What was behind Christ’s wilderness temptation to throw himself down so angels could bear him up? Why would this matter to us more if we understood it better? How could we apply this knowledge for more effective Christian living?
CHRIST’S TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS
After Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness…there were 3 specific temptations. In one of them the devil cites Scripture, saying: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you, and they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6; quoting Psalm 91:11-12).
ORIGINAL CONTEXT OF CHRIST’S TEMPTATION
Satan cited this passage because it was understood to offer assurance of divine protection against evil spirits. This is not so obvious from reading the psalm in its original context. In order to see the psalm’s relevance to protection from evil spirits, we need to compare the Hebrew version of Psalm 91 with the Aramaic paraphrase that came to be used in Aramaic-speaking synagogues…
See the above “picture” for a comparison of a Revised Standard Version with the Aramaic version of Psalm 91:5-10. I think Satan wanted to think he could entice or if necessary, bully Jesus.
DID THIS ARAMAIC VERSION DATE BACK TO CHRIST’S ERA?
Yes, but we know this for complicated reasons. Here’s an abbreviation:
In the form we cited above, it does not stretch back that far. However, a copy of Psalm 91 was found among the DSS. It was grouped in a scroll along with 3 noncanonical psalms that speak of protection against evil spirits. This Psalms Scroll (11Q11) is in very poor condition. I offer excerpts of the noncanonical exorcism psalms below, using square brackets to show what is missing and where we plausibly restore it. Key words are placed in bold type:
First Exorcism Psalm[…] and the one who weeps for him […] the curse […] by the Lord […] dragon […] the ear[th…] exor[ci]sing […] to […] this […] to the demon […] he will dwe[ll…].
Second Exorcism Psalm[…A Psalm of] Solomon. He took […] the demons […] these are [the de]mons […I]sr[ael..] with me […] healing […the righteous] leans on your name and calls […he says to Is]rael, “Be strong […] the heavens […]” who has separated [light from darkness…] and the earth […] the earth, who m[ade the host of heaven for seasons] and for sig[ns…] He is the Lord […] He made the […I] adjure all […] and all […] which […] before […][…] the curses of des[truction…] the fierce wrath of […] darkness […] affliction […] your portion […] which […] and those possessed by [demons…] those crushed [by Belial…on Isra]el, peace [eternal…]. (11Q11 2:2-5:3)
Third Exorcism Psalm
A Psalm of David, against […] in the name of the Lor[d…] against Resheph […] he will come to you at ni[ght, and] you will say to him, “Who are you? [Withdraw from] humanity and from the ho[ly] race! For your appearance is [nothing], and your horns are horns of sand. You are darkness, not light, [wicked]ness, not righteousness[…] the Lord. (11Q11 5:4-13)
SUMMARIZING WHY THESE PSALMS WERE CHARMS OR PRAYERS AGAINST EVIL SPIRITS
Although they are in terrible condition, we learn several interesting things from these psalms. First, it is clear that psalms were employed as charms or prayers against evil spirits, including an interesting character named Resheph. Resheph was an ancient deity or demon understood to be punitive and dangerous. He was also thought to have horns! I suspect that in the third exorcism psalm above he was probably regarded as none other than Satan himself.
Second, one of the psalms is attributed to Solomon and another is attributed to his father David. Both David and Solomon were popularly believed to have had power over evil spirits and to have written psalms that offered protection against them….
CONCLUSION FROM MUCH MORE RESEARCH
This and more research shows that Psalm 91 was understood in and before the time of Jesus as a psalm that promises divine protection from evil spirits. Even Jesus apparently appealed to this psalm with the same understanding. According to Luke 10:17-19 the disciples returned from a preaching mission…almost certainly alludes to Psalm 91:13, which says, “You will tread on [Greek: katapatein] the lion and the cobra.”
WE WRESTLE NOT WITH FLESH AND BLOOD
Numerous Olympic winners were all asked the same question: What were your predominant thoughts during all those months and years of preparation leading to your victory? They all had the same answer: they never envisioned themselves losing.
We must first prepare mentally to succeed for our eternal consequences (Philippians 3:14-16). But to win this battle requires adequately assessing our opponents. Ephesians 6:10-20 warns we don’t fight just flesh and blood. Jesus was our perfect example. Let’s passionately use the whole armor of God and fight!
Above pictures scanned from Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls