Putting God to the Test:
An Examination of
the Biblical Data

John V. Dahms

Full consideration of “testing/temptation” in the Scriptures requires that attention be given also to a religious use of the conception quite different from the common use of testing/temptation as an experience of people, particularly of the righteous. There is a kind of testing which is initiated by people and directed toward God. It may be designated a religious use of the conception because it has to do with the relationship between people and God.

 A. Persons Who Put God to the Test

   Just as the testing of people is normally the testing of the righteous, so too, when testing is directed Godward, it is the people of God who put Him to the test. This is only to be expected, since, in the nature of the case, a background of faith in God is necessary if there is to be any possibility of putting Him to the test.

   So far as the Old Testament is concerned, examples of putting God to the test are restricted almost entirely to Israel in the wilderness. Though there is only one pentateuchal narrative, Exodus 17:1-7, in which it is specifically stated that Israel was putting God to the test, Numbers 14:22 describes the people as having tested Him ten times. It seems to be implied that the story in the earlier part of the chapter, which relates the desire of the people to return to Egypt after the spies reported on conditions in Canaan, is one of the occasions when Israel tested Him.1 It also indicates that Israel was notorious for testing God during her wilderness wandering, and perhaps that so doing was characteristic of her in this period of her history.

   That Israel's testing of God in this period of her history was at least notorious is substantiated by later references. The incident concerning lack of water, which is narrated in Exodus 17:2-7, and which gave Massah its name, receives mention in Deuteronomy 6:16; 9:22;2 Psalm 95:8-9 (cf. Psalm 106:32) and Hebrews 3:8-9.3 Furthermore, in Luke 4:12 and Matthew 4:7, Jesus is credited with having turned aside the temptation to put God to the test by quoting part of Deuteronomy 6:16, a verse which explicitly refers to Massah.

   Though the Massah narrative receives the most frequent mention, there are other wilderness narratives which became the basis for charging Israel with having tested God. According to Psalm 78:18, “They [Israel] tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.” Whether the primary reference is to the narrative in Exodus 16 concerning quails and manna or to the narrative in Numbers 11 concerning quails is not clear. There is indebtedness to both narratives in the context. In Psalm 106:14, it is evident that the later narrative is in mind when it is stated that Israel “put God to the test in the desert.”

    In First Corinthians 10:9 the mention of destruction by serpents as a judgment on Israel for putting God to the test in the wilderness has in view Numbers 21:5-6: “The people spoke against God and against Moses . . . `There is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.' ” Aside from references to specific occasions when they put God to the test, the notoriety of Israel in the wilderness in this respect is evident from Psalms 78:41: “They tested God again and again.”

   Besides the references to Israel testing God in the wilderness, specific references to testing Him are few. In the period of the Judges we are told, “They tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him” (Psalm 78:56). In Judges 6:39 Gideon prayed, “Let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more.” It is quite uncertain, however, whether the test involved is a test of God in the usual sense. In Isaiah 7:12, King Ahaz is credited with refusing to “put the LORD to the test.”

   General statements concerning the testing of God are rare in the Old Testament. In Malachi 3:15 the community of Israel is addressed: “We count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.”

   In the New Testament there are several examples of individuals who put the Lord to the test, or are tempted to do so, including Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:9-12; Matthew 4:5-7), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:9) and those gathered as the Council of Jerusalem who were demanding that Gentile Christians be circumcised (Acts 15:10). General exhortations to avoid putting God to the test are found in First Corinthians 10:9 and, by implication, in Hebrews 3:7-12.4 In every instance it is those who are within the ranks of the believers who are being warned.

 B. Its Occasion

 1. Bitter experience

   Bitter experiences often provide the occasion for the testing of the Lord. According to Exodus 17:1-7 at Massah in the wilderness “there was not water for the people to drink,” and it seemed as if they would die of thirst. In Numbers 13-14 the “unfavorable report” of the majority of the spies made the entering of Canaan seem an impossibility to the people. In Psalm 78:18-20 it is implied that there was lack of food for the people on another occasion during the wilderness wandering (cf. Exodus 14:10; 15:23; 16:2-3; Numbers 20:2). Those to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed were suffering persecution.

