TESTING AND TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS
Desert times are times of trial in our lives. Times of hardship and challenges. Times when our faith, our motives, our obedience are put to the test. And times when we face temptation. How we respond to testing and temptation will prove pivotal for our future.
As we journey through desert times… will we have faith in God to be our Provider, our Protector, our Sovereign Lord? Will we choose to trust in Him or ourselves? Will we follow Him or rebel? Will we resist the lures of the enemy?
“A test is a trial posed by God to prove the strength of our faith… A temptation is a trial posed by Satan, with the wicked hope that we will fail.” — Philip Ryken
Desert times are times when we face God’s testing and Satan’s temptations. Our Lord Jesus endured such a time, as did God’s chosen people, the Israelites. One ended in glorious victory and one in devastating defeat. We can draw parallels between the three temptations Jesus heroically overcame and the three temptations that brought disaster to the Israelites.
Amidst the desert wilderness, the Israelites faced monumental temptations. They had seen their Almighty Jehovah God miraculously deliver them from bondage in Egypt. Yet, very soon, God’s chosen people began to rebel. Temptation came upon them when they became hungry in the desert of Sinai. Questioning God’s goodness, they wondered… Will the Lord provide?
The Israelites grumbled and complained to Moses. In their discontent, they began craving the foods of Egypt… even lamenting having ever left. The people sought immediate gratification for their desires rather than trusting in their Provider. In response, the Lord generously rained down bread from heaven and brought quail in abundance. Despite His people’s lack of faith, God faithfully provided for the ones He loved.
Jesus faced His desert time in the Judean wilderness. After fasting 40 days, the enemy pounced on the opportunity to tempt the Lord. When Jesus was hungry and vulnerable, He faced the same temptation as the Israelites. Satan tempted our Lord to use His divine power to satisfy His hunger by turning stones into bread. Yet Jesus refused, for He trusted in His Father’s goodness and His faithful provision. He answered Satan with the powerful Word of God…
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” — Matthew 4:4 (Deuteronomy 8:3)
The Israelites faced temptation again when they doubted whether God would safeguard them in the wilderness. When they camped at Rephidim, there was no water to drink. The people feared they would die of thirst. They wondered… Will the Lord protect? The Israelites grumbled against Moses, demanding a miracle.
The Lord was again gracious to His difficult people. He worked His miraculous power through His servant, Moses. When Moses struck a rock with his staff, water poured forth in abundance. He named the place Massah and Meribah… for here the Israelites tested their Protector, asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7)
The enemy brought to Jesus the same temptation to test God. Satan led our Lord to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, tempting Him to throw Himself down. The enemy twisted Scripture to imply that if He were the Son of God, angels would surely protect Him no matter what He did. Yet Jesus had no need to test His Father, for He trusted in God’s all-encompassing protection. He answered Satan with the truth of God’s Word…
“It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” — Matthew 4:7 (Deuteronomy 6:16)
As the Israelites continued their wilderness journey, they faced yet another temptation. Moses had been a long time on Mount Sinai with Jehovah God. The people began to doubt this invisible God. They wondered… Is the Lord truly sovereign?
God’s chosen ones pressed Moses’ brother Aaron to create for them gods of their own… ones they could see… one they could control. Aaron fashioned for them a golden calf. The people worshiped as their deliverer this powerless idol in place of the Almighty God.
The faith of God’s chosen people in their sovereign Lord had crumbled in time of temptation. The lure of idol worship overcame them. They did not stay true to the One who had rescued them so mightily in the past.
Satan approached Jesus with the same temptation to worship someone or something other than the One True God. Jesus needed only to bow before the enemy for all the glory of the kingdoms of the world. Yet the Savior of the World sought only to glorify His Father. Jesus resisted Satan’s deception, for He trusted in His Father’s omnipotent sovereignty. He brandished the spiritual weapon of God’s Word…
“Away from Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” — Matthew 4:10 (Deuteronomy 6:13)
The Israelites failed repeatedly when testing and temptation came their way. God’s chosen people failed to trust Jehovah God to be their Provider, their Protector, their Sovereign Lord. This proved to be pivotal for their future.
Jesus faced victoriously every temptation that came His way… choosing to trust only in His Father. He recognized the tactics of the enemy and demonstrated the power of God’s Word in overcoming him. The three Old Testament Scriptures He used to counter the enemy directly referenced the three temptations that defeated the Israelites in their desert times. Jesus perfectly passed His test in the desert and carried on to fulfillment the Master’s plan… the ultimate turning point for all mankind.
“Satan tempts us that he may bring out all the evil that is in our hearts; God tests us that He may bring out all the good.” — F.B. Meyer
God desires that we pass His wilderness times of testing with resounding success… that we overcome the temptations that come our way… that we fortify and renew our faith through the experience.
Let us respond like Jesus and trust in God alone in our desert times. Let us resist the temptations of the enemy with the powerful weapon of God’s Word. Let us place our utmost faith in God’s provision, His protection and His absolute sovereignty in our lives.