In my first post, we explored what it was that made the widow of Zarephath unique. I wanted to revisit her story again, because although it was brief, I think there is still much that is worth examining further. When I was reading the account I thought to myself, “What if this had been me ?” Unless God’s Spirit were guiding me during that encounter, I know my response would have been still far too carnal. This was a very difficult test; I don’t know if I would have passed, even after knowing God for almost 19 years now. This woman wasn’t an Israelite — not “in the church”, as we might say. What does it say about the quality of the condition of her heart that God would allow her to be tested in such a way? The fact that He did so led me to ask why God tests His children at all — after all, He knows our hearts and thoughts better than we know ourselves. Why is testing necessary? Answering that question will be the focus of today’s post.
Let’s start with a quick recap of the story: the widow was instructed by God to provide for Elijah, and when they encounter each other Elijah conveys the word of the Lord to her. The widow complies with it and her faith and obedience is rewarded by God’s miraculous provision of food for the duration of the famine. Now I don’t know about you, but for me miracles are attention-getters. Since the widow’s needs could conceivably have been administered to via human agency, the fact that God chose to intervene supernaturally seemed to be an important point. Two possibilities present themselves to my mind. First, it may be that God sought for a human intercessor, but the hearts of the people were so
calloused (perhaps due to the privation of the famine) that none were found willing and capable of meeting the widow’s need. God loves a cheerful giver, and He does not violate the sanctity of His gift of free will; so given a lack of willing servants, an alternative solution may have been necessitated. The second is simply that God wanted to make His involvement in the widow’s life unmistakably clear, and that He sought an occasion to display His power and cause His name to be made known.
Personally, I think it’s fair to conclude that both reasons factored into God’s decision; but the paucity of details we are given would make it difficult to definitively prove the first. Fortunately, establishing the viability of the second is not dependent upon this account alone. There are many instances in Scripture where God has intervened to make His presence known, and studying them is the key to answering the question I posed at the beginning: Why is testing necessary? Let’s turn to one such instance which I found to be particularly instructive, located in Exodus 5. The chapter begins with Moses and Aaron delivering God’s command to Pharaoh to let His people go. Pharaoh’s response was to increase the burden upon the Israelites. The Israelite foremen were subsequently beaten for the people’s failure to meet the quota of bricks. They therefore appeal to Pharaoh, but realize the full gravity of their predicament when they discover he had been the author of
the command. We’ll pick up the story now in verse 20: “When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
It says that Moses and Aaron were waiting to meet them, indicating they had a desire to have a conversation with the foremen. The foremen, however, appear disinclined to hear whatever Moses and Aaron may have had to say to them. As I envision the scene, they instead lock gazes with Moses as they continue to walk past, eyes brimming with contempt and a desire to exact retribution personally, while their words acknowledge their ultimate impotence to do so. Understandably shaken by this turn of events, Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Notice that there was nothing factually inaccurate with Moses’ synoptic statement — Pharaoh had made life more difficult for the Israelites and God had not yet delivered them. The problem is that Moses could not see beyond the here and now — the reality of the moment — and this inability caused him to question the veracity of God’s previously stated intentions. But God “calls the things that are not yet, as though they are”, because when He gives His word, it is an absolute certainty that he will bring it to fruition.
Look at the Lord’s response in chapter 6, with all of the future tense “will” statements He uses. He says, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” What proof did God offer that these things would happen? What argument does he employ to dispel Moses’ doubt? He says in verse two, “I am the LORD.” Such a concise statement, yet one so pregnant with meaning! He is, in effect, saying, ‘I am GOD. I am not limited — I have the power to bring about what I have told you. Moreover, I am not a man: I do not lie.’ He continues in verses three through five: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.” Again, to paraphrase the unspoken meaning behind His words: ‘I have revealed more of myself and my character to you than I did to your forefathers, and they believed me without needing to see it come to pass. What about you , Moses? Will you not believe me? Do you imagine that I would betray the trust your forefathers placed in me, or that I have no care for the suffering of their offspring? Will I not continue to show my love for them by remembering the promises which I swore to them, and by delivering their children?’ This is God’s perspective-shifting answer to the challenge inherent at the heart of Moses’ questions.