 2. Lustful Cravings

   According to Psalm 106:14 (cf. Numbers 11:4) it was “a wanton craving” which led Israel to test God on a particular occasion in the wilderness. It was illicit desire, apparently for undeserved approbation, which led Ananias and Sapphira to pretend that they had laid all the proceeds from the sale of their land at the apostles' feet (Acts 5:1-4; cf. Numbers 16:10). It seems that the danger lest his readers “desire evil” led Paul to warn the Corinthian believers against testing the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:6-9; cf. 9:27; 10:14-33).5

 3. Prosperity

   A passage which may suggest it is in the Acts 5 report concerning Ananias and Sapphira. The field they possessed was a measure of wealth which may have become an occasion of testing God.

   Often those who are being tested themselves test God or are tempted to do so. The experience of trial is often the occasion for testing of the Lord, though not a different occasion from those listed above, because the occasions we have listed constitute in themselves the means of the testing of those who test God.

    The earliest intimation that failure in a test may involve the testing of God occurs in the Massah narrative. Massah is renowned in our literature as the place where the Israelites in the wilderness put God to the test. In spite of this fact, however, in the Masoretic text of Deuteronomy 33:8 it is stated that Levi was tested at Massah (cf. Psalm 81:7). Though it is possible that the text is corrupt, it is also possible that Massah was not only a place where God was put to the test, but also a place where God engaged in testing.

   In the New Testament most of the references to the putting of God to the test are in the context of the human experience of being tested. It is in the course of being tempted in the wilderness that Jesus is urged to put God to the test by throwing Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. A variant reading of Acts 5:3 makes it explicit that Satan “tempted” the heart of Ananias and Sapphira “to lie to the Holy Spirit.” Concerning their deceit, Peter said, “You have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test.” They were tempted to tempt the Holy Spirit! Unlike Jesus they succumbed to the temptation. In the course of warning the Corinthians lest they “fall” in time of “testing” Paul urges, among other things, “We must not put Christ (verse 1: `the Lord') to the test” (1 Corinthians 10:6-13). He implies that one may be tempted to put Christ to the test.

    Concerning their experience of testing, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes to his readers, “we are his [God's] house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.” He proceeds with the words of warning, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, `Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test. . . .' ” (3:6-9, in which Psalm 95:7-8 is quoted). In his view his readers are in danger of such hardening of their hearts that they will pay no heed to God's Word and will thereby put God to the test. Does he intimate further that every human failure in time of testing involves hardening of the heart and disobedience, and that these, in turn, constitute a testing of God? C. Spicq, at any rate, is of the opinion that “today,” which is in the emphatic position at the beginning of the sentence, has this significance,6 a judgment which is supported by verse 13, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called `today' so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”7

 C. Its Possibility

   What makes the testing of God possible is essentially the declension or eclipse of faith. Not only do the texts with which we are concerned frequently bring this to our attention, they often stress that lack of faith in the particular situation being considered was reprehensible in view of the sound reason that there was for faith.

   Lack of faith as the root of the testing of God comes to explicit expression in Numbers 14:11, “How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”; Psalm 78:22, “They had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power”; and in Psalm 78:32, “They did not believe in his wonders.”

   That lack of faith makes the testing of God possible is implied, moreover, in such Old Testament passages as the following, which emphasize that there was sound reason for faith:


a) Numbers 14:22-23, “None of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness,8 and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors. . . .”

b) Psalm 78:12-18, “In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan . . . Yet they sinned still more against him . . . They tested God in their heart. . . .” (cf. 78:40-55)

c) Psalm 95:9, “Your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” (cf. 106:13-14)

   The particular occasion of a testing of God provides a clue to the reason for the eclipse of faith which results in that testing. The experience of bitter circumstances makes it easy to doubt divine providence.9 Lustful cravings may eventuate in an undue concern about that which is material and temporal and a concomitant decline of faith (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). The experience of prosperity may facilitate the loss of a sense of dependence of God (cf. Revelation 3:17).

   It is doubtful, however, that the occasion of a test of God is even in itself a sufficient explanation of an eclipse of faith which is basic to that testing. In addition to it—and perhaps facilitated by it—is the forgetting of the great deeds God has done which have provided a sound reason for faith. At any rate the number of references to such forgetting suggest that without it the eclipse of faith would not take place.

