Friday, October 17, 2008

Tested by the Word

In Psalm 105:17-19, we read that Yahweh
...had sent a man ahead of them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 His feet were hurt with fetters;
his neck was put in a collar of iron;
19 until what he had said came to pass,
the word of the LORD tested him.
My interest is that last phrase: "the word of Yahweh tested him."

I take it that this "word of Yahweh" refers to the revelations Joseph had received in his youth. Yahweh had shown him that he would be prominent in his father's house.

Well, he'd been "prominent," all right: prominently hated. His brothers had loathed him, and couldn't decide which was the better idea — kill him outright, or sell him off to pagans and forget about him.

No doubt, this wasn't what Joseph had envisioned. He went down, down, down. Down into the pit, down into slavery, down into Egypt, down into the dungeon.

And all the while, that promise from Yahweh was "up there." I can imagine that what had started out as bright and hope-inspiring became very difficult. None could be surprised if Joseph had been tempted to bitter exasperation. "Some promise," he could have thought. "Some prominence!"

So this, I take it, is how "the word of Yahweh tested him." Joseph had a promise of greatness from God, yet here he'd sunk about as low as he could get. What would dominate his attitude, outlook, affections, perspective? Would the decisive factor be the word of the Lord, or would it be Joseph's circumstances?

It was a fiery test.

Clearly, Joseph continued to believe. Because he believed, he continued to trust. Because he trusted, he continued to hope.

How do I know that? I know it, for one, by how he responded to the temptations of Potiphar's wife.

Did he say, "Sure, whatever, might as well get whatever jollies I can get"? Did he say, "Yahweh sure isn't coming through in the 'happy' department, so, if you've got something, I'm in"?

Nope. You know his response: "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). His hope — born of trust, born of faith — purified him.

And aren't we tested in much the same way?

We, too, have words from God that often go counter to our circumstances. We are promised suffering now (John 16:33; Acts 14:22, etc.). But we are also promised glory to come (Matthew 5:2-12; Hebrews 12:1-2). We are to fix our hopes completely on that ultimate, eschatological hope of deliverance in, through, and because of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-9, 13, etc.).

Sufferings and humiliation, now; glory and eternal joys in His presence, then.

And here's our test: do we believe them, or Him? When tragedies or setbacks strike, do we believe that they are the final word? Do we walk in gloom, bitterness, discouragement — disbelief? Is Satan more persuasive to us than God?

Because without hope, we're doomed. Without hope, we're no more fit for trials than Joseph would have been. The same dynamic applies to us:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3)
Hope will purify. Hopelessness will defile. Hope grants that endurance without which holiness is impossible.

And hope depends on faith; and faith depends on the Word of God, and what we do with it.

Or do we believe God? Do we believe that glory, and not groaning, is ultimate (Romans 8:18-30)?

The word of Yahweh tested Joseph.

It tests us, too.

5 comments:

JOYce said...

perfect

Stefan said...

Hmmm, we were talking about very similar things in our small group last night, based on our study of Deuteronomy 8.

Another example of suffering promised now: Revelation 2:12-17.

Note that Jesus Christ had not a word to say against the church in Smyrna (unlike five of the other churches), and yet they were about to endure the ultimate suffering, with a promise of no end to it until they passed into the living presence of Jesus Christ and received the crown of life.

Thanks to one of the pastoral interns at my church for pointing this out earlier this week.

Although I understood already that the way of the Cross promises no relief from suffering (and indeed may be a trail of tears)—although I knew already intellectually that suffering may be for the sake of chastisement, humbling, purification, or some other reason; and ultimately for the glorification of God—nevertheless, dwelling on Jesus Christ's address to Smyrna totally transformed my understanding of the hardships we endure as believers.

And it seems that Joseph understood it better than most of us (and without the writings of John, Peter, or Paul to reassure him!).

I know the Lord has certainly tested me in my own life...in fact, it was His way of preparing me for regeneration. And He tests me again now. In fact, over the last few weeks, the more I've dwelled on the meaning of the Cross and the curse Jesus Christ bore for our sins, the more difficulties and trials I've been undergoing in my own life—and the more God has shown how precious is the daily grace He gives us to overcome these difficulties.

Sorry for the long comment, but your post is amazingly well-timed for me. Soli Deo gloria!

Jay said...

I guess because I'm young, my hope just seems so far away. I believe in the word of God. I have faith in the things that are promised. I even have hope that these things will come to pass.

But even with that hope I still feel the pain of depression and loneliness fairly often, and sometimes God simply feels like He isn't there at all, even though I'm obeying Him.

Is it possible to be filled with both hope and grief? If not, how does one translate one's feelings of hope into joy?

DJP said...

I don't think Paul was a stranger to that phenomenon, Jay: "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10). There's always an one the one hand / on the other hand to this life.

Your hope is not as far away as you think. The folly of the unbeliever is that he lives as if this life will go on forever as-is. We know better, or should. We're always quite literally a breath (if that) from eternity. Our life is a mist. And the coming of the Lord for His church could occur at any second.

So think of your hope as not far-away, but imminent, impending. All you have, all you will ever have, is now. The future is a succession of "nows" away, not a linear distance - and no man knows how many "nows."

I'm stranger neither to depression nor loneliness. It is a struggle, but that's a mark of being alive. The dead trout doesn't struggle against the stream's current, because he's dead. To be alive in this world, as only Christians are, is to struggle, as only Christians do. The fact of the struggle itself is cause for hope. It's a birth-pang (cf. John 16:33; Romans 8:22).

And finally and more specifically, there's some help in Piper's When I Don't Desire God, which you can also download.

Hope that helps.

Jay said...

Thanks, Dan. I've been meaning to read that for a while. Didn't know one could download it. Have a great night!