We were privileged to worship the Son of God on the day we celebrate His birthday last week. For me, this was a special treat. To celebrate His birthday in worship with the church family I love so dearly is a great and glorious privilege.
We took a simple trek through history at the time of Christ and discovered many things. The Roman rule they suffered was not unlike our current political climate in many ways. However, we certainly do not suffer the complete intolerance for any proper dissension that Israel did from Rome; we do suffer intolerance concerning our God and Savior. In many ways it seemed the barbarous Romans in the first century were more tolerant of the Jewish faith in Jehovah and their belief systems than our own country, the United States of America, is of its own foundational religion, Christianity. Irony finds our nation founded under the premise of political and religious freedom; while man’s unquenchable thirst for power gradually strips us of our one inalienable right. That right is for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is a sad, but true commentary.
Today we look at a wide variety of scripture, most of which we will not have time enough to read through. We will consider the principles taught in these scriptures and the lessons we should learn from them. We will go to Genesis 6 to begin our discussion.
Control. Man wants control over all that which he deems his. Women exhibit this desire for control in many ways as well. No women like being told what to do any more than any man does with their pride and ego. Many women exhibit control through careful calculation. My wife loves chocolate. When she wants some, she usually gets me a piece too. She calls this pulling others into her collective.
The rebellious sin nature in each of us drives this attitude. There are times that I wonder if God did not create testosterone as part of the curse of thorns and thistles. Regardless, control is the issue and control is what God deals with in all tests.
What is the problem with control? The problem is that it is the most active illusion in man’s life. The more we attempt to exert control, the tighter we close our fist, the more we actually lose control. There is a delicate balance between control we have to exert and control we must relinquish. Some might say it is a balance between perceived control and faith.
God tests us regularly to increase our faith in Him and His sovereignty. The tests we undergo are not set before us to bolster our sense of control, but to tear it down and replace it with something else. However, we exhibit certain characteristics that are positive to God, and we find exemplary examples of these positive characteristics in the leaders of scripture; we find a balance between ability and faith. Where any one in scripture begins leaning too strongly upon their abilities, we find God quickly moving in to test these perceptions and press for a more faith-based life in the believer.
Some might say that God trusted Noah through the trials of building the ark and that it was not a test. We should put things into perspective though. Noah was being told to build something that had never, to our understanding, been described to man before. Whether you want to say man had seen a boat before or not, no man had ever seen an “ark” that would carry two of every creature on earth.
Some note that rain had never fallen on earth. Noah, talking of a great rainfall and flooding that these people had never witnessed, would challenge their reality. These folks saw only life around them and struggled to stretch themselves outside their personal reality.
The truth is that angels were still departing from Heaven to be on the earthly plane. Some were still giving up their perfect place in Heaven and following the ways of sinful man (Gen 6:2). God does not want sycophants or puppets in His kingdom. God wants individuals (whether angelic or human) that choose to serve Him, love Him and be in His kingdom. Peter said it best, if God does not hold back judgment against the heavenly host who have sinned, what makes man think for a minute that He will escape judgment (2 Pet 2:4-6)?
Noah was tested then and tested strongly. Many do not consider the tests that he may have had to endure. It was not simply people who had never seen a boat before. It was not simply people who had never seen an ark before. It is not simply that people had never seen rain at all, let alone a flood. Noah’s testing did not simply involve the testimony and preaching that people must repent and submit to God. Noah was preaching against the fallen angelic beings that lived on the earth in those days (2 Pet 2:5). Noah was not simply preaching to the sinful heart of man, he was preaching to a sinful angelic host that was manifest in the flesh. These beings would never enter the heavenly plane again.
The ramifications of this should be evident. These beings not only tasted the life in Heaven and partook of it, they also determined to leave it and would not return. They knew that. They knew that they were dead spiritually and their eternal death was now determined. There is no evidence that any of them lamented. They knew they were destined for eternal torment and that they had chosen that path specifically for a temporal life on earth.
A brief aside here. We might consider Hebrews 6 in conjunction with this. Every commentator, including myself, has interpreted this passage to discuss the believer who might fall away. Some have gone so far as to see this as a loss of salvation even with the multitude of scripture that speaks of eternal security in Christ. As we study these passages in Genesis, the truth is that it could be these fallen angelic beings that are discussed in Hebrews 6:4-6. The description of “once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost” certainly applies to an angelic being does it not? More than man, they were “made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” Where our souls are dead in sins and trespasses, angelic beings were made with a spirit that is already connected to God. Adam and Eve began existence in this fashion and chose to leave it through sin. Though there seems to be no inference to the flood in Hebrews 6:7, it is interesting that the metaphor is rain. There are many more reasons that Hebrews 6 might more apply to fallen angels instead of man. Chief among them is man’s propensity to make himself the focus and forsake the true meaning of things in the process. It is our nature, is it not? Therefore, for many years men may have misinterpreted this scripture to be about man when it could very easily be a reference to Genesis 6:2. Hebrews 6:1 beings with a dedicated departure of the doctrines that save man from sin, “leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ…” There is a decided break here from the previous five chapters. The author of Hebrews even lists the things that are not being discussed in these next passages. For instance, these passages are not discussing the foundation for repentance from dead works or faith such as baptism and laying on of hands, even resurrection of the dead. The challenging statement is “and of eternal judgment.” This statement and the chapters that follow warrant far more study than can be completed here.