   In the context of Deuteronomy 32:16 (Codex 255) it is stated in verse 18, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In Psalm 78, the psalm devoted to our theme, it is said of Israel in the wilderness at verse 11, “They forgot what he [God] had done, and the miracles that he had shown them”; and at 42-43, “They did not keep in mind his power, or the day when he redeemed them from the foe, when he displayed his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan . . .” (cf. 78:7; 95:9-10; Hebrews 3:9). Likewise it is said in Psalm 106:13, “They soon forgot his works” (cf. Psalm 106:7; Nehemiah 9:16-17).

   There may be a hint in Acts 15 that those of the party of the Pharisees who urged that circumcision be required of Gentile converts were “putting God to the test” in doing so, because they were overlooking how they themselves were saved. Peter reminds them:


My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles should hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. . . . [W]e believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (15:7-9, 11)


 D. Its Expression

   Given the kind of occasions we have described plus a decline of faith in God's providence and power, it was easy to proceed to the actual putting of God to the test. Essentially this consisted in a challenge to Him to demonstrate His ability and authority. Depending on the circumstances, the challenge might be made in one of two ways:


a) By demanding that He grant a specific request which was deemed beyond human accomplishment.

b) By venturing to engage in some kind of wrongdoing or disobedience in disregard of the divine displeasure.

   In the first case God is challenged to demonstrate His power by intervening to meet the demands made upon Him; in the second case He is challenged to demonstrate His power by visiting punishment.

   Though the challenge of God may describe what is essential to the test of God, there are certain attitudes and actions which are frequently part and parcel of the challenge. These include hardening of the heart, presumption, murmuring and finding fault with God and the questioning of His presence and power. We consider these first, and then proceed to look at what is said concerning the two ways in which God may be challenged to prove Himself.

 1. Hardening the Heart

   Psalm 95:8 warns, “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the wilderness.” For the people of God to harden their hearts10 means that they refuse to be amenable to Him and submissive to His will.11 They will not “listen or incline their ear” to Him,12 and they “refuse to obey” His commandments.13 Their faith and fidelity having been overthrown, they are in obstinate revolt against the one whom they had acknowl-edged as their Lord.14 In the case of the Massah incident it probably means that Israel refused to accept humbly the difficult situation into which their allegiance to God had brought them and became determined to have what they themselves desired.

   Psalm 95:8 (LXX) is quoted in Hebrews 3:8, and the part of the verse about hardening the hearts is quoted again in 3:15 and in 4:7. In 3:13 the author is concerned “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” In the Septuagint Meribah is translated “rebellion,” and in 3:16 the author of Hebrews used this word to describe those who hardened their hearts at Massah. As we have indicated, of course, a hardened heart is a rebellious heart. Indeed, those who tested God are described as rebelling in Psalm 78:17, 40, 66.15

 2. Presumption

   Presumption is implied in the condemnation of Israel in the wilderness in Psalm 106:13: “They did not wait for his [God's] counsel.”16 It seems likewise to be at the basis of the suggestion to Jesus that He cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, a suggestion that is reinforced by the quotation of Scripture.

   Presumption of a somewhat different kind is implied in First Corinthians 10:12: “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” An unwarranted confidence in oneself, due to thinking of oneself more highly than one ought to think, is implied.

 3. Murmuring and Finding Fault with God

   In the Massah incident, as described in Exodus 17:2-3, (“The people quarrelled with Moses and said, `Give us water to drink.' . . . The people complained against Moses and said, `Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?' ” [cf. 17:7; 16:2-3; Numbers 11:4-5]), Moses' response, “Why do you test the LORD?” implies that the murmuring and faultfinding was really against God, even though not addressed to Him. The implication was justified inasmuch as it had been attested to them that Moses was leading them in accord with the behest of the Almighty.

   What is implied in the Massah narrative is explicit in the narrative in Numbers 14:2-3: “All the Israelites complained, the whole congregation said to them, `Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword?' ” On this occasion the people are represented as speaking against God Himself, as well as against Moses and Aaron. Similarly, in Numbers 21:5 it is related concerning another incident which is interpreted as a testing of God in First Corinthians 10:9: “The people spoke against God and against Moses, `Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food' ” (see also Exodus 14:11-12; 15:24; 16:2-3, 7-9; Numbers 11:20; 16:11, 41; 20:3-5, 13).

