When Jesus was tempted by Satan to gather food in the wilderness in a way that God had not commanded, he was Israel all over again, tempted in the wilderness. And to underscore this association, Jesus chose the words from Deuteronomy 8:3 to answer, “No! I am not like my ancestors in the wilderness who cared more about the food than the commandment. I do not live for bread. I live to do the will of the Father.” So how do we face temptation as Jesus did? Not by merely quoting Scripture, but by knowing God’s will and by being committed to it before temptation even comes.
I’ve heard it explained that when you face temptation to sin you should quote Scripture at the devil to defeat him and cause him to flee. After all, the argument goes, Jesus himself quoted Scripture at Satan in the wilderness.
When Satan said, “Command these stones to become loaves of bread,” Jesus answered with what we know as Deuteronomy 8:3. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:3–4).
When Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, “Throw yourself down,” Jesus likewise responded with Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:16. “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matt 4:5–7).
Finally, when the devil put the glory of the world’s kingdoms on display and promised them to Jesus if he would simply fall down and worship him, Jesus used the words from Deuteronomy 6:13. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matt 4:8–10). And Satan ran away.
Now, on the one hand, it is vitally important to know the Bible from memory and to be able to apply the very word of God to specific situations, especially when we face trials and temptations. But the account of Jesus’ temptation is not intended to teach us that quoting the Scripture at the devil is our weapon to make him go away. That’s using the Bible as a kind of magical incantation, as if Satan is a vampire and we’re holding a wooden cross.
In fact, that use of Scripture is on the same level as the superstition that there is a verse in the Bible that will stop your nose from bleeding. When I was pastoring in the mountains of Western North Carolina I learned that there are people who believe that if you quote Ezekiel 16:6 when you have a nosebleed, the blood will miraculously stop. (I’m not making this up!)
The verse reads in the King James Version,
And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.
Some say you have to read the full verse three times and really believe that your nose will stop bleeding to get it to work.
But there is no promise in the Bible that reading Ezekiel 16:6 will stop your nose from bleeding any more, in fact, than there is a promise that quoting the Bible at the devil will make him leave us alone.
In fact, if quoting the Bible makes the devil flee, why didn’t he run away the first time Jesus used Scripture?