BIBLE STUDY SERIES #542, 543 and 544

14 April, 2002

TESTING TIMES - PART III: LATER EXAMPLES

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have been conducting a series of Bible Studies for just over ten years now, starting with a Bible Study that began back in Genesis 12, with God's Call to Abram. The sequence, with occasional digressions, took up the Scriptures contained within the first five Books of The Bible consecutively from that point to the end of Deuteronomy.

On our last two Bible studies, we began a short series of studies on the topic "Testing Times", and in Part I, we reviewed some causes of questions which have been mulled over for centuries, and millennia. We saw that The Almighty God, in the passage of Scripture found in Isaiah 45:7, claims that He is the creator of Evil, and we are looking for the answers to some of the questions which such a statement raises.

We had examined Biblical examples of people in the earlier records, whose lives contain some theme of God's application of times of trial or testing. Today, we pick up the list with the story of the lives of Isaac and his wife, Rebekah.

Abraham, now quite aged, was concerned that his "seed-line" son should have a suitable wife from his own clan to continue the promises of God, and so he had to send his chief servant to the homeland of the tribal connection to seek such a wife.

Rebekah, the girl selected, was a most suitable candidate. However, she had to trust that Abraham's servant was telling the truth, about the Abrahamic connection, and then she had to take the decision, whether or not she would accept the offer of marriage to someone of whom she probably had not known the existence a few days before. Now, she must leave her family and friends, all because she drew water for a stranger and his camels! She had the promotional words of Abraham's servant and the gifts, but as she had never met her future husband she had to trust that God would not let her down in the most important decision of her young life. Are we as bold to trust in God's guidance?

In that episode, there is also another who had to feel severely tested. He carried out his assignment with honest prayer-filled guidance, to find a wife for Isaac from among the daughters of the aged Abraham's own family. Thus he must avoid miscegenation with the Canaanites on the one hand, or a return to the land from whence Abraham had been called by God, on the other. His report was an exemplary product of a life lived in devotion to The LORD.

We now arrive at the Biblical account of the life of Jacob, the twin of Esau, and a very different character, as events unfolded through his life's experiences. His sale of pottage to the hungry Esau in exchange for the birthright bought him the claim to a double portion of the inheritance. However, his further cooperation in his mother's design to obtain for him Isaac's blessing by false pretenses, was to force one of those changes of direction in life's course which cause family stress, and his departure for many years from the vicinity of his brother.

While we can see that God must have worked it all into His overall plan, it was nevertheless an act which was quite questionable and may be said to demonstrate Rebeka's unwillingness to trust God's plan to work itself out as God had told her it would. Unlike her youthful response, she felt that she had to "help the plan along" by personal intervention. One result was that she would never see her son, Jacob, again, even to the day of her death. Another was that Jacob must flee to those distant relatives, and there he must learn a sharp lesson on the consequences of deception. God did have in view the preservation of racial purity of his family through marriage to cousins, and Jacob did come out of it with four wives and eventually twelve sons and a daughter, as well as a great quantity of livestock, that also brought with it further family tensions. However, until he again returned homeward, and had to face the situation as Esau, with four-hundred armed men, approached his little band, he had not wrestled with the requirements of the Almighty directly. This life-changing experience came about at the Brook Jabbok, and henceforth, he was given his new name of Israel, which signifies a change of status in his life's priorities. Let us read Genesis 32:6-12, describing the challenge that tested him:

6. And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
7. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
8. And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.
9. And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:
10. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
11. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.
12. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

In later life, Jacob also had to face the stress of apparent loss of his favourite son, through the intrigue of the brothers. So family stress became the chief method by which God tested him. Have you found such family stress to form the greatest test that you face? How do you react to the challenge?

Among the twelve sons of Jacob there are many examples of differing attitudes, and the strains that arose in consequence.

We could mention the truthfulness, but apparent lack of wisdom, of young Joseph when he reported his visionary dreams to the rest of the family. Later, he proved to be the wisest of rulers.