 4. Questioning God's Presence and Power

   Because of the lack of faith involved, testing God may also include the questioning of His presence and power. Again the supreme example is from the Massah narrative: “[They] tested the LORD, saying, `Is the LORD among us or not?' ” (Exodus 17:7).

    Numbers 14:2-10 provides, by implication, a second example. Joshua and Caleb declare, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. . . . The LORD is with us.” The people, however, questioned God's presence with them and His ability to do what Joshua and Caleb said He would do, as is evident in that “the whole congregation threatened to stone them.” They were obviously convinced that any attempt to enter the land would mean that they themselves would “fall by the sword,” and that their wives and their little ones would “become booty.”

   Psalm 78:19-20 provides a third example of such questioning on the part of those putting God to the test: “They spoke against God saying, `Can God spread a table in the wilderness? Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?' ”

 Two Ways God Is Tested

   We now turn to a consideration of the two ways in which God is put to the test through a challenge to Him to demonstrate His ability and authority.

 1. Demanding God's Intervention

   Often, if not always, there is implicit in the questioning of God's power the demand that He demonstrate His power in some specific way. Such a demand is implicit in the questioning of the people at Massah. In Psalm 78:18 it is expressly stated that Israel in the wilderness “tested God in their heart, by demanding the food they craved.” In Psalm 106:15, it is said again of a testing by Israel in the wilderness that God gave them what they asked.

   A somewhat different way of attempting to force God's intervention is implicit in the narrative of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Had he acceded to the suggestion that He thrust Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus would have been attempting to force God to perform a miracle in order to preserve the life of His Son. Though the method by which it is proposed that the threat be enforced is different, the threat that He will lose one who belongs especially to Him is similar to the threat of the loss of worshipers. In essence such a threat is probably implicit in every demand that God demonstrate His power and providence.

 2. Disobedience to God's Will

   Besides testing God by demanding that He intervene to demonstrate His power and providence, there is also testing Him through disobedience to His will. This method of testing Him is implied in Numbers 14:10 where the congregation of Israel is represented as refusing to attempt an entry into Canaan, even though they had been warned that to fail to do so was to “rebel against the Lord.” Inasmuch as the exhortation of Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah,” is immediately followed by the further exhortation in verse 17, “You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees and his statues that he had commanded you,” it is probable that disobedience to the commands of God is understood as a way of putting Him to the test.17 In Psalm 78:56 it is said of Israel in Canaan, “They tested the Most High, and rebelled against him. They did not observe his decrees.”

   In the New Testament it appears that Ananias and Sapphira tested God by being deceitful concerning the selling price of their land and so contravening the honesty required by God (Act 5:3-8). It is probable that disobedience to God's will was involved in the demand that the Gentiles be circumcised and provided the justification for Peter's charge at the Jerusalem Council that the demand was a testing of God. Peter reminded those present that they knew that uncircumcised Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, just as he and fellow members of the circumcised had. Does he not imply that to require circumcision is not in accord with the will of God which has been made abundantly manifest?

   Before we conclude this section we note that there is a point at which the two kinds of challenge to God become one. The challenge to God to demonstrate His power by granting a specific request implies, as has already been indicated, that if He does not do so, allegiance to Him, and to the obedience which is the concomitant of such allegiance will cease. The disobedience which results will be a challenge to God's power to punish. That there is such a relationship between the two ways of testing God is indicated in the literature with which we are concerned as follows:

    a) The attendant attitudes and actions which we have noted may be found in connection with either type of test.

    b) The demand that God intervene to grant a particular request is frequently accompanied, as we have seen, by the threat of disloyalty.

    c) In Psalm 78:17-18, testing God by demanding food, is described as sin and rebellion against the Most High.

