Israel’s Failure Undone
“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7). - Matthew 4:5–7
Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation (4:1–13) differs a bit from Matthew 4:1–11. Today’s passage in Matthew describes Jesus’ second test, but it is placed third in Luke’s gospel. Yet this should not trouble us. The Gospels are accurate histories, but they are not strict, chronological biographies like the ones we are accustomed to reading. At some points, material is rearranged to make a particular point. John Calvin comments that the Evangelists did not intend “to preserve, on all occasions, the exact order of time, but to draw up an abridged narrative of the events, so as to present, as in a mirror or picture, those things which are most necessary to be known concerning Christ.”
After passing the first test, Jesus is taken to the “holy city” (Jerusalem) where the Devil challenges Him to throw Himself off the temple (Matt. 4:5–6). Jesus has shown His unwillingness to abandon His vocation of suffering and His commitment to living by Scripture, trusting His Father that His work will not be in vain (vv. 1–4; see Isa. 53:10–11). Now Satan wants Jesus to prove that the Creator is trustworthy. Basically he says, “So, Jesus, if you are going to live by God’s Word, why don’t you see if He will keep His pledge to protect you?”
However, Jesus embraces the principle Scriptura sui interpres, Latin for “Scripture is its own interpreter.” Proper interpretation of God’s Word always takes into account the entire canon of Scripture. True, the passage the Devil quotes (Ps. 91:11–12) does promise God’s people protection, but it does not allow us to risk our lives needlessly. As Jesus says, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7).
Deuteronomy 6:16 refers originally to Israel’s testing of Yahweh at Massah (Ex. 17:1–7) when the nation in the wilderness demanded water immediately on their own terms. Their impatience showed that they did not trust His promise to meet their needs according to His timing. In the wilderness, Jesus believes His Father will keep His word and does not test God’s promise of protection. Thus, our Savior is shown to be God’s faithful Son, who, as the last Adam, undoes Israel’s failure and brings life to His people (1 Cor. 15:22).
God does not speak with a forked tongue — He cannot lie or contradict Himself. Jesus refuses to accept an interpretation of one passage that contradicts another. As we study the Bible we should be looking for ways to harmonize its teaching on various subjects. Make sure to let the clear parts of Scripture determine the interpretation of those parts that are less clear so that you will not create contradictions where none exist.
Passages for Further Study
- Numbers 20:2–13
- Psalm 95
- Matthew 22:15–22
- 1 Corinthians 10:9
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