How the Hall of Faith Encourages us To Test God
History is full of people who have tested God
Last week, I introduced you to the Testing God series in hopes that you’ll stick around and see how it ends. The good news is this: It ends well for all those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
This week, I’d like to talk about others who have gone before us on this adventure of testing God.
If the monotheistic God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is real, it seems to me that one should be able to discover that reality through some sort of process. And I don't mean merely discovering that He exists. If what we read in the Bible is true about this Deity, it would be remarkable indeed that He is there all along in a most personal way and none of us ever search for Him. He wants us to search for Him. He practically begs us to do so. And yet few of us ever do. What should we find if we did search for the Almighty and discover that what is described about Him in all the religious texts of the world merely scratched the surface of what He is all about?
By “process,” I’d also like to point out that I don’t necessarily mean something strategic or systematic. And I’m not talking about something that is human-engineered. I’m simply referring to a series of actions that lead to a final result.
As a reminder, the “Is God Testable?” series will follow this general outline:
Belief in God is a prerequisite for testing
Studying God where He exists is a means to testing
Aligning oneself with God's purpose is paramount
Don't forget to check for results
It will be tempting to view this as some sort of recipe for success--much like baking a cake or building a business empire from the ground up. But I'd suspect that the path to finding God may be as different as there are individuals as long as one gets there through the prescribed point of entry. I will get to that point of entry later, but for now, I'll stick to the first step in this process and explain why believing in God is a prerequisite for testing His faithfulness. And if you get this part wrong, you’ll not only fail to discover this God of history, but you’ll just end up frustrated and defeated.
Having laid that framework, without further ado, let’s get on with the journey.
How Shall Testing God Begin?
Unlike lab experimentation, testing God is not done in a beaker. For many, it could be a lifelong process. For others, it may be shorter. While we test God, He is also testing us. The process cannot be hurried, for it takes place as God deems. Today's post will begin the discussion on why belief in God is a necessary prerequisite for testing His faithfulness. I will begin by quoting the book of Hebrews:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 - Berean Study Bible)
This is a foundational text for this discussion because an atheist, or an agnostic, who cannot bring himself to believe in even the remote potential existence of a deity that exists outside of time and space has no hope of discovering this deity. It does not happen by accident. Discovering God only happens if one goes in search of Him, much like searching for the Himalayas. If you merely sit in your living abode and dream about the Himalayas, you’ll never see them. What you imagine them to be can only be a very light shadow, a penumbra, of the real thing, and even that will have its inaccuracies.
How one moves from the state of unbelief to belief is beyond the purpose of this discussion, but I will say that it is possible. We know this because history is full of such stories. Once one has come to believe in God, by whatever means, it is then, and only then, that one is capable of testing Him.
Those Who Have Tested God and Found Him Faithful
The 11th chapter of Hebrews is commonly referred to as the Hall of Faith. The allusion to the more common "Hall of Fame" is no accident. The chapter is a roundup of just a few of the most prominent Old Testament believers who had faith in God and His promises. The chapter was written to be an encouragement to first century Judaic Christians who were facing persecution from the pagans for their beliefs. Early church father Clement quoted from it in AD 95, but events described in the text have many scholars believing it could have been written as early as AD 64. Some ascribe its authorship to the Apostle Paul, which I find unlikely, but its true author is a mystery and much debate for the past 2,000 years has been centered on that mystery. No one knows for sure. Whoever it was had a deep knowledge of the Greek language and the Jewish sacrificial system. It was likely a Jewish Christian.
The chapter begins with Abel, who "offered God a better sacrifice than Cain." He was "commended as righteous" because God approved of his gift. We don't know much more than that, other than what these two men gave as sacrifices, but we know that God favored Abel's more than Cain's because of the former's faith.
The long line of faithful ends with Rahab, a prostitute, who welcomed spies with peacefulness, which resulted in her not perishing with "those who were disobedient."
Hebrews chapter 11 goes on to mention Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel, and many others, only alluding to their great acts of faith in general, but we are left to believe that, in every case, God found favor with those in the Old Testament who responded to Him in faith. That's only right because the inverse of verse 6--with faith it is possible (in fact, probable) to please God, and those who don't believe in Him cannot approach Him--also rings true.
