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Why God Sends Us Trials
Let’s open in our Bibles to Isaiah, the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Chapter 40. One of the key and very important chapters of the Bible, and the last verse. This evening, we’re looking or actually beginning to look at the wonderful truth of waiting on the Lord. This concept of waiting, resting in the presence of the Lord, of trusting and just not doing anything until God gives the strength, the grace, the direction, the leading is a very big concept in the Bible. In fact, there are 10 different Hebrew words that are used for this concept of waiting and rest upon the Lord. All of them shade differently, but all of them have the idea of waiting, of resting in His power, and of letting Him undertake and move in our lives. Probably this is the best known of all the waiting verses in the Bible, the last verse of Isaiah 40. It says this, that “those who wait on the LORD will renew their strength; and shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Now that is a tremendous promise. It’s the promise of having that renewal, that strength that is not from beneath. It’s not from the Earth, it’s from above. It’s rising above situations and rising above circumstances. It’s not getting worn down in life. It’s not wearing out and running out of gas. It’s learning to walk even when it’s difficult, and not faint. It’s all for those at the beginning, who wait on the Lord.
Now turn back to Genesis chapter 12, because what we’re going to do just briefly tonight, and I’m only going to introduce this, but in the weeks ahead, Lord willing, we are going to look at the life of Abraham as a model of waiting. Now, it’s a positive and a negative model. You’re going to see, and I’m going to share tonight, that God gave Abraham the great man of God, He gave him 10 tests. 10 opportunities, 10 examinations whether or not he would wait upon the sufficiency of Yahweh. Abraham passed several and he failed several. Now, even the great father of the faithful didn’t get a hundred percent. You and I will never be a hundred percent. We will never be absolutely always trusting, depending, obedient, walking in the Lord, because we’re still here. We’re still frail. We’re still feeble. We still are encased in flesh. We are a new creation, but we’re still in the flesh. That conflict is what Paul wrote about in Roman 6, 7, and 8. He says yes to the extent that we’re in the Spirit we are conquering the flesh and we are living above it. The law of sin and death is not held down because the Spirit of life, Christ, raises us above that. Abraham, what a beautiful model of the waiting examinations of God.
Let me just chronicle these for you, I’ll just rattle them off. The first ones in chapter 12, verses 1 through 9. This was whether or not Abraham was going to wait upon the sufficiency of God and obey Him. He told him that he was supposed to go in verse 1 of chapter 12. Get out of your country, get away from your family, and go to a new land. And guess what? He only partially obeyed. So, he failed that test. What’d he do? He brought Lot along, and he hung around in Haran for a long time. He didn’t go to Canaan right away. He spent years in the parched city of Haran, and he didn’t fully obey the Lord. So, test number one he failed.
Test number two comes in verse 10 of chapter 12. That was, is he going to trust in the sufficiency of God to protect and provide for him? Did he think God was sufficient to protect him against all forces that raid against him and he was believing in the God that was able to provide for him, even in famine? The problem was no he wasn’t. He failed another test in those verses, 10 to 18, but God loved him because he was trying. But he didn’t quite do so well.
Test number three comes in chapter 13. Chapter 13, verses 1 through 18. He has the test of whether he’s going to trust in the sufficiency of God and be content. He obeyed God, but not fully in the first test. He didn’t trust in God’s provision and protection, the second test. In the third test he comes out with a perfect score. He absolutely trusts in the sufficiency of God to meet every need. We’re going to enjoy looking at that section of scripture, as we actually will refresh our understanding of contentment.
The fourth test that God gave to Abraham is in verse 17 of chapter 14. And that was, is he going to trust in the sufficiency of God to separate from the world? That was the first test, was he going to separate totally from the worldly influences of Ur. Was he going to leave behind family, and friends, and all that he knew of life and obey the Lord? He didn’t do too well the first time. So yes, he passes with flying colors in chapter 14, starting in verse 17. You know the story, the king of Salem needs help and so he helps him, and rescues Lot and all the booty that Chedorlaomer had stolen from the cities in a battle. The king of Salem comes up and he wants to give a big present to Abraham, a lot of treasure, and money, and items. Abraham says, I serve the “possessor of Heaven and Earth.” In fact, you can read verse 18. “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of Heaven and Earth; And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘give me the persons, and you take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of Heaven and Earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ “ Now, that’s a great lesson. He passed it. He was contented and he trusted in God’s sufficiency.
