Friday, March 7, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Tempt the Lord thy God

In Matthew 4, Satan confronts Jesus while He is at one of his weakest points. He was at the end of a 40-day fast and was "an hungered." As the devil begins to tempt the Jesus here, He continues to quote the Old Testament Scripture to show Satan how wrong those actions would be.

In Matthew 4:5-7, we hear one such of these exchanges,
"Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

I have heard several people call this verse here a rebuke for Satan and telling him to stop tempting him, but I don't see it that way for two reasons. First, it doesn't fit in the context of the chapter. Every other time in this chapter that Jesus quotes scripture he is showing that what the devil wants him to do is wrong, so why do we not expect so this time?

Second, when Jesus tells demons (or even the devil) to do something they do it. He has that power and authority over them. Jesus is able to cast out demons in the maniac at Gadara because they listen to his voice. Yet here in this section of Scriptures, after the Lord says these words, Satan continues to tempt the Lord with power (that you know, Jesus already has). Indeed, in Matthew 4:10-11, Jesus tells Satan to leave, and Satan does.
"Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him."

Thus, the interpretation that this is a rebuke of Satan's temptation doesn't hold much water. But that leaves the question, what is the Lord actually saying in this verse. It would be wise to remind ourselves once again of the context of this verse.

The devil has asked Jesus to cast himself down unnecessarily for seemingly no reason at all, except he can because the angels will protect him from injury or harm. Jesus' reply, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord the God" is indicative of a reason why this is flawed, but what is that reason? Why would casting Himself down tempt the Lord?

The easiest way to answer that is to look at the context of the Old Testament verse the Lord is quoting here. After all, Jesus is not going to abuse the verse for a use other than He originally intended it to be used.

The verse is found in Deuteronomy 6:16,
"Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah."

If we are then to know what this verse is telling us, we must look at what the Israelites did in Massah. (I do have a point, I swear!) Massah is what Moses called the place where the Israelites first received water from a rock. From Exodus 17:2-7,
"Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may 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 chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?"

It's still unclear to me what the Israelites did here to tempt the Lord; thus, I have enlisted the help of Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible,
"The meaning of this is not, Therefore thou must not tempt me; but, Therefore I must not tempt my Father...If Christ should cast himself down, it would be the tempting of God. As it would be requiring a further confirmation of that which was so well confirmed. Christ was abundantly satisfied that God was already his Father, and took care of him... and therefore to put it upon a new experiment, would be to tempt him... If we expect that because God has promised not to forsake us, therefore he should follow us out of the way of our duty; that because he has promised to supply our wants, therefore he should humour us, and please our fancies; that because he has promised to keep us, we may wilfully thrust ourselves into danger, and may expect the desired end, without using the appointed means; this is presumption, this is tempting God."

The Israelites fell into this trip at Massah. They found themselves tempting the Lord by "requiring a further confirmation." They had seen enough miracles to know that Jesus would supply their need, but their faith still did not hold. They faltered. They tempted the Lord by asking for further confirmation that the Lord was among them.

Similarly, Satan is asking Jesus to prove to Himself and the rest of the world that God is his Father. He questions, "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down." The devil asks Jesus to look for a greater sign of his Lordship.

We must be careful not to fall into this trap ourselves. We cannot fail to trust the Lord and ask for further signs and confirmation of his providence. Yet that is how we fill our lives. Everytime we fail to step out on faith, we are tempting the Lord.

Additionally, Satan asks Jesus to purposefully and unnecessarily put himself in danger because the Lord will protect him. Matthew Henry argues what I always thought, that this is a reckless act of presumption - of temptation of the Lord. Matthew Henry also said,
"The promise is, They shall keep thee; but how? In all thy ways; not otherwise; if we go out of our way, out of the way of our duty, we forfeit the promise, and put ourselves out of God’s protection....If Christ had cast himself down, he had been out of his way, for he had no call so to expose himself. It is good for us upon all occasions to consult the scriptures themselves, and not to take things upon trust,...This promise is firm, and stands good; but the devil made an ill use of it, when he used it as an encouragement to presume upon the divine care. Note, It is no new thing for the grace of God to be turned into wantonness; and for men to take encouragement in sin from the discoveries of God’s good will to sinners. But shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? throw ourselves down, that the angels may bear us up? God forbid."

Thus, we must not rely upon the Lord to protect us in ways that are not needful for the spread of the Gospel.

Here we have two extremes shown in one temptation of Satan, and we must work to avoid both of them. We must not rest too little in the Lord's protection, or too much. That balance is difficult to find, and when I figure out what it is, I will tell you. :)

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