Tempting Or Testing?
Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.
There is a world of difference between tempting God and putting him to the test. The former is forbidden, the latter welcomed. On the surface the two things may appear the same, but they are not. What distinguishes them is a knowledge of God’s will communicated through his Word. Israel and the Egyptians afford an example of this. By venturing into the Red Sea both took the same tremendous risk. It was a risk that led the Israelites to glorious salvation, the Egyptians only to death and ignominy. Why? Because, of the two, Israel alone was acting on a word from God. It was that word they put to the triumphant test.
Or again, consider Paul and his young friend Timothy. Though weak in body Paul accomplished more in his lifetime than ten strong men. Defying reason he labored on, proving the sufficiency of God’s power. Yet Timothy was not exhorted to imitate him in this. Indeed he was warned to take special care of his health. For him to have essayed what Paul did without a divine command to do so would surely have been to tempt God. But to obey such a command is only to put God’s faithfulness to the proof.
It is interesting to notice that God invites us to test Him on the one hand and yet on the other we are forbidden to tempt Him. The question then is what is testing God and what is tempting God. Nee, I think provides some great examples that show us the difference.
The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians addresses the issue of tempting God:
“For I do not want you to be unaware, believers, that our fathers were all under the cloud [in which God’s presence went before them] and they all passed [miraculously and safely] through the [Red] Sea; And all [of them] were baptized into Moses [into his safekeeping as their leader] in the cloud and in the sea; and all [of them] ate the same spiritual food; and all [of them] drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not well-pleased with most of them, for they were scattered along the ground in the wilderness [because their lack of self-control led to disobedience which led to death]. Now these things [the warnings and admonitions] took place as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did. Do not be worshipers of handmade gods, as some of them were; just as it is written [in Scripture], “The people sat down to eat and drink [after sacrificing to the golden calf at Horeb], and stood up to play [indulging in immoral activities].” We must not indulge in [nor tolerate] sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand [suddenly] fell [dead] in a single day! We must not tempt the Lord [that is, test His patience, question His purpose or exploit His goodness], as some of them did—and they were killed by serpents. And do not murmur [in unwarranted discontent], as some of them did—and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example and warning [to us]; they were written for our instruction [to admonish and equip us], upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
1 Corinthians 10: 1-11
Notice that Paul defines tempting God as “test His patience, question His purpose, or exploit His goodness.” All along the way God had proven His love and faithfulness to the Israelites. When hungry, He provided food and yet they were not content so they demanded He provide them meat. In His graciousness He sent them quails. Not once but twice He provided water from a rock in the wilderness. Daily His presence was visible as He led them toward the Promised Land. After all this they rebelled, resisted, and went so far as to create for themselves another god. Each time as Moses interceded God forgave them and continued to bless them. But as they continued to ignore His instructions and in their continued disobedience continued to believe they could choose their own way, they reached the place of testing God’s patience. At every adversity, they questioned God’s purposes for them. At almost every occasion, they asked whether or not Moses and God had brought them out from Egypt only to let them die in the wilderness. God had already made know His plans to make of them a great nation, a nation of His people. As they continued to question His purposes they found themselves tempting rather than testing God. Finally, even as they ate the food God provided, enjoyed the freedom from slavery He had delivered them from, and drank the water He had given, they stubbornly kept Insisting that they were their own masters. The day that God moved to bring them to the completion of their journey, they refused to budge. When He wanted to dwell in their camp, they requested that instead, He tell them what He wished for them to do.
The three definitions of tempting God- testing His patience, questioning His purpose, and exploiting His goodness-along with the examples provided by Paul and Nee serve to teach us the dangers of tempting God.
When Satan in his temptation of Christ, asked Him to throw Himself off the temple, he was pressing Christ to test the love and care of the Father. By foolishly and deliberately putting Himself in harms way and expecting- demanding that the Father rescue Him- He would have been exploiting the goodness of the Father.
Let’s apply this to us.
Like the Egyptians or Timothy, we will find ourselves tempting God when we assume that we- without instruction from God- can do what we see others doing. We tempt God when we believe that we can act as we choose and expect God to remove all the consequences of our actions.
Yet we must also understand that when our hearts compel us to insure we have truly heard from God and what we are about to do is truly His will, God invites us to put Him to the test.
“Then Gideon said to God, “If You are going to rescue Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of [freshly sheared] wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece, and it is dry on all the ground [around it], then I will know that You will rescue Israel through me, as You have said.” And it was so. When he got up early the next morning and squeezed the dew out of the fleece, he wrung from it a bowl full of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me, so that I may speak once more. Please let me make a test once more with the fleece; now let only the fleece be dry, and let there be dew on all the ground.” God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and there was dew on all the ground [around it].”
Finally, in the book of Malachi we are specifically invited to test God:
“Bring all the tithes (the tenth) into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you [so great] a blessing until there is no more room to receive it.”
Here God is specifically asking us to test Him as to whether or not He will provide for us. He asks us to take the risk of giving up our financial resources which represent our skills, talents, abilities and opportunities. In doing so He promises to open the windows of heaven and pour out upon us blessings beyond compare.
While we may not tempt God through doubt, unbelief, and rebellion, we may test Him to provide proof that we are carrying out His instructions and purposes.
May the Holy Spirit grant us the ability to discern the difference.
Dr. John Thompson