“Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them” – Judges 3:1
Have you ever asked yourself why has this happened to me? Everyone at one time or the other asks themselves this question. Sometimes the answer is that we are suffering the consequences of our own sinful choices (e.g. Jeremiah 2:19). Difficulties and trials may be the result of spiritual warfare (e.g. Job). Nothing can happen to us that God has not allowed to happen. We may not understand why God allows certain things to happen. And we may not like what He allows to happen. But God is big enough to handle our questions and objections. God is sovereign over all.
There is another source of difficulty that we may find hard to understand or accept. Some testing and trials come from God. That is the testimony of scripture. The book of Judges is a history of God’s people in the Promised Land. In the opening portions of Judges it states: “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan 2 (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it), 3 namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath. 4 And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” (Judges 3:1-4)
God had enabled His people to take over the Promised Land and fully occupy it (Joshua 21:43-45). But this passage in Judges tells us that God purposely allowed some of the pagan peoples to remain. These pagan peoples would be the source of trouble for God’s people. But God, fully aware of this, allowed them to remain. Why did God allow these pagan nations to remain? The answer to that question is of great value because it gives us insight into how God ministers to us. The above passage states God allowed these pagan nations to test His people. They would be tested in two ways.
First, God allowed the pagan adversarial nations to remain in order to strengthen His own people (Judges 3:1-3). There was a generation of Israel that had not lived during the conquest. They needed to learn how to fight and defend themselves. God allowed adversaries to remain to serve this purpose. Faith is like a muscle, it needs exercising. A muscle grows only when it is stretched and strained to capacity, even beyond capacity. Then the muscle is fed, nourished and rested. And when restored it will be restored larger and stronger than before the workout.
Do you have an adversary in your life? It may be a person. It may be a circumstance or situation God has allowed in your life. Have you asked God why this is happening to you? It may be that God wants to strengthen you and prepare you for a future task. Why does God allow cults to exist? Perhaps it is that the testing that comes from confrontations with cults is a means for God to strengthen our faith. Enlightenment and understanding comes when we are motivated to study to prepare for ministering to cultists. How many Christians have been motivated to study the word of God in order to be prepared for that inevitable knock on the door from a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon? That atheist or skeptic you know and that is always trying to trip you up with questions may be a tool of God to move you deeper in His word and closer to Him. God uses adversaries to test and strengthen our faith.
Secondly, God allowed the pagan adversarial nations to remain in order to bring us through decision to obedience (Judges 3:4). It states that God allowed these nations to test them, “to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD.” It isn’t that God needed to know this. God is omniscient. He knows everything! What God was doing was helping His people know what was in their hearts. It’s easy to talk a good talk, but can you walk the talk?
God’s people were often quick to pay lip service to God. At the end of his life Joshua challenged the people saying, “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15) The people’s immediate response was, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve others gods.” (Joshua 24:16). Then what did the people do? They forsook the Lord! We see this in a repetitive cycle in Judges consisting of sin, suffering consequences of that sin, crying out to God, God delivering the people through a judge, rest and peace, and then the cycle happens all over again. It’s true, talk is cheap!
Why was and is obedience so important to God? Obedience leads to blessing (Deut. 28; Joshua 1:8). God gave the Law and the instruction of His word in order to protect His people from danger. God instructs His people in order to show them the way in which they can experience and maintain a close personal eternal walk with Him. God loves us and He instructs us to show us what is best for us. If He says “No” to something, it is only because what we are intending to do or what we are asking for is harmful for us. He has something better for us. When we disobey we never get God’s best. Obey God and you’ll always get His best.
But there’s another reason why obedience is important. Obedience is a way of expressing our love for God. Love and obedience are connected (cf. Deut. 11:13; 30:20). Jesus said if we love Him we will obey Him (John 14:15, 21). We can say we love Jesus all we want, but if we are living in sin we prove ourselves liars. You may say you love your spouse, but if you cheat on them and commit adultery in thought or deed how valid or true is your love? Cheating on them breaks your marriage covenant. We can rationalize and excuse ourselves but the reality is still we have broken something precious. It is only through repentance and actual change that reconciliation is possible. Usually that comes through getting caught; through testing. Maybe this teaching is a test for some of you.
God knows what is in our hearts but we don’t (Jeremiah 17:9-10; 1 John 1:8, 10). The heart is deceitful and wicked. We can only know what is really in our heart by looking into the mirror of God’s word (James 1:22-25). God’s word speaks of His testing. It is God’s word that tells us the truth about ourselves (Hebrews 4:12-13). God tests us to bring us to a point of decision. When we choose to obey Him it expresses our true love. When we choose to disobey it exposes false love. God tests us for our own good, to strengthen our faith and show us the truth about ourselves. God’s testing makes a way for us to experience His best.
The psalmist was inspired to write, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Psalm 66:10-12). Sometimes rich fulfillment only comes through testing.