What in the Wilderness?

Matthew 4:1-11

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’” Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to him.”

Then, or, after these things, or, afterwards, Jesus is led by God to the wilderness. These events thus far in Matthew happened one after the other, they are chronologically written, though time elapses between them. It’s a chain reaction of events, to fulfill all righteousness, according to the account. That is for Jesus to do what Israel could not do.

Jesus was led by God into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In the original Greek language, tempt and test are the same word. Simply stated, Jesus was led in the wilderness to be tested. Matthew’s first century audience would recall Deuteronomy 8:2, “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

The wilderness, as we recall is a place literally called desolate. In Greek the word is eremos, pronounced air-ray-moce, as we’ve discussed previously. I continue to capitalize constantly on one of the ten Greek words that I can recall in my memory, so that you will remember it as well. Air-ray-moce, erémōs, desolate. When I hear wilderness I think of the vast forest, with little brooks, many trees and wandering wildlife. Yet when I read wilderness in the Bible, my brain is trained to think, “eremos.” It is a deserted desert with scorching sand and high heat during the day but cold and without shelter at night. It is desolate, there is no water or food, no trees for shelter, a vast area of nothing. Back to the context.

“And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Considering the context, what Old Testament event comes to mind after reading this, even after also reading Deuteronomy 8:2? Jesus fasted for forty days and for forty nights, and although I am constantly comparing and juxtaposing Jesus to Israel, our minds still recall Noah and the flood, where it rained for forty days and forty nights. Do we know why that is? I suspect it is partially because most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers emphatically exclaim, read your Bible literally! Problem: is that how it was written? Think back to the prophecy; A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”

This was fulfilled in Herod’s slaughter of the young children in Bethlehem. Is this literal of figurative? Context is King, Noah’s flood was not a test, it was judgement. We should not only see literal days but the figurative years considering the rest of the context, such as; testing, wilderness and absolutely no flood, our minds should see Israel and not Noah, for the most part, contextually. The number 40 corresponds to the time Israel wandered in wilderness in a literary fashion and not a literal fashion. Did Israel literally wander for forty years? Yes they did. Did Jesus literally fast for forty days? We’ll get to that, but we understand that Jesus in the wilderness compares to Israel in wilderness based on the context and not a few words. However, by using the words, forty days and forty nights, is not Matthew obviously alluding to the flood? Not the flood but the persisting rain. The rain did not stop for forty days, even at night. In the same way, Jesus did not break his fast, even at night. Can a man really go 40 days without food or water? Food for sure, for someone in as great physical shape as Jesus; or did you forget he walked a thousand miles and was a carpenter in the days way before power tools? To go without water though would be much more wonderous. It is theoretically possible and since God is involved a miracle might manifest, but we are not told Jesus didn’t drink, only that he didn’t eat. As for a miracle, that’s contextually out of the question, we will not wonder why when we walk through the context.

There are documentations of torture victims going 40 days without food, several of them. Nevertheless, we are not explicitly told that Jesus never drank. Mark focused on different aspects of the temptation than did Luke, and Matthew’s aspirations and focus also differed slightly, but none of them say that Jesus never drank water, only that he went without food for forty days and for forty nights. Quite obviously, he was hungry, like the literal wilderness, his stomach was desolate and his body would be literally consuming itself.

Luke 4:2 states, “He ate nothing during those days; and when they had ended, He became hungry.” Matthew 4:2, likewise reads, “And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.” Talk about a gross under-exaggeration and understatement. He was hungry after not eating food for forty days? The Bible is literature and uses literary devices, like litotes, metaphor, hyperbole and understatement. Matthew employs an extreme example of an understatement. Jesus was beyond hungry, his body would have been breaking down and wasting from want of food. He would have very little strength, he needs food now. Enter the tempter.

