By James R. Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of biblical and religious studies, Samford University
The Temptation to Place Something Else Before God
Deuteronomy 6:10–15; Matthew 4:8–11
This is our third lesson on the temptations of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus provides a model: His temptations were real, yet He remained steadfast in faithfulness.
In the wilderness, as he did in the Book of Job, Satan tries to show that Jesus is not truly righteous and worthy of the status of Son of God — contrary to what God declared from heaven (Matt. 3:17). In Matthew, these aren’t the last temptations Jesus will face in this regard.
Read Matthew 4 and Deuteronomy 6.
We can be tempted to worship things other than God. (Matt. 4:8–11)
The devil has abandoned his strategy of tempting Jesus to prove His sonship via a self-serving miracle. He simply offers Jesus now all that will be His when the Son of Man returns as Judge (19:28; 25:31–32). That is, he offers Jesus the opportunity to avoid the cross.
Jesus doesn’t challenge the idea that Satan has control of the world’s kingdoms. As we learn in the Gospels, Paul’s letters and Revelation, his control is not complete or permanent.
Jesus gives Satan implicit and explicit responses. The implicit response is that in God’s Kingdom, one rules by serving. This is true even of the Son of Man (20:28).
The explicit response is based in the Ten Commandments and expressed in Deuteronomy 6:13, which Jesus quotes.
Note the implication of Jesus’ reply. He doesn’t say, “One shouldn’t worship the devil. The devil is an evil being and God’s enemy.” While this is true, behind the commandment to worship and serve only the Lord our God stands the idea that nothing belongs in God’s place. Some ancient rabbis even said that to fear any person too much was to commit idolatry.
Never forget that it is God who is at work in your life. (Deut. 6:10–12)
Deuteronomy 6:4–8 contains the famous prayer known as the Shema. The Shema’s opening statement can be translated both, “The Lord your God, the Lord is One” and “The Lord is your God, the Lord alone.” The ambiguity may be deliberate.
This declaration stands behind the warning that it is easy to forget God’s constant lovingkindness. The Israelites will benefit from things made by others, and they are to receive them as they do the goodness of the land, as God’s provision.
When we worship God and follow Him, we will do that which pleases Him and blesses us. (13–15)
The starkness of the warning in verse 15, coupled with the reality of what actually happened, stands out in this passage.
Israel did follow other gods, both the gods of the people around them and the so-called gods of self-indulgence and exploitation of the vulnerable. Yet God did not destroy them from the face of the earth. Rather, as Adam and Eve in Eden, Israel endured lesser punishments.
This is why Israel confesses in Scripture that God is a God of both justice and mercy. Did you catch the confession in verse 15? Moses implies the consequences of idolatry. Israel will be tempted to abandon the Lord their God, who is in their very midst.
This looks like a threat, but don’t miss the word of comfort. The God who requires loyalty travels with us to help us remain faithful.
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