The testing of Jesus according to Matthew 4

As we enter the season of Lent on Sunday, the lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent in Year A is of course Matt 4.1–11. It is worth noting that the lectionary and seasonal arrangement of the 40 days (46 calendar days minus the feast days of Sundays that exempt us from lenten discipline) corresponding to Jesus’ testing in the desert, then leading straight into Easter, does something quite odd. For Jesus, the days of testing and discipline then led into a time (three years according to the Fourth Gospel) of fruitful and powerful ministry, culminating in cross and resurrection, whereas in the calendar, this middle season is postponed till after Easter.

Perhaps part of the reflection here is that Jesus’ ministry (in healing, teaching and deliverance) is anticipatory of the victory of Easter, and is only released to us by the power of the resurrection and outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, so this re-ordering does have theological value. And, as we shall see, Matthew does make connections between the time of testing and elements of the Passion narrative later in his gospel.

As I have mentioned before, Felix Just, on his Catholic Resources page, includes a helpful table of comparison of the three Synoptic accounts of the temptations:

.Mark 1:12-13Matthew 4:1-11Luke 4:1-13
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts…1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
x3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.‘ ” (cf. Deut 8:3cd)3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.‘ “(cf. Deut 8:3c)
x5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” (cf. Ps 91:11-12) 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.‘ ” (cf. Deut 6:16)5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.‘” (cf. Deut 6:13)
x8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.‘” (cf. Deut 6:13)9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” (cf. Ps 91:11-12) 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.‘ ” (cf. Deut 6:16)
13d – and the angels waited on him.11 Then the devil left him,
and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
13 When the devil had finished every test,
he departed from him until an opportune time.

This is helpful in both highlighting common themes drawn out by the three gospel writers, but also in highlighting different emphases.

A common theme is the tension between the apparent power of Satan, and the sovereignty of God in the whole event. Mark expresses this rather brutally—the Spirit ‘throws’ or ‘drives’ (ballo) Jesus into the desert—where Matthew and Luke are a little more measured. But all three are also clear that Jesus was not alone, contrary to some readings of this narrative, and also contrary to the rather miserable hymn I remember from school days, Lead us Heavenly Father, lead us, which included the lines:

lone and dreary, faint and weary,
through the desert thou didst go

The temptations might not have been a bag of laughs, but Jesus is not depicted as ‘lone and dreary’; in Mark he is ministered to by angels and the wild beasts, and Luke is clear that he goes ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and with the words of his Father’s blessing ringing in his ears, and returns for ministry ‘in the power of the Spirit’ (Luke 4.14). In Matthew, the sequences of tests builds to a triumphant climax where Jesus dismisses Satan forcefully, captured I think rather nicely in the painting above by Félix-Joseph Barrias, a forgotten 19th C painter who taught Edgar Degas.

Matthew’s account, in its opening, holds together the two forces at work in this incident more clearly than either Luke or Mark. For these others, the Spirit throws or leads Jesus into the desert, and he meets testing there. But in Matt 4.1, the Spirit leads Jesus (literally, ‘led up’, that is, up from the river Jordan) with the clear purpose of his testing by Satan. Although Satan appears to have freedom and power, this whole episode is actually firmly placed under the sovereignty of Jesus’ loving Father.

This influences how we might translate the verb peirazo. Although the traditional translation characterises this as the ‘temptation’ of Jesus (perhaps under the theological influence of ‘he was tempted as we are yet without sin’ Heb 4.15), elsewhere in Matthew the verb is used in the quite different sense of Jesus being ‘tested’ by human opponents (Matt 16.1, 19.3, 22.18, 35)—so we should probably understand in this way here as well. For Matthew, this aligns Jesus’ 40 days with the (roughly) 40 years of Israel in the wilderness, where God ‘tested’ Israel (ekpeirazo) to ‘see what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments’ (Deut 8.2).

Mark does not even mention question of fasting in his summary account. Luke (perhaps writing for those less familiar with the biblical discipline of fasting?) emphasises the human reality that he ate nothing and so was famished; but for Matthew this is a period of ‘forty days and nights’ drawing his customary parallel with the experience of Moses (Ex 24.18, 34.28, Deut 9.9) of supernatural provision. Given Matthew’s interest in Elijah along with Moses, there is also likely an echo of Elijah’s time in the wilderness in 1 Kings 19.8. Surely the statement ‘He was hungry’ must rank as the greatest understatement in the New Testament!

