This is the story of the God of Israel: He provided for His people. He heard their cries. He delivered them from slavery. He led them through the darkness of the wilderness and provided water for them in the dryness of the desert.
And this is the story of how the people of Israel responded:
Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? (Psalm 78:17-19 ESV)
There is something terribly and tragically wrong about the grumbling in the wilderness.
I know that because Scripture spends a lot of time working through that moment. Isaiah, Ezeikiel, Deuteronomy, Psalms: they all make it clear that the behavior of the Israelites in that moment in wilderness kept people from entering the Promised Land and cost some their lives. It’s the remembrance of that specific failure that fuels Christ’s obedience when He Himself is tempted in His own wilderness. This incident is referenced in multiple books of the New Testament as a warning to us. God wants us to avoid the same sin that took them over in those days.
So I want to understand. I want to get my head around the horror of the ‘testing’ that took place after the people were brought out of the land of Egypt because it’s a big deal to God. And Psalm 78 helps color in at least some of what was so horrible about the sin that took place.
According to the psalmist, the Israelites had forgotten all that God had done. They demanded that God provide for them in a certain way to prove that He was in fact good and powerful.
It’s one thing to ask God for what you want, and it’s another to bank your confidence of His goodness and His power on whether or not He behaves in the way you want. Ask God for a spouse. Ask Him for the job you want. Ask Him for the house you long for or the community you crave or the fruitfulness of the ministry you hunger to see. Ask with tears. Ask with passion. Ask through pain and fervor and wrestle with your God.
But stay sensitive to the Spirit that you might sense the second you shift from pleading to testing. Do not make God’s response to your specific requests a determiner of how good and how powerful He is.
Why is that so offensive to God? Because we – like the Israelites – have been provided with enough evidence of the character of God. Because He has proven His power and He has proven His goodness in such mighty ways in the past that to ask Him to prove Himself again by providing something that you want belittles the provision and power He has displayed already; belittles Him.
And lest you start to think – sure, but if I had been rescued out of Egypt by the a parting of the Red Sea and if He had lead me by a pillar of fire then I wouldn’t test Him – think again. For the deliverance you have been granted is far greater than freedom from an earthly Pharaoh. And the leading you have been given in His Word by His Spirit is far clearer than a fiery light floating ahead of you.
Let me tell you this: if the Cross of Christ is not demonstration enough of the power and goodness of God – then a husband will not prove HIs love. If the Cross of Christ is not demonstration enough that God is for you, then Him giving you that job, that child, that house – will not be enough to convince you.
If you want to test the love of God and the power of His salvation – test it at the Cross.
Watch Him enter the Enemy’s camp disguised as a prisoner to purchases, with His own blood, freedom for all who will believe. Watch Him satisfy the hunger of every longing heart with His body – offering access to the promise of unfailing love and eternal attention and comfort and pleasure. Watch Him deliver His people from slavery to sin and Satan and darkness and death once and for all. Watch our God do all this by sending His beloved Son for you.
Behold the power and love of God in the Cross.
Can we walk away from the Cross and wonder if God is for us? Can we walk away unsure if He is powerful and good? If we turn away from this kind of radical and reckless love, and demand a sign (in the form of a specific prayer request) – make no mistake – we are in the company of those whose hearts were hardened in that dry desert all those years ago.
May God send His Spirit to moisten our souls to receive the fullness of Christ. May we find the question “is God for us?” settled once and for all as our thirsty doubts are quenched in the river of His blood.