The next test is in chapter 15 and that is, is he going to have faith absolutely in God, if he’s going to trust in the sufficiency of God to provide his every need. By the way, that’s the second time around. That was the second test that he failed already. To trust the protection and provision of God. So, God keeps giving him the test over and over again. He passes this time and he absolutely, in this 6th verse of chapter 15, he believed the Lord and God counted it to him for righteousness. He passes that test and he’s doing great.
Test number six, is he going to patiently wait? That’s in chapter 16 verses 1 through 16. Guess what? Fails again, he doesn’t have patience. He’s willing to separate, he does great on that. He’s willing to trust God, he does great on that. He’s willing to be content, he does great on that. But he’s impatient. Boy, what a lesson it is for us because impatience is something that is present, an ever-present friend. I don’t know whether women struggle with impatience, but most men I know struggle with impatience. That’s why they have trouble sitting down with the children. Most of them would rather be doing something than sitting down and being something, we like to do. In chapter 16, verses 1 through 16, Abraham is quick to take matters into his own hands. He makes a quick or a snap decision. He trusts those closest to him more than he trusts God.
His decision, which was disobedience, we still have with us today. Isn’t that something. The Ishmaelites, the Arab nations who are the constant nemesis of the Jewish people are the result of Abraham’s impatience. The powder keg of the world right now. The Middle East is a powder keg because Abraham was impatient. You see how important little decisions are? It was a little decision to him. I can’t have any children, so I’ll use my servant girl. I’ll have a second wife and I’ll have kids by her. We got Ishmael, we got the 12 tribes of Ishmael, and we have the Arab nations today.
Chapter 17, God gives him his seventh test, in verses 1 through 27. This is the test of, are you going to obediently walk before me and be loyal to the covenant? Now, you blew it, and you were impatient, but God says, in spite of your impatience I’m going to still have my way. By the way, the Arab-Israeli conflict is part of God’s plan. It’s part of how He’s shaping the world. Test number seven is in those first 27 verses of chapter 17 and he passes the test with wonderful flying colors. He circumcises all of his children, the covenant sign, and all those of his household. God blesses him for it.
The eighth test is in chapter 18, starting in verse 23. That was, are you going to learn to be an intercessor, Abraham? He does very well. He passes the test. He learns to intercede. He learns to go to God on the behalf of someone else. Starting in verse 23, down through 33, he learns the secret of godly intercession.
Then in chapter 20, verses 1 through 18, he has another lapse and basically, he forgets that God’s going to protect him. He learned that in chapter 15, he forgets it, years have rolled by and in this 20th chapter we find him saying in verse 2, Sarah’s my… Sarah his wife… is my sister. Which was only a half truth. That means he wasn’t a flat-out liar; he was just a liar. You know what I mean? A lot of people, in fact I just spoke with someone this week and they told me, they said I cross my fingers when I don’t tell things truthfully to my children and to other people, I cross my fingers. I said, oh, that’s great… I said, I can cross my fingers too but it’s still a lie. That’s something we have to learn, either we tell the truth, or we don’t tell the truth; there’s no middle ground. Abraham didn’t tell the truth. The father of the righteous and the man that was walking by faith that pleased God, didn’t tell the truth because he lapsed into trusting in himself instead of trusting in God. He fails that test and that’s the ninth test.
Then in the final test, chapter 22, test number 10 we find him in verses 1 through 19, in his final test from God, passing so marvelously that he becomes a picture for us of the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ. You all know the story about Abraham going up into Mount Moriah, which is the very spot that David also sacrificed when the death angel was coming. It’s also the very same spot that Solomon built the temple on, that David bought for a sacrifice place from Araunah. It’s also the spot where Herod’s temple was and it’s also the spot where Jesus Christ was crucified. It’s all the same spot, Mount Moriah. It’s a long ridge of rock there in Palestine. In chapter 22, he shows to God that he is faithful, and he will be obedient. As F.B. Meyer once said, Satan tempts to produce evil God tests to produce good. What God wants to see is in his life, was he going to trust that He would provide and protect? Even though he failed the first time he got it, the second time was he going to trust that God could give him all that He promised. He failed the first time, and he was impatient but the second time he believed. Did he trust God, that he could obey Him and follow Him all his life? He failed the first time but the second time he believed.
