The Boundaries of Trials

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When reading the first two chapters of Job, one striking element of the narrative is that God puts limitations on what Satan can do. In the first encounter, the Lord tells Satan:

“Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (Job 1:12 ESV)

God tells Satan what he can and cannot do. Satan can do anything with what Job possesses but nothing can be done against his body. In the second encounter we see similar limitations.

“Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:6 ESV)

God established boundaries to what could happen during the trials of Job. This sets up for us a critical truth as one reads the book of Job: God is in control. God is in control through Job’s whole trial. Satan is not God and Satan does not operate independent of God’s power. God limits what Satan can do. Not only this, Satan needs permission to act in the adversity against Job. This is important is because there is a tendency to picture the problem of suffering as if Satan is another god who acts outside of the sovereignty of God. But the battle between God and Satan is not that these are two heavenly powers by which Satan does evil and God tries to fix it by doing good. This is not the picture the scriptures give of God nor the answer given to us in the book of Job. God is in full control of Satan. Whatever Satan does, Satan does within the constraints of God’s will and rule. If Satan is not operating under the rule, will, and power of God, then God is not God. Thus we never see Satan acting outside the knowledge or power of God.

We observed this in the text of the last few articles. Satan afflicted Job (2:7). But the text also says that God afflicted Job (2:3; 42:11). The scriptures often tell us that it is God who is testing us. We are told that the Lord tested Abraham when he told him to offer up his only son (Hebrews 11:17; Genesis 22:12). The Lord tested Israel on many occasions (Exodus 15:25; 16:4; Deuteronomy 8:2; 13:3; Judges 2:22; 3:1; Psalm 11:5; Proverbs 17:3; Jeremiah 9:7; 11:20; 20:12). God often says that he tested his people. Consider what God was doing while Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (Deuteronomy 8:2 ESV)

God allowed Israel to go without food and water as we read about in the book of Numbers to see if the people would trust him or not. The knowledge that God uses trials and tests gives us hope. This may not be your first reaction to this information but this is to give us hope. God is in control of the circumstance, he is ruling over the trial, and nothing is happening outside of his knowledge. God rules over your trial and that gives us hope through difficulty. Our hope is that we know that God is love and we know God loves us. All we need to do is look at the cross to see the amazing, sacrificial love God has for us. So he did not send his Son to save us only to destroy us through trials and suffering. God puts limitations on what can happen to us. But our hearts must be tested. Our lives need trials so that we will be humbled before our God. Good times and prosperity do not humble us before God. Often prosperity can make us proud against the Lord. So God brings us into the wilderness to humble us and test what is in our hearts.

6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:6–13 NRSV)

After speaking about these tests that Israel experienced in the wilderness and failed, the apostle Paul tells us that these things serve as an example for us so that we do not fall like they did (10:11-12). Then we have a promise sentence to give us hope.

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Notice that God is over the trials experienced Many translations read this as “no temptation has overtaken you” but there are others like the NRSV and NET that read “no testing” or “no trial.” The word that is translated “temptation” or “trial” here simply means, “to put to the test or prove.” The context of 1 Corinthians 10 is the testing that Israel experienced. So we should read this text as a promise regarding both our trials and temptations. God is sovereign over these events in your life. There are limits on what you have received so that it is not beyond your strength. Read these words of the apostle Paul again: God is faithful. He will not let you be tested beyond your strength. Satan is limited. Satan needs permission. Satan cannot act beyond the power and knowledge of God.

Job overcame this trial. We can overcome our trial. God is faithful. God is with you. We are able to endure what has been given to us. Consider how James also points out that the purpose of God is seen in testing. We are blessed if we endure.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10–11 ESV)

Brent Kercheville