God Tests His People to “Know” Them

God reveals Himself through the pages of Scripture. He shows His character and the ways He deals with people. One of God’s most common approaches is giving His people tests:

  • Exodus 20:20—And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”
  • Psalm 66:10—For You, O God, have tested us;
    You have refined us as silver is refined.
  • Job 23:10—But He knows the way that I take;
    When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.

See also Genesis 22:1, Deuteronomy 8:2, Judges 3:1, and 2 Chronicles 32:31

Why Does God Test People? To Know Them!

The Old Testament makes this clear if we understand two Hebrew words:

  • Nacah is the Hebrew word for “tested” or “proved,” and it means, “To test, try, prove, tempt, assay.”
  • Yada is the Hebrew word for “know,” and it means, “to know,” but, like ginōskō, it is describing intimate knowledge: “Adam knew (yada) his wife, and she conceived and bore a son” (Genesis 4:1).

David used both words when asking God to “test” him to “know” his heart:

  • Psalm 26:2—“Examine me, O LORD, and prove (nacah) me; Try my mind and my heart.”
  • Psalm 139:23–24—“Search me, O God, and know (yada) my heart; Try me…see if there is any wicked way in me.”

When God tests people, it is not to imply He did not already “know” them. Nacah is also translated as “prove,” because when God tests us with trials, He is proving what is in our hearts. John Fawcett said:

“Losses and disappointments are the trials of our faith, our patience, and our obedience. When we are in the midst of prosperity, it is difficult to know whether we have a love for God or only for His blessings. It is in the midst of trials that our faith is put to the test.”

Consider these examples of God testing His people to know them…

God Tested Israel to Know Them

Moses could not go with Israel into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy contains his final words to the people he loved and led for forty years. In chapter 8, he discussed the difficult time of testing in the wilderness, and why God put Israel through it:

“You shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test (nacah) you, to know (yada) what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

God tested Israel in the wilderness to know them.

Fast-forward to Israel entering the Promised Land. What did God do with the enemies in Canaan? He left them! Why? Again, God wanted to test Israel to know them:

“[The Canaanites] were left, that [God] might test (nacah) Israel [by them] to know (yada) whether they would obey [His] commandments” (Judges 3:4).

God tested the Israelites to know (or prove) whether they would obey Him.

God Tested Hezekiah to Know Him

Hezekiah was one of the greatest kings in the Old Testament, but he failed when Babylon sent messengers to visit him. This evil nation was the superpower of the day and Hezekiah pridefully wanted to impress them; therefore, he showed them his nation’s wealth. Second Chronicles 32:31 gives spiritual insight into what took place:

“Regarding the ambassadors [from] Babylon…God withdrew from [Hezekiah], in order to test (nacah) him, that He might know (yada) all that was in his heart.”

God tested Hezekiah to know (or prove) what was in his heart.

God Tested Abraham to Know Him

People struggle with God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. How could God want a father to sacrifice his own son? God did not want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. We know that because He stopped it from happening. In Genesis 22:11–12a, the Angel of the LORD said:

“Abraham, Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him.”

The repetition of Abraham’s name shows the urgency with which God prevented it, and not only was Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac, he was not to “do anything to him.”

If God did not want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, why did He ask him to do it? The answer is revealed at the beginning of the account:

“Now it came to pass after these things that God tested (nacah) Abraham” (Genesis 22:1).

This was always only a test. It was never about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. It was only about whether Abraham would sacrifice Isaac.

The Most Fitting Test in the Old Testament

Abraham and Isaac is probably the most fitting picture of a test in all of Scripture. Scholars take notice of the first time God uses a word. It is called “The Principle of First Mention,” and the idea is when a word occurs for the first time it reveals the truest meaning. Genesis 22:1 is the first time God uses the word nacah. There were more painful tests—such as what Job experienced—but as far as having faith tested, it is hard to imagine anything tougher than Abraham’s experience. He is the “Father of Faith.” Romans 4:11-12, 16–18 records:

He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

As the “Father of Faith” Abraham fittingly faced the premier test of faith when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. After he passed, God said, “Now I know (yada) that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12b). God knew the courageous man who dared to pick up the knife would not have hesitated to perform the sacrifice.

God Tests Us to Know Us

These accounts of God testing His people might look foreign to us, because He would never command us to sacrifice a child or wipe out a nation of evil people. There is a relationship though—God tested (nacah) Abraham and Israel to know (yada) him, and God tests us to know us. Thomas Kempis said:

“Adversities do not make a man frail. They show what sort of man he is.”

When Abraham’s faith withstood the test, the Angel said it revealed his fear of God. When our faith withstands tests, it reveals our fear of God, which is “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).

Discussion Questions to Answer in the Comments Section

  1. Why is it important for God to test our faith?
  2. How can it help your perspective of trials to view them as tests, versus viewing them as unfortunate circumstances?
  3. Did you previously consider your faith as being “more precious than gold?” How has your view of your faith changed since reading this chapter?

8 thoughts on “God Tests His People to “Know” Them

  1. I believe that God is omniscient, that He knows all things, from beginning to end, from past to future. He knew about each individual before the earth was formed. How do you reconcile that truth with our free will and Gods words through the angel to Abraham “for now I know that thou fearest God.”? An omniscient God would have already known.

    1. Hi Brian,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. You said:

      I believe that God is omniscient, that He knows all things, from beginning to end, from past to future. He knew about each individual before the earth was formed.

      I completely agree with you! God’s words to the prophet in Jeremiah 1:5 come to mind:

      “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
      and before you were born I consecrated you;
      I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

      Then you asked:

      How do you reconcile that truth with our free will and Gods words through the angel to Abraham “for now I know that thou fearest God.”? An omniscient God would have already known.

      Toward the beginning of the post I said:

      “When God tests people, it is not to imply He did not already ‘know’ them. Nacah is also translated as ‘prove,’ because when God tests us with trials, He is proving what is in our hearts.”

      So one way to look at it is God didn’t “learn” that Abraham feared Him. Instead, God proved that Abraham feared Him.

      With the mention of our free will you’re asking one of the questions that I’ve wrestled with throughout my Christian life and that has been at the heart of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The tension seems to be pretty easy to recognize: if God is sovereign how does man have free will? If man is a free moral agent, then how is God sovereign? These seem to be mutually exclusive.

      How can they be reconciled? I’m not sure they can be on this side of heaven. First Corinthians 13:12 says:

      “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

      I don’t think we’ll be able to harmonize God’s sovereignty and man’s free moral agency with our finite minds. Since the Bible teaches both we have to embrace both.

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