Deuteronomy 26:4 – 10
This past Wednesday, we embarked again on the journey of Lent, a journey toward Easter. This Sunday, as we begin the season of Lent, we hear Moses recall the various stages of Israel’s journey: Jacob’s migration to Egypt, and the events surrounding the original Passover. It then concludes with the ritual prescribed to thank God who has blessed the people Israel in their journey as it recalls both God’s care for his people in providing them with food for another year and the Passover. It is from the Book of Deuteronomy; let’s review what we know about this book.
The title means “second law” or “a copy of the law.” This name comes from a Greek mistranslation of Dt. 17:18. The Hebrew title is דברים (devarim- word) since the work begins with “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel…” It is presented as a series of farewell speeches by Moses and ends with a description of his death and burial. There is great debate about its origin. In reading the first five verses of the book we see that it is intended to be understood as a second presentation of the law that Moses received on Mount Sinai. Some have asserted that linguistic and stylistic affinities with Jeremiah make it a probable document used during a reform that took place in the reign of Hezekiah (715-686BC) or Manasseh (686-642BC). Others, however, read it either as a utopian program for a future national state compiled toward the end of the Exile or as a post-exilic composition. A growing number of scripture scholars have been struck by the archaic character of much of the material and have placed its composition a great deal earlier – either during the time of Samuel or Saul and David. Or perhaps, the teachings and traditions it captures date back to these times. These could have been written and then hidden or been carried down orally and then written down at a later date.
For our purposes this Sunday, we see that the reading from Deuteronomy, like the other two readings, speaks of the faithfulness of God. It repeats and elaborates the command that we hear in Ex. 22:28 (cf. Ex. 13:13), 23:14 – 19, 23:19. Let’s read these first; they are the origin for the three Jewish harvest feasts: Passover (at the beginning of the harvest), Pentecost (Weeks -50 days after the beginning of the harvest; also coincided with the giving of the Commandments at Mt. Sinai) and Booths (Tabernacles or Succoth). You will notice that these passages speak of giving thanks to God for his blessing the people with a rich harvest. They were probably instituted to counter the Canaanite harvest feasts. The passage we will hear on Sunday, however, focuses on giving thanks to God for leading the people into and out of Egypt. Let’s read it, beginning with v 1.
1 When you have come into the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you as a heritage, and have taken possession of it and settled in it,
land which the Lord, your God, is giving you as a heritage: Moses reminds the people that God has given them this land; they have not won it themselves.
2 you shall take some of the first fruits of the various products of the soil which you harvest from the land the Lord, your God, is giving you; put them in a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose as the dwelling place for his name.
3 There you shall go to the priest in office at the time and say to him, “Today I acknowledge to the Lord, my God, that I have indeed come into the land which the Lord swore to my ancestors to give us.”
the priest in office at the time: this clearly indicates that this book is from a later date; the assignment of priests to be in office is a much later practice than the time of Moses.
(We will hear this introduction on Sunday:) [Moses spoke to the people, saying:]
4 The priest shall then receive the basket from you and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
5 Then you shall declare before the LORD, your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong and numerous.
Aramean: either in reference to the origin of the patriarchs from Aram Naharaim (cf. Genesis 24:10; 25:20; 28:5; 31:20,24), or merely in the sense of “nomad,” in the same way as “Arab” was later used; cf Jer 3:2.
6 When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us,
7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression.
8 He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
9 and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
10 Therefore, I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And having set them before the LORD, your God, you shall bow down in his presence.
Luke 4:1 – 13
This Sunday, we will hear the Lucan account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The first Sunday of Lent always features Jesus’ temptation in the desert. You will recall that last year, we heard Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation. Two years ago, we heard Matthew’s account. All three present Jesus reliving the Exodus experience of Israel in the desert by going out into the desert, a desolate land inhabited by demons and ferocious beasts (Lv. 16:20-22; Tb 8:3). Jesus subdues the hostile powers and becomes a new Adam.
As we read the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we are faced with the mystery of the devil, or Satan, as he is called in the Old Testament. The term “satan” is not a name but means “adversary.” We see this word used in 1 Sam 29:4 to speak of David and in Num 22:21-25 to where it refers to an angel that God had sent. We are most familiar with the satan as presented in the beginning of Job. That is all in the Old Testament.
In the Gospels, we first encounter Satan as he tempts Jesus. The scene begins in the desert, symbolic not just of the place where Israel once wandered for 40 years, but where it first entered into a covenant, recalled in our first reading. It was also the place where that relationship was first put to the test. To understand the Gospel, we need to understand that test and Israel’s failure. In those years of wandering, Israel committed three distinct sins that breached the covenant – ingratitude as they rebelled against Moses, idolatry with the golden calf, and instant gratification as they worshipped before foreign gods.