Jesus’ opponent here is described using three different terms: ‘devil’ (v 1); ‘the tempter’ (v 3); and ‘Satan’ (on Jesus’ lips, v 10). He is later described as ‘Beelzebul’ (‘Lord of the flies’) in Matt 12.24, and ‘the Evil One’ in Matt 13.19. The Old Testament refers to this figure in different ways (notably in 1 Chron 21.1, Job 1–2 and Zech 3.1–2), but without this developed sense of Satan as the cosmic opponent of God and his people. This idea developed in the intertestamental period, and it was a Jewish understanding that the early followers of Jesus continued. The gathering together of the diverse OT titles, and basic characterisation of Satan as the ‘accuser’ (the meaning of satan in Hebrew and diabolos in Greek) is found in Rev 12.7–10).

Some interpreters have suggested that these three tests were related to Jesus’ Messianic agenda: was Jesus going to quickly gather the crowds by impressive displays of divine power? But that thesis fails on two counts. First, Jesus does indeed perform ‘signs and wonders’ in his ministry, and this does indeed gather ‘great crowds’, which is one of Matthew’s distinctive emphases. Second, the language of testing here has no audience in view other than Jesus himself. In fact (both in Luke and Matthew), the first and second (for Luke, first and third) tests rest on the challenge: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ This both looks back to the word of affirmation of Jesus by the Father at his baptism (Matt 3.17) but also anticipates the test all the way to the cross, and Jesus’ obedience to death, in the taunts of the crowd (Matt 27.40).

Jesus’ response to the first test (as for the others) is to cite Scripture, offering a well-rehearsed model for all his followers. It is notable that all three of his citations come from Deut 6–8, the passages following the central confession of Israel that ‘God is One’, the Shema (Deut 6.4). (It has been suggested that the three temptations followed the structure of the Shema in corresponding to the ‘heart, soul and strength’ with which we are to love God—but this is not entirely convincing.) These are the texts which orthodox Jewish boys still need to learn by heart and recite at their bar mitzvah. Jewish Matthew records a fuller section of the verse than gentile-focussed Luke.

The first part of Deut 8.3 (which Jesus does not cite) sets the context of the test as teaching Israel that there are more important things than material provision—even in relation to the apparently essential question of food and drink. Jesus’ unrealistic practice here surely shapes his apparently unrealistic teaching that closely follows in Matt 6.25–34; Jesus expects us to learn the lessons of trust that he has learnt. There is a strange ironic pun in this saying: rather than live by what goes into our mouths and thus our stomachs, we live by what comes out of God’s mouth, but goes in to our ears and thus our hearts. (There is a complementary bodily irony in Jesus’ teaching about what makes someone clean or unclean in Matt 15.11—not what goes into the mouth which then enters the stomach, but what comes out of the mouth which arises in the heart).

In both the second and third tests, the devil ‘takes’ or ‘transports’ Jesus to a high mountain, then to the temple in Jerusalem. Although this is the usual word that Matthew uses, for example, in Joseph taking Mary in Matt 2.13 and Jesus taking his disciples with him in Matt 17.1, we don’t need to interpret this as a literal journey. Apart from anything else, it is physically impossible to see ‘all the kingdoms of the world’ from any vantage point, so we should consider this as an exercise of the imagination, as indeed many film renditions of this episode suggest (compare Ezekiel’s visionary trip to Jerusalem in Ezek 8.1–3). For this reason, there is no need to try and identify exactly where the ‘pinnacle’ (pterygion) of the temple is. You can still sense, in Jerusalem today, the vertiginous drop from the corner of the Temple Mount into the Kidron Valley below, and in Jesus’ day it would have been even further; to fall from there would mean certain death.

If Jesus can cite Scripture, then so can the devil! James concurs with the narrative claim made implicitly here: it is possible to know Scripture and know doctrine (James 2.19) but not ‘know’ God in trusting relationship. Jesus is here not disputing the truth of Ps 91.11, but is disputing the devil’s use of it. When does looking to God’s provision and care cross over into making God our servant, so that he answers our prayers as a response to our demands on him, rather than as an answer to trust for his provision? The citation of Deut 6.16 looks back to the episode of Exodus 17.1–7, where Israel crossed just that line.

