God has spoken many different ways throughout history. He has had living and vibrant relationships with many men and women. Some of these have been recorded in what we call the Scriptures; writing that has been deemed to be sacred because of its significance. God continues to speak to us today through these means, although He is not limited to them. He spoke directly to the prophets even though they had “God’s written word” in the form of the Torah. God can and also does speak today outside of the “Bible”. God never contradicts what He has already said (the same held true when He gave the Prophets and the Writings). There is great reward in knowing the Scriptures, for it reveals more of the God who speaks in them. If we don’t know what He has already said, how will we be able to hear Him speak in the future?
Because of the surplus of Scripture copies and accessibility to the biblical narrative at our every whim and convenience, we just don’t know them all that well. Our lives are so filled with “stuff” day in and out; even good things. If our adversary can keep us busy, even with good things, to keep our attention detoured from God’s greatest, he has done well.
Jesus was born, raised and spent his life among people who knew their Scripture by memory. Even today, “devout” Jewish people are light years ahead of the “devout” Christians in this area. In 2006 a Jewish Rabbi named Yizchak Kaduri died. He was known to have had the Talmud and the Tanakh (Old Testament) memorized. This is not as uncommon as one would think. With our modern title headings, chapter and verse markings, it has promoted breaking the Bible up in segments and disregarding the letters and books as a whole. We don’t have need to know the text well because we rely on pastors and theologians to do that for us. If we want to know more, we just read the best commentaries and listen to expositors that are reputable in our eyes, or watch a little YouTube.
The Scriptures and the records they contain were transmitted orally for generations before they were ever written down. They were written in song, and poetic form (such as Genesis). They would be recited while walking, working or any type of activity. It is a part of life, not like the Greek mentality of secular and spiritual life segregation. God desires His words to be on the lips and hearts of His people. The Shema, the creed of Israel (the statement that defines who they/we are to be) says: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead."You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6). Jesus re-affirms the importance of this in Mark 12.
It should be no surprise that the New Testament records prominent Jews who practice this very thing. Sure, there is no “life” in the Scriptures, without relationship it is just legalistic and religious deadness (John 5:38-40). It is the Scriptures that tell of our “bridegroom”, the one with whom we are in covenant relationship. They tell of His working in the lives of our fathers before us. They reveal to us the splendor of His plan and show us how that plan was unveiled at specific times, and continues to unfold. There is no life in mere paper and ink, but the Scriptures speak about life and shalom. Walking with God really comes down to hearing what He wants from me in my life now, at this moment. It may not look the same in a year, but with His help I will be listening then for His Words, for that moment. A relationship with the God of Israel is not scripted. It is played out as we listen to the Director's instructions for each scene. The true Torah and Scriptures are inscribed in and on our hearts.
Jesus being driven into the Judean wilderness is a prime example of Scripture flowing out of the heart. In his temptation, he quotes the text, Deut 8, 6, 10. As mentioned above, it is not just the text, because in this narrative the devil also quotes the text. If you look at the context of the passage which Matthew records the devil quoting, it is a self condemnation.
Think back to the Garden of God. Adam sinned and blamed Eve. Eve then in turn blames the serpent; “And the Lord God said to the snake…there will be war between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed: by him will your head be crushed and by you his foot will be wounded” (Gen 3:14, 15). The promise to the serpent was that there would be perpetual war between the woman and the serpent, between sons of the Devil and of man (Hebrew – adam).
The Devil starts tempting Jesus by attempting to persuade him to turn stone to bread. Jesus quotes Deut 8 and speaks of the “true nourishment” which comes from the mouth of God. Jesus is then taken to the temple where he is tempted to “jump”. The Devil quotes from the book of Psalms. He quotes a Psalm that some feel was written by Moses. It does not really matter, but is interesting that the Devil and Jesus are both possibly quoting Moses. The Devil quotes, (Psalm 91:11-12) “for He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.” What I had never seen in this passage, is its context. Whether the writer of the book of Matthew devised it this way, or the Devil was just that ignorant, it is clear however, that the prophecy from Genesis is at work.
Right after the “verse” quoted by the Devil is this, “You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down. “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him."With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation." Like many of the Psalms, the writer is speaking of two individuals in the third person. There is Yahweh (LORD), and the other is un-named (Psalm 110:1 is a good example).
