In this series of bulletin articles, we’ve been examining the Westminster Larger Catechism, published in the 17th Century. Lately we’ve been looking at the first commandment of the ten commandments: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). We saw the duties of the first commandment and then began to reflect on the sins forbidden by the commandment.

Another sin the first commandment forbids is tempting or testing God.

We often like the idea of testing God so that we can confirm his will. Gideon in the book of Judges appears to encourage such a practice. Gideon wanted to know if he would be successful in battle and so he asked for a definite sign from God that he would be victorious. We read: ‘Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised– look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew– a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew’ (Judges 6:36-40).

Yet when Satan tempts Jesus to test God, what do we read? ‘Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”’ (Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus cites Moses’ command in Deuteronomy to show that we’re not to test God as the Jews did in the desert.

But how is testing God a violation of the first commandment? Does testing God really show that we have put a false god over the real God?

Yes. When we test God we are doubting who he is and beginning to view him as another god altogether. God is a faithful, good and reliable God. But when we test him, we show that we’re doubting his Word and therefore his very character. In effect, we’re saying ‘We don’t believe you are truthful, so give us a sign to show us that you are who you claim to be?’

God’s people do not need special confirmation from God of his faithfulness. God has given us all the signs we need. If we test God for further signs, we sin, violating the first commandment. We are like Gideon who doubted God and like those who were condemned by Jesus:: ‘Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!”’ (Matthew 12:38-40).

So have you tested God and broken the first commandment? Confess your sin to God and ask for his forgiveness through Christ. Thankfully he grants mercy to all who repent.

Joel Radford.