THERE ARE ONLY three occasions in Scripture where the devil spoke directly to others (cf. Gen. 3, Job 1-2, and Mat. 4/Lk. 4). In Genesis he spoke TO the woman ABOUT God (vv. 1, 4-5), in Job he spoke TO God ABOUT a man (1:9-11; 2:4-5), and finally, in Matthew he spoke TO God the Son ABOUT God the Father (vv. 3, 6, 9). For the sake of this abbreviated study, let’s notice this last speaking engagement in the first Gospel account (ch. 4:1-10).
Remember that following each of the devil’s three temptations, the Lord answered with “it is written” (vv. 4, 7, 10) and then quoted Old Testament Scripture (cf. Deut. 8:3 LXX; 6:16; 6:13). But notice in the second temptation in Matthew’s account (cf. the third in Luke—vv. 10-11) that THE DEVIL LIKEWISE QUOTED SCRIPTURE TO JESUS—specifically from Psalm 91. Yes, Satan said, “It is written” too, and then he quoted God’s word verbatim to the Word incarnate.
A few observations about the devil and his quoting Scripture are in order:
1. The devil was somehow CONSCIOUS OF GOD’S WORD. Remember that back in Genesis 3 he asked the woman about what GOD HAD SAID, but here in Matthew 4 he actually quoted what GOD HAD SAID through the prophet in the 91st Psalm. Does this therefore mean that because Satan referenced and quoted the Bible that he is all knowing? No. The devil is not deity; he is not omniscient. He is a CREATION, not the CREATOR (cf. Col. 1:16; Exo. 20:11; Mat. 25:41).
The Hebrew writer said, “He Himself (Jesus) likewise shared in the same (i.e., flesh and blood—Jn. 1:14), that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (2:14b—emphasis mine, mb; cf. Col. 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:10; Psa. 132:11). The devil had the power of death, and in fact, was indirectly responsible for the death of Jesus. Ironically, that death was the very means by which the tempter lost his battle with the God the Father. Had he foreknown that Jesus’s death would be his own demise, the tempter would have never sought to bring Christ to Calvary in the first place.
2. But BECAUSE SATAN IS NOT ALL-KNOWING, THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT HE IS NOT KNOWING IN ANY SENSE OF THE TERM. Consider the fact that he spoke a) intelligently through the agency of the serpent in Genesis, that he spoke b) logically to God in Job, and finally, he spoke c) shrewdly to Jesus in the wilderness allurements (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14). It’s obvious the devil possesses the ability to know, think, and reason.
Someone asks, “But how is it that the devil, as a rational spirit-being, was able to know God’s Word in Matthew 4?” We don’t know; we can only speculate, but what we must realize, especially from the New Testament account is that while, yes, the devil did quote Scripture, and he did initiate those words (just like Jesus did!) with “It is written,” HE TOOK PSALM 91:11-121 OUT OF ITS CONTEXT.
“The passage is a general promise to those who make God their refuge, and Satan merely made application to Christ, with unholy intentions to the say the least”1
“Satan quoted these words (vv. 11, 12) to Jesus on Mount of Temptation (Mat. 4:6). Jesus answered his quotation by pointing to Deuteronomy 6:16, a verse that qualifies this promise and commands the servant of God not to deliberately test God regarding His goodness. God’s guarantee of deliverance is to be accepted by faith. It is dependent upon and enjoyed by God’s follower, but jumping from a temple wing to see if God will keep His word is putting God to an unnecessary trial. Doing so would, signal unbelief. Jesus did not diminish God’s promise; he gave it the proper meaning.”2
“The devil tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple and be saved by angels. Jesus declined to tempt God. Boles noted that “this verse was written to encourage faith, not to encourage presumption” (101). This verse is not an assurance that we can pursue any silly endeavor we want. It is a general promise of care and protection for God’s people… Verse 13 highlights the hyperbole of the passage. Not many of us have been asked to take a walk on a bed of lions and deadly snakes. We do not know what it is God’s will to ferry us through situations of tribulation unharmed. The point is that if He has the will, then He also has the power. This passage teaches us to trust in both the power and the wisdom of Jehovah.”3
Satan quoted two verses in Psalm 91 passage that referred to God’s general protection of His faithful, but this misapplied and twisted it to suggest that it specifically promised to Jesus that the Father would keep Him from any harm.
Satan took a GENERAL truth that applied to God’s faithful as a whole, but then subtly twisted (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16) and misapplied it to SPECIFICALLY refer to Jesus. The Lord immediately recognized the tempter’s subversive tactic and countered with Scripture himself in context.
But now consider our brief study from a modern, practical vantage point:
3. Many people, LIKE THE DEVIL, know some part of God’s Word, but they either intentionally or unintentionally, take it out of context, and make it say something it doesn’t say at all (cf. Heb. 5:12-14; 2 Pet. 3:16). For example, when an individual references 1 Cor. 1:17 and then claims that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, he’s taking it out of context (Mat. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:3-4; 17-18. When a person quotes Mat. 7:1 and says, “Jesus says you can’t judge…”, he’s obviously failed to read the verse in its context. The Lord continued, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (v. 5). And so rather than saying, “Don’t judge another person in any fashion,” Jesus actually taught the very opposite, and told us to make sure that before we judge our brother, we need to be sure that we’re not guilty of that which we condemn. When a brother recites Matthew 18:20 before he neglects the worship assembly of the saints in order to go hunting or fishing with a couple of friends, it’s painfully apparent that he’s wrenched the passage out of its original context and made it say something our Lord never meant to say.
Here’s the point, beloved. We are perhaps never more like the devil than when we take a verse out of its context and make it say something that God never said. He distorted and warped the Bible to fit his own personal narrative, and if we’re not very careful, we can do the same thing – to our eternal demise.
Let’s READ the Bible, let’s STUDY the Bible in context, and then let’s teach our friends exactly what the Bible says (cf. Mat. 28:18-20).
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike
1 Tom Wacaster, “Those Who Put Their Trust in Jehovah,” The Songs and Devotions of David – Psalms 90-108, Vol. 5, 40.
2 Eddie Cloer, “God, Our Dwelling Place,” Truth For Today Commentary – Psalms 90-118, 33.
3 Joseph T. McWhorter, “Psalms 90-93,” Studies in Psalms – Vol. 2 (73-150), The Denton-Schertz Commentaries, Editor, Stan Crowley, 194.