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Israel was about to leave the hardships of the wilderness and enter the Promised Land of abundance when Moses gave his final speeches to them. He knew their inability to hear God's voice and remembered their quick acceptance of the golden calf the moment they thought he was gone (Ex. 32:1). No doubt this weighed heavily upon Moses' mind as he sought inspired words of instruction that would carry them into the Kingdom. So he told them beginning in Deut. 6:10,
10 Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied, 12 then watch yourself, lest you forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
People tend to change when they receive sudden prosperity. I have personally witnessed this with those I have known. Sudden wealth brings out the best and the worst in people. Specifically, when the constraints of poverty are lifted, people are free to be who they really are. They now have the money either to sin or to do the work of God.
If there is any hidden pride in their hearts, wealth makes them confident enough to bring that pride to the surface. Poverty makes men dependent upon others. Wealth makes men independent, and this can easily translate into no longer caring what others think of them. Hence, there is a common link between wealth and pride.
Such prideful independence toward others can also be directed at God Himself. When men are poor, they have little choice but to depend upon God for their daily bread. When men are rich, this dependence upon God is tested to see if the faith is genuine. Hopefully, the wilderness testing has taken root, so that the abundance of the Promised Land can be utilized to further the Kingdom, instead of promoting self and pampering the flesh.
Because men tend to use wealth to fulfill fleshly desires, rather than to please God, it is easy for wealthy people to worship other gods. A god is anything that our carnal minds place above the true God of the Bible. So Moses tells Israel,
13 You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.
The admonition that they were to “swear by His name” means that Yahweh, the God of Israel (later manifested as Jesus Christ) must be the Judge to whom all final appeals are made. Any time a man questions the decisions of the earthly court, or if there is insufficient evidence to bring justice, all are to recognize that they are to appeal only to Jesus Christ and not to other gods.
14 You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the people who surround you, 15 for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.
Israel provides us with many examples that prove Moses' words to be correct. Every time they began to look to the gods of the other nations, God played the role of a jealous husband. He sold them into captivity to the chosen people of those false gods.
But how, we may ask, does this manifest jealousy? One would think that a jealous husband would seek to kill the lovers of his adulterous wife. Why would God empower those lovers, giving them authority over Israel? The answer is found in Deut. 32:21,
21 They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
Paul tells us how God makes Israel jealous. He has called “those who are not a people” and “a foolish nation” in order to provoke Israel to jealousy. He did this first during the time of the Judges, when He put Israel into various captivities to foreign nations. For instance, when the Israelites worshiped foreign gods, declaring that those gods were the true gods worthy of worship, then God put Israel under the “chosen people” of those gods. Each god had its own chosen people. The Moabites were the chosen people of Chemosh (Num. 21:29), the Ammonites were the chosen people of Milcom (1 Kings 11:33). The Canaanites were the chosen people of Baal.
The divine logic said that if Israel believed those gods were the true gods, then the chosen people of those gods should be placed in a position of authority as “chosen people.” So God put Israel under authority to those foreign nations.
This was designed to provoke Israel to jealousy, because Israel would say, “Hey, wait a minute! We are supposed to be chosen. We are the priestly nation to the world (Ex. 19:6).” Therefore, they would return to the God who had chosen them.
The apostle Paul refers to this law in Romans 10:19, showing how God had cast Israel out of the land in order to provoke them to jealousy. But whereas Israel had been put under a wooden yoke during the time of the judges, they were finally put under the great iron yoke of captivity in the days of Isaiah. As a national unit, God destroyed them, as Moses had prophesied in verse 15. Of course, millions of individual Israelites survived, so that they could be provoked to jealousy in the centuries ahead.
Moses continues in Deut. 6:16,
16 You should not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.
Jesus quoted this in Matt. 4:7 when the devil told Him to test God by throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the temple. After all, the devil said, God promised to protect You.
Israel as a nation was tempted in the same manner. By rejecting the true God as their King and as their Supreme Court Judge, they were (in essence) casting themselves off the pinnacle of the temple, believing that they were immune to disaster. They presumed upon their calling as Israel. They thought that being chosen meant that they were immune to prosecution for sin. In fact, being chosen made them more accountable to God than their foreign neighbors who were ignorant of the law!
By contrast, Jesus did not fall for that temptation, even though He was the Messiah Himself. It would have been a sin to cast Himself off the pinnacle of the temple just to prove that God would save Him from death. This would have been a sin against the laws of nature, which are the laws of God.
We ourselves are the earthly temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), patterned after the heavenly temple. If we sin to test God's word and to see if He really meant what He said, we will find ourselves cast to the ground.
Moses' reference to Massah is recorded in Ex. 17:2-7. Verse 7 says,
7 And he named the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarreling] because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
The people were being led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Yet they questioned God's presence when they camped in a place with no water. They assumed that if God were truly leading them, they would always be led to places that had plenty of water. To them, God's presence meant that they would suffer no deprivation that might actually test their faith. This showed spiritual immaturity, for they did not understand that He wanted them to grow up and learn to see God in all things, whether one is abased or abounds.
Israel questioned God's presence because there was no water at that encampment. They would have preferred to camp at a different location. They did not understand that deprivation and danger give God opportunities to work miracles. So they quarreled with God in order to obtain water, instead of trusting that God would provide. They could have told Moses of their need without quarreling and complaining in order to have God meet their need.
At any rate, the people did receive water after Moses struck the rock. They tested God and found Him faithful. But at what expense? Their test did not reveal their faith but their doubt. Doubt loves to masquerade as faith, but it manifests as testing God. True and mature faith manifests as agreement with God. But when we test God (Massah), we quarrel (Meribah) with Him. It is a quarrel between man's will and God's will.
I recall many years ago (1972) when I was working for a ministry, we were taught some concepts of faith that did not make sense to me. In essence, we were told to make a “leap of faith” and then expect God to save us. I saw immediately that this was a common notion of faith in the Church. I took note how many had misused this, acting by carnal desire, rather than by genuine faith. Some preachers might decide to build a million-dollar church building, taking a “leap of faith” that the people would support it. The result was often that the people were enslaved by a million-dollar debt.
Of course, true faith is indeed a leap of faith. If God truly leads a church to do this, then the result will be true faith. True faith will not see this debt as a slavery but as the leading of God. But the debt itself will test the hearts of the people to see if it was faith or a temptation of the devil as in Matt. 4:7. True faith will endure the test of time; carnal ideas will fail that test.
When I look back on life, I can see clearly that God presented me with many teachings and situations in life to teach me the difference between faith, which is spiritual, and carnal persuasion that is backed only by positive thinking. The greatest lessons were learned through hardship and deprivation, for then we saw the miracles of provision.