Now you say, boy, does that mean that we can, the first time fail, and the second time get a second chance? God is the God of the second chance, but we have the Spirit of God, which Abraham did not have. The indwelling, ministering Spirit as we know it. So, he is an example of how magnificently, someone who only has partial revelation, that doesn’t have the entire word of God, how well they do at serving and obeying the Lord.
Back to chapter 12, and we’re going to start this evening, the life of Abraham. I just wanted you to see everything we’re going to do so you got it all. If you stay with us, we’re going to look at these tests in the life of Abraham. He lived in an ancient city called Ur, nearly 4,000 years ago when God appeared to Abraham. Abraham was born in 2,166 BC. We know that because Solomon told us exactly when he built the temple. He built it in the year 966/967 BC. So, if you look at that year which is a fixed year in both biblical and secular history and back off 480 years, which is the time going back to the Exodus. Then if you back off from that, all the ages of the patriarchs. We know that Abraham was born in 2,166 BC.
Now we’re not real sure of the dates after that, because there are lapses sometimes in the genealogies. I’m not one that believes that it’s exactly as Ussher said. We don’t have to say it’s exactly 4,004 BC. It wasn’t millions, and it wasn’t billions, and it wasn’t hundreds of thousands of years ago, but it was certainly in the recent past that the flood occurred, as well as creation. In chapter 12, we’re in about the 22nd century. You see the pyramids were already built at this time. They were built about 2,700 BC. So, the pyramids were about 500 years old when Abraham was born. Those things are old. Those things are amazing. Abraham was born in a city that is in present day Mesopotamia, right in the Iran-Iraqi area, called Ur. When he lived there 4,000 years ago, when God appeared to him.
It says that, “the LORD said,” in verse 1, “to Abram.” He appeared to him in the city of Ur which was the capital of moon worshipers. It was a polytheistic city. Poly, many. Theistic, gods. They worshiped many gods. The prime guy was the moon god, which by the way, is still worshiped in the Middle East. The crescent is still the ever-present symbol of the Muhammadan, Moslem belief. They still have a lot of the vestiges of the moon god and all that paganism that goes with it. When God appeared to Abraham, Ur was one of the most advanced cities of that time. Ur was a place where busy commercial events had transpired. They had learned in that area to educate. They had learned mathematics. They were quite proficient in astronomy. They had mechanically learned to weave. They had learned engraving, and they had learned to preserve their ideas on clay tablets. In fact, they built massive lights. To this day, they’re still excavating in that area and digging up entire libraries on these little clay tablets.
In fact, one of those little clay tablets from the area around Ur of the Chaldeans is in the Philbrook Museum, it’s very interesting. Whenever we take a group over there, I always take them to the second floor to the ancient area to show them what cuneiform writing looked like in the time of Abraham. Also, to show them from the time of Job, what a circular cylindrical seal looks like. That cylindrical seal, like a spool of thread that you can put a needle through and roll it, is the way that they sign their letters. They would just push this little cylindrical seal into the clay, like this, and roll it like a rolling pin across the clay. Job said that the Earth turns on its axis, like the clay to the seal. What he was saying is, the Earth rotates. So those two things are up in the Philbrook, so you ought to go over there. Some of the other art isn’t really worth looking at, but boy, that is. And it’s fun to see how this ancient time was so advanced.
These people have recorded so much of their social, religious life that the archeologists have found it. They found out that the city that Abraham lived in had over 300,000 people inside the city walls, that’s a good size city. The city was right along the river. There were rich pasture lands that encircled the city. Most likely because Terah was a herder, he was a herdsman, he was involved in animal raising, he probably lived out in the pasture area and came into town. Abraham grew up in that setting and like the rest of the world he had grown up in a polytheistic environment.
The people worshiped many gods, mostly nature gods, but in the center of Ur was the dominant feature. As we noticed this morning in Ephesus the dominant feature was that looming, glittering temple; in the center of Ur was a ziggurat. That was like a little zig-zaggy road going up that pyramid. It was an astronomical center where they would worship their deities, chiefly the moon god called, listen to this, Nanna. How would you like to worship Nanna? Some people call their grandmother, Nanna, but they worship Nanna the moon god. They would crawl up their ziggurat, like this, till they got as high as they could get. Then, they would chart the location of the moon in the various seasons and the stars. Once they got that down, the astronomers became astrologers. They would predict to the people, that tomorrow that planet will show up over there and the next day that constellation will be there, and the people didn’t realize how they knew that. They began to have power. Actually, they just knew the calendar of the astronomical movement, but they were using that. They told the people they lived under the sign of the stars. Astrology, the concept that’s in most newspapers and that people really go by.