In the Gospel, we see those same three sins reflected in the words of Satan. It is interesting to note that Satan begins two of them with the manipulative words if you are the Son of God, and even uses Scripture to serve his own ends. But on each occasion, Jesus resists and emerges as the faithful Israelite, ultimately using Scripture to silence the tempter. Each temptation deserves attention.
In the first deeply personal temptation, the devil uses Jesus’ hunger to test his resolve and urges him to turn stone into bread.
In the second temptation, Jesus is offered authority over all the kingdoms of the world. But as we know, Jesus’ authority is very different from earthly power – his is a kingdom of mercy, self-giving, and healing.
Matthew develops two themes of Moses and the Kingdom, whereas Luke ends in Jerusalem. In both Matthew and Luke, we see that Jesus, who was proclaimed Son of God at his baptism, is subjected to a triple temptation: riches, glory and power. Luke’s account follows closely that of Matthew, except that he deliberately changes the order of the last two temptations so that the series ends in Jerusalem. This is in keeping with his theological interest in the Holy City. Obedience to the Father is a characteristic of true sonship, and Jesus is tempted by the devil to rebel against God. Each refusal of Jesus is expressed in language taken from the Book of Deuteronomy (cf. Dt. 8:3; 6:13,16). The testings of Jesus resemble those of Israel during the wandering in the desert and later in Canaan, and the victory of Jesus, the true Israel and the true Son, contrasts with the failure of the ancient and disobedient “son,” the old Israel.
Let’s read the two other temptation accounts first before we read Sunday’s reading (Mk 1:12; Mt 4:1 – 11, including footnote on Mt 4:1 – 11).
Now, let’s examine Sunday’s passage:
1 Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert
Filled with the holy Spirit: as a result of the descent of the Spirit upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22), Jesus is now equipped to overcome the devil. Just as the Spirit is prominent at this early stage of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:1,14,18), so too it will be at the beginning of the period of the church in Acts (Acts 1:4; 2:4,17). This is a Lucan phrase (cf. Acts 7:55, 11:24) which explains why Luke is called the Evangelist of the Spirit.
2 for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.
For forty days: the mention of 40 days recalls the 40 years of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites during the Exodus (Deut 8:2) as well as the 40 days of rain while Noah was in his ark, the 40 days Moses fasted up on Mt. Sinai before receiving the 10 Commandments (Ex 34:28) and Elijah’s 40-day walk to the place where he would meet God (1 Kg 19:8); it also anticipates Jesus spending 40 hours in the tomb and 40 days here on earth between his resurrection and ascension. As we have seen in the past, it is a symbolic number, not to be taken literally; it speaks powerfully of preparation and purification.
He ate nothing during those days: Matthew mentions merely that he fasted. Here, we see Jesus make a superhuman sacrifice, accompanied by the Spirit.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
‘One does not live by bread alone’: cf. Dt. 8:1-3. Just as the ancient Israelites were tested in the desert to show them God’s care for them – which is beyond simply providing bread – Jesus recognizes that he is being tested and relies on God.
5 Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
6 The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.
for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish: (cf. Ps. 22:28-29, 103:19, Zech 14:9 to see God’s authority, Jn 12:31, 1 Jn 5:19, Job 1:6-12, Is 14:12-15, to learn of Satan’s authority, and Mt. 28:18 to hear of Jesus’ ultimate authority). God has given Satan limited power over the world, all at God’s command. After overcoming sin and death, the Son of God, however, has been “all power in heaven and earth.”
7 All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
8 Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.'”
9 Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
To Jerusalem: the Lucan order of the temptations concludes on the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem, the city of destiny in Luke-Acts. It is in Jerusalem that Jesus will ultimately face his destiny (Luke 9:51; 13:33).
10 for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’
11 ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'”
12 Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'”
13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
For a time: the devil’s opportune time will occur before the passion and death of Jesus (Lk. 22:3,31-32,53).
Romans 10:8 – 13
8 [Brothers and sisters:] But what does it [Scriptures] say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach),
9 for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Confess: To confess Jesus as Lord was frequently quite hazardous in the first century (cf. Matthew 10:18; 1 Thes 2:2; 1 Peter 2:18-21; 3:14). For a Jew it could mean disruption of normal familial and other social relationships, including great economic sacrifice. In the face of penalties imposed by the secular world, Christians are assured that no one who believes in Jesus will be put to shame (Romans 10:11).
10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
11 For the scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
In these readings, we are reminded of God’s saving care for his people – he brought them out of slavery in Egypt to the “land flowing with milk and honey” – and his call to worship him alone. We then hear of our Lord’s temptation to worship the devil and how he overcomes the devil with the strength of the Spirit. As we begin another Lenten season, let us recall God’s saving power, confess our faith in Him alone and call on His Spirit to help us overcome any temptation to turn from Him.