You shall not tempt the LORD your God, as you tempted him in Massah.
We know that though God cannot be tempted with evil, He may justly be said to be tempted whenever men, by being dissatisfied with His dealings, virtually ask that He will alter those dealings, and proceed in a way more congenial to their feelings. Suppose a man to be discontented with the appointments of Providence, suppose him to murmur at what the Almighty allots him to do or to bear: is he not to be charged with the asking God to change His purposes? And what is this if it is not tempting God, and striving to induce Him to swerve from His plans, though every one of those plans has been settled by Infinite Wisdom? Or again, if anyone of us, notwithstanding the multiplied proofs of Divine loving kindness, question whether or not God do indeed love him, of what is he guilty, if not of tempting the Lord, seeing that he solicits God to the giving additional evidence, as though there was a deficiency, and challenges Him to a fresh demonstration of what He has already abundantly displayed? In short, unbelief of every kind and every degree may be said to tempt God. For not to believe upon the evidence which He has seen fit to give is to provoke Him to give more, offering our possible assent if proof were increased as an inducement to Him to go beyond what His wisdom has prescribed. And if in this, and the like sense, God may be tempted, what can be more truly said of the Israelites than that they tempted God in Massah? Was there ever a people for whom so much had been done, on whose behalf so many miracles had been wrought, or for whose protection there had been such signal displays of Omnipotence? And, indeed, we are perhaps not accustomed to think of unbelief or murmuring as a tempting God, and therefore we do not attach to what is so common, its just degree of heinousness. Yet we cannot be dissatisfied with God's dealings, and not be virtually guilty of tempting God. It may seem a harsh definition of a slight and scarcely avoidable fault, but nevertheless it is a true definition. You cannot mistrust God, and not accuse Him of want either of power or of goodness. So that your fear, or your despondency, or your anxiety in circumstances of perplexity or peril are nothing less than the calling upon God to depart from His fixed course — a suspicion, or rather an assertion, that He might proceed in a manner more worthy of Himself, and therefore a challenge to Him to alter His dealings if He would prove that He possesses the attributes which He claims. But it is now in His mediatorial rather than His Divine capacity that we would wish to show you how Christ may be tempted. There is a great general similarity between the two cases, for in both the Supreme Being is tempted if we practically undervalue what He has done for us — throw scorn upon the proofs already given of His love, and thus virtually challenge Him to do more or give greater. Ah, this may be putting neglect of Christ and His Gospel under an unusual aspect; but prove to us, if you can, that it is not just. We affirm, that by every refusal to turn from your sins, and to seek that repentance and remission which Christ died to procure, and lives to bestow, you are as literally guilty of tempting Christ as were the Israelites in the desert, when they provoked God by their repining and unbelief. You tempt Him precisely in the sense in which the Israelites tempted God, by practically denying that what has been done on your behalf has bound you to His service; and therefore, by practically demanding that He interfere again and again, and with mightier tokens of supremacy and compassion. And how little had been done for the Israelites by God in comparison with what has been done by Christ Jesus for us! It was much that God had wrenched from the neck of a captive people the yoke of an oppressor; but think of your emancipation from the thraldom of Satan! By plague and prodigy had the Egyptians been discomfited: but what is this to death vanquished, the grave rifled, and heaven opened by the triumphs of the Mediator? God gave the people manna from heaven; but what is this to Christ giving the true bread — His own flesh — for the life of the world? The tabernacle was set up, and Aaron, with the Urim and Thummim on his breast, could intercede with God, and gain oracular response; but what is this to our having a High Priest within the veil, having at His disposal all the gifts of the Spirit? Ay, if it show great hardness of heart, great ingratitude, great perverseness, that men who had seen waters turned into blood, and the sea divided, and the food brought in profusion by the stretching forth the rod of the lawgiver, should have been fretful and mistrustful in every new trial, what is evidenced by our conduct if we continue to be careless and unbelieving — we before whose eyes Christ Jesus is evidently set forth crucified amongst us? I dare no longer compare that tempting of God with which the Israelites were charged, with that tempting of Christ of which numbers amongst ourselves are continually guilty. It were to say that a temporal deliverance and a temporal Canaan gave as great evidence of the love of the Almighty towards men, and of infinite power being engaged in their succour, as redemption from everlasting death, and an inheritance that fadeth not away. Oh, no! there is sameness in the mode of temptation, but there is vast difference in the degree of guiltiness. Yet the Israelites were terribly visited. And "how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation"?
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.