In this week’s Torah portion Abraham demonstrates his faith by obey G-d’s command to go to the land of Moriya and offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering. The section opens up with the phrase, “And it came about after these things that G-d tested Abraham.” Genesis 22:1. Abraham is known for being a man of faith. One needs to understand that when one walks in faith he will be tested. There is an important difference between being tested and tempted. Sometimes the same word is used and the context of the passage reveals the meaning.
The Epistle of James offers some helpful instruction for one who is being tested by
G-d. First of all James says one needs to count it as a great joy when one is being tested by G-d. This is usually the opposite of what one thinks and feels. Usually when in the midst of trials one begins to pray to be taken out of the situation. James says to be glad because he knows that when your faith is tested it is a sign of three things. The first is G-d is at work in your life; the second is that the trial is for the purpose of growing you spiritually; and the third is that at the end of the trial will come a blessing.
Trials are never easy, but if one remembers that there is a reward at the end of the experience, this one will endure, with the help of the Holy Spirit. James informs the reader that trials produce patience in the life of a believer. This biblical word means a lot more than its English counterpart. Biblical patience is the inner strength to press on in the upward call that G-d has given to every believer. The source of this strength is not man, but G-d. It is not so much the strength to do, but a strength that changes the person into more and more the person that G-d wants him to become. This is why James says that biblical patience, “…when it is complete in action (deed) it will make us perfect without defect and not lacking any thing.” James 1:4. The latter half of this verse says that through biblical patience one will be equipped to do whatever G-d calls him to do. It is not a reference as some have said to prosperity, but to be spiritually ready to complete the work which G-d has entrusted to a person.
Notice in the next verse that James says to the one that lacks, “let him asks for wisdom…” James 1:5. Why specifically wisdom? In the prayer know as the “Amida” one of the sections refers to G-d who bestows on His people knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Wisdom is superior because to have wisdom one must also have knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is simply having the information. Understanding is when one knows how to use this knowledge and wisdom is realizing in what circumstances to apply it. Notice that the emphasis of this passage is on the doing. Abraham was not just a great believer, but his faith led him to do. This is what James wants to convey to the reader.
In verse 12 of this first chapter James repeats how when one is tested he needs to be happy because the one who handles the trial faithfully will receive the crown of life. The phrase the crown of life signifies something that surrounds the head of the person. The head represents the whole person and therefore it is a reference to the change that G-d wants to bring into the life every believer. This is really the blessing that each person should be striving for, to become a new person. Notice that a crown signifies victory and becoming the person that G-d wants you to become is the true victory that each of us should desire.
In the next verse James switches from speaking about being tested by G-d to the issue of temptation. Even though it is the same word that is being used the context changes when James adds an additional word which modifies the issue. James writes,
“Whoever is being tested he shall not say ‘G-d is testing me’, because G-d is not tempted by evil, nor does He tempt a man.” James 1:13
The word is evil. When a trial involves the enticement to do wrong, G-d is never ever that source of trial. G-d places one in a trial to perfect the person. The person is being given the opportunity to do something good. Temptation is the opposite of this; the person is being seduced to do that which is wrong. Now let’s return to the account with Abraham. Abraham was being called to do that which was good. Notice in the end, because Abraham obeyed G-d, that G-d blessed him with a reward. Genesis 22:17 says that Abraham would “inherit the gate of his enemies”.
This phrase is an idiom that refers to victory. The one who possesses the gate of his enemy controls the city. This idea of victory is exactly what we were referring to when we were discussing the “Crown of Life” in James 1:12.
So the next time you find yourself in the midst of having your faith tested, remember the example of Abraham and the advice of James.
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