Between Abel and Rahab, there are 26 verses, most of which name an Old Testament faithful and one of his or her outstanding acts of faithfulness. For the rest of this post, I will examine three of them -- Noah, Abraham, and Job -- and discuss how they tested God's faithfulness.
(NOTE: Job is not mentioned in Hebrews 11, but his story is interesting and worth looking into nonetheless.)
Why Noah Built a Big Boat
Before I go any further, I want to point out that there is a way to test God that is not pleasing to Him. In fact, it says in Deuteronomy 6:16:
Do not test the LORD your God as you tested Him at Massah. (Berean Study Bible)
The verse is in the context of God issuing commandments to the Israelites on obedience. They were not to test Him on His warnings regarding the consequences of disobedience. Rather, they were to accept His commandments and obey them on faith alone. For Christians, that translates into faith alone in Christ alone since, as it says in Romans 10:4:
For Christ is the end of the law, to bring righteousness to everyone who believes. (Berean Study Bible)
In other words, to believe in Christ as the promised Messiah on whom the Jews were waiting is to put on the cloak of faith that God had commanded the Jews to wear from the beginning. Since Christ fulfilled the law by living it perfectly, He alone was qualified to serve as the substitute for God's wrath and to atone for man's sin. Believing that earns the same reward that Abel received.
For Noah, that faith was lived out when he obeyed God and built an ark in which he would enter with his family and fill it with animals based on God's command.
SIDEBAR: There is much we could explore in the story with Noah (vis-à-vis global flood vs local, did he really take two of every living thing on the earth, was the ark big enough, etc.), but I will leave those for another discussion. Those are all legitimate questions, of course, but I'm trying to keep this post to a reasonable length, so I'll focus only on the parts of the story that demonstrate Noah's testing God's faithfulness--the discussion at hand.
The story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis, chapters 6-8. Chapter 6, verse 8 says God found favor in Noah because of Noah's righteousness. Not perfect moral righteousness, of course, but he endeavored to live for God rather than do evil as all other men were doing. Therefore, God chose Noah and his family as His remnant to save when judging the earth through the flood. God gave Noah very specific instructions on how to build a boat and Noah "did everything just as God commanded him." (Genesis 6:22)
Noah, his family, and the animals entered the ark. It rained. They were saved. When the rains ended, Noah sent out a bird multiple times to test whether or not the waters had subsided enough for he and his family to exit the ark. When a dove finally returned with an olive leaf, Noah knew it was time to leave the ark. Immediately, Noah built an altar and made a sacrifice to God. The Lord blessed it and promised to never destroy the earth with water again.
Noah tested God in one very simple way: Obedience. Noah's obedience effectively put his faith in action. By acting on faith, he was testing the faithfulness of God. If God failed to save Noah as He promised, it would prove that God was not faithful and therefore unworthy of worship. But that's not what happened. Noah obeyed; God was faithful to do as He promised and saved Noah and his family.
Abraham, the Father of Faith
Abraham plays an important role in all three of the world's major monotheistic religions. To Jews and Christians, he is the Father of Faith. To Muslims, he was a prophet and messenger of God. Adherents of all three religions believe he was called out of the land of Ur, a pagan worshiping culture, to follow God.
Another thing Abraham holds in common among the three religions is a belief that he is the genetic father of the Semitic races. He was a descendant of Noah's son Shem. His oldest son, Ishmael, born of the handmaiden of Abraham's wife Sarah, went on to be the father of the Arab nations. Abraham's second son, Isaac, born of Sarah, went on to father the Hebrew nation.
Abraham tested God's faithfulness in a number of ways. In one instance, God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham, did not question this. He proceeded to do just as God commanded and, at the last minute, an angel stopped him and God provided a ram to be the sacrifice instead. Because of his obedience, the angel promised Abraham (on behalf of God):
By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will multiply your descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the gates of their enemies. And through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Genesis 22:16-18 - Berean Study Bible)
God's promise to Abraham was fulfilled through his offspring, particularly Ishmael and Isaac. But I want to go back even further. In Genesis, chapter 12, God calls Abram (as he was known then) out of the land of Ur saying, "Leave your country, your kindred, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you." (Verse 1)
Without even knowing a destination, Abraham obeyed God's voice and left the land of his fathers. God's promise to him was this:
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you; and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3 - Berean Study Bible)
Today, we know that great nation God promised was Israel. Abraham's name is great because he is revered by the world's three major monotheistic religions, two of them with the most adherents worldwide. Christians understand God's promise in verse 3 ("all families of the earth will be blessed through you") to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ who died for the sins of the world (John 3:16).