 E. God's Reaction and Response

 1. He is Grieved and Provoked

   There is one passage in which it is indicated that Israel grieved God when they tested Him in the wilderness, namely, Psalm 78:40-41: “How often they rebelled against him [God] in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel.” The Hebrew word translated “provoked” is not used elsewhere in the Old Testament. In the light of the cognate languages, it should probably be translated “pained” or “wounded.”18 Such a translation would preserve the parallelism with the preceding verse. (The Septuagint is to be rendered “provoked.”)

   That God is “provoked” by being put to the test, is often affirmed. Usually it is added that He is provoked to anger or to wrath:


a) Deuteronomy 9:22: “At Massah . . . you provoked the LORD to wrath” (Cf. 32:16, 21, 22; Numbers 11:10; 14:11-12; Judges 6:39).

b) Psalm 78:56-59, “They tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him. . . . They provoked him to anger. . . . When God heard he was full of wrath” (Cf. vs. 21, 62; 95:11).

c) Psalm 95:10: “for forty years I was angry with that generation” (quoted in Hebrews 3:10, 17).

   When the testing of God took the form of idolatry it is said in Psalm 78:58, “They provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:16, 21).

 2. He Responds with Positive Action

   Though God is grieved and provoked by those who put Him to the test, there are several passages in which it is made plain that He accepted the challenge of Israel in the wilderness to prove His presence and power and provided what they desired:


a) Exodus 17: 5-6: “The LORD said to Moses, `Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand that staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.' Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.”

b) Psalm 78:23-24, 27, 29: “He commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven; He rained down on them manna to eat and gave them grain of heaven. . . . He rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the sea. . . . He gave them what they craved.”

c) Psalm 106:15: “He gave them what they asked” (see also Exodus 14:13-31; 15:25; 16:44, 13-14; Numbers 11:18-20, 31-32; 20:7-11; Psalm 106:8-11).

   In the first passage the response we have quoted follows upon the statement, “Moses cried out to the LORD, `What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.' ” Is it possible that we are to understand that God's favorable response to the demand of Israel was related in some way to Moses' prayer (cf. Exodus 32:7-14; Numbers 14:11-20)? In the last two instances, though it is stated that God gave what was demanded, it is immediately added that He visited with judgment (Psalms 78:30-31; 106:15).

 3. His Response in Negative Action

   Though God is represented as sometimes granting the demand by which He is put to the test, His characteristic reaction is to punish those who test Him. In the Old Testament such punishments are almost entirely temporal and are related to the particular situation and environment of those who were guilty. For her testing of God during her wilderness wandering, Israel was punished with reduction of her numbers by pestilence,19 with death for many through bites of poisonous serpents,20 with destruction of part of the camp by fire21 and with the loss of the privilege of entering the Promised Land for almost the entire male population.22 Punishments visited on Israel because she put the Lord to the test after her arrival in Canaan include the forsaking of Shiloh as God's dwelling place, deliverance of the Ark of the Covenant to the nation's foe and devastation of the people by a war in which the priests as well as ordinary warriors were slain, wives were widowed and maidens were left without men to marry.23

   The frequency with which swift visitation with death is set forth in the Old Testament as the punishment for putting God to the test is to be noted. Apart from passages in which the Old Testament is either quoted or cited, the New Testament only once sets forth what happened to those specifically described as having put God to the test. In Acts 5:5-10 it is stated that Ananias and Sapphira fell down dead as soon as they tested God by lying to the apostles.

   There are New Testament passages which do not use our vocabulary, but which should probably be mentioned in this connection. In First Corinthians 5:1-5 reference is made to a member of the Christian community in Corinth who was guilty of gross immorality. Was he not putting God to the test? If so, note Paul's instruction “to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” destruction which probably involves physical death. In First Corinthians 11:20-30 members of the Christian community are described who partook of the Lord's Supper “in an unworthy manner.” It is stated that they “will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.” Of interest to us in this connection is the comment, “for this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” In addition to the intimation that the conduct which had such grave consequences was conduct which put God to the test, it is probable that Paul is drawing a partial parallel with what he had stated in First Corinthians 10:3-10 concerning Israel in the wilderness. There he had described Israel as having partaken of “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink,” immediately adding, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them and they were struck down in the wilderness.” In succeeding verses he had cited examples of the conduct in the wilderness which was displeasing to God, among which is the reminder that some of them “put Christ (10:1: `the Lord') to the test . . . and were destroyed by serpents.” If we are correct in judging that the improper conduct at the Lord's table is being described as a testing of God, we note that the result was disease and death.

