Hope Will Not Put Us to Shame


You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.
— Matthew 4:7 (cf. Deuteronomy 6:16)

In this instance, the title of this article is neither merely inflammatory or thought provoking nor meant in a way that is distinct from a plain or surface reading. No, I mean what I say as I say it: Let us test God. But what of Matthew 4:7? Let me begin my answer (the central point of this article) with another passage of Scripture:

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
— Isaiah 7:10–14 (ESV)

God tempts no one to sin, and yet here in Isaiah He asks to be tested by offering a sign. It was, in fact, a sin for Ahaz to refuse such an offer from god; where God invites us to test Him, it is not piety to refuse, and it at least verges on blasphemy to refuse and cite Scripture as the supposed reason for such refusal. We will look specifically at Christ’s words and their proper sense nearer to the end of this article, but let us look at a few other passages first.

Where Scripture is abundantly clear in a single verse, we do not need to collect numerous examples to establish doctrine or dogma; thus, our passage from Isaiah is assuredly sufficient, but this doctrine contains some nuance, so it is of great benefit to look at more passages that deal with testing the Lord. The clearest passage is, of course, from Malachi:

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. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
— Malachi 3:10–12 (ESV)

Could the matter be any more clear? God commands us to test Him; more, He gives us the nature of such permissible tests: Where God has promised, we may test Him by obeying the requirements or preconditions He has set for such promise. If God tells us: ‘If you do A, then I will surely do B.’, then we may put Him to the test by doing A — and fully expecting that He will do B. This is true of all God’s promises — where He has promised, we may, in faith, test Him.

The sacrament of marriage comes with the blessing and promise spoken to Adam and then reiterated to Noah and his sons: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ This is not just a command, but also a promise. Where God has commanded, He also gives the power to do what He has commanded. The promises of God are not grudging or cynical or mocking — what He has promised to do, He desires to do. When He commands that we be fruitful and multiply, such command comes with a blessing (children) that is given within the bounds instituted by God (marriage) — and this is a promise. If we obey His commands by seeking to be fruitful within the bounds of marriage, then He will surely bless us with children as He has promised to do. We may test Him on this point.

Similarly, the Fourth Commandment contains a promise that those nations whose children rightly honor fathers and mothers will retain the lands given them by God, Who alone determines the times and the boundaries of the nations. We may test God on this point. If we would see national prosperity, then we must endeavor to obey the Fourth Commandment, and thus test God’s promise to bless such a nation.

What, then, are we to make of the words of Christ in response to Satan’s temptations? We must turn not only to Deuteronomy 6:16, which Christ was quoting, but also Exodus 17, which the passage from Deuteronomy references:

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
— Exodus 17:1–7 (ESV)

We are told both to test the Lord and not to test the Lord. What do we make of this? Well, what distinguishes the grumbling of the Israelites from expectant obedience to the Fourth Commandment? As ever, the answer is faith.

The Israelites, despite God’s promise to be with and provide for them (Exodus 16:4), quarreled with Moses because they did not trust God to provide; in truth, they accused God of having lied to them. In contrast, those who rightly obey the Fourth Commandment and expect that God will hold true to His attendant promises are surely putting God to the test, but they are doing so in faith. It is faith that distinguishes the expectant Christian, whom God will surely bless, and the grumbling Jew, whom God will surely destroy. Therefore, what we are commanded is twofold: We are commandment to put the Lord God to the test in faith that He will surely hold true to His promises and we are commanded not to put Him to the test in faithless rebellion and disbelief.

And so I mean the title of this article in its fullness: Come, let us test the Lord God. We must not do so, like the Jews, in quarrelsome disbelief, but in the full and firm faith of men like Abraham, Noah, Abel, and Moses. When we put God to the test by obeying His commands that have attendant promises (and, in reality, they all do), then we must believe so staunchly that God will be true to His Word that we consider ourselves already to have those things He has promised. Such belief is certainly no easy matter, but faith, too, is a gift from God.

This, then, is our path forward in all things — in both kingdoms, in all three estates, in all circumstances of this life, in this world and the next: an unshakeable certainty that God will always and without fail do what He has promised to do. Ours is the duty; His is the outcome. We will put God to the test and He will prove true. This is our hope and hope will not put us to shame.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
— Romans 8:28–30 (ESV)

There is much work to be done, but let us rejoice in what God has given us to do while the day yet lingers. We will see the goodness of the Lord not only in the next life but also in this one, for such has He promised. A faithless nation may be redeemed no less than a faithless man, for the promises of the Lord are expansive — ‘to thousands of those who love Him and keep His Commandments’ —, generational — ‘for you and for your children’ —, and for all time — ‘for the Lord does not change’. Hear and believe the Word — the promises — of the Lord:

Therefore thus says the LORD: 

  “If you return, I will restore you, 
    and you shall stand before me. 
  If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, 
    you shall be as my mouth. 
  They shall turn to you, 
    but you shall not turn to them. 
  And I will make you to this people 
    a fortified wall of bronze; 
  they will fight against you, 
    but they shall not prevail over you, 
  for I am with you 
    to save you and deliver you, 
      declares the LORD. 

  I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, 
    and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

— Jeremiah 15:19–21 (ESV)