The temptation of Jesus. It is a familiar story and many of us have memorized the scenes. In the first scene, we find Jesus in the wilderness, thirsty and hungry from a forty-day fast. The tempter’s words could never be more opportune:
“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3)
And Jesus’ response could never be more … is it kosher to say … cliche?
“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
The second temptation is equally punctual. Jesus was the son of God. He called the creator of the universe Dad. God could easily command heaven and earth to bend and break to the convenience of His son. The tempter knows this. And since it was apparent Jesus was evading his temptations by quoting scripture, the tempter also has a couple of verses of his own. He tells Jesus:
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)
Jesus, of course, still manages to outsmart the tempter by quoting a countering passage:
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)
The point here is clear. Knowing God’s Word will help you in your time of need. Jesus did not have to invoke or invent any tricks to get himself out of temptations. He did not even utilize the authority he had as God. He could have easily commanded the tempter to depart, but He didn’t. Instead, He chose to rest in the written Word, and that was enough.
Jesus knew His Bible.
How about you? I know that the question may sound a bit unfair – comparing you to Jesus, whose other title happens to be THE WORD – but you get the point. It is important to spend time reading and ingesting the Word of God. When the Bible tells us that God will always provide a way of escape from our temptations (1 Cor 10:13), His Word is usually the primary way of escape.
Our knowledge of the Word of God depends on how much time we spend with the Word of God. However, this must not be confused with how much of the Bible we have photographically memorized.
If you have ever taken part in any Bible trivia competition or game, you can already guess the frustration I am alluding to. How am I supposed to remember the names of the two guys that Paul handed over to Satan to be taught a lesson? Who in the world is Mephibosheth and what does the name of John and James’ mum have to do with anything? It can be quite frustrating … and greatly discouraging.
Let’s just admit it, majority of Bible trivia live up to their name: they are trivial. Sadly, many young people (and adults) have been led to believe that you can gauge your (and others’) standing before God by your ability to answer
trivial trivia questions about the Bible. The most “spiritual” people in the classroom are those who have a photographic memory of biblical passages. Some people can not only quote the book, chapter and verse in which a particular passage is found, they even know the page and physical location of that passage on the page.
I have to confess that part of my motive for writing this post is because I personally struggle with recalling “where” certain passages are in the Bible. You can say that my memory works best in stories, not in numbers. I will tell you the passage and locate it in its “story” context. I can tell you what the passage was talking about even though I cannot recall the exact wording of that passage in the NLT, ESV or KJV version. I know that it is Paul talking to the Romans, but I have no idea what numbers denote which verse and chapter of that book.
I identify with the author of Hebrews when he says:
But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? (Heb 2:6)
I am the “there is a place where someone has testified“ type of Bible quoter. That’s why I find it comforting and liberating that the scribes of the Bible themselves didn’t know their verses word for word, (or since the Bible didn’t have verses then, they didn’t know their scroll sections).
Could this be saying something about our misplaced obsession with trivial aspects of religion as the basis for our validation before men and (surprisingly) God?
How well do you know your Bible?
Perhaps that question would be more helpful if we changed to “How well do you know your God?”
Maybe then, we will learn to read our Bibles with the aim of hearing from God and learning from Him, and not be pre-occupied with verse numbers and chapter locations … unless we are trying to help people locate certain passages. The knowledge (and memory) of these things should, at best, be utilitarian and purely for convenience, not as indicators of our spirituality and right standing before God.
It is a sad thing for the assurance of your salvation to lie in your ability to conjure up a mnemonics for the names of the 12 tribes of Israel.
For the fame of His name,