In the context of how Matthew has the Devil quoting this passage (Psalm 91) (which I do believe is correct), it goes like this: “For He [Yahweh, the LORD] will give His [Yahweh, the LORD] angels charge concerning you [messiah], To guard you [messiah] in all your [messiah’s] ways. They [angels of Yahweh, LORD] will bear you [messiah] up in their [angels] hands, That you [messiah] do not strike your [messiah’s] foot against a stone. You [messiah, descendant of Eve] will tread upon the lion and cobra [enemy of Eve and her seed], The young lion and the serpent [enemy of Eve and seed] you [messiah] will trample down. "Because he [messiah] has loved Me [Yahweh, the LORD], therefore I [Yahweh, the LORD] will deliver him [messiah]; I [Yahweh, the LORD] will set him [messiah] securely on high, because he [messiah] has known My [Yahweh, the LORD] name. "He [messiah] will call upon Me [Yahweh, the LORD], and I [Yahweh, the LORD] will answer him [messiah]; I [Yahweh, the LORD] will be with him [messiah] in trouble; I [Yahweh, the LORD] will rescue him [messiah] and honor him [messiah]. "With a long life I [Yahweh, the LORD] will satisfy him [messiah] And let him [messiah] see My [Yahweh, the LORD] salvation."
That is absolutely amazing! Matthew has the Devil quoting a passage that condemns him and has a descendant of Eve crushing his head, but you have to know the context of the passage to see it! Right there in Matthew 4, if you know Psalm 91, then you would know by the usage of that passage that the Devil is the looser. The prophecy is true, her descendant is still crushing the head of his.
This passage harmonizes beautifully with not only the other prophecies about the messiah (Isaiah 42, 49, 53), but also how the witnesses recorded him being “anointed” as messiah. Being given a name that is greater than all other names, and being elevated to the right hand of God, i.e. “placed on high”. We as his followers will also share in his victory, “seated in heavenly places” (Eph 2:4-7). I wish I had the time to go through all these passages that speak and perfectly compliment this Psalm 91 passage, for they are absolutely incredible!
Another one of my favorite New Testament examples of text recitation and Torah in one’s heart is Paul. Paul (in the tradition of his Pharisaical order) would have most likely had the Tanakh (OT) and other large portions of Jewish law (Mishnah) and literature (poets, philosophers, Acts 17:28) memorized.
There is one specific instance where Paul and his traveling companion Silas, are locked up in Philippi after being stripped and beaten (Acts 16:22-24). They had been “proclaiming…the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17), but when they touched the pocket book and money strings of the wrong individuals, they found themselves sitting in prison bound. The passage specifically says “at midnight” they “prayed and sang praises”. Why does the text specify midnight? Does it really matter what time of day, or is there a deeper purpose? I believe they did this because it is in the Text.
Paul is a Jew who knows his Scripture. Paul loves the text and “delights” in it (Psalm 1:2, 22:8, 112:1). Take a look at Psalm 119, and see if there might be an answer as to why Paul and Silas did what they did, and why God answered them in such a resounding manner. Remember the context and the false accusation under which Paul and Silas find themselves. Psalm 119:
Remember the word to Your servant, In which You have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me.
The arrogant utterly deride me, Yet I do not turn aside from Your Torah.
I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O LORD, And comfort myself.
Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, Who forsake Your Torah.
Your statutes are my songs In the house of my pilgrimage.
O LORD, I remember Your name in the night, And keep Your Torah.
This has become mine, That I observe Your precepts.
The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.
I sought Your favor with all my heart; Be gracious to me according to Your word.
I considered my ways And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
I hastened and did not delay To keep Your commandments.
The cords of the wicked have encircled me, But I have not forgotten Your Torah.
At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You Because of Your righteous judgements.
I am a companion of all those who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts.
The earth is full of Your lovingkindness, O LORD; Teach me Your statutes.
You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes.
The arrogant have forged a lie against me; With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.
Their heart is covered with fat, But I delight in Your Torah.
It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
The Torah of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of gold and silver pieces (Acts 16:16,19).
Is it possible that this is what was going through Paul’s mind? We can’t say for sure, but it is an amazing similarity. God does bless His people for using the words He has given.
God has given the Scriptures for use to edify, strengthen and verify. They ultimately tell us of Him. The more we know them, the more they flow through us. When we know what He has spoken, we learn the way He speaks, and thus become hearers ourselves. Jesus used the text because it was inside of him and flowed from his inmost being. He quoted three times from the Torah in his confrontation with the Devil. Paul used the text and delighted himself in the words and Torah of God. Should we do any less? If we will immerse ourselves in that which He has given, God will use it and bless us in more ways than we can possibly imagine. For Jesus and Paul, it was strength in adversity that was the blessing.
1 The prophets and most of the writings came after the Torah had already been given.
2 Torah means teaching, not law, (at least the most Christians would view it). God’s “teaching” or Instruction/Torah is life. It is not just a collection or list of rules. The Torah of God far exceeds paper and ink. Rom. 2:13-15 “For it is not merely the hearers of Torah whom God considers righteous; rather, it is the doers of what Torah says who will be made righteous in God's sight. For whenever Gentiles, who have no Torah, do naturally what the Torah requires, then these, even though they don't have Torah, for themselves are Torah! For their lives show that the conduct the Torah dictates is written in their hearts. Their consciences also bear witness to this, for their conflicting thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them.”