Like Noah, Abraham tested God's faithfulness by stepping out in faith and obedience to God.
Job and His Proverbial Patience
Job is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. Not much is known about him outside of the Book of Job. However, he is mentioned a few times outside the canonical Old Testament writing. He is mentioned twice in Ezekiel, chapter 14, and he is mentioned in the New Testament epistle of James. To Jews and Muslims, he is a prophet. Christians consider him a righteous man and an example of godliness. He has a special place in the Mormon church's sacred text titled Doctrine and Covenants as well as some sacred writings of the Bahai. He is most known for demonstrating enormous patience, but I believe there is something deeper to understand about Job than merely pointing to him as an example of patience in the face of suffering--though, isn't that enough?
Ezekiel 14: 13-14 reads
“Son of man, if a land sins against Me by acting unfaithfully, and I stretch out My hand against it to cut off its supply of bread, to send famine upon it, and to cut off from it both man and beast, then even if these three men—Noah, Daniel, and Job—were in it, their righteousness could deliver only themselves, declares the Lord GOD. (Berean Study Bible)
A few verses later, a parallel passage reads similarly:
Or if I send a plague into that land and pour out My wrath upon it through bloodshed, cutting off from it both man and beast, then as surely as I live, declares the Lord GOD, even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, they could deliver neither son nor daughter. Their righteousness could save only themselves. (Ezekiel 14: 19-20 - Berean Study Bible)
In this chapter, the prophet Ezekiel warned the nation Israel of the consequences of idolatry. There are a number of things that can be said about God concerning this chapter of Ezekiel, the first of which is that God is sovereign and governs the affairs of all nations--not just Israel. God, through Ezekiel, warned the Israelites to give up their idols or they would have to suffer for their disobedience to the Second Commandment. So, in verses 13 and 14, and again in verses 19 and 20, he told them that should He decide to exercise His sovereign right to punish them for their sins, not even His most faithful servants--namely Moses, Daniel, and Job-- could save them. "Their righteousness could save only themselves."
Remember, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)
While Job is not mentioned in Hebrews 11 along with the faithful patriarchs and matriarchs, both Moses and Daniel are. Moses is mentioned directly in verses 23 and 24 and Daniel indirectly in verse 33 by the allusion "who shut the mouths of lions." So this is the company in which God placed Job.
The epistle of James goes a little deeper. James wrote a letter to the afflicted church in the first century around the time of the Diaspora. In chapter 5, he encouraged them to persevere, to look to Job as an example of patience during suffering, which these early Christians surely were. In verse 11, James wrote:
See how blessed we consider those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
Indeed He is, and it's something that we, like Job, can test.
How Did Job Test God's Faithfulness?
The Book of Job is unique among all the books of the Bible. Theologians categorize it as one of the five books of Old Testament wisdom books, or "the poetic books." These include the books of Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job. However, Job is the lone book that addresses wisdom in the form of a narrative. It is a story, complete with beginning, middle, and end. There is rising action, a climax, falling action, and a denouement. Among the world's literature, it can be placed alongside that of Homer's work and the Epic of Gilgamesh. It truly is an incredible story.
We do not know who the book's author is, nor do we know from what time period the events of the book hail. For this reason, many theologians believe it is nothing more than a story, an Old Testament parable meant to teach an important life lesson. Others see Job as a real person of history, a sort of tragic anti-hero of antiquity. Either way, the lesson is the same.
The book begins by telling us that Job is a man who was "blameless and upright," "one who feared God and shunned evil." In other words, a man like Moses, Noah, and Daniel. He was also wealthy. In fact, things were so good for Job that he could have been the epitome of the ancient world's "had everything going for him" man. Then bad things started happening.
