacher. If they think him a hard man with poor judgment, they will defy commands whose purpose they do not understand. If they believe him to be generous and wise, they will happily comply with his instructions.

This should not have been a hard test to pass, one would think. They had seen God act, both in blessing and judgment. When God spoke through Moses, what he said had reliably come to pass. If he said, “Don’t leave any over,” then there was obviously a good reason.

Yet Israel did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it “bred worms and stank”. They were incapable of trust, despite all they had seen.

The Testing Process is a Lesson in Itself

At Sinai, the people cried, “Do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” The thunder, the lightning, the trumpet blasts and the smoking mountain terrified them. The sound of ten commandments spoken aloud was more than enough for them. They certainly were not ready for 603 more instructions delivered in an environment they found terrifying. So they begged Moses to mediate between God and the people. Moses replied.
“Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ ”
In this case, the purpose of the test was to teach a lesson, and the lesson was that in God’s dealings with man, a mediator is required. Sinful people cannot approach God directly, or they are done for. In that assessment Israel was not wrong. The Lord agreed that this was an ongoing problem (“They are right in what they have spoken”), and promised them Messiah, a “prophet like you [Moses].”

In this case, a lesson was partially learned, in that Israel grasped their need of a mediator. The nation never stopped looking for Messiah. However, in their sin, they missed him when he came to them. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.”

Testing is for the Ultimate Benefit of the Testee
“... who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.”
A spiritual test is not given with the intent of failing everybody, and it is not always given with the intent of producing immediate results. Sometimes it provides a building block for future learning, at a time when the student has matured to the point that he is capable of grasping it.

Peter found his sense of what was appropriate behavior in a leader tested by his Master’s insistence on washing his feet, so he balked at it. Jesus replied, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Moses said Israel were tested “to do you good in the end”. The end is not now. The end is later.

It would be great if we learned every lesson the moment we were taught it, but God is more concerned that we learn the lesson fully and completely at the heart level, rather than simply being able to recite it back without real comprehension. Paul says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

God purposes to do us good in the end. Everything we are going through now is designed to further that goal.

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