When I lived in California, there’s some people that wouldn’t show up to work. You say, where are they? They said their zodiac said, their astrology deal said don’t go out today, you’ll get hit by a car. So, they stayed home. That’s ridiculous, but people really live under that. They live under the foolishness of astrology and the zodiac and all that. That’s what began to be worshiped here. Abraham, no doubt lived with his family outside of Ur. Terah, Abraham’s father was a shepherd who had grown up worshipping the false gods.
Now, this is where we pick up with Abraham because as we look at his everyday life in the 21st century BC, we find that not much has changed. God’s friend Abraham was faced with the same daily struggles each of us must endure. As we examine these 10 specific trials that he went through, we can learn from each one a lesson for our lives. I hope you’ll learn those with me. One thing that’s sure about Abraham, and I want to get this in before we go, you can turn from chapter 12 to chapter 24 because I only wanted to introduce Abraham and tell you where we are going, but let’s look at the end of his life.
Chapter 24 is the beginning of the last days. It says in verse 1, “Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.” He sends out his servant, he gets Isaac a bride. That’s all of chapter 24. By the way, chapter 24 is one of the most beautiful portraits of the New Testament. The father sending out a servant to get a bride for the son. The father sending out a servant, the Holy Spirit, to get a bride, us, for the son. In fact, the whole New Testament in miniature is found in the 24th chapter of Genesis, but I won’t go into that tonight.
Chapter 25, verses 1 through 6, “Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah;” and then all these others. Look at verse 5 of chapter 25, because this is the integrity of Abraham, he was faithful to the end. That’s the one point I want to get across. “And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.” Abraham gave everything to the son of promise. Abraham was faithful to the end. Abraham was blessed by God.
Abraham kept covenant loyalty. Why? Because he learned from his 10 tests. He learned he could trust God. He learned that he could trust God’s provision. He could trust God’s protection. He could even trust God’s timing in his life. In the first test that he was given in chapter 12, and let me just sketch that for you, he ended right because he began, right here, learning a lesson. Chapter 12, verse 1, it says this. “Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” I just want to ask you a question from the life of Abraham. Why didn’t God leave him alone in Ur of the Chaldeans? Why did God want him to leave?
Point number one, about the tests of waiting of Abraham, God is a God that wants us to separate from the world. God is a God that is putting us through tests in our life to see if we are going to trust His sufficiency to let us have the strength to separate from the world. You say what’s the world? I’m glad you asked that. 1 John chapter 2. Let’s look at what the world is. Turn to the end of your Bibles, 1 John chapter 2, and if you don’t have this one underlined, it’s a good one. 1 John 2, starting in verse 11. 1 John 2:11. “He who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you’ve known the Father. I’ve written to you, fathers, because you’ve known him who is from the beginning. I’ve written to you, young men, because you’re strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you’ve overcome the wicked one.” In four verses he’s described the lost and the saved. The saved are those that are either children, young men, or ancient fathers of the faith. The unsaved are those that are not having and possessing His love. So, John in a nutshell, divides up the whole Christian life.
Now look at verse 15. He said because of this, because you love and you don’t hate like the first verse we read says, verse 11; He says don’t, 1 John 2:15, “don’t love the world.” If you have any doubts about that, “or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that’s in the world, the lust of the flesh,” and those are sensual desires, “the lust of the eyes,” that’s the desire for things and for beauty, it’s the artsy, and the elevated things, “and the pride of life,” that’s what all of us struggle with, those three things. “Is of the world” and “is not of the Father.” And all those things, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life are “passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
What did God say to Abraham? Leave everything behind. What did Abraham do? He took Lot with him, and he took his dad with him, and he hung around Haran until his dad died. Then he took Lot with him, and Lot became a source of problems. He had to rescue him out of Sodom. Finally, Lot and his whole family were endangered, and Abraham had to intercede for him. Look at all the problems he had because he didn’t fully obey God. God says, don’t love the things that are passing away in this world. Don’t love the instant gratification of our world. Don’t love the things that give us pleasure. Love the God who is wanting us to be contented in Him before we are in things.
