Do Not Put the Lord your God to the Test

18 May 2015 Jesus said to the devil, "Again it is in the writings, you may not put the Lord your God to the test."

Still in Matthew 4, Jesus was in the wilderness being tested by the devil. The devil took him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of Herod’s temple, which stood on the Temple Mount. The devil said to Jesus,

“If you are the Son of God throw yourself down. For it is written, [God] 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.”

It’s interesting to note that the devil knows what is written in the Bible and one of his tactics to lead people astray is to twist the intent of the God’s words against us.

I see frequent use of his tactic today, when people on Facebook verbally abuse other people, typically gays, while quoting scripture, and then people quoting scripture back, taken out of context, who do not know God at all. Specifically the devil quoted Psalm 91, believed to be written by Moses, which talks about how we are safe from evil when we abide with (meaning to live with and obey) God.

For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone (Psalm 91:11-12).

But Jesus saw through the devil’s treachery and responded with his own quote from Moses.

Jesus said to [the devil], “Again it is in the writings, you may not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 6, where Moses is providing his last instructions and warnings to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land without him, because Moses had sinned against God and was told that he could not enter and would die there at the border.

[Moses said] “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.”

In order to understand why Jesus responded the way that he did to the devil, we have to understand what happened to the Israelites after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. They had just come through this great escape, having gone through the Red Sea that God parted and seen their enemies drown. Their elation and gratitude to God quickly faded as they found themselves in the desert of Shur without water for the next three days. God knew they were getting dehydrated but had begun testing their faith. He brought them to a lake but it was bitter, the water ruined. They got angry with Moses so he cried out to God and was shown a piece of wood that when thrown into the lake made the water drinkable. Moses named the area Marah, which in Hebrew is מָרָה and means “contentious,” “rebellious,” “disobedient,” and “bitter.” Now they had seen two miracles; would they trust God now?

They then moved on to Elim and camped there. There was water and shade from many palm trees, so they were content for the moment. However, they did not stay for long as Moses lead them on into the desert towards Sinai. This area between these two cities became known as the Desert of Sin because of the Israelite’s bad attitudes. Again they got angry at Moses and Aaron because they were hungry. They were remembering how in Egypt they were slaves but at least they had food and water, and complained that they were going to starve to death in the desert. Apparently you can take the Israelites out of Egypt, but you can’t take Egypt out of the Israelites.

Moses said to them that they were complaining against God not against him and Aaron. Moses again cried out to God for help. God told him to tell the people that they were going to get meat that evening and bread the next morning.

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was… The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey (Exodus 16:13-15,31).

In Hebrew manna is written מה זה and means “what is it?” It seems the Israelites had a sense of humor to call it that, but I’m sure they weren’t laughing after eating it for the next 40 years, until they reached Canaan. It is possible that God gave them more quail and other foods along the way and it simply wasn’t recorded. I hope so for their sake, but given how rebellious they were even with manna, I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept them on a strict manna diet, breakfast lunch and dinner, until they were sick to death of it. They were instructed to gather only enough manna for that day and twice as much before the Sabbath, so they could take that day off. Of course, some people went out to gather manna on the Sabbath, only to find out that it wasn’t there, and others tried to gather more than one day’s amount, only to find it turned into maggots the next day. It didn’t turn into maggots on the Sabbath, though. It seems God has a sense of humor about manna too! Now that they had seen yet another miracle; would they trust God now?

The people then traveled on to Rephidim and again they started complaining that they were thirsty and got angry with Moses.

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

Moses cried out to God because he seriously thought they were going to kill him. God told Moses to take the elders of the tribes and go to a specific rock at Horeb, take his staff – the same one previously used to turn the Nile river in Egypt into blood for one of God’s plagues – strike the rock and water would come out of it. Moses did as God said and the elders saw it happen. Moses then named the place Massah and Meribah, which was possibly the same location or different places in the area, according to people who study these things; the text isn’t clear. In Hebrew, massah is written מַסָּה and means “testing,” “trial,” “temptation,” “proving,” and ‘despair.” In Hebrew, meribah is written מְרִיבָה and means “strife,” “contention,” and “quarreling.”

It is believed that King David later wrote Psalm 95 about this time in Israel’s history.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear [God’s] voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger,‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Psalm 95:6-11)

Now that we understand Israel’s history in the desert we can better understand Jesus’ response to the devil. God tested the Israelites and gave them chance after chance to respond to God in faith, but they continually chose instead to respond from a place of doubt, fear, anger and rebelliousness. In my experience and from observing other people, people always make bad decisions and get off-track in their lives when making them in doubt, fear and anger.

These people had witnessed many miracles with their own two eyes and yet they still refused to have faith! Eventually God got angry with them and took away the blessings they could have had, by not being allowed to go into the Promised Land. God simply waited till all the adults that came from Egypt died and their children and children’s’ children went into Canaan instead. They continually tested God’s love for them with contentious behavior, demanded what they needed from Moses and Aaron, and regularly pushed God to prove that he would provide for them, but after all that was said and done, they never learned to trust God.

Jesus’ response to the devil’s temptation to jump off a building to prove God’s love, that he would be caught by angels before he hit the ground, was just another kind of pushing God with a test. Jesus didn’t doubt God’s love for him, and he certainly didn’t need to prove to the devil that he was the savior foretold by the prophets, the devil already knew who he was. The devil was just fishing for doubt in Jesus and he found none. The lesson here really is for us, to know that we can’t doubt God in order to have the blessings that we are meant to receive. As we go through many trials in our lives with fear and trembling, we are asked to trust God in faith.

Therefore, my dear friends,… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life (Philippians 2:12-16).

After enough of these kinds of trials, eventually we come to a point in our spiritual maturity that we don’t doubt any longer or at least, not as much. Faith in God is a muscle you have to exercise to build. We have seen God will provide for us over and over through many trials, and that allows us to face the next difficulty with faith.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:2-8).