In Matthew, Jesus is being tempted by Satan in a reckless effort to get him to act in a way contrary to God. Although this story is widely known, memorized, and preached on, there is a troubling section for western thinkers that don't understand what Jesus is really saying to Satan's second temptation. We will pick up in Matthew 4, verse 5. "Then the devil took him into the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' (Psalm 91:11,12)." Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' (Deuteronomy 6:16)."
So what is Jesus saying? Is he telling us that we can't question God or put him to the test? I mean that is what it says. But, one thing we need to be wary of, especially in ancient Hebrew culture, is that a recitation of the Word is always carrying the context of the Word. We have a few verses to unpack and put into the full context of the Word. My prayer is that by the end of this, you will have a better understanding of the Word in its entirety, who God is and what he wants for our relationship with him. Let's begin.
"You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah."
There is a clear contextual issue that needs to be addressed before we move forward. What happened at Massah? Here is the text that references what happened at Massah. Before we dive into exactly what happened in Massah, I want to preemptively point out that there is a wicked way to test God, and it's specifically found in this story. That is the reason for the contextual statement, "as you tested him at Massah." The Matthew Henry Concise Commentary frames the issue like this, "The children of Israel journeyed according to the commandment of the Lord, led by the pillar of cloud and fire, yet they came to a place where there was no water for them to drink. We may be in the way of duty, yet may meet with troubles, which Providence brings us into, for the trial of our faith, and that God may be glorified in our relief. They began to question whether God was with them or not. This is called their tempting God, which signifies distrust of him after they had received such proofs of his power and goodness."
This place that the promised people of God were in was called Massah, or testing, and Meribah, or quarreling. In this story, they proclaimed they didn't believe the power and providence of God. They had so quickly forgotten God's goodwill for them and it produced in them an example of little faith.
Either way, Jesus' response to Satan was not denying the request to test God's faithfulness, love, compassion, goodwill, desire for humanity to flourish as they did in the garden, but rather it was Jesus saying, "I know God is here. I have no need to throw myself off this building to prove he is for me. He has proved it over and over again."
This isn't a new thing and it's actually related to the original sin which might be why there seems to be a trace of bitterness on Jesus' part surrounding this specific sin. Humans embraced a narrative that God doesn't have their best in mind, in the garden that is, and they seek their own understanding in defining good and evil so they can see if God is for them and if he is there for their best interest.
How do we test God then?
Great question, reader. I had the same one!
There are a few places in the bible and in my own life that could shine some light on this question. The main difference between these types of testing and the wicked kind is that they are done in the context of faith, which Hebrews 11 has plenty to say regarding this topic. To start though, it says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."
1. In Malachi 3:10, we see God speaking and saying, "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need." So we are given the freedom to test God in his ability to bless our gifts and our faithfulness. He is the provider and a very relational God. He blesses those who bless his kingdom and he tells us that if we are to be faithful with what he has given and provide for those around us, we will reap a blessing and we can test him regarding that concept. There is a deeper principle that he is blessing, namely the Circumventing of Glory. He gives glory that glory may be sewn back and reaped again.
2. In Romans 12, we are prompted to "test and approve" God's will for us as it is a byproduct of a renewed mind. Here we see that testing is not something that the faithless do, but the faithful. The will for us as followers of the Messiah is eternal and everlasting joy, on earth, and in what is to come, in looking look the Messiah. What we are prompted to test here is God's will for us to look like him. Does it produce good fruit or does it wear you out? Chances are, you will be found in an abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
3. Finally, we are prompted by many different places, but especially in Mark 11:23, to test his power in complete faith. This is a difficult one for us, especially with the imagery Jesus uses. He says that we could cast the mountain into the sea if we have faith that it will happen. This is not so much a specific way to test, but a framework for how to test God in any area of your life. The most important thing to take from this passage is Jesus' iteration of having faith. He is not saying go around and cast mountains into the sea, but what he is saying is that faith in God, contrary to what was revealed in Massah, anything can happen because his power is THAT great. This allows us to be in the most trying time of our lives and go rest with Jesus instead of fighting the trial on our own. It allows us to trust the God of angel armies will fight for us, or calm the waters around us as I wrote about in my last blog. It brings a peace that transcends us and a reputation that moves those around us.
If you are weary, feel alone, or whatever is holding you back from what you feel you should be doing with your life - do these things.
1. Believe. This can be difficult but I implore you to look into your own life and think about the ways God has revealed himself you (like the wandering people of God should've remembered the pillars of fire and cloud). Contemplate the ways you've received God's answers and blessings in the past and activate that as your framework for belief.
2. Test. God is faithful to reveal his glory when we say, "We know who you are God. We know you provide. We know you love us. I ask for ________ because of our history together and I know you are powerful enough to bring it about." After this, take your step onto the water because it has become solid ground.
3. Praise. Praising is not something we necessarily do right after something great happens in our lives, especially if it's something we didn't ask for. The wandering people of God didn't ask to be led by pillars of fire and cloud, so they didn't praise God for it. This completes the Circumventing of Glory that God created us to exist in. He gives us glory, we reflect it right back, and so on, and so on. Take a second to look back on the times God has answered you or blessed you or given you something you didn't even ask for and praise him. For when glory is given, glory is received.