Do you ever have one of those times that you are reading a biblical passage that you have read many times and suddenly see something new? I am guessing you have! I have experienced that many times and it never fails to delight me.
The incredible thing about scripture is that it is not new and yet always new at the same time.
I am currently reading the book of Judges and as I was reading the opening of the third chapter I had one of those moments that caused me to pause and reflect.
In those first two verses, the writer states that the Lord had left nations after Joshua “to test Israel by them”. Even with Joshua leading, the children of Israel had often faltered in their faithfulness. Now they would be absent that leadership and a series of judges appear to guide and lead.
The verses go on to say the testing was for those in Israel who “had not experienced all the wars in Canaan”. Because they had not experienced those things they hadn’t seen the hand of the Lord over and over again at the parting of the Red Sea, the collapse of the walls of Jericho, and so much more.
The second verse adds this; “It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.”
We so often talk about peace and our desire for it. If we have read much of the Bible, we know what it says about it and where it comes from and still we wish for the idyllic peace of Eden.
When I consider what that might have been like before the fall, I wonder if we forget to remember that Adam and Eve were untested prior to the serpent. Was the serpent allowed in the garden to test them to develop their character?
Over and over again I see that testing produces character and that tends to come from two primary things. First, we learn more of the truth about our own condition and ourselves at that time. Secondly, we invariably learn more about the Lord and who He is.
Each testing time in my life has never failed to do both. Each time has also taught me more about warring against those things within me that are not like Him as well as how to be more effective at warring against the enemy who still seeks to defeat and destroy each one of us who are called by His name.
In the Judges passage the Lord used physical enemies and battles and wars that allowed testing. I think that sometimes occurs today as individuals are involved on physical battlefields and countries are forced to determine what actions they will take when evil seeks to overtake them. We also see that many who are not serving as soldiers armed with physical weapons are caught up in the battle, but for many of us the battles are not as graphic. Even so Paul reminds us of the armor we are to wear in Ephesians 6.
The truth about armor is that it will never be effective if you try to put it on when you are under attack in the midst of the battle. It must be put on before you go into battle.
Too often we do not remember that and are trying to put it on in the midst of a battle that needs our focus. Not a very beneficial strategy at all and yet it is too often our default position. Paul reminds us in I Thessalonians 5 how true that will be at the end time when the Lord returns. It suggests clearly as do other passages that we are to be watchful, ready, and already dressed for battle.
Peter reminds us as well about our need for preparedness in 1 Peter 4:12 ESV:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
I am not eager for testing, never am I eager for that. I also do not believe the Lord is sadistically planning for pop quizzes and crushing exams to trip me up. I believe He is wanting each of us to be aware that we live far from Eden in a world that is far from perfect, often evil, and even more so as His return approaches.
It is His great love and care for us that cause Him to use any and all things to prepare us so we can stand and fight as His army alongside Him. He does not want us to be unprepared. Before David ever met Goliath, he knew well how to use a sling in other dangerous experiences. He was tested and so were his weapons. Should it not also be true of us?
We may not embrace the trial or test, but may our hearts echo the words of Job 23:10:
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”