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The word “test” doesn’t have the most positive associations in the English language, even though it is technically neutral. It can refer to a formal exam given by an instructor or a task from someone genuinely seeking to discover some truth—a test of strength or testing a hypothesis. It can also refer to someone with less than genuine motives looking to trap someone or put them through a trial that reveals something about their character or motives. But in the Bible, there’s a significant design pattern that involves testing, seen in instances of God testing his people and in people testing God. But to understand this pattern, we have to check our cultural understanding or negative associations and see what the Bible is saying.

Tests in the Bible

Though we have our own suppositions about what it means to test or be tested, let’s look to the examples of testing in the Bible to truly understand this important theme.
We see two types of testing in the Bible.
Sometimes God puts his people to the test, not to trap them but to give them a chance to demonstrate trust and loyalty.
Sometimes people put God to the test, almost always because of a lack of trust, and they demand that God “prove” himself.
The theme of “the test” begins in the garden of Eden when God presents the humans with two trees. This theme is carried through the biblical story leading up to Jesus, and it continues in the lives of Jesus’ followers today.

The Test in the Garden: Genesis 2-3

There are two trees in the garden, and the choice between them determines not just the future destiny of Adam and Eve but also their loyalty to God. One tree represents God’s gift of eternal life, and the other tree constitutes a test of faith.

The Tree of Life

The tree of life is in the center of the garden and imparts eternal life.
Genesis 2:9 NKJV
And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 3:22 NKJV
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—
In Genesis 1 through 2, we see God as the author of all life, and trees are presented as potent images of God giving the gift of “self-regeneration” to his creation. The reader knows that the tree of life cannot be “magical,” in the sense of offering its own life to the eater. But God is the giver of life, and the tree is at the center of the temple-garden, so proximity to the tree means proximity to the author of life.
“[The tree of life] represents life that is beyond the original life that God breathed into human. The first human by nature is susceptible to death…. Nevertheless, continued eating from the tree could renew life and prevent death. Apart from disobedience to God’s command, mortals had access to this tree... The tree of life allows humanity to transcend its mortality, the state in which it was created on the sixth day, so it can move to a higher dimension… to eternal life and immortality. As one partakes of this… fruit by faith, one participates in this eternal life. This highest potency of life was available in the garden and becomes once again available to us as we reenter the temple-garden through the second Adam… and look forward to the resurrection of our bodies.”

The Tree of Knowing Good and Bad

The second tree in the center of the garden leads to death, and it represents a test of faith and serves as the introduction of the key biblical theme of testing.
Genesis 2:15–17 NKJV
Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The phrase “knowing good and bad” appears elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. It refers to the wisdom required for moral discernment, the authority and capability to decide the difference between what is right and wrong (see 2 Samuel 14:17; 1 Kings 3:9; Isaiah 7:15).
In Genesis 1:26-28, God commissioned the humans to represent him as the image of God and rule and steward creation on God’s behalf. This call requires wisdom, but by whose wisdom will the humans rule? By which standard will they discern the difference between good and bad?
The tree of knowing good and bad represents a choice for humans. But it’s not the choice element alone that makes this an important biblical test; it’s the result of those choices. One option is for humans to seize the authority to define good and evil by their own knowledge, while the other is to obey and continue living in intimacy with God and learning God’s wisdom and will.
Will humanity choose to follow God’s instructions and trust his wisdom? We know how this story goes, and it does not end well for humanity.

The Failed Test

The woman who represents life (the meaning of her later name Eve) is deceived, and then she offers a choice to her husband (another test). They both end up failing and falling prey to deception.
Just as the tree represented a test to the woman, so the woman represents a test for her husband. And they both fail.
Genesis 3:1–6 NKJV
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
The tree of testing is set in analogy to the woman’s (unintentional) test of the man—both fail and both eat. This leads to a narrative connection that will be important for the remaining biblical story: humans can become “trees of testing” to one another. The test pattern we see in Genesis 3 is replicated by tests posed by people throughout the rest of the Bible.
Humans are exiled from the garden and the tree of life because they have become a “tree of testing” to one another. But just as trees “produce seed” (Gen 1:11-12), so also will the woman produce seed (Gen 3:15-16) that will overcome the snake while being overcome by it. We read on and anticipate this future seed who, by implication, will pass the test that was failed by Adam and Eve.

Tests in Genesis 4-50

We see this testing pattern carried forward throughout the book of Genesis. This is a key pattern in the story of the nation of Israel. God calls a man, Abraham, to father a nation of chosen people. But as part of his covenant with God, Abraham must pass a test and prove that he is willing to submit to God’s wisdom instead of his own. Will he pass the test that Adam and Eve failed?

