Lent: Israel and Her King in the Wilderness

What is Lent? And what does it have to do with the Jewishness of Jesus?

Editor's note: The audio above is from a previous version of this article. While there are some minor differences, both versions are here for the deepening of your faith and growing in the knowledge of Jesus and how he relates to Israel. 

By Aaron Gann 
CMJ USA contributor 

Lent – which comes from a term for Spring/lengthening – is a time of forty days beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending between Palm Sunday and Easter Vigil – depending upon liturgical variations – self-reflection, repentance, and spiritual disciplines. The most common spiritual discipline is fasting from particular foods throughout the week. For a more comprehensive guide on Lent, check out the article linked in the endnotes.1 

In the Scriptures, the number 40 is often a number associated with repentance, judgment, revelation, and hardship, followed by relief and restoration. Examples of these include the 40 days of rain during the flood, the 40 days of Moses on Mount Sinai, the 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the 40-day journey of Elijah to Mount Horeb, and the declaration of 40 days till the destruction of Nineveh. Due to Lent’s relation to Easter, the most relevant period of 40 for observance within the Church is that of the 40 days of hardship and temptation that Yeshua endured in the wilderness. Lent is a time when the Church identifies with the call of repentance, resistance towards temptation, and preparation for Easter. 

So, what does this observance have to do with the Jewish people, and why are the events remembered during this season important to the Messiahship of Yeshua? While it has been observed that the temptations that Yeshua underwent were similar to the temptations faced by the man and woman in the Garden of Eden, thus identifying him as a second Adam, the temptations he faced also parallel the various trials and failures of the Israelite community during their period in the wilderness.2  

During this time in the wilderness, the Lord tested the people of Israel in various ways to humble them and to test their hearts and see if they truly trusted the Lord and were loyal to him (Deut 8:2) These themes of these trials can roughly be summed as trials to trust the Lord when it came to provision, trials to trust the Lord when it came to spiritual leadership, and trials to remain faithful to the Lord and trust him for their inheritance. The order of these trials and failures will be discussed in the order of Yeshua’s temptations as written in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 4.  

The first of these parallel themes concerns the community of Israel’s complaint against the Lord concerning food. When the people found that they were running out of food in the wilderness, their solution was to return to Egypt, where they had been slaves, to be provided for. This is a legitimate fear for a large group of people traveling in an unhospitable place, and one should not miss the seriousness of no food or water. In response, the Lord heard their complaint and decreed that he would provide food for them. 

With this, however, came a test. The test was whether they would trust the Lord in what he had commanded them. It was a question of faith. The commandment was to only gather enough for each day, except for the sixth. On the sixth, the day before the sabbath, they were permitted to collect enough for two days as the Lord would not give them mana on the sabbath, and they were not to look for it. The Lord would provide food for them, and they were to trust him and follow his commands. The community, however, failed in this. First, some hoarded it. Secondly, others, on the Sabbath, went to seek it out anyways, not trusting in the Lord’s commands (Exod 16:20, 27-30). They failed the test of whether they would trust him for their provision. They did not follow the Lord’s guidance. 

Yeshua faced a similar test when, being very hungry, the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread. However, for Yeshua, the question was not his divine ability to do this miracle, but rather if he would trust the Father to provide food for him. He had been listening to the Father’s instructions since he was a child; after his baptism, the Holy Spirit had led him into the wilderness. The question in the narrative is whether he would trust the Lord in following his commands. Yeshua – being the Son of God, and God Himself – had absolute faith in God and trusted him.  Hence his reply that man does not live only by bread, but by the Word that proceeds from God (Deut 8:3). The Father’s instructions would sustain him; the Father would provide for him. Where Yeshua’s community had failed in the past, he succeeded on their behalf.  

Jesus in the wilderness with a shadowy figure

Just as Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years, undergoing various trials and temptations, and then entering the Land of Canaan. So, too, was Yeshua in the wilderness for 40 days, undergoing various trials and temptations in preparation for his ministry in the Land of Israel.

The second of these parallel themes concerns the people of Israel’s test as to whether the Lord was with them or not (Exod 17). When the community of Israel next needed water, they again complained against Moses concerning this matter. Again, this is a serious issue for people who are in the midst of a hostile environment. The text indicates that they were not merely concerned with whether the Lord would provide for them. Rather, they were concerned about whether he was among them or not (Exod 17:7). Beforehand the Lord tested them; this time they tested the Lord.  

This testing is a reference back to earlier in the book. The Lord had promised to be with Moses, and the proof was that he would bring them safely to Mount Sinai (Exod 3:12). The community had already seen him deliver them from Pharaoh, had seen him provide food from the heavens, and they should have trusted in his promise to deliver them safely. Instead, they brought a charge3 against the Lord to see if he would make good on his promises. In essence, “you promised to protect us, now prove it.” They failed to simply trust in the Lord’s promise of safety and instead demanded proof. 

Yeshua, too, faced a similar temptation in his time in the wilderness. His second test was that of proving his messiahship through the Father’s promises. We are told that Satan took him up to the very peak of the temple, a place where if he were to fall, he would certainly die. Remember that Yeshua, while being fully God in the flesh, was a fully unglorified man and was capable of dying, as was proven on the cross. However, the Messiah was promised to be delivered from harm from natural causes, such as the promise, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Ps 91:11-12). Satan tempted Yeshua saying, “if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” In essence, “He promised to protect You, now prove it.” 

