Is it alright for a person to test God, particularly if they want to confirm that He is calling them to be engaged in a specific endeavor?
Before we attempt to answer this question, we want to make it clear that testing is not the same as tempting. The first definition given for “tempt” in Webster’s Dictionary is “to entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain.” In contrast, the verb “test” does not involve enticement to do wrong. And, in the context in which we are using the verb “test,” the term suggests validating or verifying.
Therefore, scriptures that pertain to tempting God, such as Deuteronomy 6:16a, which states, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God. . . .,” are not relevant to our discussion.
We will now consider several scripture passages in which godly men in the Bible may have tested God. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
Jacob the Patriarch
Jacob negotiated with God on a couple of occasions, as recorded in the two scripture passages that follow.
Genesis 28:20-22: Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
Genesis 32:24-30: Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray. And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Our assessment is that these two scripture passages do not provide any reason to believe that Jacob actually tested God, who apparently was in human form – possibly, as the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. Jacob merely bargained with God. In any case, God did not punish Jacob for what Jacob asked Him to do in either of these situations. In fact, God subsequently blessed Jacob.
Gideon the Judge
The following scripture passage indicates that before Gideon agreed to help save Israel as God had asked him to do, he wanted God to perform first one miracle and then a second to confirm that God would help him to save Israel.
Judges 6:36-40: So Gideon said to God, “If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said— look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said.” And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.
This passage clearly did involve testing of God, but it was initiated by Gideon for a pure motive, which was so he could be certain that God really wanted him to lead the Israelites in battle against the Midianites. God not only did not punish Gideon for requesting the two confirmations, but also performed both miracles that Gideon requested.
David the King
Two scripture passages report the same incident in which King David entered the house of God and ate the showbread (consecrated bread) that was not lawful to be eaten by anyone other than the priests of Israel.
Matthew 12:3-4: [In reference to 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Jesus] said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Mark 2:25-26: [Also in reference to 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Jesus] said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
There is no indication in either of these passages that David intended to test God in any way by disregarding God’s instruction in Leviticus 24:8-9 as to who was allowed to eat the showbread. Furthermore, David did not take the showbread without asking for it. Instead, he asked a priest for the showbread and the priest gave it to him. However, David almost certainly knew that he was violating God’s instruction that only the priests of Israel were allowed to eat the showbread. Regardless of the rectitude of what David did, God did not punish David for violating His instruction regarding who was allowed to eat the showbread.
Only one of the incidents that we have discussed with regard to the three men that we have cited seems to pertain to actually testing God. We would like to be able to offer more than one biblical example of an incident in which a person tested God, but we are unable to do so. Nevertheless, the one incident we discussed indicates that it is not wrong to test God if the person sincerely desires to determine God’s will for them with regard to undertaking a specific endeavor, particularly if that endeavor is based on what seems to be a calling by God.
In any case, we believe the answer to the basic question on which this article focuses is that whether or not it is alright to test God may depend on the specific circumstances of each situation and, perhaps even more importantly, on the attitude of the person who is testing God for the purpose of getting a confirmation from Him. If a person is sincerely seeking to confirm God’s will for them, then it seems reasonable to believe that God will provide some type of confirmation (not necessarily a miracle) and that God will not punish the person for testing Him in that regard.