Abraham is Called

Abraham is called out of Mesopotamia to go to the land of Canaan, and his first entry into the land portrays him and Sarah as a new Adam and Eve, and also as a new Noah.
Note: Early in Abraham’s story, before God gives him and his wife new names, they are called Abram and Sarai.
Genesis 12:1 NKJV
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:4–9 NKJV
So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.
Abraham is first introduced to the reader as one who passes his first test. He is called to leave his land and family and go to a new land. And with no questions asked, Abraham does it!
Abraham journeys into Cannan and ascends to a high hill (Shechem) where there’s a high tree called “vision.” There Yahweh appears to him in a vision. Then he goes to a mountain next to Bethem (Heb. “house of God”) and builds another altar where he worships Yahweh.
In the biblical story, whenever we see humans meet with God on a high place under a tree, this is Eden imagery. Abram’s new land is depicted as a “Eden place,” where he meets personally with God on a high place under a tree.

Abraham’s First Failed Test

Genesis 12:10–20 NKJV
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.
Abram has passed his first test, but unfortunately he doesn’t continue to trust in God’s wisdom. In Genesis 12:10-20, we see how Abraham fails a test of faith.
Notice how the famine in the land presents Abraham with a test of faith. In the previous story he was called to leave his own land and go to Canaan. But just as soon as he arrives, he encounters a crisis of food shortage. Will he remain in the land God promised to give him, trusting God to provide for his family’s security, or will he leave the land and try to provide his own safety and security? He chooses the latter option, and even worse, he places his wife in danger in order to save his own life!
Notice how the language of Genesis is recalled here: “See that it was beautiful,” “take,” “life/die,” “what is this you have done?”
Abraham’s failure is a replay of Adam and Eve’s failure, but God had earlier promised to protect Abraham. So despite Abraham’s failings and deception, God protects Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham and Sarah’s Failed Test

Later in the story, both Abraham and Sarah fail another test of faith. God has just repeated the promise that they will have a son and produce a great family and nation (see Genesis 15), but they become impatient and decide to take matters into their own hands.
Genesis 16:1–6 NKJV
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.” So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.
Instead of trusting that God would give them a child, Abraham and Sarah make their own plan that results in the sexual abuse and oppression of their Egyptian slave.
Their plan to use Hagar is not explicitly evaluated by the narrator. Rather, the author uses design pattern vocabulary to show that their choice is yet another replay of the Adam and Eve failure to trust in God. Comparing these two passages is helpful in understanding this pattern.
16: 2 B And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai
3:17 Because you listened to the voice of your wife
16:3 And Sarai took (ותתן) Hagar…and she gave (ותתן) her to Abram her husband (אישה) as a wife (לאשה)…And he went into her.
3:6 And the woman (אשה)…took (ותקח) the fruit… and she gave (ותתן) also to her husband (לאישה), and he ate.”
16:4 And she [Hagar] saw that (כי ותרא) she was pregnant, and her master was cursed in her eyes (בעיניה). 16:6 Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your slave is in your hand, do to her what is good (טוב) in your eyes (בעיניך).”
3:6 And the woman saw that (כי ותרא) the tree was good (טוב) for food, and desirable to the eyes (לענים).
16:8 And [the angel] said to Hagar…“From where (מזה אי) have you come, and to where do you go?”
3:9 And Yahweh God called to the human and said, “Where are you (איכה)?”
16:10 And the angel of Yahweh said to her [Hagar], “I will great multiply (ארבה הרבה) your seed… You are pregnant (הרה), will give birth (יל׳׳ד) to a son.”
3:17 To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply (ארבה הרבה) your grief and pregnancy (הריונך), and in grief you will give birth (יל׳׳ד).
In Genesis 1:27-28, God blesses the humans and commands them to “be fruitful and multi- ply.” But in Genesis 16, we see a reversal of this blessing. The result of Hagar becoming pregnant is a curse for Sarah (Genesis 16:4). Abraham and Sarah’s blessing of a child becomes a curse.
Abraham and Sarah failed in multiple ways. They didn’t trust God to provide a miraculous child through their own bodies and instead trusted their own plan to conceive a child. Their own plan involved using the body of their slave as a sexual object, and then Sarah uses her social privilege to oppress and eventually exile this single mother into the desert (see Gene- sis 21).
God eventually provides a son for Abraham and Sarah (see Genesis 18:1-12 and ch. 21). But God is not done testing them because Abraham and Sarah have not proven themselves to be fully trustworthy partners. So he puts them to the ultimate test.