The fact is that Noah was tested over a period of 120 years in more ways than we can imagine as he and his sons built the ark. He was tested in the plans. He was tested in the world to walk by faith, not by sight. He was tested over a long period. He was tested by his age, being over 500 years old. He was tested in preaching salvation and faith to the faithless. Noah was told to build something that no one else saw the need for, neither saw the future in, nor did they want to be involved with it. Still, he remained steadfast because he knew the flood was coming and he knew God wanted him prepared for it. Everyone around him operated on sight, not faith. Noah simply wanted to follow God and he preached God’s faithfulness to the faithless.
Noah was tested, we know. His family was deeply involved in the testing. We find this same circumstance with our next character in scripture. No man in scripture, save Jesus, was perfect in every way. All of them have their faults and failures. Abraham’s tests best exemplify the balance between God’s tests and loving longsuffering.
Move forward to Genesis 15 please. Throughout Abraham’s life, he had many failures in faith. We could turn to Genesis 20 and find how he deceived Abimelech by giving him Sarah. However, we will consider some other testing and specific responses of Abraham.
In chapter 15 Abraham asks how he can be rewarded greatly with no offspring. He offers only that he has Eliezer, an heir of Damascus. However, Eliezer is the only member of Abraham’s house capable of the inheritance. God tells him it is not Eliezer. He will not be the heir. Though Abraham will have offspring that number as the stars, Eliezer will not be among them.
Sarai (her name at this time) wants to help with this promise in chapter 16. After such a display of faithfulness and God’s covenant ceremony (chapter 15) Sarai believes as Abraham does, that they will be provided many offspring. Knowing she is barren, she suggests to Abraham that since the Lord has closed her womb, he should take Hagar, her servant. Abraham commits the adulterous act and Hagar conceives and bears a son, Ishmael.
In chapter 17, we find God telling Abraham his heir will come from him and Sarai, not an adulterous affair. God promises Isaac’s birth in verses 15-17. In verse 18, Abraham says to God, “Oh, you must be mistaken. I am over 100 years old, Sarah is 90 and barren. You must mean Ishmael.” God tells Him no, Sarah will conceive and bear his son.
We have to understand the process Abraham went through. God tells Abraham something will happen. Abraham does not doubt it will happen, but the means of its coming about are what he does not understand. He tries in his own strength and understanding to implement what it is God has promised. He does so through faith. His test was to rest completely in the Lord for the provision. Abraham already believes God will deliver, he just does not see how because he is looking at the things of the world. We find that, after Isaac’s birth, Abraham certainly learned his lesson. Many years later God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, and Abraham submitted completely, waiting for God’s deliverance.
We should note that during the entire period before Isaac is born through Sarah, Abraham takes steps to implement God’s promises. Abraham does not doubt God’s promises. Abraham acts on the information he has at the time. God never chastises him for acting in faith. Abraham moves forward even with incomplete information. Even if he did not have the perfect answer and complete picture, Abraham went forward. The fact that God promised was good enough for Abraham.
Abraham’s tests in the conception and birth of Isaac are a growth process whereby he is strengthened to handle a much greater test later. We are not punished for acting on the knowledge God gives us, even if it is in error. Though we can do better and not sin as Abraham did in his failures, we should never shy away from attempting to go forward in God’s will as we have been enlightened to do so.
III. Testing Joseph (Gen 37-45)
Now turn to Genesis 37 please. One of the oft quoted and dealt with tests in scripture is that of Joseph’s life. He moves from favored son, to imprisoned slave. From imprisoned slave, to favored servant. From favored servant to falsely accused. From false accusations, imprisonment occurs again. Salvation comes at the hand of God’s gift of interpreting dreams. Throughout all these instances Joseph is cultivated as a leader first through his father, later through Potiphar, and finally with Pharaoh.
God blessed Jacob with Joseph through Rachel. God chose the line of Rachel to bare Jesus the Savior to show that man’s deception (Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel to wed), would not circumvent the will of God. As Joseph grew, Jacob had chosen him to take the position of leadership and was training him to do so. At 17, he came back to his father with a bad report about the way his brothers were handling the flocks. This made his siblings angry and, like Cain before them, they determined to take the preferred position out of force. They conspired to be rid of Joseph the same way that Cain raised up against his brother in the field. Instead of killing Joseph, they sold him to slave traders.
