The Lord’s Prayer, pt 7: Expect the Unexpected

Now we’re almost done with these thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer.  If you need to relive the experience so far, you may (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3, Pt 4, Pt 5, Pt 6).  But me?  I’m like a river, baby.  Always moving forward (and a little bit murky, perhaps).  So onwards!

Matthew 6:13a goes, “And do not lead us into a test.”

I’ll admit at the front end, here, I don’t have the best understanding of what Jesus is referencing with the “test.”  The Greek word that Matthew uses here is peirasmos, which may be “test” or “temptation” or “trial.”

Though we can be confident that the Lord does not tempt people (James 1:13), God doesn’t seem bashful about pushing people (or at least Jesus) into a time of testing (Mk 1:12; Mt 4:1).  So the request that the Lord not do so seems relevant.

The question, though, is still to what kind of test or what particular test Jesus is referring.  I think it would be a mistake, given all else we’ve investigated regarding this prayer, to think that suddenly Jesus is speaking about general temptation.  Every line of the prayer up to this point has been specifically targeted toward Israel’s present (first century) situation vis-a-vis the return from exile and restoration the Jews were hoping for.

For Jesus to have been speaking for four verses about asking Yahweh to finally fulfill His promises in the proper way and complete this national hope, and then to request that God, say, keep us from wanting to steal our neighbor’s oxen, would be a nonsensical non-sequitur.  (Is that redundant?  I think it is.)  Rather, this “testing” must be related to this national hope we’ve been discussing.

My suspicion is that the “testing” has to do with the strong urge to allow one’s own expectations determine how the Lord is going to fulfill these long-awaited hopes.  “Keep us from temptation,” stated positively, might read, “Keep our minds open for how these hopes might be fulfilled.”  The temptation for the Jew listening to Jesus is to think that she already knows how Israel will be restored.

And how might the average first century Jew have thought they would finally return from this exile?  Well, that’s impossible to answer, in some sense.  There was no one expectation.  But certainly among many there would have been a hope for some kind of military action.  Other messianic movements before, during, and after Jesus’ time on earth involved aggressive action against the Roman authorities.  So it is quite possible that Jesus had this in mind at this stage: “Lead us not into the temptation of thinking we can bring about Your kingdom by force or that it will involve clubs and swords and a coup at the proconsul’s palace.”

Whatever other expectations the crowds surrounding Jesus might have had (and the military component would have been just one), chances are pretty strong they would not have thought that the restoration of Israel and the kingly rule of God would take place in and through Jesus in the way that it did.  Even Jesus’ closest followers were initially stunned and embarrassed at the crucifixion.  It would have been shocking to suggest that any had that in mind prior to those decisive acts.

“Lord, lead us not into the temptation of thinking we already know how You’re going to pull this off.  Because when You do pull it off, we’re likely to scorn the event and attribute it to someone other than our loving Father.  And we’ll go on looking for other solutions that will have only come from some other source.”

More on that, and our conclusion, tomorrow.


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