For Yeshua, this temptation then would be to prove that he was, in fact, the Messiah, the Son of God, by putting his Father to the test. He would prove that his Father was with him and not merely standing by. He could force the Father’s hand – by forcing the Father to “prove it” by throwing himself from the temple and forcing him to intervene. However, Yeshua was content to trust in his Father’s promises and would not attempt to force the Father’s hand. Where his people had failed to trust God, Yeshua, again, succeeded on their behalf.  

The third and final temptation of Jesus is connected to two other themes of testing the children of Israel faced in the wilderness: worshipping God alone and trusting him to bring about his promises. First, the Israelites under Moses were tempted to look to other gods to worship besides the Lord alone. This idea -- of worshipping the Lord and him alone -- is of such importance in the Lord’s instructions to Israel that it is the first two commandments of the Decalogue as well as the central tenant of the Shema.4 However, near the end of the wanderings, the people began to marry among the Moabites and with that took on the worship of their gods (Num 25:1-5). This worship only ceased after Phineas drove a spear through two worshippers of Baal (Num 25:6-9). In the test of whether they would worship the Lord, and him alone, the community of Israel under Moses had failed.  

Moses Striking the Rock and water rushing from it surrounded by the people

Secondly, as Israel’s God, they were to trust him in bringing about all the promises that he had promised. The Lord had promised that, as their God, he would bring them into the Land of Canaan (Lev 25:38). Yet, as they journeyed to the Promised Land, they feared the inhabitants and rebelled against Moses again, stating that the Lord had brought them all this way only to kill them (Num 14:1-4). For this, for their failure to trust the Lord to give them the land that he had promised in the way that he had promised, they were disciplined by being forced to wander for forty years. In the test of whether they would trust the Lord to bring about his promises, the community of Israel under Moses had failed.  

Yeshua faced a similar trial in the third temptation. His third test was proving his loyalty to Father and trusting him to give him the nations of the world. Here, Satan tempted Yeshua with a two-fold offer. If Yeshua would worship Satan, Yeshua would receive all the kingdoms of the world. Yeshua could bypass the suffering that he would have to undergo and would receive the kingdoms that he was destined to rule. With this offer, he would be a reigning Messiah without first being surrounded by the cords of death and the Lord returning his soul (Psalm 18:4, 23:3). Instead, he would simply begin exercising dominion over the nations (Ps 2:7-9). 

However, Yeshua’s reply was adamant; God alone is to be worshipped. Consequently, God alone was how he would receive his kingdom. Yeshua would follow the way his Father had set for him and not try to do otherwise. He would not worship another god, and he would not shrink back from the path laid before him. Where his people had not remained loyal or trusting to God before him, he remained steadfast on their behalf. 

After this, the Father showed himself faithful to the Son and sent angels to tend and to care for him. Yeshua had passed the temptations and shown himself to be the true King of Israel. He proved to be the only one to undergo such trials and remain unscathed, thus, a great and merciful king – who would bear the sins of his people (Isa 53:1-12).

Okay, so why does this matter? What does it matter to the Jewish people that Yeshua underwent these temptations and came out without sin? The answer is found in the book of Numbers in which Balaam gives a prophecy concerning the people of Israel. One of the characteristics he establishes for the coming King of Israel is that, in broad swaths, the Messiah would emulate the history of Israel (Num 22-24).5 Just as Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years, undergoing various trials and temptations, and then entering the Land of Canaan. So, too, was Yeshua in the wilderness for 40 days, undergoing various trials and temptations in preparation for his ministry in the Land of Israel. 

However, there is one key difference. Whereas the community of Israel’s history – and the rest of humanity’s – has primarily been one of failure, the legacy of Israel’s – and the world’s – Messianic king is that of victory on their behalf. Throughout the Psalms, this Messianic figure says, “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped” (Ps 17:5). Yeshua does not stumble and instead makes his followers righteous by bearing their sins (Isa 53:11). He has on his people’s behalf – the Jewish people’s behalf – undergone the same trials that they have undergone, yet he has conquered. Thus, he can rule the Nation in righteousness, truth, and empathy. 

In conclusion, as we journey through the season of Lent, enduring the spiritual wilderness, let us remember to look to Messiah our King, the one who was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb 2:17b), and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Let us not seek to establish our own righteousness – for we shall fail; instead, let us rest in his victory that he obtained on behalf of his people. Let us remember that he has done this not only for us, but also on the Nation of Israel’s behalf (Isa 53:6); so that they might look to him for righteousness (Jer 23:6). Finally, let us pray for the Jewish people; that the Lord our God may look graciously upon them, and that they may come to know Yeshua as the Messiah and as Lord of all.6  


Aaron Gann desires to help people develop biblical literacy and a biblically-informed love for Israel and the Jewish people. He and his wife, Rebecca, have been married for two years and reside in Raleigh, North Carolina. They serve at Redeemer Anglican Church in Raleigh as well as at L’Chaim Messianic Fellowship in Cary, North Carolina. Aaron is studying toward a master of divinity at Shepherds Theological Seminary in Cary and is an aspirant discerning a call to ordained ministry within the Anglican Church in North America.


[1] https://anglicancompass.com/lent-a-rookie-anglican-guide/ 

[2] This article is not concerned with the question of whether or not Yeshua could have sinned, but rather is looking at what the temptations themselves were.

[3] Hebrew רִיב strife, dispute, often in the case of legal proceedings.

[4] Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.

[5] Examples of this include: Moses escaping destruction amid infanticide by escaping to Egypt, so too did the Messiah escape infanticide by escaping to Egypt. Just as Israel was called out of Egypt, so too would her king be. As Joseph was rejected by his brothers, so too would her king be.

[6] Book of Common Prayer 2019, 3rd ed. (Huntington Beach, CA: Anglican Liturgy P, 2019), 570.

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Article published on 02/13/2023