Command these stones…

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent. In yesterday’s post looked the connections between the wilderness experience and two elements: in the OT for the anchoring of the scene in Dt. 6 and forward to the events at the end in Jerusalem. Today we consider the first temptation: 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. 3 The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” 4 He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”

The opening word in v.3 is also validly translated as “since.” Thus, the devil is not attempting to raise doubts in Jesus’ mind, but arguing about what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God. There were expectations that the Messiah would reproduce the miracle of the manna in the desert, thus an overflowing of food and prosperity.

Note that Jesus is “tempted” to change “stones” into “loaves.” One loaf would be enough to satisfy the hunger Jesus feels (v.2), but the devil is asking that Jesus use divine power to satisfy his need and provide food for all human needs. In alleviating his own hunger Jesus would deny his humanity and the trust in God that Jesus himself will teach (6:24-34). Meeting the needs of all humanity is the gateway to fulfilling popular messianic expectations and political power. Will Jesus use his divine power for his own advantage to accomplish God’s will rather than to trust in his Father’s plan?

Jesus recognized in his hunger an experience designed by God to teach him the lesson of Deuteronomy 8:3: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” The contrast is paradoxical – God’s word does not fill the stomach, but it is really a question of where one is anchored. His mission was to be one of continual privation, for the sake of his ministry of the word of God; a concern for his own material comfort could only jeopardize it. As Son of God, he must learn, as Israel had failed to learn, to put first things first. And that must mean an unquestioning obedience to his Father’s plan.

Jesus’ use of the OT verse indicates that Jesus understood his experience of hunger as God’s will for him at that moment – not something to be supplanted by a self-indulgent use of his powers for his own benefit.  Jesus, as he had done at the Jordan River, continues to trust and comply with the will of his Father.

Image credit:The Temptation in the Wilderness, Briton Rivière (1898) | Public Domain

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