March 10, 2021
“How do I ensure that I avoid “putting the Lord to the test?”
From what I can see in Scripture, there are plenty of instances where our modern idea of putting something to the test, which is questioning and wanting some sort of proof, is exactly what the people following God often did. And most of the time he was pretty patient with them.
In fact, one of the only times I can think of where God seems to have been a little less than patient, was when Zechariah questioned the angel who told him his wife would bear a child in old age. (That was Elizabeth, who would be mother to John the Baptist). Being that he was a priest, he should have known that this is exactly what God did with Abraham and Sarah, and he should have been good with it when an angel showed up in the temple and delivered the announcement.
That wasn’t exactly a normal occurrence, but being a priest, he among all of the people would have been in the proper place to recognize the astounding rarity of being addressed by a member of the angelic host, and to take such an address seriously. But instead he apparently questioned God in a manner that was less than healthy or respectful, and the angel responded by telling him he was going to be mute until his child was born. And that of course came to pass.
Interestingly enough, Mary the mother of Jesus had the same question for the angel when the same news was given to her, that she would unexpectedly and miraculously bear a child, but her response was more innocently based on actually wanting to know, rather than out right denying that it could happen. God responded patiently through the angel in her case, and answered her question.
Gideon also questioned when an angel appeared to him and told him that he would be a mighty warrior that would lead the people of Israel into victorious battle. (He was a farmer.) His famous response was literally a test, the thing with the wool: If the morning came and the wool was wet but the ground was dry, then he’d accept that what God said through the angel was real. And God delivered on that. But that wasn’t good enough, so Gideon tested him again. This time he said he wanted to see that if the wool was dry and the ground was wet, then what God said was real. And God delivered, and Gideon gave in and decided to become a leader of the army. And then God flipped the tables on him, and tested Gideon in the middle of the battle preparations, by making him send home the vast majority of his men before he went to go fight the enemy. Which forced get into rely on God‘s power alone, not his, and when he did so… God delivered.
Now to be fair, I mentioned these examples as a comparison with our modern idea of putting God to the test. It’s not precisely what was going on with the ancient prohibition, which is what was actually being referred to in that specific command.
In the culture and mindset understanding of the people of the ancient near East, putting God to the test meant putting yourself in a situation where the only possible way to get out of it was if God were to miraculously intervene. You were not supposed to intentionally do that.
That’s what Jesus referred to, when Satan tempted him in the desert to throw himself down from a high place in order to make God‘s angels rescue him. In that instance, Jesus responded by quoting the command not to put the Lord to the test.
It generally does not apply to our daily lives. Unless you are generally putting yourself in a situation where God’s miraculous rescue is the only possible situation where you will survive. Like publicly claiming to have evidence against Hillary Clinton. ;)
Questioning God is just fine. He can totally handle that. In fact, the majority of the psalms include lines where David and the other writers of the psalms are questioning God. The book of Job is full of that sort of questioning as well. In that case, God response to the questions with like four chapters of the most sarcastic response I’ve ever heard from anyone ever. It’s one of my favorite passages of scripture because it is such epic sarcasm. And then God blesses Job after Job responds with humility and God honors him for that.
Even Jesus approached his Father and said, “If there is some other way to do this, please let this cup pass from me.”
There are also many opportunities where God calls us to walk in faith, where we don’t really know what the outcome will be or 100% for sure if it is something God wants us to do. When we approach decisions prayerfully and humbly, with the attitude of “God if you don’t want me to do this, please put up an obstacle and prevent it,” he tends to respond very positively to our humble approach, desiring his will.
Sometimes he lets us go through difficult circumstances that we don’t understand at the time for purposes that we don’t understand at the time, but he always has a purpose in mind.
But asking God about those circumstances or questioning Him or asking him in prayer to show up and act is certainly not putting the Lord to the test in a negative or defiant manner. It is far more in line with the Lord’s heart that we ask Him to provide for our needs, prayers He is delighted to answer when they are in accordance with His will.
Brendan Prout is a husband, dad, pastor and worship leader. He loves training and equipping others to do the work of ministry they are called to, all things geeky, good food, cars, coffee, and not driving off cliffs anymore.