This morning, in my Friday men’s study group, we did a ‘deep dive’ on a very familiar passage — in fact just a portion of one verse, at the end of that passage:
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…
The Greek word for ‘temptation’ (G3986, πειρασμός, pronounced pā-rä-smo’s) shows up in New Testament scripture twenty-one times. Using a principle E.W. Bullinger employs in his analysis of other word frequencies, twenty-one uses suggests “spiritual perfection… [made] solid, real, substantial, complete, and entire” (seven times three).
To the degree that we run to God when we are tempted (by Satan, by the world, and/or by our own sin-nature heart) we allow Him to solidify our spiritual selves. We allow Him to sanctify us — to grow us in and towards the image of His Son Jesus, the Christ.
In the Septuagint (LXX — the 2nd Century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) the same Greek word for temptation (G3986, πειρασμός, pronounced pā-rä-smo’s) crops up eight times. In a scriptural context, that implies “overflowing abundance” and new beginnings (i.e., a new series of seven).
That might seem an odd juxtaposition in relation to such a negative word. Yet consider how the various individual and collective temptations (and failures) described in Hebrew scripture set the stage for the only One who could “deliver us from evil“ — Y’Shuah Messiah: Jesus, the Christ. Having been circumcised on the eighth day, his overflowing abundance of love, laying down his life in sacrifice for our sins, on the cross, brings the overflowing gratitude that leads us out of temptation. Think about that.
6 “Behold, I stand there, before your coming upon the rock in Horeb. And you shall strike the rock, and shall come forth out of it water, and the people shall drink. And Moses did thus before the sons of Israel.” 7 And he named the name of that place ‘Test [pā-rä-smo's] and Reviling’ [a.k.a. 'Massah, and Meribah'] on account of the reviling of the sons of Israel, and on account of the testing [i.e., the peoples' testing] of YHWH, saying,
‘Is YHWH with us or not?’
For those not familiar with the parallels, note 1st Corinthians 10:4 (“…all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”) That spiritual drink is the living water which Jesus describes in John 4, concluding, in v14: “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Indeed, on the cross, after being struck, water flowed from Jesus’ side (John 19:33-34 — “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”)
Water and blood are both the way that we (and Jesus) come into the world, but also the means by which we are sanctified (1st John 5:6-8 — “This is he who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”)
So too the church, the bride of Christ, is birthed, as the perfected Eve, from Jesus’ side, just as the original Eve was made from the side (rib) of Adam (man).
Which is all to say this: The temptation (pā-rä-smo’s) which we see in the first use of this word in all scripture, in Exodus 17:7, comes (quite literally) at a crucial juncture, as the Israelites tested (or ‘tempted’) YHWH Himself by doubting, in their wilderness trials, whether YHWH is really good and on their (or our) side.
“Is YHWH with us or not?”
They did what Job wouldn’t. The do precisely the opposite of what Abraham did, trusting God totally, even when (one might say especially when) circumstance and human reason might have led him to doubt God the most. They do what the serpent did in the garden, asking, in essence, “Did God really say…?” They do what scripture tells us scoffers, mockers and fools are prone to do.
And don’t think for a minute that they, either in history, or as a people, are unique in this regard. This attitude is pervasive today both inside and outside the church.
What this super-well-known ‘Our Father’ scripture model for prayer, in Matthew 6 points us back to, dear brothers and sisters, is a ‘crux’ moment in history (Exodus 17) when a group of people tempted and tested God, just as Satan did to Jesus , in Matthew 4. Think about that. It helps us to understand how Jesus could rebuke Peter as Satan, saying “get behind me” when Peter tried to steer him away from the cross.
(A brother noted, astutely, this morning, that those three temptations mirror the way in which we are told to pray, in Matthew 6.)
So often, we pray the Lord’s prayer, or we hear it — and I’m as guilty of this as anyone — from a self-centric perspective:
Lead ME not into temptation, God. Because if you do, quite frankly, you’ve failed me. You’re not doing your job. Why didn’t you lead me away from temptation? You must be bad or mean or taking a lunch break or maybe your grace is a little thin.
NO!! No, no, no. A thousand times, no! Don’t go there. That cast of mind itself is the temptation! Do you see the trick? The subtlety? The danger?
What the Exodus passage points out is that, in addition to the common interpretation, i.e., praying for greater self-control (a reign on our desires to flirt with sin), we are not to fall into the trap of tempting YHWH’s wrath, putting Him to the test with our doubts. If we do, we will be more likely to fall into those other, more ‘common’ sins also in our instability! For as James writes (1:6-8) –
…the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Lest that seem like too big a thesis to hang off of too little evidence, consider the third use of the word pā-rä-smo’s, in the Septuagint, in Deuteronomy 6:16. It comes right on the heels of the all-important Sh’ma (impossible to keep without the Holy Spirit and the blood-grace of Christ), in verses 4-5 (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”) Here’s how verse sixteen reads in the Septuagint:
You shall not put to test YHWH your God in which manner you put to test in [at] Test. [G3986, pā-rä-smo's, used again here as a proper place name -- Massah]
He’s referring us back to the same scene as in Exodus 17:7 so this must be important. What is the form of this testing which YHWH so abhors?
Quite simply, it involves asking, “Is YHWH with us or not?’”
In other words, to ask the question is to fail to trust.
He says He is (with us). Do we trust His word?
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The opposite frame of mind — doubting His goodness, results in this:
Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’” (Luke 19:20-27)