   It is striking that the New Testament should indicate in these passages that putting God to the test leads to physical disease and death.24 The continuity with the Old Testament at this point is to be noted.25

 Concluding Comments on Related Passages

   Several Old Testament passages call for special comment in view of the point of contact they have with the concern of this paper.

 Judges 6:39

   According to Judges 6:39, “Gideon said to God, `Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more.' ” Though, in our opinion, our vocabulary is used primarily in the sense of making the kind of experiment which will elicit supernatural knowledge concerning the future, a reprehensible testing of God may be implied in the petition, “Do not let your anger burn against me.” He has already made one test with the fleece, and so already has what might be considered a sufficient sign.26

 Isaiah 7:12

   King Ahaz was invited to ask God for a sign that he need not fear conquest by Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel. Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” But instead of commending him, Isaiah condemns him, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?” At first glance it may appear as though Isaiah was condemning Ahaz for an attitude which is commendable elsewhere in our literature. Under the circumstances, however, would the request for a sign have been a reprehensible testing of God, as Ahaz implied? The probability is that Ahaz was hypocritical in his refusal to ask for a sign, and that Isaiah knew it. On the other hand, why the appeal of Ahaz to the principle that testing God is reprehensible did not apply is not stated. Was it because a person can only be guilty of testing God if he has a sufficient reason for faith, a reason which the mere assertion of a prophet did not provide?

   Though Ahaz had reason to trust in God's presence, power and providence, it would seem that he did not have reason to believe that God would preserve him and his nation from conquest by Rezin and Pekah. In such circumstances asking for a sign would not be reprehensible. Moreover, “it is not testing God to do as he says!”27

 Malachi 3:10

   It is urged in Malachi 3:10, “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse . . . and thus put me to the test (literally `proof'), says the LORD of Hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” Does this verse provide an exception to the doctrine that it is reprehensible to put God to the test? The following considerations favor such a view:


a) Symmachus has our vocabulary in his rendering of the verse;

b) Though the Masoretic text has “prove” rather than “test,” that the former could be used as a synonym for “test” when a reprehensible testing of God is under consideration is shown, not only in Psalm 95:9, but by Malachi himself in the complaint quoted in 3:15, “Evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test (literally `proof') they escape.”

   In my view, however, it is doubtful that “test” is an acceptable rendering of the respective word in Malachi 3:10. Is not the idea that of proving God, rather than that of testing Him? Indeed, what would be involved in following the exhortation of Malachi 3:10 could be a return to faith, rather than lack of faith, so that the conception is quite unlike the typical conception of testing God.28


    1The Septuagint reading, “this tenth time,” explicitly calls it an occasion of testing Him.

    2A different version of what happened at Massah seems to receive mention in Deuteronomy 33:8, though the text may be corrupt.

    3The last of these quotes is a variant of Psalm 95:8-9 (LXX:A), in which it appears that the whole forty years in the wilderness was one “day of testing.”

    4Of the five occurrences in the New Testament, two are in quotations from the Old Testament (Luke 4:12; Matthew 4:7; Hebrews 3:8-9); and one explicitly refers to an experience of Israel in the wilderness which is interpreted as a testing of God (1 Corinthians 10:9).

    5If those are correct who interpret Jesus' temptation to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple as due to the desire to win followers through a miraculous feat, another example occurs in the narrative of Jesus in the wilderness.

    6C. Spicq, L' E'pître aux Hebreux, 2 vols. (Paris: J. Gabalda et Cie., 1953), 2:71-72, 74.

    7That “today” has an eschatological character is emphasized by W. Manson in The Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953), 55.

    8Cf. Deuteronomy 4:34-35; 29:2-6.

    9Cf. Spicq, Hebreux, 2:73.

    10For the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, see Exodus 4-14; Romans 9:17-18; S.R. Driver, The Book of Exodus (Cambridge: University Press, 1918), 53-54.

    11Cf. J. Behm, “Kardia,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittle, 9 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 164-74), 3:614.

