Lent: Israel and Her King in the Wilderness

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

By Aaron Gann 
CMJ USA contributor 

For the past several weeks, the Church has been observing the festival known as “Epiphany” a word meaning, “manifestation” of which the focus is the revelation of the light of God, in the person of Jesus, to the Nations. For more on this topic, see our previous article.

Lent, which comes from a term for lengthening, is a time of forty days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Good Friday when we enter a period of self-reflection, repentance, and spiritual disciplines. The most common spiritual discipline is that of fasting from particular foods throughout the week, traditionally this is abstaining from meat.

Upon simple observation, however, one may notice that even though it is stated to last for forty days, Lent goes longer than forty days. If one is simply looking at a calendar, you will find 46 days set aside for the observance of Lent. So why are there more than 40, yet the Church insists that there are only 40? The reason for this change in number is that Sundays are not considered Fast Days, but rather feast days, and thus are not counted toward the 40 days of Lent. The difference is like the delivery that takes 10 days vs a delivery that takes 10 business days. Both use 10 days to calculate arrival, but they define the days slightly differently.

So why the number 40? Because 40 is often a number associated with repentance, judgment, revelation, and hardship. 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? Much in every respect, particularly as it concerns the actual temptations that the Messiah underwent. 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 mirror the various trials and failures of the Israelite community during their period in the wilderness. Note that in this article, I am not dealing with the question of whether or not Yeshua could have sinned, but rather looking at what the temptations themselves were.

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 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 according to Matthew Chapter 4.

Trusting God's provision

The first of these concerns the community of Israel’s complaint against the Lord concerning food and water. During the time in the wilderness, the people of Israel groaned again at the Lord for taking them into the desert only for Him to allow them to perish due to lack of food and water. Their solution was to return to Egypt, where they had been slaves, or at least lament the das long past when they were simply

slaves. While 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, nevertheless this is shown as a failure in the Torah because of their lack of faith. The Lord had just delivered them from Egypt, He had protected them from many of the plagues that He had struck the Egyptians with, including saving their firstborn children from the destroyer. It should have gone without saying that He would certainly have provided food for them, even if they needed to request it. He told them that He would bring them safely to the Promised Land, and basic food and water would be a requirement of that deliverance.

However, the community of Israel at large did not view it that way but rather complained to the Lord, rather than entreating Him. He provided for them first manna, and then quail. This quail, born out of dissatisfaction with the provisions that the Lord had given them, resulted in the death of many people when the Lord disciplined them.

Yeshua faced a similar test when, being very hungry, the Devil tempted him by turning the stones themselves into bread. This was something that Yeshua, being God in the flesh, could do. If He created the world from nothing, then He could turn the stones into bread. However, for Yeshua, the question was able or not able to do something, but rather if He would trust the Father to provide it for Him. He had been listening to the Father’s instructions since He was a child, and after His baptism, the Holy Spirit Himself had led Him into the wilderness. Hence His reply, in the negative, that man does not live only by bread, but by the Word that proceeds from God. The Father’s instructions would sustain Him, the Father would provide for Him.

Image credit: Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com

Jesus in the wilderness

Trusting God's leadership

The second of these concerns the people of Israel’s complaint against the Lord concerning the leadership of Moses. During the time that the Israelites were wandering throughout the wilderness, the people began to become dissatisfied with Moses, the man whom the Lord had raised for them to be a Messiah in their generation (Hebrews 11:26). Moses had been sent by the Lord, and represented the Lord Himself to Pharaoh, with his brother Aaron as his prophet (Exodus 7:1). He had been the instrument through which the Lord’s proclamation, “Let my people go” would come to the King of Egypt, and He had led the people out of the Land, across the Red Sea, and to the Mountain of God there to worship Him, receive the Law, and to build the Tabernacle.

During their time in the wilderness, the people had begun to grumble against Moses and his brother Aaron. During their journey in the wilderness, the people being thirsty grumbled against Moses and demanded water from him to which Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” The people had begun to question Moses’ leadership, causing Moses to fear for his life (Exod 17:1-4). The people were testing the Lord and coming up against the leadership that the Lord had established.