Abraham Passes the Ultimate Test

In Genesis 21-22, we see Abraham’s many sins catch up with him on a mountain by a tree. The Eden imagery continues as God sets another test before Abraham.
Abraham and Sarah have abused and exiled Hagar and Ishmael. Because of Abraham and Sarah’s sin, God tests Abraham’s faithfulness with the ultimate requirement: the life of the miraculous son that God eventually provided for them, Isaac.
Genesis 22:1–2 NKJV
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
This is the first time the word “test” appears in the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew: נסה / nasah).
God calls Abraham to go to the land of Moriah (מוריה), which means “the land of vision.” It rhymes with and recalls the “oak of vision” (מורה) that Abraham first encountered when he entered into the land in Genesis 12.
Abraham has been meeting God by trees on mountains throughout this story, and here God calls Abraham to a mountain named similarly to the hill with a tree in Genesis 12. Remember that Abraham also built an altar on that hill? This is all building the anticipation for this climactic test of Abraham’s faith. Will Abraham worship God here on this mountain by surrendering the son he loves?
Genesis 22:3–18 NKJV
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
Finally Abraham passes the test! And God confirms this by saying that he knows now for certain that Abraham trusts him even in the face of death.
The words “see/fear” (ירא/ראה) are a motif in this story. They’re used in connection with another to illustrate Abraham’s right view of God and God’s reliable provision for Abraham.
The narrator draws the reader’s focus on the trees and wood in this story. We see the wood of the burnt offering taken along, placed on Isaac, and finally arranged on the altar.
The “ram in the thicket” on the mountain is an inverted image of the tree of life. Ram is spelled with the same letters as “oak” (איל). Remember Genesis 12? Isaac’s life is spared, and his substitute is offered from “the tree.”
Verse 14 is the narrator’s comment. They are drawing a direct analogy between God’s provision of a substitute on Mount Moriah and a future sacrifice that will be offered on this same mountain, the temple in Jerusalem. This story is offered here as an image of Abraham’s future faithful descendant who will offer a sacrifice of great cost in Jerusalem. That sacrifice will release the blessings of Eden to all of the nations.

Tests in the Exodus Story

God continues to test his covenant people in the Hebrew Scriptures. The nation of Israel was born of Abraham’s descendants, but like their patriarch Abraham, they struggle to trust in God’s wisdom and fail many of the tests put before them by God.

Moses Tested by God

When Moses is first tested by God, we again see the familiar Eden imagery. He meets with God on a mountaintop by a tree (bush).
Exodus 3:1–6 NKJV
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.
Exodus 3:10–12 NKJV
Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
Moses, who represents a new Noah and is also saved by an ark in Exodus 2, meets with God atop a new Eden-mountain. He sees God in fire-vision under a bush-tree that is called s’neh, a pun on the name Sinai.
This name and its Hebrew spelling (סנה/s’neh) contain the same letters as the Hebrew word for “test” (נסה/nasah), just in a different order. This is a common biblical Hebrew technique for creating design pattern “hyperlinks.” This burning tree represents a test of Moses’ sensitivity to God’s presence.
His encounter on the mountain is a sign/symbol of the time when all Israel will meet God on this same mountain in fire and fear. The verb root “see/fear” is the same as in Genesis 22, where Abraham met with God on Mount Moriah. This familiar motif sets the reader up to have the same expectation for Moses’ meeting with God. Just as Abraham had to give up his son for his sins, only to receive Isaac back through a substitute, Moses will also give up his own life as a substitute for the sins of his people and receive it back again.
Notice that this meeting place of heaven and earth, of God and human, is described as a “holy place” that requires humans to change their ritual status before they enter. In this way, the holy mountain becomes an anticipatory image of the tabernacle, temple, and the new Jerusalem.

Israel’s Test of Faith in the Wilderness

On the way out of Egypt, God leads the Israelites into a test of faith as they run out of water (in the same place Hagar ran out of water in Genesis 16).
Exodus 15:22–27 NKJV
So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.” Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters.
Israel is led into a dry land, where the water is not drinkable. And instead of crying out to God to “heal” the waters, they grumble against God. But Moses intercedes (צעק), and God shows him a tree (עץ) that Moses then casts into the waters so that they become sweet.
These are all Eden images. The bitter water provided in the wilderness can become sweet by means of a tree, if only God’s people pass the test. This test (נסה) is about whether or not they will “listen to the voice” of God.
This passage is followed by a story about a place called “oak trees,” where there are springs of water and lots of trees just like Eden. If God’s people pass the test, the life of Eden is given to them.

