Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.
There are two matters of meaning at which we must look before we begin to study this petition in detail.
(i) To modern ears the word tempt is always a bad word; it always means to seek to seduce into evil But in the Bible the verb peirazein ( Greek #3985 ) is often better translated by the word test than by the word tempt. In its New Testament usage to tempt a person is not so much to seek to seduce him into sin, as it is to test his strength and his loyalty and his ability for service.
In the Old Testament we read the story of how God tested the loyalty of Abraham by seeming to demand the sacrifice of his only son Isaac. In the King James Version the story begins: “And it came to pass that God did tempt Abraham” ( Genesis 22:1 ). Obviously the word tempt cannot there mean to seek to seduce into sin, for that is something that God would never do. It means rather to submit to a test of loyalty and obedience. When we read the story of the temptations of Jesus, it begins: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” ( Matthew 4:1 ). If we take the word tempt there in the sense of to seduce into sin, it makes the Holy Spirit a partner in an attempt to compel Jesus to sin. Time and again in the Bible we will find that the word tempt has the idea of testing in it, at least as much as the idea of seeking to lead into sin.
Here, then, is one of the great and precious truths about temptation. Temptation is not designed to make us fall. Temptation is designed to make us stronger and better men and women. Temptation is not designed to make us sinners. It is designed to make us good. We may fail in the test, but we are not meant to. We are meant to emerge stronger and finer. In one sense temptation is not so much the penalty of being a man; it is the glory of being a man. If metal is to be used in a great engineering project, it is tested at stresses and strains far beyond those which it is ever likely to have to bear. So a man has to be tested before God can use him greatly in his service.
All that is true; but it is also true that the Bible is never in any doubt that there is a power of evil in this world. The Bible is not a speculative book, and it does not discuss the origin of that power of evil, but it knows that it is there. Quite certainly this petition of the Lord’s Prayer should be translated not, “Deliver us from evil,” but, “Deliver us from the Evil One.” The Bible does not think of evil as an abstract principle or force, but as an active, personal power in opposition to God.
The development of the idea of Satan in the Bible is of the greatest interest. In Hebrew the word Satan simply means an adversary. It can often be used of men. A man’s adversary is his Satan. In the King James Version the Philistines are afraid that David may turn out to be their Satan ( 1 Samuel 29:4 ): Solomon declares that God has given him such peace and prosperity that there is no Satan left to oppose him ( 1 Kings 5:4 ); David regards Abishai as his Satan ( 2 Samuel 19:22 ). In all these cases Satan means an adversary or opponent. From that the word Satan goes on to mean one who pleads a case against someone. Then the word leaves earth and, as it were, enters heaven. The Jews had the idea that in heaven there was an angel whose charge it was to state the case against a man, a kind of prosecuting angel; and that became the function of Satan. At that stage Satan is not an evil power; he is part of the judgment apparatus of heaven. In Job 1:6 , Satan is numbered among the sons of God: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” At this stage Satan is the divine prosecutor of man.
But it is not so very far a step from stating a case against a man to making up a case against a man. And that is the next step. The other name of Satan is the Devil; and Devil comes from the Greek word Diabolos ( Greek #1228 ), which is the regular word for a slanderer. So Satan becomes the Devil, the slanderer par excellence, the adversary of man, the power who is out to frustrate the purposes of God and to ruin mankind. Satan comes to stand for everything which is anti-man and anti-God. It is from that ruining power that Jesus teaches us to pray to be delivered. The origin of that power is not discussed; there are no speculations. As someone has put it: “If a man wakes up and finds his house on fire, he does not sit down in a chair and write or read a treatise on the origin of fires in private houses; he attempts to try to extinguish the fire and to save his house.” So the Bible wastes no time in speculations about the origin of evil. It equips man to fight the battle against the evil which is unquestionably there.