We note the show of responsibility that the firstborn, Reuben, manifested. He attempted to deflect the anger of his brothers against Joseph, because of those dreams. However, Reuben had spoiled his chances through a sexual liaison with Bilhah, Rachel's maid.

Simeon and Levi had taken the sword against Shechem for the despoiling of their sister, Dinah. But Levi, at least, through his tribal descendants of a later generation, had drawn swords at Moses' command, to serve Yahweh, the God of Sinai, even against their own blood relatives, and so had vindicated the status of the tribe.

Judah had royal promises, but was willing to suggest selling Joseph for silver. He later honourably submitted himself in an offer of bondage to replace Benjamin, before the brothers had recognized their brother Joseph who was a ruler in Egypt.

Joseph's experience of testing is described in Psalm 105, especially in verses 17 to 23. Let us review those verses, concerning the mighty acts of The LORD:

17. He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:
18. Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
19. Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.
20. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.
21. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance:
22. To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom.

Thus Joseph, who had proven his constancy before The LORD in rejecting the advances of Potiphar's wife, for which he entered prison for twelve years, was later raised to the Prime-Ministerial level over Egypt, with a wife and children, and enabled eventually to save his own family from famine.

Job is the proverbial prime example of someone who endured extreme testing. The book of Job provides us with the details. The name "Job" is listed in Genesis 46 as one of the sons of Issachar. Let us introduce Job in Job 1:1-3

1. There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
2. And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.

Job also had many animals and great substance. We find that in Job's case, Satan enters the picture:

8. And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
9. Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
10. Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
12. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

There here follows a veritable litany of trials. The Sabeans, a Fire from Heaven, and the Chaldeans wiped out his livestock and most servants in one day, while at the same time, a great wind from the wilderness caused a house to collapse, killing his children.

What a sequence of trial and testing! How would you react to such a sequence of calamities? What was Job's reaction?

20. Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,
21. And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
22. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

What did Job do to incur this treatment? His troubles resulted in part from the decisions taken by others outside of his control. The test which Job faced was met in the attitude he took towards God when bereft of just about all of his earthly blessings. Do we ever feel that we have been unjustly treated by God? What is our response? Do we still love God, in spite of all that has befallen us? God sees the ultimate end, not just our present life-span. James 5:11 says "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."

There are some trials that result from attacks by the accuser, for Satan certainly had a chief part. What can we learn from his experience? In self-pride Satan himself, a created being, may have succumbed by assuming the thought that he had such wisdom and other attributes that he would be capable of exceeding his assigned authority with impunity. Scripture speaks of him in Isaiah 14:14 thus: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High." God wanted to show Satan that even Satan himself did not know everything, and hence was unfitted to occupy the senior position to which he aspired!

We shall continue with the fourth part next week, containing some suggested answers.

21 April, 2002

TESTING TIMES - PART IV: ANSWERS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have been conducting a series of Bible Studies for just over ten years now, starting with a Bible Study that began back in Genesis 12, with God's Call to Abram. The sequence, with occasional digressions, took up the Scriptures contained within the first five Books of The Bible consecutively from that point to the end of Deuteronomy.

On our latest Bible studies, we have been taking up a short series of four studies on the topic "Testing Times." In Part I, we reviewed some causes of questions that have been mulled over for centuries, and millennia. We saw that The Almighty God, in the passage of Scripture found in Isaiah 45:7, claims that He is the creator of Evil, and we are looking for the answers to some of the questions which such a statement raises. That quotation from Isaiah reads: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."

In parts 2 and 3, we examined a selection of some Biblical characters whose life experiences of trials and testings might speak to us of our own circumstances. We could speak of many more. We might have remembered the many trials of Moses, of whom we read the choice he made in Hebrews 11:24:

24. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;
25. Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
26. Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
27. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
28. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
29. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.

We could mention David, as a youth, fearlessly facing Goliath, and a later episode in which the Prophet Nathan had to confront the King for his greatest sin.