The sequential markers in Matthew (‘then’ v 5 and ‘again’ in v 8) suggest that this was the original order of the tests, which Luke has altered to emphasise the importance of Jerusalem as the climax of Jesus’ loyalty. But for Matthew and Jesus, and again reflecting the Shema, the test underlying all the other tests is this one: whom do we really worship? Here, Satan’s mask falls away, and all pretence at ‘biblical’ justification disappears from view. There is no sense of unwarranted hubris on Satan’s part in the claim he makes; he is repeatedly described in the NT as ‘the ruler of this world’ (e.g. John 12.31, 2 Cor 4.4, Eph 6.11, 1 John 5.19, Rev 12.9–17) which means that it his real power that Jesus overcomes in these tests, as a sign pointing to the real victory of the cross which releases the real power of the Spirit to effect real victory in the lives of Jesus’ followers.

There can be only one answer for Jesus: that we should ‘worship’ (the meaning of ‘fear’ in Deut 6.13) the Lord our God. Jesus summarily dismisses Satan with the same wording that he dismisses the suggestion of Peter that he should avoid suffering in Matt 16.23.

When eventually Jesus is able to claim on another mountain that ‘all authority has been given to me’, it will be as a result not of kowtowing to Satan but of suffering in obedience to God’s purpose, and then it will be all authority not only on earth but also in heaven, an authority which the devil was not able to offer (Matt 28.18). (R T France, NICNT, p135)

Though Luke comments explicitly that Satan will return ‘at the opportune time’, we can see implicit hints of this in Matthew’s later narrative. In the meantime, Matthew tells us, ‘behold’ angels come and minister to him, using his characteristic idou to communicate the suddenness of the change, as Satan departs, and the angelic aid promised in Ps 91.11 comes to him in God’s timing and with his provision.

Two final things are worth noting. First, the only way that we could have this narrative (assuming it is not simply imagined) is to note that (here and elsewhere) Jesus must have been ‘in the unfortunate habit of regaling his disciples with his personal experiences of God’. Perhaps this is not a bad habit for any leader to adopt.

Secondly, the temptations of Jesus are often preached as though they were moral examples for us to follow: we should go into the desert; we should face our demons; we should quote from Scripture; and so on. But to preach in this way is in danger of missing the most important thing in preaching: not to put ourselves in the narrative as if we were the most important subject, but to note what God is doing and what God has done. The focus for all three gospels writers is that Jesus has undone the failures of both Israel and Adam; when we are incorporate into Jesus, we are incorporated into this victory, and we share in it by grace rather than by our own efforts. That does not mean, as we face temptations and challenges this Lent, we can avoid the challenge of discipline and effort. But we face these things knowing that Jesus conquered them, in the power of the Spirit, and that the same Spirit is God’s gift to us, and it is his presence that brings victory and enables us to be ‘more than conquerors’ (Rom 8.37; compare Rev 2.7 and parallels).

Jesus is here not so much a model for us to follow, but a saviour for us to be rescued and secured by.

Join Ian and James as they discuss this text, its interpretation, and the implications for preaching and discipleship.

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25 thoughts on “The testing of Jesus according to Matthew 4”

  1. As usual a good blog. Jesus’s temptation, as you suggest, is a mirror of Adam’s temptation in Eden. You comment:
    “Secondly, the temptations of Jesus are often preached as though they were moral examples for us to follow: we should go into the desert; we should face our demons; we should quote from Scripture; and so on.”

    John Walton argues—and it seems many believe—that there is no cosmic evil, only our personal anxieties and temptations personified as such in Scripture. But the armour of Ephesians 6:10–12 (as with all armour) is to tackle an external enemy.

    • And although in the West, Christianity is perceived to be a religion primarily (or even exclusively) about ethics, the issue in the desert is not one of ethics—about right and wrong, but about succumbing to evil.

      And I suggest the same was for Adam and Israel—they were both exiled from their ‘promised land’ for interaction with the other ‘gods’ (Genesis 3:22; 2 Kings 17:7–18) —not for disobedience to God’s commands in general.
      In contrast, Western Christianity has made the metanarrative of Scripture one of obedience and disobedience—and thus the central (and for some the only) purpose of the cross was to achieve the forgiveness of our personal sins.

      • The academy historically has rooted its understanding of the NT in Augustinian Graeco-Roman philosophy (and the church has followed) —rather than the OT, to which the NT authors mostly refer.

        But at first glance the NT is more firmly rooted in Second Temple Judaism and its understanding of cosmic evil —the ‘dark powers’ that Tom Wright freely admits he does not understand.

