Summary: Testing God is the recurring theme as the psalmist recounts the waywardness of the Israelites. Three times it is mentioned, each time presenting insight into the different perspectives between them and God about their relationship.

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Psalm 78:17-20, 40-41, 56-58 Testing God

12/27/09 D. Marion Clark


You are familiar with the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Satan presents three temptations, all of which Jesus refutes, each time by quoting Scripture. For one of the temptations Satan sets Jesus on the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem and says to him,

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’


“ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus responds by quoting from the Law: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (Matthew 4:5-7).

Testing God is precisely what the recurring theme is as the psalmist recounts the waywardness of the Israelites. Three times it is mentioned – verses 18, 41, and 56 – each time presenting a different scenario that gives us insight into the different perspectives between them and God about relationship.


Test 1 – Demanding Cravings to Be Met – You’re testing my word

The first reference is in verses 17-20.

17 Yet they sinned still more against him,

rebelling against the Most High in the desert.

18 They tested God in their heart

by demanding the food they craved.

19 They spoke against God, saying,

“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?

20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out

and streams overflowed.

Can he also give bread

or provide meat for his people?”

The first test is a demand for cravings to be satisfied. We will allow poetic license from the psalmist. The people did complain about food but both before and after the provision of water from the rock. Before the rock, God had already provided manna, the bread from heaven; although not before the people had complained about food service: “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3).

Later on, after the rock-water miracle, they got tired of the manna: “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Numbers 11:4-6).

Poor Israelites. They had it so nice in Egypt – all that they could eat and delicious variety! Now they are stuck with this plain manna. And God listened and provided, just as verse 29 says: “And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.”

Yes, God provided but he also got angry:

But before they had satisfied their craving,

while the food was still in their mouths,

31 the anger of God rose against them,

and he killed the strongest of them

and laid low the young men of Israel.

What angered God? Moms, it’s not for the same reason you get irked when your family says, “Not turkey casserole again!” God is not put out with a family that doesn’t appreciate his cooking; he is angered that they are testing his promise to provide for them. God’s version of the people’s complaint goes like this. According to him, they said, “Who will give us meat to eat?” And when Moses actually questions God about providing meat, God responds, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:18, 23).

So their demand that their cravings be satisfied led them to test God’s ability to keep his promises to provide for his people.

Test 2 – Complaining Spirit – You’re testing my patience

The second reference to testing is found in verses 40-41. Here, the test is not a specific incident but an ongoing complaining spirit.

40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness

and grieved him in the desert!

41 They tested God again and again

and provoked the Holy One of Israel.

How bad was this ornery spirit? Going back over the account of the wilderness journey, I counted twenty individual incidents of complaining or disobeying. Here is a sample:

Exodus 15:24 – three verses after the “Song of Moses” celebrating the crossing of the

Red Sea: “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we


Exodus 32:1 – “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the

mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up,

make us gods who shall go before us.’”

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