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Desert Temptation: Reflection on Focus (part 2)

The second temptation caused me to wonder about the attitude of faith. Could our attitude of faith possibly be even more important than the strength of our faith?


In the second temptation, the enemy ups the stakes by quoting scripture: “Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, He will command His angels concerning You; and on their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:5-6)


Jesus replies, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v7) Paraphrasing, Jesus says, “Yes, I trust God. He is fully trustworthy.” And He does this by quoting Moses (Deuteronomy 6:16).


That is definitely not the quote that comes to my mind when asked if I trust in God. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” almost seems completely counter-intuitive at this point. It sounds like someone is saying, don’t question God; just do as His says and don’t think. But that is a completely WRONG conclusion.


This is made abundantly clear when we examine the context of Moses’ quote. Moses is addressing the children of Israel. This passage is located at the beginning of his second recorded speech in the Book of Deuteronomy. Previously, God made is abundantly clear that the rebellious would not enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3:23-29).


Moses proceeds to plead and encourage the children of Israel to remember the great acts of love God has accomplished on their behalf. He seeks to remind them that He has a different way of living life than that of their former slavery. He reminds them both of God’s actions and their own past actions. This is where Moses earnestly compels them not to repeat the stupid ones. Moses tells them not to test God in the promised land as they did at Massah (Deuteronomy 6:16; Exodus 17:1-3).


The story of Massah (Exodus 17:1-3) occurs shortly after crossing the Red Sea and early into their journey through the desert. God made bitter water sweet (Exodus 15:22-26). God gave them manna, a miracle heavenly bread (Exodus 16). They grew thirsty again. But instead maintaining awareness of God daily sustaining them, they simply forgot. And their need resulted in bitterness and anger. They accused Moses, and by extension God, of bringing them into the dessert to kill them. Suggested they were murders worse than their slave owners in Egypt and not delivers after all. They wanted to stone Moses. They questioned presence of God among them. They questioned God’s ability and power to provide for them.


This issue of testing and attitude of faith becomes more defined when compared to Gideon. Gideon tested God twice (Judges 6:36-40). Gideon was terrified. His faith was small and struggling. The motivation behind the test was not one of rebellion and bitterness. He had a strong desire to increase his faith.  It is similar to the plea of a desperate father seeking healing for his son, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24). Neither Gideon nor the desperate parent were rebuked. Gideon went on to lead a small army against an overwhelming force successfully (Judges 7-8). The man’s son was healed (Mark 9:25-27).


Jesus had no need to seek God to help grow His faith like Gideon in order to meet this challenge (Matthew 4:5-6). Jesus was already declared the “Son of God” at His baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). His attitude of faith was earnest and teachable. As a result, His faith grew abundantly; His assurance in His Father was strong. His answer demonstrates humility in the face of God’s power.  


Jesus did not “need” to test God because He continually reflected on the abundant times God proved Himself through His interactions with humanity. This reflection and awareness molded and increased Jesus’ faith.


What’s our attitude of faith? Are we contentious and entitled like the Children of Israel at Massah? Are we scared and timid like Gideon on the threshing floor? Are we desperate and yearning like the parent with a child in need?


There are many in the bible whose faith started out weak and unsteady who went on to grow into pillars and accomplished great feats through their reliance on the power of God. Hebrews 11 mentions several of them.


What is your attitude of faith? Is it hurting your or drawing you closer to God?