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V. [Why we Should not Tempt God]

Now follows the reasons why we may not tempt God.

There be two sorts of tempting: the one, by ignorance; other by unbelief. It is the manner of surgeons, when they are to dress a wound, and know not how far, nor which way it goes, to tent it: In the same manner is God (after the manner of men) said to tempt us, sometimes to prove what is in our hearts, and whether we will keep his commandments, Deut. 8. 2. as he did the Israelites forty years. To this end he both made them hungry and fed them with Manna[1].

[Tempting God by Doubting God]

We sometimes tempt God, as if the arm of his power had received a wound, or his eye a hurt, as if he could not help or discern our wants, as well now as before, because he brings us not water out of the rock Num. 20. 10[2]. But such miracles now are not agreeing with his will, which must content us: he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, Rom. 9. 19. and we must not despise the riches of his bounteousness and patience, and long suffering which leads to repentance, Rom. 2. 4[3]. The Lords hand is not shortened, that it cannot save[4]; nor his ear heavy, that it cannot hear, because he doth not reprove us, we think him like us, Ps. 50. 19[5]. When God holds his peace, we think his tongue is cut: but I wil not alwaie hold my peace, saith God, Mal. vlt[6]. But how shall I know this? say men nowadays, as Zacharias knew his wife was with child, Luke 1. 18. who (when he would not believe the angel that told him so, but would needs have a sign, was stricken dumb, Behold thou shalt be dumb til the day. Here is a sign for incredulity: he had been as good have believed without a sign.[7]

[Misusing God’s Mercy]

The second kind of tempting, proceeds of over-much familiarity, when as we think we may be bold with God, and that he will take it in good part, and therefore we will put him to it, (as we say) we will try both him and his angels, what metal is in them, and what they can do. We are to think upon the name of God, as of a heavy and weighty thing, that is not upon every small occasion to be taken up and removed.

We are not to account it as a feather, that we may lightly toss up and down at our pleasure: & even so are we to esteem of the mercy of God.

It is not to be advocated upon every vain trifle, for that were to use God as we are wont to use our jugglers [distractions]. Come on let us see what you can do, show us a miracle, say they, Exodus chap. 7. ver. 11.[8] So, Herod desired to see Christ, that he might see some miracle of him, as in the thirteenth of Luke, the eight verse[9].

It is a heavy case when men stand thus affected toward God, when afterwards in the two & twentieth of Luke, verse 64. they blindfolded him, and bad [asked] him who stroke [had hit] him.[10] We ourselves would not be so used, we could not endure to see our friends used so: how much less ought we to use God in that manner? especially, that attribute quality, or property of God, which of all others, he would have to be most magnified, that is, his mercy?[11]

He must needs take it very heinously [as something hateful] to see that [mercy] abused, since (of all the rest) he makes most account of it. Howsoever he could be content to serve, yet would he not be a servant to our sins in any case, Isaiah 43. 24[12] especially not to be made a pack-horse (if I may so say) for our sins to lay load on, even till his back aches. He saith by Amos, chap. 2. ver. 13. that he is pressed under us, as a cart is pressed that is under sheaves[13]. Let us not make a dung-cart of Gods mercy[14], let us forbear him that service of all other.

Notes

God puts in circumstances which prove and improve our faith. Sometimes, God gives us deprivation to teach us to rely upon him alone. Sometimes, God gives us abundance to prove that we will not put our hope in stuff.

And yet, we easily turn and fail in these tests. Rather than improving our faith, they prove our lack of faith.

When we suffer lack, we demand a miracle of God. We expect water to come from the rock, when God requires us to wait upon him.  We then begin to think that something has gone wrong with God! We act as if God can no longer hear or see. We speak as if God were somehow unable to provide for us. Yet, the trouble lies with us alone. We are called to be patient and wait upon God; not to demand that God serve us.

To demand miracles of God is to tempt God.

In abundance we can also tempt God. The primary application which Andrewes raises here is our abuse of God’s mercy. He uses a few images which truly make plain the nature of our “tempting God” when we abuse and expect his mercy.

First, he likens our abuse to the men who put a blindfold over the eyes of Jesus and then beat him, demanding, “who hit you.”

Second, in an even more apt image, he says we treat the mercy of God like a “dung cart”: a foul, stinking cart carrying rot, and disease, and dung. We sin and we expect the mercy of God to carry our sin off so that we no longer have to suffer its ill effects.


[1] Andrewes is using the word “tempt” in a manner consistent with the underlying word used in the Greek New Testament. When we use the word “tempt” now, it has the connotation of being a solicitation to commit a sin, typically a seduction of some sort. But the word “tempt” here has the connotation of “test.” Our faith can be tested by lack: we can believe God will not care for us.  Our faith can be tested by abundance, leading us to be lackadaisical. In the wilderness, God gave the Israelites both abundance and hunger to prove their faith.

We should not consider such testing to reference an ignorance in God, but rather a display to us. When my faith is tested, the truth of it becomes plain to me.  

[2] In Numbers 20, God miraculously provided water from a rock. There are times when are angry and act is if God had something wrong with him so that he could not perform the miracle which we were presently expect. The absence of the miracle is because God has determined that such a miracle is not warranted at this time.

[3] Andrewes here underscores the absolute freedom of God in salvation (and in all his actions). When we complain of why God saved this one and not that, God replies, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” It is God’s sole prerogative to so act. And, at the same time, God’s patience and mercy are made available to all to give them time to repent: which mercy and forbearance we reject unless God intervenes.

[4] This is an allusion to Isaiah 50:2 (ESV)

                                  Why, when I [God] came, was there no man;

why, when I called, was there no one to answer?

                                    Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?

Or have I no power to deliver?

[5] Psalm 50:18–22 (ESV)

                  18               If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,

and you keep company with adulterers.

                  19               “You give your mouth free rein for evil,

and your tongue frames deceit.

                  20               You sit and speak against your brother;

you slander your own mother’s son.

                  21               These things you have done, and I have been silent;

you thought that I was one like yourself.

                                    But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

                  22               “Mark this, then, you who forget God,

lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!

[6] “I will not always hold my peace.” The reference at this point is unclear.

It may be a reference to Isaiah 62:1 (ESV)

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,

                                    until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,

and her salvation as a burning torch.

[7] When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of John (the Baptist), Zacarhias seemed to not believe this could be true. Gabriel provided a sign: Zacharias would be unable to speak until the baby was born.  As Andrewes says, Zacharias would have been better off just believing the angel without a demand for proof.

[8] Exodus 7:8–12 (ESV)

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.

[9] Luke 23:6–12 (ESV)

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

[10] Luke 22:63–64 (ESV)  63 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. 64 They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”

[11] This is a striking argument: To abuse and presume upon the mercy of Christ is like the men who beat the blindfolded Jesus and said, “Who hit you?” The mercy of God is to be highly praised and exalted, not abused and misused.

[12] Isaiah 43:24 (ESV)

                  24               You have not bought me sweet cane with money,

or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices.

                                    But you have burdened me with your sins;

you have wearied me with your iniquities.

[13] Amos 2:13 (ESV)

                  13               Behold, I will press you down in your place,

as a cart full of sheaves presses down.

[14] We must not use God’s mercy like a garbage truck, fit only to carry off what we wish to throw away.