Elijah had to confront the multitudes of Israelites, while contesting with the prophets of Baal before King Ahab.

For speaking God's words, Jeremiah was at one point cast into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.

Daniel was faithful in prayer, and thus by a law designed to trap him, was cast into the den of lions.

Jonah sought to evade his duty to preach to Nineveh, but the result served to make him even more effective in his task.

Micaiah, being truthful before Ahab and Jehoshaphat drew consignment to prison with bread and water of affliction.

John the Baptist confronted Herod with his sin in marrying Herodias, his brother's wife.

Peter and John, about to enter the temple, through the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, caused a lame man to rise up and walk, for which they were examined by the chief priests, rulers, elders and scribes in Acts 4:5.

All the Disciples, just after the Crucifixion and burial, were challenged or tested. Think of the reactions of those on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13, and of Thomas when he heard from others that Jesus had been raised. We, likewise, today are often tried or tested as we find disasters abound, while Christ appears to delay His return.

Hebrews 11 reviews a whole list of the Old Testament saints who endured many trials.

Now we have arrived at the fourth part in the series, in which I hope to suggest some answers.

First, we have to note that God created everything, and so there is no question that He made the setting in which evils would proliferate. However we must also remember that the evils develop out of misguided free-will choices to which the alternative is enforcement of a total ban on all independent choice, together with a ban on the capacity to love which is a constituent contained therein.

Though misguided by lack of wisdom and perspective, the free-will aspect is the only route to the eventual cultivation of love for God, for our fellow man, and for God's splendid, wonderful world, our environment. Thus it must be preserved, even at the cost of all the terrible sins which abound in the present world. There is not a logical alternative that can preserve the capacity to love while avoiding an equal capacity to break God's Laws with resulting havoc. Remember that the plan is not complete until that Law, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, is itself loved and implemented by everyone, and this must be a product of maturity in God's Kingdom.

Our present world is dealing with immature knowledge and understanding which creates sin. Sin requires judgment by the Authority that created the law, and as God is the Creator, God is also the Judge. As the "wages of sin is death", the Plan had, from its first inception at the foundation of the world, to include the provision of a "Door of Escape" from the consequences of Law-breaking, else all will be dead without resurrection. Revelation 13:8 says:

8. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [that is, the dragon], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Thus, while God did create conditions for the onset of evil, He did not do it with the intent to curse all of his Creation without a purpose. The Cross of Christ is the legal Door which permits sinners who put their commitment of life under His direction to be legally united with a body of a resurrected and sinless being, Jesus Christ Himself.

God is planning a Kingdom upon the earth. Jesus said that we are to pray, in The Lord's Prayer, that it may come. As I stated on a former Study, "In The Lord's Prayer, we learn that the model Prayer as given by Jesus to His disciples includes the words "lead us not into temptation", which has also been translated by the words "lead us not to the Test." Thus The Lord's Prayer shows us that the Tests which come to us in life are of God, as we are enjoined therein to pray to The Father, asking that He will not, lead us into temptation.

Why are we to pray "Lead us NOT into temptation, that is, the time of trial"? Christ, Himself, in Gethsemane prayed such a prayer - "If possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." The awful nature of the test was enough to cause Him to sweat, "as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground", (Luke 22:44). He did not wish that His disciples should encounter such a test needlessly, and certainly that, should it come to them, they must not approach it lightly. Yet, at the end of each of their lives, tradition reveals that, for all but one, there would be to each a test of resolve that, for their ability, would doubtless force each to his limit of devotion.