The most famous of these temptations in the wilderness are the events of Korah’s rebellion when the priestly family of Korah sought to replace Moses and Aaron as the spiritual leaders of the people (Numbers 16). Moses had stood in the gap for the people, Moses had interceded for the people and saved the people from the wrath of the Lord on multiple occasions, such as when they made and worship the golden calf at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:11-14). He had given them the Law and administered justice throughout the land via a system of judges. Yet, as things got worse for them, by their failure to obey the Lord, they began to be tempted to reject the leadership the Lord had given them. And in this, they failed, and this too resulted in the death of many people.

Moses himself failed in this regard, as in his frustration at their rebellion against the Lord and their constant striving against him he chose to strike the rock that would give water rather than speaking to it. In short, he chose to do it his way, in anger at his people who were no longer receiving him, rather than as the Lord had ordained it to happen. Indeed, while the Lord had said that He would give them water, Moses claimed the credit for it, stating that he and Aaron would bring the water (Num 20:10). The Lord kept His word to the Israelites, but this failure of Moses brought upon him the discipline of not entering the Promised Land.

Yeshua too faced a similar temptation in His time in the wilderness. The second test was that of proving His messiahship. 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 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, ”For 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” (Psalm 91:11-12). This Psalm Satan quoted as a test case of whether these angels would do so. For Yeshua, this would be a two-fold temptation. First, it would prove to the Devil that He was indeed the Messiah, and Yeshua would be vindicated. He would prove this by forcing the Father’s hand in delivering Him from danger. However, I believe this would have served another purpose, it would have brought the people to the belief that Yeshua was the Messiah. The Temple was quite a busy place, and the fact of a man throwing Himself off the pinnacle, only to be miraculously saved by angelic hosts would leave little doubt that this was the long-awaited Messiah. Yeshua then, would be tempted to be accepted as the Messiah of His people without, as John states in his prologue, coming to His own and yet His own not receiving Him.

Yeshua then would be tempted to not follow the Father’s leading in His life, but rather take it into His own hands. Like Moses, He could do something, not of the Father’s commands, and yet have Him keep His promise regardless. He would not have to undergo the rejection that would follow His ministry, He would not have to endure the heartache of His brothers and sisters turning their backs on Him. He would not have to undergo being an outcast, like David in the wilderness from Saul. He could take it into His own hands and be accepted by His people, and show Satan that He was the Anointed One of God. However, Yeshua replied that He simply was not to put the Father to the test in such a way, He would not force the Father’s hand and instead would walk in complete faith and not do anything outside of His Father’s will.

Trusting God's promises

The third and final of these concern themselves with the People of Israel remaining faithful to the Lord and trusting Him for their inheritance.

During their time in the wilderness, being led by the pillar of fire and cloud, the people of Israel would face two other trials which are combined in the temptations of Yeshua. The first is that of remaining faithful to the Lord. They would be tempted to look to other gods and other worship sources, like the Egyptians that they had just been freed from and those they would encounter in their journeys. Indeed, this idea, of worshipping the Lord and Him alone is of such importance that it is the first and second commandments of the Decalogue which states,

“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God

am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exod 20:3-6).

This idea was that important and foundational for the people of Israel, and yet this was something that they continuously failed in regards to. While there is some debate as to whether the golden calf constituted strict idolatry or wrong worship to the Lord (think strange fire), they did make an image of a creature and did offer worship to it, despite their intentions, the Lord considered this a violation of the covenant that they had just made by worshipping it (Exod 32:7-10, Jer 31:32, Acts 7:40-41). Likewise, near the end of their wanderings, they began to marry into the Moabites after a time and worship their gods, an act that only ceased after Phineas drove a spear through two worshippers of Baal (Num 25:6-9).

