Jesus in the Wilderness 1
April 27, 2019
by Barry Fike
The Yetzer ha rah and the yetzer ha tov? You’re probably scratching your head already if you’re a Christian. However, if you’ve got a Hebrew background you know exactly what I’m talking about. The good and evil impulse within all of us has been with us since the dawn of time, yet we’ve somehow manufactured a devil that tempts us instead of looking within and noticing that as free will agents the only thing that tempts us is our own lusts and desires. The same is true of Jesus and the temptation in the wilderness.
Then Jesus was lead up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the “devil”. Who led him out into the wilderness? “And the spirit carried him out into the wilderness to try, or test, him.” The Holy Spirit. Isn’t that interesting? Many think that the devil led him out into the wilderness and tempted him once he was out there.
Not only that but who was ha-satan (devil/Satan)? In Hebrew the concept of the evil impulse is titled by the word ha-satan. Who is it that’s going to meet him and test him? Ha-Satan. Who is ha-satan? We’ve got in Christianity a dualistic belief: God of good and a God of evil. It’s become so prominent that it’s easier to get people to give up on God that it is to get people to give up on the Devil and demons. He becomes a convenient whipping post. Are we dealing with a literal person or a being that’s in opposition to God? Christian theology is basically dualistic. We have God here and the devil here. Gods is over here, and he has his good angels, and the devil is over here, and he has all of these bad demons. If they aren’t demons and devils what are they? You have to start out with the knowns and then try to come up with some sort of intelligent answer. One thing that we know is that there is only one God!
Now, with that given we have to ask ourselves, “Who and what is ha-satan.” In Hebrew the term simply means an accuser. Men are called ha-satan. Peter on one occasion is called ha-satan. In Everyman’s Talmud under the topic “The nature of man, the doctrine of man”, it says, “‘Satan’ is the personification of wickedness…The prompting to evil is rather a force within the individual than an influence from without. It also explains why God permits Satan to be active and does not destroy him. The reason is that, as well be explained, the Yetzer Hara is an essential constituent in human nature, without which the race would soon become extinct.” In other words, evil is necessary to exist.
One should always be alert to escape the power of satan, and the Rabbis suggested that a suitable blessing for a guest to pronounce over his host, “May you prosper in all his possessions. May not satan have power over the works of his hands, nor over ours, and may there not leave before him, or us, any thought of sin, transgression, or iniquity from now and forevermore. It’s recommended let not a man open his mouth to satan.” In other words, he should not say anything unpropitious which might recoil upon him.
“The belief that in every human being there are two urges—one to evil and the other to goodness—figures prominently in Rabbinic ethics…The character of a person is determined by which of the two impulses is dominant within him. ‘The good impulse control the righteous; it is is said, “My heart is wounded within me” (Ps. 109:22). The evil impulse controls the wicked; as it is said, “Transgression speaketh to the wicked, in the midst of the hart, there is no fear of God before his eyes (Ps. 36:1). Both impulses control average people.” (Everyman’s Talmud, p. 88)
The question again is, “Who is this ha-satan?” In Numbers 22:22 it says that the angel of the Lord is ha-satan. It says that the angel of death is ha-satan. This is difficult for our western mind, and it’s hard for us to understand how all of this crept into Christian theology. It did not come from Hebrew or from Judaism but from the dualism of the Zoroastrian belief of Persia.
It’s necessary to have this part of the human race because the evil inclination has also been tied in with the sex drive. Without such there would be no perpetuation of the human race. The Yetzer ha rah is good because without it man wouldn’t marry and build a home. Who had control over the ha-satan? If you’ll remember with Cain when he’s complaining because his offering wasn’t accepted God tells him that if you do well, you’ll be accepted. If you don’t sin crouches at your door and you must overcome, it. In other words, you’re the one that’s going to put down the yetzer ha rah. All of this stuff about demons and deliverance deals with the idea that if you don’t want to be delivered, and you don’t take the authority and the control over it, you aren’t going to overcome it. The awareness comes by education.
Next week we’ll look at the temptation of Jesus as one that’s more internal than external.