After He addresses Moses’ doubt, He gives him a message to deliver to the Israelites, detailing the events that had not yet occurred, but which would soon be made reality. “I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession.” He bookends His intentions by declaring ‘I am the LORD’, indicating there was no greater proof to offer as evidence of what He had in store than the holiness of His Name, and the perfection of character associated with it. His purpose behind this
message to the Israelites is explained in verse seven: He wanted them to know that He was the LORD their God. Moses reported this to the Israelites, but unfortunately they did not listen because of their discouragement and cruel bondage. They had become so disheartened by their circumstances that the sworn promise of God was insufficient proof to bring them to believe that He was, and would continue to be, involved in their lives.
Since we’re all familiar with the outcome, we know that not only were the Lord’s words eventually established in the sight of the Israelites, but the power God displayed in the process of their deliverance made His name known throughout the entire world of that day. When you consider that God could have just as easily raised up a different Pharaoh, one who would have simply let Israel go at Moses’ behest, instead of incurring all of God’s judgements and plagues upon his own people, it becomes patently clear that God had the larger purpose of making His name known in mind all along.
The same is true in the case of the widow — God could have delivered her in any number of non-miraculous ways. But He found in her an opportunity to showcase His care and provision, because just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed in the promises of God without needing to see them fulfilled, the widow showed herself to be their daughter in spirit, if not in blood, since she believed His words spoken by His servant. Her obedience had to be founded on a pre-existing condition of faith in the goodness of God, because her remaining flour and oil were not Providentially replenished until after she complied with Elijah’s command. It was not for naught that Jesus pointed out that Elijah was not sent to any of the widows in Israel, but only to this foreigner. As the Scripture says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him.” (2 Chr. 16:9) And as His eyes run to and fro, He “…search(es) the heart and examine(s) the mind”, which enables Him to know us intimately. Because He knows our hearts and minds, He knows how we will respond in specific situations. Therefore, God knew the faith and humility this widow possessed was sufficient to endure the test, and that the condition of her heart in this regard was such that He would be enabled to show himself strong in her behalf. Because of her faithfulness, God was able to display that His care and concern over the affairs of men is not limited to involvement only on a global level, but that it extends to the individual as well.
In these accounts, we are presented with two examples of God’s desire to bring glory to his name, both on a macro and a micro scale. But why does God’s name need to glorified? Does He live for our adulation, or need our praise? He requires humility from His children — can it be that he, then, is a narcissist? Of course not! EVERYTHING God does is for the benefit of His Creation. What if God’s name wasn’t known or held in regard? We would live in a completely godless society — and today’s world is gradually sliding into that mire — but how much more corrupt would it become if all knowledge of God were expunged? And to whom, then, would people be able to turn to in times of adversity? Furthermore, God desires to enjoy a relationship with His Creation. Due to the false conceptions men hold regarding His character, the seeds of which are sown in the lies broadcast by Satan, the great deceiver and adversary of men’s souls, God seeks witnesses who will testify of His boundless Goodness. God uses the faithful to show himself faithful, so that those who harbor doubts regarding His character may be built up in the confidence that if they trust in Him with their whole heart, He can be fully depended upon to deliver them from any and all troubles.
Once we have established that the reason it is absolutely essential for God’s name to be known is so that more people might be persuaded of His Goodness, there remain seven links to be forged together in the chain of logic required to understand why God tests His children. They are:
- 1. It is understanding and experiencing the Goodness of God that leads to repentance. (Romans2:4)
- 2. Repentance leads to conversion.
- 3. Conversion re-establishes a right relationship with God.
- 4. Our newly established relationship is tested by trials. This is the pivot point upon which each Christian’s decision to continue in The Way swings.
- 5. Persisting in trusting in God during trials leads to overcoming them and receiving the reward for faithfulness.
- 6. Having gained the victory, the overcomer is provided with new personal testimony of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and love towards them, and has fresh occasion to praise and glorify Him.
- 7. The glorification of God’s name leads to more children being welcomed to relationship with Him.
And so the cycle repeats, continually renewing so that the gates of hell never prevail. I call this the Circle of Spiritual Life.
In conclusion, testing is necessary and beneficial for Christians because when we are able to “count it pure joy to face trials of many kinds”, we demonstrate our reciprocated love toward God, and open the door for our fellow man to come to know Him in the same way. It truly is our reasonable act of service to Him. May God raise up more children willing to throw off the burden of self-will and bend their necks to receive the light yoke of the Lord’s service; and may His name be praised and glorified forever and ever. Amen.