Now sold into slavery, everything in Joseph’s life seemed to be for naught. Yet, he remained steadfast in God. Potiphar was wise and noticed that everything prospered under Joseph hand. Joseph’s leadership found him in charge of all that was Potiphar’s. Still, Satan was given permission to test Joseph again and he used Potiphar’s wife. He plainly confesses to her that he will not sin against God. Even though she presses her advantage, he remains steadfast. She is jealous that she is not chosen over God and attempts to take her revenge by falsely accusing Joseph of adultery, resulting in his imprisonment.
Even in prison, Joseph remained loyal to God. God also remained loyal to Joseph. In chapter 39, verse 21, God showed Joseph steadfast love. Again, Joseph found favor in the sight of his captors. He is given power to interpret dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker.
When Joseph is given the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, his true test will come. As he prospers Egypt under God’s blessings and guidance, Joseph is set on a course for testing like none other he has ever experienced. Being second in all of Egypt, Joseph has tremendous power to lay waste to any enemy of the state. He can exercise this authority in a godly fashion, or choose to feed only his own desires. The test of Potiphar’s wife and the physical pleasure that can come from an illicit affair were nothing compared to the drunken stupor that complete power can bring about. Joseph was confronted with his brothers.
Though he puts them through a number of tests on their own, they finally relent and admit their complete failure as loving sons to their father. In chapter 45 we do not find him exacting revenge, but welcoming them with open arms and preserving the whole of Israel through his steadfast faith in God. What a wonderful testimony of loving faith.
Joseph’s test was self-control. There appears to be no time when he takes action against anyone who has dealt treacherously with him. Even when he had the power to exact revenge for the wrongs against him, he chose to be silent, or to bless.
There are certainly other tests of faith in scripture. Nehemiah is tested not only in faith to complete a task given by God, but a test in wisdom while carrying out this task. Not everyone welcomed Nehemiah back in Judah, especially the deceivers that relished the destruction of Jerusalem.
IV. Testing Nehemiah (Neh 6)
Now we go to Nehemiah 6. Nehemiah was wise to wait patiently for the Lord to tell him what to do. In chapter two, we find the chief reason Israel was saved, affection for a child of God. King Artaxerxes loved Nehemiah and was concerned about his sadness. Nehemiah was saddened at Jerusalem’s destruction. Nehemiah pours out his heart to the King and the King grants his petition, and much, much more. He gives Nehemiah a commissioning letter granting him all the materials and assistance Nehemiah required to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
There were a number of challenges while rebuilding the wall. The people did not believe it could be done (chapter 4). The leaders of the tribes that had conspired against Jerusalem and help Artaxerxes conquer Israel, Sanballat and Tobiah (Arab and Ammonite respectively,) were enraged that the walls of this city might be rebuilt. They saw it as in insult to the conqueror. They saw this as a beginning of their nation starting over again with the religious practices of the Jews beginning anew. They plotted against Jerusalem. They attempted to cause confusion among the people. They began to amass armies at the breaches in the walls and create fear among the inhabitants (chapter 4). God frustrated the plan of the Arabs, Ammonites and Ashdodites who saw Jerusalem as a nuisance.
While the physical reparations were underway, Nehemiah also took action against spiritual challenges Israel faced. Apparently, the worldliness of the oppressors had influenced the Jews. Some Jews were ignoring and taking advantage of the poor among them. In chapter 5, we find Nehemiah’s great generosity where he shared all his food allotments with those in need.
Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem set a trap for Nehemiah. They saw he was making great progress despite all this opposition. The wall was being repaired and with the help of the people of Jerusalem. The people were encouraged, inspired and energized. They were highly industrious and with Nehemiah’s leadership, they threatened to accomplish what they set out to do. Those who wanted to retain control of Jerusalem fought to do so. They fought against God, His chosen leadership and the people who supported him. They fought a losing battle to the bitter end.
Through all the conspiracy, both within and without, Nehemiah remained steadfast in the task that was given. He was tested first in faith before a worldly king. He was tested later in leadership to get the faithless Israelites working without fear. Individuals who desired to thwart his efforts tested him in wisdom and steadfastness. They thought they knew better than the ruler himself, King Artaxerxes. Those who fought against Nehemiah did not believe in God, they did not believe in his mission, they did not believe Nehemiah was sent to do God’s will.
Like Nehemiah, we should remain steadfast in our mission to build God’s house regardless of the pressures from outside and the fear and unbelief inside. Like Nehemiah, we should stay steadfast, fearless and faithful to the task given to us by the King of Kings. One final character in scripture was tested in a number of ways. His tests were based upon what man values most, physical life.