        However, Michael Heiser has demonstrated beyond doubt in his published work and YouTube presence—that the OT world view is one of cosmic evil. His death on Monday 20 February is a great loss to biblical scholarship.

        • I will need to dig into Heiser’s work to see about this. However, I cannot quickly think of much in the Hebrew Scripture which points to “cosmic evil.” I’m not sure what this actually means. If it means there are spiritual forces which are in conflict with YHWH, I am struggling to think of something which shows this.

          There is a strong line, especially in the latter prophets, about how other gods are nothing. On the other hand, we have texts which seem to portray the ‘divine council’ of the gods – the ambiguity of elohim is interesting here. But there does not seem to be conflict here. The start of Job has a divine council – with the sons of God/the gods present. It seems wrong to me to translate satan here as Satan. The Hebrew has the definite article, so the word should really be translated as “adversary” or “accuser” – in the same way that it is translated when clearly applied to a human being. When the accuser raises a valid point about the origin of Job’s uprightness, he is then given permission to act against Job, within limits.

          In terms of conflict, is YHWH shown as being in a battle with evil forces? The dominant image is of YHWH being in judgement. When the nations are judged, e.g. Amos 1,2, Joel 3, it is not because they are in thrall to other gods, but because of their behaviour to other nations, and in particular to YHWH’s chosen people.

          I can think of an occasion when there is an “evil spirit” – but that is from YHWH to King Saul (1 Sam 16:14). The ESV dodges the issue by translating ra’ah as ‘harmful’. But this word and its cognate ra are very often translated ‘evil’. In particular, in Genesis 2.

          • David :

            The Hebrew ‘hassatan’ in Job 1:6 includes the definite article and should be translated ‘The Adversary’, or ‘The Accuser’ (The Greek LXX renders the Hebrew ‘hassatan’ as ‘ho diabolos’ = ‘The Slanderer’ or ‘The Accuser’). When the Hebrew ‘satan’ is applied to human beings, it always lacks the definite article. The majority scholastic Jewish opinion is that ‘The Adversary’ of Job 1-2 is a supernatural angelic being. It is this same being that probably tested Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:10), where the Greek ‘Satanas’ is a transliteration of the Hebrew word ‘Satan’, and has now represents a technical term (or a personal name) for a specific supernatural angel. There is no doubt that Jesus viewed ‘Satan’ as an adversary/enemy of both Mankind, and of YHWH God.

      • I have a lot of sympathy with your third paragraph. However, remember Exodus 20:

        “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

        Going after other gods was disobedience. Half of the ten commandments are about the relationship with God. The other half are about how the covenant people of God should relate to one another. The summary of the Law about love for God and neighbour reflects this.

        • Hi David,
          Yes indeed. But just as a husband cannot divorce his wife for ‘disobedience’ —he can divorce her if she ‘went with another’ —and so God would only divorce Israel if she went with another, and did so—Jeremiah 31:32.

          To tell the Adam/Israel story as if it were all about obedience/disobedience loses the plot of the Scripture meta-narrative, and potentially distorts our understanding of the gospel—and of God himself.

          • I feel you are wanting to make too much of a distinction between ‘obedience’ and ‘faithfulness’. The Law comes after the “bringing out” and represents what is required of the children of Israel now that they are in this covenant relationship.

            Deuteronomy as a book is all about the need to keep the “commands, decrees and laws” which YHWH gave to them. Deuteronomy 7-8 is a good example. In particular,

            “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. ” (8:11)

            “If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. ” (8:19)

            Both “failing to observe his commands…” and “following other gods” are both “forgetting the Lord your God” – perhaps two sides of the same coin.

            For the Christian, (as a consequence of our rescue) there is a similar obligation, e.g. John 14:23-24. The task of the Church is to make disciples by teaching them to “keep everything which Jesus has commanded us.” (Matt 28:20).

  2. Is it worth mentioning that ‘wilderness’ is not really what we think of with the term ‘desert’?

    I learnt recently some etymology of the Hebrew word midbar. It has links to words for ‘leading out’ (in Syriac, if I remember correctly). It was a place of pasture – to which animals were led out. Perhaps the practice was related to that found in places in Europe when the sheep were taken in the Spring from lowland pasture to highland.

    If it does not carry the idea of a rock and sand desert, it does carry the sense of being ‘deserted’ – i.e. not many people around.

    Then, the verb from the same root is one for speaking, with the noun meaning ‘word’ (and other things). The Ten Commandments are the ten davarim. The wilderness is a place of speaking – and being spoken to.

