Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]
God tests the hearts of men, not because He needs to know what is in the heart. We need to know the thinking of our hearts. Testing is a good thing for those willing to see themselves through God’s eyes, measure themselves by His standard, acknowledge Him as the only Authority and Judge.
When God called His people out of Egypt He told them to plunder the Egyptians. Hundreds of years earlier God told Abraham, without naming Egypt, what would happen. “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” [Genesis 15:13-14 ESV].
When God sent Moses to bring His people out of Egypt God instructed His nation what to do as they were leaving. “And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians” [Exodus 3:21-22 ESV]. To “plunder” is to gather the “spoil” from the battlefield or a country and people after a military defeat.
He gave them plunder for several reasons. First, as payment for years of slave labor. Secondly, when it was time to construct the tent of meeting they would have the necessary materials and would give freely. Finally, when they went into the Promised Land and followed His instruction to keep nothing for themselves they would have plenty and not covet what was devoted to God.
Between the plundering of Egypt as they left their enslavement for freedom, and the giving of an abundant offering for the tent of meeting, God tested His people so they would see the thinking of their hearts. While Moses was up on the Mountain receiving the commands of God the people rebelled and made an idol, attributing to the idol the work of God. Aaron listened to them and instructed them to bring their golden earrings.
So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” [Exodus 32:2-4 ESV]
People wore gold earrings for decoration, insurance and a sign of devotion to a idol. Should they die in the open and were found by a stranger, the stranger would bury them and take the gold earring as payment. Or they could, when they died, bribe their way into the god’s presence. Most likely they were simply vain. Whatever is true the gold in their ears was the only thing of value they carried from Egypt which belonged to them. God gave them everything else of value they possessed. It was “their” property used to construct and idol. It was “God’s” property used to construct the tent of meeting, a place to offer worship to God.
God’s test of the heart is what I see is mine versus what I know is His. If I think it is mine, that I earned it and possess it, then it becomes an idol. This “thinking of the heart” focuses upon me, separating me from my true place as God’s servant. It is an issue of control. When Adam fell after rebelling against God, the image of God in him was corrupted, not excised. Part of that image is “dominion.” We fight God for control refusing to give Him what we think belongs to us. God tests the purity of the heart through the act of giving.