Matthew 22:18 [Jesus answered the Pharisees] . . . "Why do you tempt (KJV; other translations: 'test', 'try to trap') Me . . .?"
Jesus' response to the question of the Pharisees about whether it was lawful for Hebrews to pay tributes to Caesar sounded like some sort of personal irritation with the question. But one of the points of Andrew Murray's Humility in our recently-completed study was that Jesus had perfect selflessness. So could it be that Jesus' question was about something else?
Interestingly, in the Greek of the New Testament, the verb used by Jesus was something like peiratzete, which means "to annoy, tease, upset, disturb, tempt." Those sound again like words of personal irritation. But was Jesus speaking Greek to the Pharisees (a Hebrew teacher speaking to Hebrew scholars in a Hebrew setting)? Probably not. And there apparently is not an exact Hebrew equivalent to that Greek verb. The closest Hebrew word seems to be 'nasah,' meaning "to test by examining critically", weighing evidence as at a trial. (The "Word Picture" of nasah is, by my interpretation, "a life's twisting and turning revealed", an example of looking at one's life or actions from all angles.)
How does this help us interpret Jesus' question? We must remember: 1) Jesus had made His last entrance into Jerusalem; He was nearing the end of His ministry, yet the Jewish leaders had not recognized Who He was; 2) Jesus was being pursued mercilessly by those Jewish leaders, who were looking for any reason to accuse and kill Him; 3) Jesus knew it wasn't quite His time yet, so He was subtly trying to teach Who He was without open "blasphemy"; 4) He was dealing with individuals who knew every word of the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy of our Bible) by heart; 5) Jesus was the "Word" that "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14), and had taught that Moses, whom the Jewish leaders believed, had written about Him (John 5:46). So perhaps looking at something Moses wrote in the Torah would help explain what Jesus may have been teaching with His question.
If we look at the Old Testament use of 'tempt' (in the KJV)(in Hebrew, the root, 'nasah'), we find that God was the Person most often 'tempted', especially by the Israelites during their forty-year Exodus. And there is an amazing passage in the Book of Exodus 17:2-7 that seems to pertain directly to Jesus' question in Matthew 22:18. In that Exodus 17 passage, the people demanded water for thirst, and Moses responded by asking them, "Why do you tempt the LORD?" The LORD then instructed Moses to "strike the rock" to produce life-saving water, which was done (v. 6). (Wasn't Jesus the Rock Who promised "living water" (John4:10 and 7:38), and Who would be "struck", that many lives might be saved?) But the crowning verse in Exodus 17 was v. 7: "So he (Moses) called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us or not?" There is again mention of the tempting of God, but note the critical question, "Is the LORD among us or not?" We remember from Isaiah 7:14 that one of the names of the Messiah-to-come was "Immanuel", meaning "God with (among) us." So that Exodus 17:7 question, updated in Jesus' case, becomes, "Is this the Messiah or not?" And as God scolded the Israelites for 'tempting' Him in spite of all of the proof He had given them of Who He was for them (see Num 14:22), so Jesus may have also been reminding those 'tempting' Pharisees of all the proof He had given them of Who He was! Exodus 17 was also about Him!
Since it is unlikely that Jesus asked His Matthew 22:18 question out of any kind of personal self-concern, was He trying to subtly teach the ignorant Pharisees, and make them think about, Who He was, and what proof there was of that, by asking them a question which was straight out of the Torah? Jesus was all about GOD, and the plan He had promised in the Scriptures. This is a powerful lesson to consider, one that comes directly from cross-referencing Jesus' words with those of the Old Testament. Did the Pharisees understand? History suggests not. Do we?