The Song of the Mountains: Verse 38
I remember learning to swim. I never minded the shallow end. After all, I could stand up and get myself out of a frightful spot. It’s jumping in the deep end for the first time, or being out in water that we know is over our head that often stresses us. If you can relate in any way to this, you will have a better understanding to what Yeshua is teaching us to pray in Matthew 6:13; as we read, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
This petition, “and lead us not into temptation,” is difficult to understand when considered in light of the Apostolic Scriptures. Would the Lord lead us into temptation? With as much temptation as we face, do we really need to pray that He not lead us into it? Consider the words of the apostle James, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:13-14). Temptation stokes desire. Desire drags us off course to find fulfillment. The fulfillment then ensnares.
Paul illuminates this, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (I Cor. 10:13).
When we consider that God is not tempted, and that He does not tempt, but when tempted He will make a way of escape, what exactly is Yeshua/Jesus teaching us?
Translators of the Bible face the daunting task of choosing words in their local, or receiving language to express the language of the original texts. These texts are thousands of years old, and culturally removed from the receiving language. Having only translated a small portion of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts of the Bible, I can attest to this difficulty.
One of the issues causing confusion in Matthew 6:13 is the translation of the underlying Greek text for “temptation” in many English Bibles. πειρασμόν/peirasmos can be translated as temptation, testing, trial, or proving, and any of these would be suitable for Matthew 6:13. Yet, “temptation” in this context, as it is classically translated, leads us to believe that the Lord would tempt us; as the petition of Yeshua says, “lead us not…”
Consider these alternative versions:
“lead us not into testing…”
“lead us not into trial…”
“lead us not into proving…”
Any of these would be more intellectually agreeable. Yet, we would miss the lesson.
James encourages his readers to “count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3). How do we understand this petition before us then?
In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Yeshua was praying, He instructed His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matt. 26:41). If you notice, He did not say “pray and watch.” He said “watch and pray,” implying that before we pray we should already be looking out for danger, and potential pitfalls ahead of us. This helps us to understand with more clarity the meaning of this petition; allow me to amplify this point.
If we are honest, we all have things that tempt us. Some of these things are harmless in terms of ethical and moral transgression; while some may be harmful if overindulged in; or devastating if entered into at all.
On a personal note, there are many things that are potentially sinful for me, as they are temptations that once indulged in result in sin – and the same can be said for each of you. As an example, for some alcohol is not a temptation; but for others, it is such a strong temptation that it leads to destructive, sinful behavior. Obviously, this list of examples can be multiplied.
As we mature in faith, the Lord expect us to “watch and pray” about those things that can be unnecessary pitfalls, or entanglements in our lives – and in that “watching and praying” avoid those things that we know are temptations – to include avoiding where we know those temptations will be.
It is possible to be tempted without sinning, as temptation is not the sin. Giving in to the temptation, and tasting of it, is the sin. Yeshua demonstrated this for us, as the author of Hebrews explains, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all the same ways – yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). This does not give us license to seek out the temptation, in order to “test” our faith, our strength, or our resolve: we will fail.
Still, temptation is very much part of life. Our prayer should be that the Lord enable us, by His grace, to endure temptation in steadfast faith; as He promises the crown of life to those who endure, and persevere (James 1:12; cf. I Pet. 1:6-9).
Do not blame Him.
Time after time, people pray this petition, go out, find themselves in the midst of temptation, taste it, and then blame the Lord for having led them in that direction. This is neither the spirit, nor the meaning of this petition.
Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Stay away from places of temptation. Those places where we know it to be. Rather than God “tempting us” in those situations, we are “tempting God” by expecting Him to bail us out of a situation we entered ourselves. It is a challenge. One that He will allow us to learn, the hard way, from.
Praying it another way.
God may allow you to fall down. Yes, you read that correctly. He may allow you to have what you desired more than Him. Not out of spite, but out of mercy. We should pray “lead us not into temptation” ever aware of our weakness, but mindful that His grace operating in us is equal to the challenge. Praying, and pleading, “Please Father, do not let me enter a place of temptation.”
Yeshua is teaching us to pray, through this petition, that we be spared falling into temptation, trial or testing, prematurely, unprepared or too severely. We know that trials, temptations and testing will come – we are praying that we are prepared in faith for when they do arrive.
Back to the pool.
I remember when I was learning to swim at my father’s house, I slowly began to doggie-paddle in the shallow end, but I would not venture into the deep end, and this avoidance lasted most of the summer.
One day when I was swimming with my cousins, my father picked me up and threw me in the deep end, and miraculously I began to swim. When I asked him about this years later, he said, “You were never in any danger because I was there with you, and I knew you were ready.”
Dear reader, as we pray this petition, let us pray it in faith, believing that when we do find ourselves in trial, temptation and testing, that our Father is there with us, and that He will strengthen us to overcome the challenge before us.
Shalom. Be well.