  3. David,

    It seems I cannot reply to your reply to me—and we are a bit ‘off piste’ here but I do feel it is an important point. You say, “I feel you are wanting to make too much of a distinction between ‘obedience’ and ‘faithfulness’.

    But God in Scripture makes much of the distinction between the different sematic domains of faithfulness and obedience—no matter how much we might conflate them. 2 Kings 17:17–41 has the heading in ESV “Exile Because of Idolatry” —and spells it out in some detail. It is also the story of Judges.

    Entrance to the Mosaic Covenant was not by obedience but by birth—and perfect obedience to the 613 commands was not necessary to stay in that covenant (otherwise why the sacrificial system?) —in other words, it was not, I suggest, a covenant of works. But it was conditional – conditional on faithfullness.

    In the NT we come to Christ not by obedience but by faith (connected, but different semantic domains). To stay in that covenant is not by obedience but by faithfulness—thus Jesus says, ‘Those who deny me I will deny them’ (Matt 10:33) —not ‘whoever disobeys me I will deny them.’
    And Paul says, “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17) —not “live by obedience”.
    Faith in, and faithfulness to, our God (having no other ‘gods’) is the essence of the MC and the NT.

    This is how I see it. It is how the marital imagery tells the story. God walks out on Israel because of their going with other gods as 2 Kings 17 (Jeremiah 3:1-8, and elsewhere) spells out—not because of their failure to meet the 613 commands he had given. A husband does not (should not) walk away from his wife because she got a speeding fine.

    Of course, any true believer will endeavour to live in accord with his profession, but it is not the obedient that get to heaven—it is the faithful.

    The emphasis on law and obedience in our Reformed tradition gives the impression of a law/works gospel—a gospel rooted in ethics, and not “the greatest love story ever told”.


  4. It’s not either/or, but both/and. God speaking. God’s presence, God’s testing. God’s “law”, as, at the outset, was in the honeymoon in the Temple Garden, where trust in the Goodness of the God of life in faithless disobedience was spurned/ rejected.

    As God continued his speaking, journeying Holy, tabernacling presence in the Wilderness, as Jesus tabernacles with us.

    And as for True Vine and Temple, here is a reminder:

    • Hi Geoff,
      I am not sure what post you are replying to.

      God wants obedience but demands faith—salvation comes through faith, not by obedience, so they are surely two different concepts? Such is underlined in Ephesians 2:8-9 (and elsewhere). How otherwise could he call David a man after his own heart (Acts 13:22)?

      The conflation of faith and obedience, as I see it, is the royal road to a works gospel and an understanding of the necessity of the imputed active obedience of Christ (which I know divides opinion on this blog). To my mind that teaching seems to line up with the understanding of the Pharisees.

      Incidentally—in perhaps a vain attempt to bring us back on track—I believe Matthew 4 is more about God Jesus’s faithfulness to his heavenly father in not being led astray by Satan (as were Adam and Israel) —more than being strictly about his obedience—Matthew 4:10 surely making that point.

      • Colin,
        I’m certainly not advocating salvation by works. And while imputation of active obedience of Christ may not be supported on this blog, I see no salvation, justification, without it. No Good news at all.
        I think the problem arises when we see some sort, level of santicfication as a measure of justification.
        What is missing in most aspects of biblical theology and teaching to my mind is a believers union with Christ.
        And something which you seem to have alluded to ( with reference to NT Wright) is the very real evil in the person of Satan and the spiritual battle believers encounter manifested in the physical world,life.
        BTW you say God demands faith, but isn’t faith itself a gift? Otherwise faith itself can become works, over and against works of faith.
        I’m with Augustine, probably a misquote: demand what you will and great what you demand.

        As for King David, that is slightly separate. Up till David, God gave his people Judges/deliverers. He gave them a King as they didn’t want God as King to protect, provide, sustain, fight for and furnish stability safety and peace for them and Saul was the people’s choice as King. David was God’s choice- a man after his own heart, that is, God’s choice. David started very well but ended very badly, in disobedience, repentant though he was. But God was faithful to his covenant promise to David, ultimately leading to David’s greater son, Jesus, truly *the* man after God’s heart, the God’s true choice as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, over all rule and authorities, over his Kingdom on earth as in heaven.

