Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why did Jesus Quote from Deuteronomy at his Temptation?

(Thanks to my sister/friend Evelyn for helping me to see this lesson.)

You may have noticed that in Luke 4, when Jesus was tempted three times by Satan, each time Jesus responded with a quote from Deuteronomy.

Why didn't Jesus respond with quotes from other passages in the Tanakh? When Satan finally resorted to quoting the Bible himself in his temptations, he did so from the book of Psalms. Yet Jesus, rather than providing an answer from Psalms, continued quoting from Deuteronomy.

Is there any significance here?

It seems to me that there might be.

First, notice that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, during which he was tempted (Luke 4:1-2). This is a parallel to Israel being in the wilderness for forty years, during which they were tested (Deut 8:2). So already we're primed to associate these two events together.

Secondly, Jesus did not bounce all around in Deuteronomy, but remained focused on one small section of Deuteronomy, a section that every Jew in Jerusalem at the time would associate with the Shema.

The Shema (from the Hebrew word for "listen") was the passage in Deuteronomy 6, starting at verse 4, which says this:
Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God, YHWH is one. Love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The Jews knew this passage by heart, reciting much of it twice a day as part of their customs. The passage continues on into chapter 8, where we read the response of Jesus to his first temptation: "Man does not live on bread alone." The whole Shema passage screams the central point: "Listen! Listen to God!"

The message is "YHWH YHWH YHWH", not "Me Me Me".

By focusing on this Shema passage, Jesus is clearly telling his Eastern-mindset culture to listen to God, not to anyone or anything else. Later, he makes it clear for those of us with a Western-mindset who don't "get" the Eastern way of thinking. He puts in in plain words for us in Mark 12:29-30:
"The most important [command]," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'"

Listen to God.

Then again, perhaps its something much more mundane. Every Jewish male was sent to Bet Sepher, "elementary school", at about age six, where he studied the Torah (containing the first five books of the Bible, including Deuteronomy). Perhaps Jesus restricted his quotations to those of the Shema section from Deuteronomy because like all male Jews of the time, that section of the text would have been the most familiar to him since his childhood.

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