If we do love the world, James put it this way. He says, “you adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God.” What’s the world? It’s the spirit of this planet that is in variance with God. It’s the spirit that makes us say, hey, you only live once, go for it now. Instead of saying, I live twice. I live here, and I live there. That’s more important than here, I’m going to focus on that. It’s the spirit that says that it’s okay if everybody else is doing it, I’ll do it too. It’s a spirit that says, but it’s only a little bit bad, it’s only a little lie, it’s only a little bit of weakness I have. It’s the spirit that doesn’t allow us to walk in holiness with God. Just like I talked about this morning, it’s those little things that desensitize us to God. The real litmus test and the real acid test of whether or not your heart is in tune with God is, whether or not you hunger for this book as much as for your daily food.
I love to eat. When I travel overseas… as a group of our people, 40 people are going to find out… when I’m overseas I eat constantly. I carry around bags of bagels. I just love to eat. You know what? When I don’t eat, I’m aware of it. Are you aware of when you don’t eat from this book? Do you have a gnawing hunger in your spirit? If not, there’s something that is poisoning you, that is distracting you. That’s what God was testing Abraham for. He said, do you trust my sufficiency that I will give you the grace to leave behind your family, to leave behind your city, to leave behind your people, and to leave it all behind and go to a new land I’m going to show you?
You know what the writer of the book of Hebrews said? By faith Abraham looked “for the city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” You know what that means? When he failed his first test Abraham saw that God offered him something greater than even a city of 300,000, that he was wealthy, and could offer him. My question for you this evening before we go… Have you learned to wait on God? Have you learned to wait on Him for His sufficiency to give you the strength to systematically separate yourself from all the entanglements of this world that draw you away from Christ? I hope that the first step you will take is what many of you affirm tonight, that you will be in this book by the grace of God every day that you’re breathing, alive, and able to in 1996.
Don’t just get into this book and just blankly read it to get it over with, and mark off on your chart, pray also. Pray. It’s become a habit in my life. I prayed this morning, before I got into God’s word early this morning I said, Lord, open my eyes. You show me something from Your book. Don’t just go in without any entrance, ask Him. The author, the greatest teacher in the universe is present tonight with you. The Spirit of God that wrote this book wants to open your eyes to understand it. After you read it and after you prayerfully ask God to open your heart as you’re reading it, then what you do is you underline something. Some of you don’t have a mark in your Bible. This is not a sacred book that you don’t touch, and you don’t mark it. This is your toolkit. It’s inspired, divine, but it’s your toolkit. You should be in the process of finding verses in this book. You should mark those verses so that when you come to church and when you’re standing there next to someone in the greeting time, they look sad or something else, you can open this book and say, you know what? I was just reading this morning, or yesterday, or whatever, and I found this verse. “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, he who despises the gain […] And shuts his eyes […] he will dwell on high.” You know what? You can share God’s word with them and then talk about the Lord.
There’s only four basics. Read, pray, memorize and meditate (which is one unit), and witness. That’s all you need to do to be strong in the Lord. That’s all you need to do to combat worldliness. I didn’t have to tell my worldly friends to get away from me, they just slowly backed up. They said you don’t laugh at our jokes anymore. You don’t talk about stuff anymore. You don’t go to our parties anymore. What’s wrong with you? They used to call me deacon when I was a truck driver. They say, oh, the deacon is coming. I didn’t preach to them. They saw the growth in godliness and a decline in ungodliness. I hope that’s your goal.
The first test is waiting on the Lord to separate from the world. Let’s commit ourselves to that this evening. Let’s bow together.
Oh Lord, I pray we would learn from the life of Abraham, the necessity of godly separation. If we want to be the friend of God, as Abraham learned to be, then we must learn to love not the world, and to not cling, and desire, and long for the things in the world, that so deaden and cool our hearts to you. Help us to not be adulteresses and adulterers that are vying between two lovers, the world and the infinite God. Help us to commit tonight, that we are going to be a chaste, and a pure, and a holy virgin bride, awaiting our marriage with you. And we will not be courted, and suited, and dated by the world system with all of its evil but we will rather keep ourselves pure for the one we love, which is you Lord Jesus. Thank you that Abraham is a picture of waiting. Help us in the weeks ahead to learn what it means to wait on you as he did. And we’ll thank you for it. In Jesus name, Amen.
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