Moses, Israel, and the Test at Mount “Tree-Bush”

Moses brings the Israelites to Mount Sinai to meet with God, where Israel will face their greatest test.
The name “Sinai” recalls the s’neh bush of Exodus 3 and is now associated with the test (נסה) because of the spelling of its name: sinai (סיני) // test (נס׳י). While the “tree-bush” of Exodus 3 is not mentioned, it doesn’t need to be; the entire mountain is named after it. And the entire Sinai narrative becomes an Eden-space, a high mountain surrounded by wilderness with a tree on top, where one representative human meets with God.
Exodus 19:1–2 NKJV
In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.
Israel’s test is the same as Adam and Eve’s and Abraham’s. Will Israel listen to God’s voice instead of the voice of “the other” who speaks lies?
Exodus 19:3–6 NKJV
And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
Unfortunately, Israel, led by their priest Aaron, fails the test. And the language used to describe their sin is full of Eden imagery and motifs.
Exodus 32:1–10 NKJV
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”
This story sets the design pattern for Israel’s idolatry: worshiping false gods near Eden-like mountaintop experiences with sacred trees on top. This passage then paves the way for the future stories of the high places, Asherah poles, and “luxuriant trees” in Israel’s story.
In the next part of the Exodus story, we see Moses offer his own life as a sacrifice of atonement on the Mount with the s’neh bush, echoing Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22.
Exodus 32:30–33 NKJV
Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.
Moses’ words echo God’s command to Abraham in Genesis 22 of “going up” to offer a sacrifice to God as atonement.
Genesis 22:2: “Offer him (העלהו) up as a going-up offering (לעלה).”
Exodus 32:30: “And now I am going up (אעלה) to Yahweh.”
Moses’ words are a double entendre, as the consonants could be vocalized in multiple ways (Heb: חטאתכם בעד אכפרה אולי יהוה אל אעלה ועתה). See below the two meanings/readings of this passage.
“And now, I will go up (e’eleh) to Yahweh; perhaps I can atone for your sins.”
“And now, I will make a going up offering (a’aleh) to Yahweh; perhaps I can atone for your sins.”
Moses then proceeds to offer up his life in the place of the people. However, even though Moses passes this ultimate test of giving up his own life, he later fails by allowing the Israelites to put God to the test!
The Israelites test God in the wilderness in Numbers 11-21, and God expresses the consequences for their unfaithfulness clearly in Numbers 14:22-23.
Numbers 14:22–23 NKJV
because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it.
And eventually Moses follows in the Israelites’ footsteps and fails to trust God.
Numbers 20:9–12 NKJV
So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
And so the reader of the Hebrew Bible continues forward in the story, trusting that God will raise up that promised seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) the descendant who will fully pass the tests set before Abraham, Moses, and Israel.

The Testing of Jesus

Jesus was tested throughout his time on earth, and the Gospel accounts use language that echoes the testing narratives of the Hebrew Bible. Yet Jesus stands apart as the one who faithfully trusts God, and he passes the ultimate test on behalf of all people.

Jesus’ Test in the Wilderness

Immediately after Jesus is baptized and commissioned by God to go to Israel, he retreats into the wilderness and faces three tests. This story is designed to activate the pattern of testing from the garden of Eden and Israel’s failed tests in the wilderness in Numbers 11-21.
Matthew 4:1–11 NKJV
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
Notice that Jesus responds to each test by quoting from the Torah, specifically from the book of Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:16, and 6:13). These are precisely the sections of Deuteronomy that retell the story of Israel’s failure in the wilderness.
Deuteronomy 8:1–5 NKJV
“Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
By quoting from the Torah, Jesus presents himself here as a new Israel. He is Israel’s Messiah, passing the test on their behalf in precisely the same place where they failed!

