Another reason we can be sure Python is involved in the temptation of Jesus is because the devil quotes Psalm 91.
Ironically, in that era, this psalm was used as a protective talisman to keep the devil away. Did I say, ‘in that era’? No, it’s not a bygone thing: remnants of that kind of magical thinking persist even today in some places.
Anyway, by quoting this psalm Python was showing contempt for the kind of thinking that suggests a daily repetition of the words is an efficacious defence against the enemy. The spirit basically said to Jesus: ‘Think I’m worried about Scriptural verses? I’ll take Your Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” and raise You Psalm 91:11, “He will command His angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.”’
This really did raise the stakes in multiple ways. Part of the calling of Jesus was to be a rabbi, a teacher. And here, by quoting a psalm, Python challenged that aspect of Jesus’ calling by using a very fine example of traditional rabbinic technique. It was such a subtle double-bind, it was no longer a matter of just saying ‘no’ to the devil; a lot depended on how Jesus said ‘no’.
If He came back with the next verse from Psalm 91 or a defence based on it, He was accepting Python’s implied offer, even if He didn’t jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. ‘I’ll be Your rabbi, Your mentor, Your counsellor’: that’s what Python was declaring and proposing.
Jesus responded with: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test,’ from Deuteronomy 6:16. It’s important to note that Jesus made a selection here. The full verse is: ‘Do not test the Lord your God as you tested Him at Massah.’ There are in fact times when God invites us to test Him.
There’s the well-known verse, Malachi 3:10, where God says to His people, ‘Test Me in this.’ And there’s the prophet Isaiah who, after God had spoken to King Ahaz, telling him to ask for a sign, seriously rebuked the king for what seemed like a pious royal response: ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’ (Isaiah 7:12)
So clearly it’s not simply a matter of quoting Scripture at Python so it will flee. Some people think that, if we know Scripture well enough, spiritual warfare will mean dipping into the arsenal for the nearest weapon. But, as Jesus shows, we have to be in relationship with the Father and so deeply dependent on the Holy Spirit that we know which verse to apply when.
Python will try to put us in a double-bind to squeeze the faith right out of us. But as we’ve seen, it’s not faith that overcomes Python—it’s love.
This is Grace Drops and I’m Anne Hamilton. God grant you wisdom to avoid the double-bind snare.
Thank you to Lorna Skinner of www.riversofmusic.co.uk for the background music.