Secondly, and related to their failure to trust in the Lord’s spiritual leadership, they failed to trust the Lord in receiving their inheritance. Shortly after their time at Mount Sinai, after the construction of the Tabernacle, the people journeyed to take their inheritance, the Land of Canaan. What follows is the event commonly known as the twelve spies. Moses sent 12 men to spy out the land, and upon returning proclaimed that the land was indeed as prosperous as was told. Two of these spies then encouraged the people of Israel that they could indeed take it, but the other ten disagreed and insisted that they could not conquer the land from the giants who were inhabiting the land. The crowds agreed with the ten, rebelling against the Lord and seeking to kill Moses. 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 in being forced to wander for forty years, with all those 20 years old and over doomed to perish in the wilderness aside from Joshua and Caleb (Num 13).

Yeshua faced a similar temptation in the third temptation. The Messiah is destined to rule over the nations, He is to king over all the earth and, as we say in the creeds, “judge both the living and the dead.” He is the heir of David and all that that title entails. However, the Messiah was also said to suffer before His glory. This theme, of a reigning Messiah after suffering is prevalent throughout the Hebrew Bible. An example of this is Psalm 118 in which the Messiah, leading the praise of Israel speaks of Himself being delivered from death itself, simultaneously being rejected by His people, and yet now reigning as a king and leading the people in worship. This theme, of rejection, suffering, and then reigning is prevalent throughout the Hebrew Bible.

However, Satan tempts with a two-fold offer. First, for Yeshua to worship Him, secondly, and upon fulfillment of this, 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. Of course, He would be receiving this kingdom from Satan, thus always being under Satan in a sense. 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 ruling over the nations (Ps 2:7-9). However, Yeshua’s reply was adamant, that God alone was to be worshipped. Consequently, God alone was how He would receive His kingdom. Yeshua would follow the way that His Father had set for Him and not try to do otherwise.

After this, the Father showed Himself faithful to the Son and sent angels to Him, to tend and care for Him. Yeshua had passed the temptations and shown Himself to be the King of Israel.

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 the person of Balaam gives a prophecy concerning the people of Israel. While an in-depth exploration of Balaam’s prophecies lies outside the scope of this article, 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). Examples of this include that just as Moses escaped 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. In this same way, 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 has primarily been one of failure, the legacy of Israel’s Messianic king would be that of victory. Throughout the Psalms, this Messianic figure says, “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped” (Ps 17:5). Israel’s king would be the Son of David and would be David’s greater son. Whereas David, while being one of the greatest kings of Israel, brought strife and division to his household and his people through his sin (2 Sam 12:7-14), 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, but He has conquered and thus can rule the Nation in righteousness and truth.

Today, while we await the return of the Messiah, when His people shall no longer reject Him but instead will proclaim with Yeshua, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Ps 118:26), let us pray for the Jewish people during this season. First, let us pray that there would be peace in Jerusalem (Ps 122), the City of the Great King (Ps 48:1), and in all the places that the Jewish people dwell, that they would dwell in safety and the Gospel would go forth freely (Rom 10:14-17). Secondly, let us pray that as hear the Gospel, they would see their Messiah truly, and come to faith in Him, not hardening their hearts as their fathers did in the wilderness, but instead finding their true rest in Him (Hebrews 4:1-10), and the veil over their eyes to be lifted (2 Cor 3:12-16). Thirdly, and finally, let us pray for ourselves, the Church, that as we have entered a period of self-reflection and repentance, that any hatred for the Jewish people, or any arrogance or contempt that might be in the hearts of any of us, would be rooted out during this holy season of Lent, and we would resist the temptation of boasting in our own election (Rom 11:18-20). Instead, let us remember that the Jewish people are, “beloved for the sake of their forefathers (Rom 11:28b) and are the Messiah’s own kinsmen according to the flesh (Rom 9:5). Instead of contempt, we would share the good news of Yeshua the Messiah in thought, word, and deed (Rom 10:12-15).

Amen.

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.

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Article published on 03/30/2022