Jesus’ Test at the Mount of Transfiguration

As the period of Jesus’ mission in Galilee draws to a close, he goes to a tall mountain and has a remarkable experience, and he is called to face the ultimate test.
Luke 9:28–31 NKJV
Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Jesus is transformed to look like Moses did after spending time in the cloud of divine glory on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 34).
Notice what Jesus and Moses and Elijah (who also experienced the divine glory on Mount Sinai) are talking about. The word translated as “departure” here is the Greek word exodus (Grk. ἔξοδον). This word is meant to recall the entire Exodus narrative of the Torah—the defeat of the evil powers of Pharaoh, the liberation of the slaves, and the death of the substitute lamb.
This conversation is about the “new Exodus” liberation that Jesus is going to accomplish in Jerusalem during Passover. And so this mountain represents a moment of decision for Jesus. Will he go to Jerusalem to face his ultimate test as he has been called?
We read about Jesus’ decision in Luke chapter 9.
Luke 9:51 NKJV
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,

Jesus’ Test in the Garden of Gethsemane

When Jesus eventually arrives in Jerusalem, he kicks off Passover week with one controversy after another. He intentionally provokes the leaders of Jerusalem, forcing them to reckon with his claims and his teachings that were set in opposition to their authority.
On the night of Passover, Jesus knew that he was going to be arrested. This night was the last stage of his ultimate test that began back in the wilderness. But instead of going back to the desert, Jesus goes to a garden. This is a deliberate echo of Genesis 2-3.
The location of the garden is called by various titles in the Gospel accounts.
Matthew 26:36 NKJV
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”
Mark 14:32 NKJV
Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Luke 22:39 NKJV
Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.
John 18:1–2 NKJV
When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.
“The word “Gethsemane” is a transliteration of the Hebrew/Aramaic gat šĕmenê (“oil press”), presumably used here to refer to the site of an oil press in an olive grove on the slope of the Mount of Olives (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). John 18:1 speaks of a garden across the Kidron Valley from the city of *Jerusalem.
In the garden, Jesus struggles and prays for deliverance before submitting himself to the divine plan. This is Jesus and the disciples’ test among the garden trees, set in analogy to Adam and Eve’s test in the garden.
Matthew 26:36–38 NKJV
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
Psa. 42:5,11
Matthew 26:39–45 NKJV
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Golgotha Hill and Jesus’ Execution

The story of Jesus’ execution is also told in such a way as to help the reader see the connection to Genesis 3. The high place where Jesus is killed upon a tree echoes the tree that brings death from Genesis 3.
John 19:16–18 NKJV
Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.
“The ‘Garden Tomb’ north of the Damascus gate at the alleged hill of Golgatha is a place where one may envision the Easter events. But its origins are pious speculations of the nineteenth century, excluded by the archeological data that demonstrate a pre-exilic tomb. Recent investigations (GBL 1.480–82) show rather that the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre actually lay a bit outside the city wall (cf. Mt 28:11; Jn 19:17–42) in the vicinity of a gate (Heb 13:12; cf. Josephus, J.W. 5.146 [Gennath- (i.e., garden) gate]) and a busy street (Mt 27:39). Remains of the temple of Aphrodite have also been found, which Hadrian in a.d. 135 erected to displace a Jewish Christian worship site (ELS 619ff.). Golgatha was a rock formation that took shape as a result of quarrying activity. It rose as high as twelve meters and owed its Aramaic name gûlgultāâʾ or Hebrew name gulgôlet (Gk. Golgotha), “the skull” (Lk 23:33; cf. Mt 27:33; Mk 15:22; Jn 19:17), to its shape.

The Cross as the Tree

In the New Testament, the Roman cross of Jesus’ execution is regularly called “the tree” (ξυλον).
Acts 5:30 NKJV
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.
Galatians 3:13–14 NKJV
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Acts 10:39–40 NKJV
And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly,
1 Peter 2:21–25 NKJV
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Acts 13:28–30 NKJV
And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead.
Jesus’ death on the high tree is presented as a reversal of Adam and Eve’s failed test in the garden of Eden. Their sin was their failure to trust God, and it led to death (“failure” is actually what the Hebrew word for sin means). This was true for Abraham and Sarah’s failure and for Aaron and Israel’s as well.
Jesus takes the entire history of human and Israelite failure into himself, and he, like the ram substituted for Isaac, dies in their place and atones for their sins. Jesus passed the ultimate test, on behalf of us all, so that instead of receiving death for our failures, we receive his eternal life.

Testing in the New Testament Letters

The brother of Jesus, whose name is Jacob (later translated as James in the English tradition), reflected on this design pattern in the biblical story. He believed that all of Jesus’ people should see themselves as following in his steps. For James, that meant facing our own tests of faith about the knowledge of good and bad. Like Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Israelites, and Jesus himself, we will face tests of our faith as we follow God.
James 1:2–4 NKJV
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James says that we should reframe our hardships as tests that offer us an opportunity to deepen our trust in God and our own character. But as we encounter these tests, we can trust in the goodness of the one who is testing us. God has our best interests in mind, and he offers us opportunities, not traps, to strengthen and refine us.
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