In God Is a Tester: Part 1, we established a framework for understanding the differences between test and temptation; now in Part 2, let’s look at some familiar examples from throughout the Bible. Our first example takes place in the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve
We all know the story. God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil1 and how Eve was tempted to eat by the serpent.2 So how did it start, with a test or temptation? God gave Adam a command not to eat of a certain tree. Since Adam was provided with a clear and direct command from God, his proper response was to carry out the command and not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; this was a test. On the other hand, Eve was tempted. Why? Because she was enticed to disobey God’s command by the serpent who gave her incorrect and incomplete information. In hindsight, Eve’s correct response was obvious, she was to reject the faulty information and not act upon it. We all know how it ended, Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Adam, on the other hand, blatantly disobeyed God by following his wife’s lead without as much as a struggle. Test: FAIL.
The story of Lot’s wife is interesting not only in the events surrounding Sodom, but also in that it provides a key to interpreting other verses in the Bible as well.
Lot was Abraham’s nephew and after he split up with Abraham, he settled in Sodom.3 As it turned out, two angels were sent from God to destroy Sodom because the people in the city were exceedingly wicked.4 5 However, before the angels could destroy Sodom, they had to make sure Lot and all his relatives were safely out of the city.6 As the Bible tells us, Lot’s sons-in-law didn’t believe the angel’s warning and Lot himself hesitated so the angles had to drag Lot, his wife, and his daughters out of Sodom.7
After Lot and his relatives were led out of Sodom, the angels warned them to escape to the mountains and not to look back.8 As we all remember, Lot’s wife did look back.9 The test was to see if anyone still had a desire or longing to go back to their former life in Sodom. In essence it was a subtle rejection of God’s deliverance. Interestingly, this is the same sin that would be committed again by the Israelites in the wilderness after having been led out of Egypt by Moses.10 For the Israelites, the consequences took some time to manifest,11 but for Lot’s wife, the consequences were harsh and immediate, she was turned into a pillar of salt.12 Test: FAIL.
Abraham and Isaac
The story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac is not only a familiar one but somewhat bizarre and certainly unexpected. That God would command someone to sacrifice one of their children, or only child in this case, strikes the western mind as being very cruel and blood thirsty as told in the following verses:
1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”13
Why would God issue such a command? Was Abraham expected to carry out the request without question—a test, or was he expected to refuse—a temptation? In Genesis 22:1, the word “tested” is derived from the Greek word nasah (Hebrew NASB Number: 5254) and is defined as: to test, try:–. This word has also been translated “tempted” three other times in the Scripture. Since the definitions still leave some doubt as to whether this was a test or temptation; the answer lies in understanding what behavior the command was trying to elicit.
As the story unfolds the objective becomes clear; God’s intent wasn’t for Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac, but to determine if Abraham would obey Him no matter what the request.14 Abraham made the right choice to obey God implicitly; this was Abraham’s test. Abraham obeyed right up until the angel of the LORD intervened and stopped him from sacrificing Isaac.15 God designs His tests with a perfect knowledge of each person’s strengths and weaknesses—never too easy and never too hard. Abraham exhibited the proper response. Test: PASS.
The Book of Job is one of my favorite books in the Bible; I even read from it at my father’s memorial service. It’s a story that chronicles a confrontation between God and Satan over the righteousness of one man, Job. Satan’s challenge was that Job’s obedience to God was not because of who God is but because of what God has given him. The story of Job is a health and wealth gospel preacher’s worst nightmare. The prosperity gospel leaves no room for the notion of God subjecting His followers to various trials and tribulations. On the other hand, I find it impossible to come away from reading the account without a firm conviction of that very fact. This must be why you rarely, if ever, hear any sermons preached from the Book of Job.
Job can be a difficult book to understand at times, particularly the verses dealing with Job’s theological debates with his three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.16 In order to help get an understanding of what is going on, I suggest reading the account using a paraphrased Bible, such as the Living Bible, initially; and afterwards, try reading the book again using a translation such as the NASB, NIV, or King James Version—if you’re adventurous.
Job’s trials were progressive in severity. At first, God allowed Satan to take away Job’s possessions, but did not allow Satan to harm Job physically.17 In one day, Job lost all his livestock, sons and daughters, and servants.18 Since Job passed his first test,19 God then allowed Satan to strike Job with a severe but nonfatal illness.20 The pressure was even too great for Job’s wife and she caved in,21 but Job remained steadfast.22
The story continues with a series of exchanges between Job and his three friends and later ends with a rather long dissertation by Elihu, a representative of the younger generation.23 Finally, God intervenes and settles the debate; Eliphaz and his two friends are rebuked, but Job is exonerated.24 Final Test: PASS.
As I’ve stated earlier, God always prepares His servants for the work He wants them to do. He prepares them by testing them. Obviously, Jesus was not exempt from this process. The Scripture is clear; God ordained that Jesus should be tempted by the devil as written: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”25
The temptation of Jesus parallels that of Eve in many ways. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was tempted by an outside agent, the serpent; in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by the devil himself. As with Job, Eve’s temptation and Jesus’ temptation were both progressive in scope and severity. Their temptations were also adaptive since they were specifically tailored to each individual’s circumstances and abilities.
In the garden, the serpent first twisted and then outright contradicted God’s instructions in order to lure Eve into disobedience. In the wilderness, the devil’s fist two attempts were to lure Jesus into proving that He was the Son of God by quoting Scripture verses out of context—a powerful weapon. However, having failed at his first two attempts, the devil then dropped all pretense and flat out asked Jesus for His worship. Jesus brought His temptation to a close by ordering the devil to leave along with a quote from Deuteronomy.26 While the devil’s intention was to tempt Jesus into committing a sin, God’s intention was for it to be a test to demonstrate Jesus’ readiness for service. Test: PASS.
This story of Adam and Eve in the garden impels us to ask many questions. Did Eve understand the concept of death? Why didn’t she desire to eat from the tree of life which was also in the midst of the garden? Since sin had not yet entered into the world, did she even understand the concept of evil and why did she consider its knowledge so desirable?
As with Eve, the temptation of Jesus presents us with some serious theological questions. The first question one could ask is, if Jesus is God and God cannot be tempted by evil, as taught in James 1:14, then was Jesus’ temptation really valid? A temptation would not be a temptation if the person being tempted were incapable of being tempted. Likewise, how could Eve be enticed by her own lust or desire for forbidden knowledge, as stated in Genesis 2:25, before sin had yet entered into the world? For now, I’ll leave these questions unanswered, but I plan to revisit them in future postings on salvation.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Greek-Hebrew dictionary references are from The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 Gerard Sczepura
Gen. 2:16-17 NASB ↩
Gen. 3:1-6 ↩
Gen. 14:12 ↩
Gen. 19:2 ↩
Gen. 19:22 ↩
Gen. 19:14-16 ↩
Gen. 19:17 ↩
Gen. 19:26 ↩
Exod. 14:11-12 ↩
Num. 32:13 ↩
Gen. 19:26 ↩
Gen. 22:1-2 ↩
Gen. 22:12 ↩
Job 2:11 ↩
Job 1:11 ↩
Job 1:13-19 ↩
Job 1:22 ↩
Job 2:6 ↩
Job 2:9 ↩
Job 2:10 ↩
Job 32:6 ↩
Job 42:7 ↩
Matt. 4:1 ↩
Matt. 4:3-10 ↩