When Paul speaks of the wilderness experience of the people of Israel he says, “These things happened to them as an example [typically], and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Like Israel’s wilderness trek before entering the Promised Land, we experience a wilderness trek in this world before entering our promised rest in heaven. Paul tells us there is a certain similarity between the wilderness journey and the Christian life today. What is this similarity? What was the purpose of this time in the wilderness?
God told Moses He was using the wilderness experience “that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). The word testing refers to a trial, a test, and to proving. God designed the time in the wilderness to show the people their own inability, on one hand, and God’s power to care for them, on the other. God knew the content of their hearts. God designed the trials and tests to show the people the content of their hearts. Were the hearts of the people full of faith in love for God? This was the question.
We tend toward the negative. We assume God’s purpose is only to expose sin and failure. But what is the end when the test displays a loving and faithful heart? Yes, tests often do evoke grumbling and doubting. We know this from personal experience. However, when a test displays love and faith in your own heart, this increases assurance. You have a better grasp on the fact that “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The test affirms and proves your faith rather than discrediting your faith.
Ultimately, this is God’s purpose. Note James 1:2-4. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The trials test the nature of your faith and prove its validity. Testing valid faith displays patience endurance, steadfastness, and perseverance.
Paul confirms this in 1 Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation [test] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [put to the test] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [test] will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it [or simply, endure].” God does not set a test in front of you so you will fail. Quite the opposite. God’s desire is to display the power of His grace operative in you. God uses life situations positively to prove the quality of your faith and to take you down the path of sanctification toward perfection and your heavenly rest. Unbelieving observers often marvel at the grace and patience of Christians under the pressure.
Paul compares Israel in the wilderness and the Christian life in this age. The former is a type of the latter. As God dealt with Israel in the wilderness so He deals with us today.