There is another aspect to the question. Once Christ's Kingdom comes into operation, appointments of individuals to official status will not be challenged with the accusation "I might have been better qualified, but I was never given a chance" because all have had the chance to apply their inclinations and thus to fail, one and all. The times of testing are recorded, and the resulting assessments permit assigned appropriate tasks. In I Corinthians 12:28-29 there are listed some of the posts within the church: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

Just consider how, with perhaps up to two million, Moses required 70 elders, plus priests to serve in the tabernacle, etc., and that there may be many hundreds of millions or billions in God's eventual Kingdom, all of whom cannot just be left to mill-around aimlessly. It is to be a KINGDOM not a HERD OF CATTLE! Lines of authority and communication must be organized. The disciples will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Those who do and teach God's Law will receive the name "great", while those who did not will be "the least" in the Kingdom (Matthew 5:19).

God has in view a total resurrection of just and unjust in time yet to come, so there will be opportunity for all evils that have happened, no matter how terrible, to be rectified eventually.

But Sins in the present dispensation can cast long shadows, in the sense that those of the fathers may be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation... . Sins likewise of nations may culminate in a national disaster to children and generations yet unborn, as in the "seven times" punishment.

God's Plan is to set up His Kingdom upon the earth (Lord's Prayer) Hence an hierarchy of serving administrators will be required in order to provide lines of communication and authority when designated by The King of kings as this kingdom is set into operation.

Satan's plan to thwart God's design and His commitments to the Patriarchs often works on our individual selfishness, short-sightedness, or impatience to achieve a result. He even tried in the Temptations of Christ after the forty-day fast.

May these thoughts provide some assistance in your own considerations of the questions raised.

28 April, 2002

TESTING TIMES - PART V: ADDENDUM

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have been conducting a series of Bible Studies for just over ten years now; starting with a Bible Study that began back in Genesis 12, with God's Call to Abram. The sequence, with occasional digressions, took up the Scriptures contained within the first five Books of The Bible consecutively from that point to the end of Deuteronomy.

On our latest Bible studies, we have been taking up a short series of four studies on the topic "Testing Times." In Part I, we reviewed some causes of questions that have been mulled over for centuries, and millennia. We saw that The Almighty God, in the passage of Scripture found in Isaiah 45:7, claims that He is the creator of evil, and we had looked for the answers to some of the questions which such a statement raises. That quotation from Isaiah reads: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."

In parts 2 and 3, we examined a selection of some Biblical characters whose life experiences of trials and testings might speak to us of our own circumstances. We could seek out many more. In the fourth section, we gave some thoughts by way of forming answers to the questions raised, and in particular, just why a good and loving God would "create evil."

Perhaps we should have another look at that prophetic word from Isaiah 45:7, which we did read several weeks ago, in order to find a further helpful insight contained therein. That we might ponder it more fully within the context of the larger passage, verses 5 to 11, let us read it again. It states:

5. I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
6. That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.

These words inform us that The Almighty God wishes to introduce the thought which follows with a clear and unambiguous claim to His unique omnipotence, and as the Creator of everything which exists. Here, we might interject the corollary, namely, that from the standpoint of one who pursues ultimate truth through this body of inspired Scripture, those religions which do not see this as factual are in error right at the beginning of their theological presuppositions. Next, we read that passage which has caused questions to arise:

7. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

So The LORD does make the statement without qualification. Now note carefully the next verse:

8. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

We see at once that there must be a connected purpose in the creation of evil, namely, that the heavens shall pour down righteousness, or, as we might put it, "bring down right ways of life and inter-actions", which will nourish a movement to Salvation. Also, to complain at the fact of the existence of evil, as if God had not everything well in hand, even those things which are viewed as evil by the clay, is an attitude condemned by the succeeding verses, thus:

9. Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?
10. Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?
11. Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.

As Saint Paul notes, in Romans 9:21, "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" Here also is evidence of the veracity of the claim to omnipotence and omniscience. We, today, can report the multiple fulfilments of prophecies throughout history, and that they arrived consistent with meaningful time periods spacing them so that they thus evidence a total grasp of the whole course of the concourse of time and space from the first. Many who presume to preach, however, not being fully aware of the correct identities of races and nations on the world's scene misconstrue such events as they would explain, and cause doubts and disputes to arise within the body of Christendom.

