Monday, October 24, 2022

by Emily Page

The Old Testament shows us what it looks like to walk with God. It is challenging, filled with highs and lows and sometimes long stretches of seeming silence. So often during these silences, God’s people face intense pain—inflicted by others, inflicted by themselves, and sometimes inflicted by nothing at all.

The danger of experiencing this suffering without being prepared is that believers start to doubt. We are so prone to questioning our faith to death. We question why God is silent while His children suffer.

How can we prepare for suffering so that we do not question our faith to death? By knowing our God and knowing why we can trust Him. In my estimation, there are two basic reasons to trust anybody. The first is that our own experience leads us to trust them. The second is someone we already trust gives testimony to their character.

Throughout the Old Testament narrative, we are acquainted with people who are learning to trust God. By their life experiences wherein God demonstrates His loyalty and faithfulness, they testify that God can be trusted. As He acted over and over again in the lives of real people, so also we can trust He will act in ours. From the opening pages of His Word, God makes known that He is watching, listening, and caring even when He is not yet intervening.

The Testimony of The Patriarchs

Hundreds of years before the Exodus, God showed that deliverance, indeed, was a cornerstone of His character. The motif of affliction and God’s response of protection becomes a pattern in Genesis.

First, God promises Abram that he will honor his covenant and would one day rescue Israel from foreign enslavement (Genesis 15:13-16). We know that God follows through on this. When the time comes, God sees Israel’s suffering in Egypt and acts—in His time, and in accordance with the promise He made long before (Exodus 2:24-25; Genesis 15:13-14).

However, God does not wait until Exodus to show that he delivers. Right after his promise to Abram, the LORD shows his concern for the oppressed by protecting and showing mercy to Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian slave-woman (Genesis 16:11-12). The messenger of the LORD appears to Hagar as she flees from Sarai and Abram, saying, “the LORD has listened to your affliction” (Genesis 16:11). God hears her affliction, and He responds with deliverance by bringing prosperity to Ishmael and protecting them in the wilderness (Genesis 21:17-18).

The enactment of His deliverance does not stop there. The LORD shows up again to deliver Jacob from the affliction of Laban. Jacob suffers labor abuse from Laban for 20 years without hearing a word from God (Genesis 31:41). Not until it was time to leave Laban did the LORD speak to Jacob again (Genesis 31:3), and only then is Jacob able to say, “My affliction and the toil of my hands, God has seen” (Genesis 31:42). The author does not say if Jacob felt abandoned by God during those 20 years, but the narrator does tell us that he was most certainly not abandoned, regardless of how Jacob might have felt.

The Testimony of the Unloved

During those 20 years, another victim faced affliction. Leah, Jacob’s unloved wife, suffered through her marriage to an indifferent husband. Jacob did not love Leah, but he loved only Rachel (Genesis 29:30). Even as Jacob suffered Laban’s abuse, he mistreated another in his own household. God paid attention to that. The LORD repeatedly opens Leah’s womb and closes Rachel’s womb, for a time, so that Leah would have comfort in her pain (Genesis 29:31).

The narrator of Genesis never reveals if Jacob came to love her, so presumably, he did not. But Leah receives mercy and concern from the LORD, and that was enough. God reveals once again that He is concerned for the oppressed, even when the oppressor is one of His children too.

After God brings Jacob out from Laban, affliction once again comes upon Jacob’s family when Shechem rapes Dinah, Jacob’s daughter by Leah (Genesis 34:2). Not only is this an attack against Dinah, but it is also a threat on the whole family of Jacob because the danger of intermarrying with foreigners becomes a reality (Genesis 34:8-17). If this happens, then the promise of nationhood to Abraham would fail (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:5, 17:1-2, cf. 3:15). Simeon and Levi respond to Shechem’s outrage by tricking and slaughtering the whole clan of Shechem, but in doing so, the safety of the family is threatened by revolt from the Canaanites (Genesis 34:31). While they flee, God protects Dinah and Jacob’s family by placing a terror upon the surrounding nations (Genesis 35:5).

For the sake of Dinah and for the sake of God’s promise, the LORD shields Jacob’s family from danger.

Finally, the LORD reveals again His character of deliverance by His attention to and protection of Joseph. God used Joseph, even after he was sold into bitter slavery, to protect His children from death by famine (Genesis 45:7). By allowing Joseph to suffer under his brothers and at the hands of an Egyptian master (and his wife), God used Joseph’s faithfulness as a tool to show divine mercy on all His people. Joseph suffered affliction, but he is never shown to question God’s presence with him.

And Joseph’s confidence in the LORD was not in vain. God delivered the children of Israel in a mighty way through Joseph’s obedience in the midst of affliction.

The Testimony of Jesus

The culmination of this pattern of affliction and deliverance finds its full expression only in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Himself. Far from using His Deity to escape the suffering of humanity, Paul describes how Christ “emptied Himself” and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). In this gripping pinnacle act of human history, the Son of Man does not scorn the suffering of men but identifies Himself entirely with God’s afflicted people, grieving with them “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13).

Beneath the weight and pressure of real time and space, Jesus the Crucified breathed His last and died. This death was not a trick, a forgery, or a farce; for three days there was silence and stillness in the sepulcher of the Most High.

It is with His own suffering that God in Christ sanctifies the suffering of His people, and it is with His own death that the Lord Jesus fulfills and consumes the isolation, silence, and death of all who trust in Him for deliverance. The affliction of all humanity converges around this Sacred Head Sore Wounded, Who demonstrates His trustworthiness in the person of Jesus Christ, whose cross towers over the wrecks of time as a witness to the truth that God will never ask us to suffer anything which He Himself has not first suffered in our place. And we have this assurance: “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).

God resurrected Jesus and has promised to make Him the firstborn of many brothers (Romans 8:29). Those who join themselves to Him in the solemn covenant of faith shall be raised with Him from death in the greatest rescue ever accomplished, and the final fulfillment of every promised deliverance.

How Scripture Prepares Us

So, what do the testimonies of these stories tell us? First, it is in God’s character to deliver, but a close second is that we often experience what we think is God’s silence before His deliverance. Walking with God sometimes feels like wandering in a den of isolation. But we learn from the testimony of His Word that even then He can be trusted. By knowing God’s character, we can avoid the shattering of our faith when we suffer and learn to trust Him all the more.

The psalmist says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted so that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). This is the voice of someone on the other side of suffering who has the joy of looking back and seeing what God was teaching through intense pain (Psalm 119:65-72). In affliction, God teaches us who He is and who we are before Him. He shows us that He never turns a blind eye to the oppressed.

To you who are suffering affliction: God has not abandoned you. In the 20 years that Jacob did not hear from the LORD, God was protecting him. After Israel’s long wait in Egypt for God’s hand, He brought it, and when He did, He struck the Red Sea in two. The LORD is present in your life. Be faithful.

To you who have not yet suffered greatly: do not be anxious for your day of affliction. It will come, but it is not something to fear. Through it, God will grow you and teach you why you can trust Him. Do not rush to your affliction so that you can all the sooner experience God’s subsequent deliverance. God’s timing brings the truest, deepest growth. Be faithful.

To you who have endured suffering: reflect on what God has taught you. Do not waste your lesson. Learn what is meant for you to learn. Then, tell others. Like Joseph, calm the fears of those around you by offering a word of truth (Genesis 50:20). Give testimony to God’s faithfulness so that somebody else can trust. Be faithful.

Because the LORD sees the afflicted, and He rescues—trust Him.

This article was taken from the sixth volume of Faith and the Academy, a journal published by the Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement. Read more at this link.

All translations are the author’s work.