‘do not put the Lord to the test’

In the face of the next Satanic temptation, Jesus stands firm — again quoting Scripture:

It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’.

Just as with the first temptation — to turn stones into bread — the devil’s suggestion that Jesus claim the promise of divine protection by hurling himself off the temple plays on the question of his identity.

On the surface, it looks like an invitation to commit himself into the hands of the sovereign God, throwing himself upon the promise of deliverance — a promise, in context, about the Messiah’s vindication (more on that later). However, the devil is really trying to provoke Jesus to act with high-handed self-sufficiency. To claim the privileges of sonship — without walking the path of obedience it entails.

He’s effectively saying: ‘Go on, Jesus. Prove you’re the Son of God. God has promised to protect his Son, wrapping him in angelic cotton wool so that he won’t bruise his foot against a stone. If you’re the real deal, show us!’ And so, once again, it’s an issue of trust. It’s about whether or not Jesus will trust his Father’s vision of what it means to be the true Son (and true human being).

Consequently, Deuteronomy is the natural place for Jesus to turn. For the charter it contains for Israel’s national life insists on the point that God’s people are not self-sufficient. This, I suspect is why the Sabbath regulation is so prominent in Deuteronomy’s version of the Ten Commandments (and why it’s reworked in light of the Exodus and the prospect of life in the land).

And Deuteronomy 8, from which Jesus draws the quotation with which he wards off the devil, is a tour de force of this point. It underlines the non-self-sufficiency of God’s son, Israel. And outlines the shape of responsible stewardship, the main features of which are:

  • Receiving God’s provision thankfully,
  • Enjoying it simply, and
  • Sharing it generously.

Now, obviously there are tensions here. For example, enjoying ‘simply’ (or frugally) what God has provided is easier said than done. In our contemporary context of globalised poverty (in which we comfortable westerners are necessarily implicated), it can be challenging to work out the right relationship between enjoyment and frugality/simplicity. Distinguishing between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ might be a start. But what about when my children ‘need’ a laptop to flourish at school?

While we cannot be spared the trouble of reflecting and taking stock (and probably shouldn’t seek to be), I suggest these three aspects of stewardship work best in concert. So, rather than trying to draw lines to excuse our greed and materialism, imagine what our lives could look like if we asked of the resources and goods God entrusts to us: How can I receive these thankfully? How can I share them generously? And (consequently) how can my enjoyment not terminate on itself — or reflect a presumption of self-sufficiency — but speak of genuine contentment in God’s provision?

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3 comments

    1. Sorry for the very delayed reply, Dan. I know, I know — that’s the kind of thing I’ve roused on you for!

      The main root of my slowness lies neither in the fact that there’s been very little time to compose new posts while on holiday nor in a vague sense of irritation that a pesky biblical scholar would call me on my theological hand-waving. Rather, it’s because I’ve realised that I probably need a whole separate post to answer you. That and you’ve got me thinking along some interesting new lines about OT ethics!

      So, hang in there — I will get back to you (and happily grant you right of reply if you find you have lots to say).

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