First, he lost all his wealth, and his children died in what appears to be a freak accident. The story narrative says, "In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong."
Next, Job's health went south. Things progressively got worse for Job. It got so bad he found himself sitting on a dung heap, and his wife advised him to curse God and die. Again, the narrative reminds us, "Job did not sin with his lips."
Most of the rest of the book consists of a series of monologues between Job and his friends. Even Shakespeare has trouble keeping up with the pathos, the passion, the deep dive into human drama. In chapter 19, Job asks God, "How long will you torment my soul, and break me in pieces with words?" It seems that he is losing his resolve. By chapter 27, things are so bad for Job that it defies human understanding, but Job is adamant that his integrity will not waiver. He says, "My lips will not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.... My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go."
By chapter 38, Job is broken and confused. He has certainly been put to the test, more than most men before or since. And he is beginning to waiver, questioning God. In chapter 38, God Himself addresses Job, "Who is this who darkens my counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me." And He does.
God begins to ask Job rhetorical questions:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Have you commanded the morning since your days began?
Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?
Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that an abundance of water may cover you?
Who provides food for the raven?
Can you mark when the deer gives birth?
Have you given the horse strength?
Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south?
Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?
Each of these questions is meant to remind Job that God the creator is the sovereign one. Job answers, "I am vile; what shall I answer You?"
And God continues to question Job for two more chapters.
In the end, Job repents for his recalcitrance. Having withstood more pain, more anguish in a short period of time than most mortals endure for a lifetime, he is still faithful to God, and this is how Job tests God. God turns his anger on Job's friends, who had given him bad advice, but for Job God has mercy. "Because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has," God says to Job's friends.
The 12th verse of the last chapter of Job says, "Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning." Job went on to be even wealthier and in better health than before. He bore more children and died a faithful, happy man.
The lesson here is not that God promises wealth to the faithful. Rather, the lesson is that God is sovereign. He is the creator of the universe who has given His people promises. Those who heed those promises will be blessed while those who ignore them will be cursed. Job proved himself faithful to God through his repentance, recognizing that God is sovereign and holds all things in His hands. Through that faith, God blessed him.
Job thought he knew God, but through his suffering he came to know God even better. He came to know God as merciful and sovereign. But only because he believed in God. He was faithful to the end.
The answer to sufferings--Job's as well as ours--is not requests of God to ease the suffering, nor is it relief from suffering. The answer to all human suffering is God Himself. That is, ultimately, what Job experienced. At the end of his rope, he had nowhere else to which to turn but to God Himself, which he did. And when he did, God gave Job what Job longed for all along--a deeper relationship with his creator.
Testing God Is An Act of Faith
In Matthew 7: 7-10, Jesus spoke to his disciples and said:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
The connotation here is to ask, seek, and knock continuously. God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth, desires to give good gifts to His children, and He will if only His children will ask. But these gifts are spiritual gifts, not gifts to satisfy our lusts. For In James 4:3 it says:
And when you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may squander it on your pleasures.
Over and over again in the New Testament we are reminded that the law and the prophets (the Old Testament) is summed up in the law of love - to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Job did that and was blessed by God. He tested God and found God faithful.
Where Do We Go From Here?
This post was intended to serve as nothing more than a backdrop for the rest of this discussion. It's an introduction, if you will. And it barely touches the surface of the question at hand, namely, Is God's faithfulness testable? My hope is that the stories of these three Old Testament patriarchs--Noah, Abraham, and Job--shed some light on that question. To get into the particulars as to how, exactly, that testing can and should take place will require further inquiry. Going forward, I plan to get deeper into the hows and whys of testing God according to the aforementioned outline.
This post explored why belief in God is a prerequisite for testing God's faithfulness by illustrating how three Old Testament believers approached God in their testing. There is much more to say on the subject, but I'll leave it here for now.
Feel free to comment on the post below, and share this post (and The Crux) with your believing and unbelieving friends.
Allen Taylor has been walking (and wavering) with the Lord for 28 years. He has served local churches as a Sunday school teacher, a small group leader, a worship leader, a prayer group leader, and a minister of the Word. His journey isn’t over yet, and he still needs discipling.
NOTE: All Bible references, unless otherwise stated, were from the Berean Study Bible.