When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted, he and the devil had a Scripture memory contest. Any Baptist Sunday School teacher would be proud. The curious thing is that they both accurately quote Scripture, but they come to very different conclusions about what it means for Jesus’ life. Specifically, the devil seems to think that, according to Psalm 91:11-12, Jesus should jump off a tall building because angels will bear him up. Jesus, of course, responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put YHWH your God to the test.”
To be sure, this is not proof-texting, the use of a single verse to support the agenda of the speaker. In each volley of verses there is a web of references that a faithful Jew would quickly call to mind. Jesus’ quote of Deuteronomy refers to Exodus 17:1-7, where the newly liberated Hebrews are complaining to Moses because they are thirsty. The specific question on their minds is whether God is with them or not and, by implication, what God’s presence should mean for them. This, it turns out, is precisely the concern of Psalm 91.
Many Psalms begin with a lament wherein the Psalmist complains bitterly about God, especially God’s abandonment. There is often a sudden shift when God hears the call and makes right all that was wrong. Not so with Psalm 91; it only shows the happily ever after. In fact, it is such a rosy picture (“no evil shall befall you”) that it is hard to trust it. We all know good people, faithful people, to whom harm eventually comes. Jesus was one of those people, but perhaps you are, too. Perhaps, in Jesus dismissal of the devil’s temptation, there is the possibility of a different kind of hope for all of us.
Join us this Sunday, 11am at the Kessler, as we discuss what it might mean to be in the presence of God, borne up on the wings of angels.
Grace and Peace,