  5. Indeed is it not reflective of the multiple layers of scripture , layers that point to, find fulfillment in Christ.
    Another is Adam(son) tempted tested by the Satan, Israel(son) tested tempted, faithless; Jesus, eternal Son incarnate, tested/tempted, faithful, true obedient Son, our elder brother; Christus Victor over sin, satan and death, sharing his kingdom with his chosen covenant bride, in a divine exchange: our poverty his, his riches ours; our homelessness his, his palace, our home; our sin his, his righteousness ours; our (A)dam his, his last new Adam ours; our orphanhood his, his sonship ours by adoption; his name, identity, ours.

  6. Recently on the blog Charlie Trimm’s book about the destruction of the Canaanites was considered. He covers various views but eventually gets to the key point: “Israel has to be protected from idolatry. Therefore, idolatry needs to be removed from the land.” (81)

    … but then he says that this argument “will not help most readers with the ethical problem of the destruction the Canaanites…. Even a purified land of Canaan would not be sufficient for Israel to avoid breaking covenant with Yahweh.” (82)

    But the issue is not about “breaking the covenant” (i.e., disobedience in general) —which while bad was not terminal, not least because of the sacrificial system. It is about the ‘other gods’ —Judges specifically and repeatedly teaches that the problem for Israel is idolatry and a “snare” to them e.g., Judges 2:1-5. Idolatry—throwing our lot in with the other gods was Adam’s —and our own undoing. To drive a works/obedience narrative through all these texts does not I think stand up to examination.

    And this was surely the key test for Jesus, the one that Adam and Israel failed—not the 613 pentateuchal commands.

    Trimm, Charlie. “The Destruction of the Canaanites: God, Genocide and Biblical Interpretation.” Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022.

  7. Some notes from phone, Colin,
    1 I think we are flying high and wide of the mark of the article.
    2 There are two aspects to Israel, the leaders and the people. Often the leaders represented the whole of the people.
    3 A repeating theme in the book of Judges is that they all “did was right in their own eyes”. Perhaps a short form of the meaning of idolatry?
    Keller has written well on idolatry in his popular level book, Counterfeit Gods, as have others- Beale comes to mind.
    4 You have not explored the Why question? Why idolatry? It is suggested that the core issue is found in Genesis, Job, and Jesus in the desert. What Satan sublimaly offers is all forms of idolatry, God replacement desires for fulfillment, to make us complete, whole, on which we build our lives: for life, security, safety, identity, acceptance all human replacements to exclude God.
    5 we are all prone to idolatry, leaders particularly so, it seems…
    6 when we lose sight of who God truly is. Look to Jesus, God incarnate, to be truly fully human in his image. He is the only true, faithfull non idolatrous One. Anything else is idolatry…
    7 …and our hearts (desires) are restless till they find rest and fulfillment in Him. (With apologies to Augustine…who knew a thing or two about idolatry).

  8. In the various exchanges on this topic, there seems to be a distinct absence of one paricular term relating to Israel’s wilderness sojourn; a term, though not occuring frequently, has a profound significance. That word is *belief” (and its cognates).
    In Exodus 4:31, “the people believed and bowed their heads and worshipped”. In Ex 14:31, ( after crossing the Red Sea) ” the people feared the Lord and they believed in the him–“.
    However in Numbers 20:12 we are told that Moses and Aaron were debarred from the promised land “because they did not believe”. There are verses which refer to the first generation suffering the same fate because of disbelief.

    If we are to relate this to Jesus’ testing, then it could resolve the apparent ambiguity in relation to the conjunction *if* attributed to Satan. Does it refer to an assumption -i.e.” *since* you are the Son —, or introducing doubt —*if* you are .
    As Moses failed the “belief” criterion, then is seems to me more likely that Jesus was facing up to the same challenge – belief (trust) in his heavenly Father.

    • Colin – this could well be an important insight. Jesus (of course) knew who he was and the purpose of his becoming flesh and dwelling among us; Satan may have been trying to sow seeds of doubt about the plan of salvation.

      It’s quite clear that Moses trusted God for his own salvation – but I have every sympathy with Moses if he did not fully trust that God would provide the water and deliver the people. After all, in Exodus 32:10 he has already expressed his intent to destroy them and to make Moses into a great nation. So, based on God’s own words to Moses, Moses may have had good reason to doubt God’s intention for the children of Israel.

      • Thanks Jock for those thoughts. I did forward another post last night to the effect that “disbelief ” should , of course, read as “unbelief”. However this seems to have vanished into cyberspace – as I suspect my original contribution will!


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