Johanna and I read a passage to bring in the New Year’s.

Jesus answered, "It is said: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12
Strange passage to begin New Years. We often limit this narrative to the discourse between Lucifer Morning Star and the Son of God. If we modernize the language of the text it would read as follows: "Thou shalt not presumptuously test God."

We might consider Deuteronomy 6:16, which instructs the Israelites to be careful that they do not to tempt the Lord. Likewise, Malachi 3:15 refers to the wicked who tempt God with their evil lifestyles. We mostly use the term tempt specifically to mean to “solicit to do evil.” However, the term has not always been quite so narrowly interpreted. In the Bible this word conveys that idea at times, but at other times it means to “put to the test.” The context helps to determine which meaning is intended.

The Bible clearly states that God cannot be tempted by evil, so why does this passages speak of God being tempted? In James it is written, “"God cannot be tempted by evil"” (emphasis added). The phrase “by evil” is important because it highlights the point James was trying to make. This indicates that God cannot be enticed to commit evil. In the other passages above that referred to tempting God, the writers were using the term to mean we must not put God to the test. Here is the line of reasoning:

  • God has said He will judge sin.
  • When we sin, we are putting God to the test to see if He will respond to our sin by doing what He has said He will do.
  • We must not “test” the extent of God’s grace but instead obey what He has told us to do.

I think it is important to understand the difference between internal enticement and external enticement. When Jesus was tempted, His temptation came from an external source: Satan. When we are tempted, this comes right from within our own hearts due to our own sinful natures, although the temptation to sin can be kindle by something external. James 1:14 tells us, “"But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."”

Israel had seen God do great things in the past. He saved them miraculously out of Egypt; He parted the red sea; He sent them manna to eat. God also had promised to do great things in their future. He promised them all the blessings of Abraham; He promised to take them to a land of peace and abundance. The problem for Israel after their wondrous deliverance was the present. They were in the middle of the wilderness, and they had no water. Why was this present situation so worrisome? Because at heart the people did not trust God, fear of loss and provision was their master.

Notice how Exodus describes it: “…they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?'” The lack of water caused them to question whether God was really on their side. God couldn’t really be there, couldn’t really be powerful and trustworthy, if He would bring them to a barren wilderness. The question should have been settled already; God is there; He is powerful and loving. Instead, each new difficulty caused Israel to question His power and goodness.

We can look back at God’s kindness in the past. Each of us has personal ways that God has blessed us in this life. We also have great promises from God about the future. God’s people have been promised an eternal life of righteousness. What is more valuable in the world? Today our present circumstances are sometimes difficult. We suffer. We struggle with sin. We let each other down. Life can be painful, difficult, and disappointing. We are often led to ask: “Why has God brought me here?”

Moses and Jesus speak from Scripture saying that we must not put God to the test. To test God is to insist that He prove that He is trustworthy. To test God is to do as Lucifer did and twist the Scriptures to fit our preferences versus following the Word of God exactly as it declares. To test God is to look at today’s difficulties and say, “A loving God would never let me suffer in this way. Maybe if things get better, then I can trust Him.” To test God is to ask, as Israel did, “Is God with us or not?” God has shown us that He is with us; He has nothing to prove to us. Our eternal destiny is riding on the choices we are making today: will we trust God in the midst of our troubles, will we obey the Scriptural path of righteousness without purposeful deviation, or will we put Him to the test?