Just before Jesus went into the desert, he was baptized by John the Baptist, at which time the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and a voice out of heaven said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This event must have been on Jesus’ mind when he went into the desert.
The Gospel of Matthew contains a description of Jesus’ temptations by the devil at the end of Jesus’ stay in the desert. Much has been written about this incident, but a particular aspect of Matthew’s account is intriguing. I cannot help but wonder what Jesus was doing for the forty days that he spent in the desert before he was tempted. Since the account does not tell us what he was doing, we can only speculate. Several clues, however, suggest a probable answer.
At the end of Jesus’ forty-day stay in the desert, the devil made three attempts to coax Jesus into sinning. Jesus responded to each temptation by quoting an Old Testament passage—all from just a few chapters in the book of Deuteronomy. This suggests that Jesus had a fresh recollection of this small section of text, that he had spent at least some of his time in the desert reflecting on the meaning and significance of these few chapters.
What did Jesus learn from his reflection on the book of Deuteronomy? His answers to the devil are from the first section of the book that encourages the people of Israel to obey God’s commandments.
The encouragement to obey God is anchored in God’s history with the people of Israel as they made their way through the wilderness. Throughout their forty years of wandering, God was looking after his people. He guided them, provided them with food and water. But theirs was not an easy or carefree life. The hard times were designed to test and develop their faith. By learning to cling to God in good times and bad, they would learn to rely on God as the only firm anchor-point in life. Through this process, the Israelites were to learn that a meaningful and fulfilling life can only come through obedience to and faith in God. This is what Jesus learned by reading Deuteronomy, and this instruction served him well.