Well might a block of wood, if it were to be ascribed a form of intelligence, ask of a carpenter "Why, if you 'love me!' are you allowing the saw, the drill, the nails, the rasps and all the other events which buffet and cut me to assault me?" The wood does not know the usefulness, wonder and beauty which the carpenter may have planned for the finished product. Also in another context, but with a somewhat parallel relationship, Isaiah 10:15 says "Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood."

Today, we might sketch out the over-all Plan of Our LORD as it has unfolded down through the concourse of time and space. If we would grasp the privilege of insight into the total progression of the unfolding design, we might apprehend it most clearly if we start by agreeing to accept the proposition that an act of Creation by intelligent intent has taken place; a work of wondrous design which unfolds a magnificent and useful future. It will be one which brings joy to its Creator with its accomplishment, and thus ultimate satisfaction to the materials used in the construction as well.

The purposes of God begin and end with glorious and loving ultimate intent. That which happens along the way may be seen as evil. We must not let ourselves take from this the thought that God is not in control of every event and process, nor that God intends hurt to occur, to no beneficial purpose. There are Scriptures which may be taken to say that we will not have come to finality until God is satisfied by all which comes into existence. As I Corinthians 15:22-28 sets out before us:

22. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23. But every man in his own order. Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
24. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

The actual course of history can be outlined as a sequence of events which is inexorably linked by cause-and-effect relationships, and for which the entire sequence, to its ultimate end, was implicit in the initial creative act. The objective was, from the first, to create multitudes of individuals whose relationships will eventually embody two things. One is the conscious freedom to choose, and, second, therein, to make the choices which form beneficial attitudes expressing an all-pervading reciprocal Godly love.

The course of events must involve experiencing results of wrong choices, (i.e. evil); that these may in future be consciously avoided from among the independent selections by everyone concerned. That objective might seem impossibly naive and except for the precision of the Creator so it must indeed appear. However, the precise unfolding of the events speaks to us of such exact foreknowledge that we can reside our confidence in the ultimate outcome.

The historic unfolding requires that certain choices be made by God among His created beings, as His Kingdom must be one which takes direction from Himself, and many hundreds of millions will eventually be involved. Thus hierarchy of service appointments is in God's plan, within that Kingdom. The disciples were promised twelve thrones from which to judge the tribes of Israel. The whole of Biblical and secular history has a logical sequence undergirding it, which we have, in other Studies, attempted to bring before our listeners, and we shall attempt to meet the need for reiteration, should this be requested.

Most briefly, God alone foreknew the map of mistaken choices, and must, in loving mercy, provide His authoritative Laws to guide His creatures away from pathways which would lead them to destruction. Adam and Eve fell for Satan's lie, and misery ensued. A select line through Noah and other Patriarchs was chosen and developed into a national wife to serve God's purposes, and it too must be trained through the experience of evil national choices and consequent rejection into exile, to teach the desirable national attitudes for service. Prophets must be granted foreknowledge, to assure later generations that all was planned and foreknown. Law, to be effective, must involve appropriate penalties for non-observance, lest the authority of God be tarnished. Rebellious transgressions of God's Laws, (Sin) would demand death. That meant that a legal doorway to reinstatement through God's Grace, whereby individual and nation might escape inevitable death through repentance, was required. Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, would suffer and die on the Cross, forming that essential Door, and the Old Testament records the teaching aids and experiences which pointed forward to that Door. We are invited to use our free choices to participate. Eventually, the manifest benefits will insure that all will come whom God's Holy Spirit calls, and He is unwilling that any should perish. It is all a glorious and eminently logical, complete Plan, from beginning to end. Death is not the end. Life more abundant is the promise. We would be remiss if we did not explain the outline of God's Plan to all who may wish to participate therein.

We shall move to other Bible Studies next week.

RETURN TO BIBLE STUDY
RETURN TO B.I.W.F. HOME PAGE