    12Jeremiah 17:23; cf. 7:26; 19:15; Ezekiel 2:4-5; 3:7; Acts 7:51.

    13Nehemiah 9:16-17; Acts 19:9; Hebrews 3:12, 18-19.

    14See Second Kings 17:14; Proverbs 28:14; Acts 19:9; Hebrews 3:12, 18-19. According to Romans 11:7-10 part of Israel rejected Christ because they “were hardened.” They were therefore incapable of the perception which would have made a positive response to the gospel possible and as a result they became, or were rendered, “Obstinate (in their) adherence to their own views” (Sanday and Headlam, Romans, 315).

    15The vocabulary in LXX is the same as in Psalm 95:8 LXX.

    16Cf. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge: University Press, 1902, repr. 1939), 627, “They refused to wait for God's plan of providing for their wants.”

    17Cf. J.H. Horn, Peirasmos, BWANT 4:20 (1937), 36. See also Exodus 32:4, 7-8.

    18See Francis Brown, et al., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907, repr. 1968), 1063.

    19Exodus 32:35; Numbers 11:33; 14:12; 16:47-49; Psalm 78:31. Psalm 106:15 refers to the plague mentioned in Numbers 11:33, and describes its nature: “He sent a wasting disease among them” (literally: “leanness into their souls”). Deuteronomy 32:24, if it is to be included, provides another example of punishment by pestilence, and adds “wasting hunger” and “burning consumption” as well.

    20Numbers 21:6; First Corinthians 10:9. Note Deuteronomy 32:24 concerning wild beasts.

    21Psalm 78:21; cf. Numbers 11:1. Other punishments include being slain by one's brethren (Exodus 32:27-29), being swallowed by an opening in the earth (Numbers 16:31-33) and receiving flesh that is desired but becoming so surfeited by it that it becomes loathsome (Numbers 11:20).

    22Numbers 14:22-24, 29-33; Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11. Though “my rest” (Psalm 95:11) is clearly Canaan (Deuteronomy 4:1-9), in Hebrews 4:1-9 it is argued that the eschatological rest is in view.

    23Psalm 78:60-64; cf. First Samuel 4:20-22.

    24If Luke 11:29-32 (Matthew 12:38-42) relates an occasion when God was put to the test, it is suggested that those who did so will receive their condemnation “at judgment,” but what that condemnation will involve is not stated.

    25According to First Corinthians 5:5, 11:32 and First Timothy 1:20, the punishment of such testing has a disciplinary purpose.

    26Contrast J.A. Soggin, Judges (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1981), 133; J.M. Myers, “The Book of Judges: Introduction and Exegesis,” Interpreter's Bible, G.A. Butterick, et al., eds., 12 vols (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1951-57), 2:736-37.

    27G.W. Grogan, “Isaiah” in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, F.E. Gaebelein, et. al., eds., 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978 ff.), 6:62.

    28The Hebrew word for “prove” in Malachi 3:10, 15, is not rendered by the Greek word for “prove” in either case in the Septuagint. It is rendered by the Greek word for “examine,” “inspect” in 3:10 and by the Greek word for “set oneself against,” “oppose,” “resist,” “withstand” in 3:15. The Vulgate uses the Latin verb for “prove” in 3:10, and the Latin verb for “test” in 3:15.

Norman E Allison-----------------

Mark D. Bullock ----------

Editorial: A Mighty Dear Hyphen to Me!

A.B. Simpson as and the Modern Faith Movement, Paul L. King

Saving Faith in the Gospel of John, David K. Huttar

Opposition to Radical Reformation: Martin Luther Against Anabaptist and Radicals, Harold P. Shelly

Putting God to the Test: An Examination of Biblical Data, John V. Dahms

The Contribution of Cultural Anthropology to Missiology, Norman E. Allison

Separation Anxiety Disorder in a Missionary Child: Theoretical Considerations and Intervention Strategies, Mark D. Bullock

Patterns of Spiritual Direction, James A. Davies

An Effective Deliverance Methodology: Then and Now, Gerald E. McGraw

Dangers in the Deliverance Ministry, K. Neill Foster

Elio Cuccaro, Ph. D., Editor

About the Authors

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©2006 by K. Neill Foster