The prophet Malachi charged the post-exilic people of Israel with robbing God by refusing to bring their tithes and contributions into His house. They were keeping for themselves what legally and covenantally belonged to God. In response, the Lord invited the people to test him, to see “if [He] will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10). This is an extraordinary and rare request. Let’s look at this invitation to test the Lord with some help from the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary.

The Anchor Yale Bible Commentary consists of ninety-two volumes on the Old and New Testaments, including the Deuterocanonical books. Check out this blog post for a look at this resource in our app.

Divine Testing

The root bḥn (Mal 3:10, 15) means to “test, try, prove” (used specifically of people) and is similar in meaning to the Hebrew ḥqr “to search,” nsh “to test, try,” and ṣrp “to smelt, refine, test” and almost always has religious connotations (cf. TDOT). The OT/HB indicates that God may “test” (nsh, Gen 22:1; Deut 8:2; bḥn, 1 Chr 29:17; Ps 17:3; Job 23:10) human beings, but in turn human beings are prohibited from “testing” God (nsh, Deut 6:16).

However, Malachi calls the postexilic Yehud to “test” (bḥn) God (3:10). By means of the divine invitation, the prophet extends to the restoration community the opportunity to “prove” the faithfulness of God in keeping his covenant relationship (and covenant promises) with Israel by demonstrating their own faithfulness in obedience to the covenant stipulations regarding the tithe. Essentially, the Hebrews are summoned to affirm and approve their own faith in God and obedience to his covenant laws by reciprocating Yahweh’s constant behavior in genuine humility and reverent worship with a “clean heart,” (Pss 51:10; 139:23–24).

Malachi’s audience in their cynicism turns the table on the prophet by suggesting that the only ones who might “pass” such a test are the arrogant and the wicked, who appear to have flaunted their evil deeds before God and escaped divine judgment (bḥn, 3:15). Laetsch decried this as “a blasphemous perversion of God’s challenge.” Those who would sanction this testing of God from the posture of arrogance and covenant disobedience are sternly warned that God fully intends to distinguish the righteous from the wicked (Mal 3:18).

Testing in the Hebrew Bible

Frequently, the MT equates the Israelite testing and provocation of God (issuing from a posture of rebellion and unbelief) with the root nsh (e.g., Exod 17:2, 7; Pss 78:18, 41; 95:9), while the divine testing for purposes of judgment, purification, and character formation are usually connected with the root bḥn (cf. Jer 6:27; 9:7; 11:20; 12:3). Interestingly, God perceived the testing at Meribah as a bḥn experience, Ps 81:7, but the testing at Massah is described by the verb nsh (Deut 6:16; 33:8a), while the cognate verb ryb is applied to the episode at Meribah (Deut 33:8b). Clearly there is a complex of factors at work in the selection of the cognate verbs for “testing” (cf. TDOT).

According to Isa 48:10–11 God “refined” (ṣrp) and “tested” (bḥn) Israel for his own sake so that his holy name might not be profaned. However, this divine testing was also therapeutic, in that such an approach prompted (or renewed) faith in God, diagnosing motive and attitude and exposing unbelief and rebellion (cf. Pss 17:3; 26:2; 66:10; 139:23). The NT claims it is not the healthy who need a doctor, rather the sick (Matt 9:12–13). Through testing God isolates our illness as a first step in the process of our healing.

Testing in the Septuagint and New Testament

The LXX consistently renders the Hebrew nsh with a form of the Greek word peirázein (“tempt, test, try”), while bḥn is nearly always translated with some form of dokimázien (“examine, prove, test”; but note ʾetázein for bḥn in 1 Chr 29:17). This suggests that later Judaism discerned some theological distinction between the two terms in studying the question of God’s testing of human beings. In fact, this assumption has its precursor in Ahaz’s refusal to “test” (peirázein) God when the prophet Isaiah exhorted the Judean king to “prove” the word of God (Isa 7:12). The NT documents represent one completed stage (i.e., an early Jewish Christian perspective) of this developmental theology of divine testing.

According to the NT, God does not “test” (peirázein) anyone (Jas 1:13); nor should the faithful “test” (peirázein) God (1 Cor 10:9). Essentially, human beings bring this trial or test upon themselves by yielding to personal desires exploited by the Tempter (Jas 1:14–16; cf. Matt 4:3; 1 Cor 5:7). However, God does “test” the faith and deeds of God’s faithful for the purpose of approving and purifying the faithful (dokimázein, 1 Cor 3:13).

God in his gracious providence is able to transform a given “trial” (peirázein) and its destructive potential for biblical faith into an experience that affirms and approves biblical faith and builds godly character (dókimos/dokímion, Jas 1:3, 12; 1 Pet 1:7; cf. Gen 50:20, “you intended evil against me, but God planned it for good”). This NT distinction between testing and provocation intended to disapprove or ruin biblical faith (peirázein) and testing designed to affirm and approve biblical faith both preserves human freedom and responsibility and at the same time confirms the goodness and sovereignty of God.

Exhaustive Notes and Comments with the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary

This post was an excerpt from the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary. This commentary series is an incredibly in-depth and academic series. It is recommended for advanced readers and studiers of the Bible. There is something here for everyone though, so follow the link below to learn more.

Write A Comment