V. Testing Daniel and his companions (Dan 1-4)
When we read the book of Daniel, we should understand that much of what we read is purely historical. In other words, it is simply a literary documenting of events and people in the life of a man of God. This is what Daniel did, what happened during his life and how he reacted to the challenges set before Him. Satan is in control of all the forces that oppose Daniel, just as he is given control of all the ungodly. We are challenged with either giving in to Satan’s attempts at influencing us, or God’s loving care even when it may involve our ultimate demise, or so it might appear.
The Chaldeans take Daniel to Babylon. He is a captive with many from Judah. Nebuchadnezzar took select individuals as part of the spoils of the conquest wrought by his armies. Daniel, regardless of the paganism of Babylon, remains steadfast to Yahweh, worshiping Him and bowing only to Him. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all remained faithful to Yahweh.
Daniel is the leader and stands out as such. The first test seems innocent – better food. The food was not acceptable to God. They refuse to take the food of the King for it is something they are convicted is unclean. Daniel and his companions challenged their jailor to give them only fruits and vegetables. They stayed healthy and impressed the king with their learning. God preserved them without the king’s food.
Later, Nebuchadnezzar suffers from a dream and God reveals the dream and the interpretation to Daniel. Daniel tells the King about the dream and then he interprets it. Daniel sets conditions for this interpretation; all the wise men of Israel must be spared. God used Daniel under the threat of death to preserve Israel’s wisdom. Daniel’s faith would eventually result in three wise men looking for the star that guided them to Jesus at His birth.
Daniel and his companions are again threatened as the King is convinced that an idol that represents him must be worshiped, and only that idol. Now renamed Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael) and Abed-nego (Azariah), Daniel’s companions refuse to bow and worship the king or his image. Again threatened by death, and subjected to it, they remain steadfast for the Lord admitting that, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.”
They believed, if God chose to, He would and could deliver them. They had no certainty that God would deliver them. They rested on the sovereign decision of God to glorify Himself and deliver them. Many have said that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego believed they would be saved. That is not what scripture says. They believed that if God chose to save them, He could and He would. God chose to honor Himself by saving their lives and being with them in the process in the furnace.
Daniel was tested for faith in God’s sovereign decisions, not on what he believed should be done under those decisions. We too should understand that we bow to the will of God in all things, we are given only to do as He asks, when He asks, and many times how He asks. Noah’s faith was tested for obedience. God tested Noah’s trust in the face of what he saw in the world. God said there would be rain and floods, yet the world had never experienced such things. God tested Noah on his steadfastness in the face of adversity among his own people. In all instances, regardless of the impact on Noah, he stayed faithful.
God tested Abraham’s patience and faith in provision. Where Abraham had faith in God’s promises, he immediately went forward to implement them. He looked at things from a worldly standpoint and not from a supernatural one, but Abraham was faithful. Abraham’s faith grew to a crescendo where he was asked to sacrifice Isaac’s life to the Lord. In Hebrews 11:19, we understand that Abraham believed Isaac would be resurrected to fulfill God’s promises of many nations through his bloodline.
Joseph remained faithful and steadfast in the face of terrible false accusations and imprisonment. He exercised tremendous self-control, meekness and tenderheartedness when confronted with the very brothers who sold him into slavery, in jealousy over his position with their father. In Egypt, he exercised great compassion and humility in not taking out his vengeance on his brothers, but leaving that determination to God. Joseph’s tests are ultimately humility and leadership.
Nehemiah is given tests in a variety of ways. First, before a conquering king, he asks to rebuild a conquered city. This takes great faith in that he risked immediate death at the worst and removal from the king’s court at the least. Second, he acted on the king’s commission with strength and power and received all the materials needed to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Third, his leadership was tested again as he was challenged from within and without concerning the project. Armies amassed in wall breaches and threatened the Jerusalem’s inhabitants. The occupants alternatively guarded and worked to rebuild. Fourth his wisdom was tested and his faith only in God. Nehemiah realized that God, not alliances with others, would rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Daniel (Hananiah), Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were tested regularly in their dedication to life with God. They risked their lives several times to worship God and God alone. Their steadfastness was tested under threat of execution and they rested in God’s grace and mercy. If God so chooses to save us, it is for His glory and His choice and not for us to determine.
In all these tests, God regularly puts man’s faith under the microscope. We should not dismiss these tests as only things in the past. Every ministerial leader who seeks to implement a vision given to him by God faces much the same obstacles. Every believer that works in a godless workplace and remains faithful in Bible study, devotions and separation from the ungodliness is tested. Every believer in an assembly is tested among unbelievers who claim Christ but do not know Him. All these tests happen on a regular basis.
Remain faithful and be saved from judgment. Remain faithful and receive God’s provision. Remain faithful and be saved from what seems sure destruction. Remain faithful and please God.