Does God Tempt Man?

"And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am." (Genesis 22:1)

Chapter 22 of Genesis is one of the most extraordinary chapters in the entire Book of Genesis, and also one of the most misunderstood. The skeptic as well as the sincere student of the Word of God has seldom found a field so fertile with seeming contradiction and perplexity. Yet when the spiritual truths of this astounding chapter are firmly grasped, there are fewer places in all of Scripture where more insight into the character of God Almighty can be more clearly seen.

In the first two verses, we come across two “sticking points” that initially seem to make no sense whatsoever. First of all, we are told that God tempted Abraham. Many critics of the Bible have used this very statement as a springboard from which to hurl the most audacious of blasphemies toward a Holy God. Before we move any farther into the remarkable events of this chapter, it is prudent that we make sure that we understand exactly what God is doing here and what His intentions really are.

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” (James 1:13)

When we think of the word tempted, we think of an enticement to do that which is evil. James categorically states that God never does such to any man. What God is doing here is more accurately conveyed in most of the other Bible translations of Genesis 22:1 which render the word “tested.” Personally, I prefer the way that the American Standard Version of 1901 reads:

“And it came to pass after these things, that God did PROVE Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham. And he said, Here am I.” (emphasis added)

So often we think of tests as nothing but opportunities to fail. We seldom see that they are also opportunities to succeed. The school-child who has shirked her responsibilities and has neglected to study will fear the teacher’s test, knowing that they have not sufficiently learned the necessary material in order to pass the test. The student who has mastered the material will find the examination a blissful occasion as they are being afforded the chance to prove that they have learned what was presented to them. We can scarcely accuse the teacher of wrong-doing for even presenting the children with the test; it is their intention that all the students pass (although I had some teachers in school that I was not so sure of….but that’s another story :) ) No, the tests are designed to prove what the students have learned, to give them the opportunity to demonstrate, for the teacher and for themselves, their mastery of the skills which they have been learning.

Now, I recognize that, in light of what God is asking Abraham to do here, my analogy is very poor and trivial indeed. Abraham is being asked far more than to recite a memorized portion of a textbook, or rehearse his “multiplication tables.” His test is indisputably and quite literally a matter of life and death. But it is important for us to see the underlying motive of God in even presenting Abraham with this test, which he of course did not know was actually a test at the time. There can be no misunderstanding that, to Abraham, this was something that God was actually requiring of him. Little did he know at the time that this was to be a great turning point in his life, a mighty landmark which would be visible across the expanse of human history as a beacon of the kind of faith in which God is well pleased. Heretofore, we have seen that Abraham’s faith has been inconsistent and we have witnessed several occasions of failure in his trust of God. But here atop lonely Mt. Moriah, Abraham and Isaac both will pass “with flying colors” and demonstrate without a doubt how a life totally yielded to God should look. We will look more closely at these events in the coming days.

9 responses

  1. Both of my favorite translations(Complete Jewish Bible and New King James version) of the Bible use the word “tested”.

    It is obvious that tested and tempted are different with regard to the intent of the tester/tempter. A tester would be impartial, waiting to see the result. A tempter has a desired result in mind at the outset, and may try to control aspects of the situation to get the desired result.

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  2. To Ed,
    I like your reply to Loren’s post above.

    qoute>”It is obvious that tested and tempted are different with regard to the intent of the tester/tempter. A tester would be impartial, waiting to see the result. A tempter has a desired result in mind at the outset, and may try to control aspects of the situation to get the desired result.”<end qoute.

    Your reply adds a simple explaination to a complex question.

    Glen
    "Lov'n the Lord & Liv'n the Life…"

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  3. Loren,

    Would you say that all temptation is of Satan? And therefore evil?

    Or would you say temptation is merely a weakness of mankind. And can be used by both God and satan as a tool?
    God’s use for testing which leads to spiritual growth.
    Satan’s use for evil and destruction to lure mankind away from God.

    Glen
    “Lov’n the Lord & Liv’n the Life…”

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  4. Loren,

    God knows when we are ready for His testings….. So great is His love….. He certainly stretches our faith and helps it to grow — leading us to appreciate His love all the more after the testing is done….. His wisdom is far beyond our understanding.

    Margaret

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  5. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15)

    Temptation works because it appeals to a weakness within the flesh. It is the exploitation of those fleshly lusts to entice us to commit sin. This is why the old “the devil made me do it” attitude is not a valid alibi because if we did not have those tendencies in ourselves to commit those deeds, the temptation would be completely powerless. This is why certain temptations are absolutely meaningless to some people, but are practically irresistible to to others. Temptation is successful only when it gains a foothold on an already existing desire within the person being tempted.

    Now, more to the point of the issue you raised :) , I would firmly concur that Satan is ultimately the instrument by which temptation comes. This is what I believe James has in mind when he says that God is not the tempter (James 1:13). Yet Scripture bears witness that God is the One in complete control over all temptation which comes into our lives, permitting or else disallowing temptations which He Himself deems appropriate or “insurmountable” (1 Cor. 10:13). In this sense, I think that God can even cause Satanic temptation to serve as a tool to bring about the believer’s spiritual growth, this being the reason that He allows it.

    Is this really a valid distinction or are we finely cutting a theological hair? I believe that the difference is quite important. 2 Samuel 24:1 tells us that God moved David to number Israel, while 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us it was Satan. Which is accurate? I think they both are. Satan used the occasion as a temptation to commit evil while God permitted it as an opportunity of testing. Satan was the instrument of enticement, but we are reminded that, ultimately, there is nothing that befalls the servant of God save that which God allows.

    I really don’t know that I can address this issue any more succinctly than Ed did in his comment. I did write an earlier post back when I was covering Genesis 3 about temptation that might be relevant to the topic: “How Temptation Works”

    Thanks, Glen, for the great comment and for reading this, God bless you!

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  6. I agree. Ed, I really like how you put it too. Thanks for writing this!

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  7. Very well put, thanks Margaret!

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  8. never i have ever had perfect answers to this question as this. God bless you all

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  9. Thank you, Justine, I am overjoyed that you found this article helpful :)

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