“He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.'” He, after these things, became hungry. The devil arrives after the forty days and nights. The devil tempts Jesus using a literary device similar to a rhetorical question. The devil knew who Jesus was, though he probably underestimated him. He was not trying to find out if Jesus was the son of God but was tempting him to prove it. The reader remembers God’s proclamation from a few phrases past, that read something like this; “This Is My Son.” The devil uses the desperate desire for edibles and appeals to the debilitating desolation and the stark situation in the savior’s stomach. “Command that these stones become bread.” It seems like a reasonable request, it’s a simple little miracle for the son of God. There is no Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme on the corner, Jesus  starvation strives towards death, it will take a miracle to get him food. Why wouldn’t Jesus evoke his eternal energies to eat edibles? Consider Matthew 6:11, the context being, “The Lord’s Prayer;” “Give us this day our daily bread.” A man must eat, but the author’s aspiration to his audience is apex, we’ve seen so much of Israel, that we need to consider Israel. Where do we see Israel partaking of miraculous bread.

Exodus 16:1-4: “Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.'” The devil knows Scripture and his history, he was there. He knows who Jesus is, he knows, as Paul says to the Corinthian church, “the rock was Christ.” The devil is saying to Jesus, you did it for them, those who whined and grumbled, do it for yourself. You did it once, do it again.

Although ancient and an astute observer, the devil had the wrong idea about the scripture. However, Jesus has the correct view of the context–he wrote it. Jesus answered the devil; “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD,’” quoting Deuteronomy 8. Notice the context, which is mind-blowing, with respect to Matthew’s aspirations to his audience: “God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Jesus 1, Israel 0.

“Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’” Another situation to not lose sleep over. Like the star that moved for the magi, we are not told, and have no need to know how Satan brought Jesus to the Pinnacle of the temple. If it helps, consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” Paul didn’t know, was fine with that and admitted it three times. There are somethings we don’t know, be joyful about what we do know.

Herod had refurbished the temple, and in doing that, we cannot say how high the pinnacle was. However, in Ezra, we read the tip of the temple is 60 cubits, which equals about 90 feet. Herod probably made it higher. Nevertheless, 90 feet is more than enough to kill a person falling from that height. If W=Fb+D, falling from 90 feet, in a dry, arid environment, such as Jerusalem, Jesus would be falling pretty fast. We don’t need Newton to tell us Jesus would be crushed on impact. But the devil assumes that Jesus will be saved by angels because of the Scripture he quotes. Again, it’s a flawed interpretation of the Scripture. The devil quotes Psalm 91; “No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, Lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.” Someone should have told the devil to use the CAGED method! Yet he does a better job than many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers.

Jesus responds to the devil’s taking verses out of context; “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’” This quote is found in Deuteronomy 6, which reads, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. “You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. “And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the LORD swore to give your fathers, by driving out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has spoken.” Jesus followed God, not other god’s, the devil, or the fatigue and pain in his stomach. He also kept correcting the devil by keeping verses in context. Israel did put God to the test. Jesus 2, Israel 0.

“Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”

Don’t lose sleep over this high mountain on which one can see the kingdoms of the world. The devil, as we have discussed, knew who Jesus was and why he came. Matthew records that it was to save his people from their sins. The devil knew this. He was offering all people in the world to Jesus if Jesus would bow down and worship him. On the one hand this would be the most tempting. The devil would recuse himself as “ruler of this world (John 12:31), relinquishing his authority to Jesus (Ephesians 2:2) so that all the world would belong to Jesus. Tempting but terribly trite and unabashedly untrue. The devil is doing and saying what he always does and says. He’s not trying to bargain, he’s attempting to usurp God’s authority as he did in the Garden. While tempting, Jesus see right through him and once again uses a proper exegesis of examples from Scripture. The devil is a liar, God’s words are true. Therefore, on the other hand, Satan really ticked Jesus off.

“Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” Jesus had enough when the devil sought worship. As well as the devil knows Scripture and Jesus, Jesus knows the devil and Scripture even better (understatement, a literary device). Jesus is done listening to that little liar and casts him out. Don’t miss this, while wasting away from starvation, Jesus still overpowered the devil with his words. Some new, some old. Once again the old are found in Deuteronomy 6; “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied, then watch yourself, lest you forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.” The Israelites did worship other god’s. Jesus 3, Israel 0.

“Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to him.”  Again, don’t miss that the devil fled by words from a starving Savior. Also don’t miss that after Jesus passed the test and resisted the devil that God gave “his angels charge concerning” Jesus. The word “minister” comes from the word from which we get our word, “deacon;” literally, “table waiter.” In the end, when Jesus had done what Israel failed to do, God provided everything that Jesus needed.