Mark 1:13 and Allusions to the Old Testament

By Yuvalr

Mark 1:13 with its clause, “and he (i.e. Jesus) was with the wild beasts,” has intrigued me over the years. Here are some thoughts on it. In brief, the references “he was with the wild beasts” and “the angels were ministering to him” are allusions to Old Testament texts that show (1) that Jesus obeyed the Father and consequently he was blessed and (2) that he dealt a fatal blow to Satan in the wilderness. Here is the text of Mark 1:13:

Mk 1:13 καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ σατανᾶ, καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

And he was in the wilderness forty days being tested by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to him.

According to Mark, Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by Satan. Most readers immediately see that Mark draws a contrast between Jesus, the new Israel, the beloved Son par excellence (Mark 1:11), and Israel. Where Israel failed in the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus succeeded for 40 days. But does Mark show that Jesus succeeded? Of course, the reader assumes that Jesus succeeded. But Mark’s narrative may actually be more clear on this point than we normally think. The reference, “and he was with the wild beasts,” may provide the resolution we seek, if we read it as an allusion to Leviticus 26:6. Here is that text:

OG Lev 26:6 καὶ πόλεμος οὐ διελεύσεται διὰ τῆς γῆς ὑμῶν, καὶ δώσω εἰρήνην ἐν τῇ γῇ ὑμῶν, καὶ κοιμηθήσεσθε, καὶ οὐκ ἔσται ὑμᾶς ὁ ἐκφοβῶν, καὶ ἀπολῶ θηρία πονηρὰ ἐκ τῆς γῆς ὑμῶν.

And battle shall not pass through your land, and I shall give peace in your land, and you shall sleep, and there shall not be one who causes you alarm, and I shall destroy harmful beasts from your land.

In Leviticus 26:6, one of the signs (note them in vss. 4–13) that the Lord will have blessed Israel for obedience in the land is that the Lord will remove harmful beasts from the land.

If Mark alludes to Leviticus 26:6, then the picture is of Jesus, the Son of God, as blessed and living in peace with the wild beasts. As the obedient Son, he is blessed and will not be bothered by the wild beasts. In other words, Jesus passed the test and obeyed the Father, and subsequently he experienced the blessing of God (cp. Job 5:22–23 where the blessed man, disciplined by God, also lives at peace with the wild beasts). The theme of blessing appears to dovetail with the allusion to victory in the next clause in Mark’s account.

The temptation of Jesus in Mark ends with a reference to angels ministering to Jesus. Certainly, Matthew 4 alludes to Ps 91(OG 90), and probably Mark does too. Here are the relevant verses from Ps 90:

Greek Ps 90:11-13 ὅτι τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ τοῦ διαφυλάξαι σε ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ὁδοῖς σου· 12 ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσίν σε, μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου· 13 ἐπ᾽ ἀσπίδα καὶ βασιλίσκον ἐπιβήσῃ καὶ καταπατήσεις λέοντα καὶ δράκοντα.

For he shall give charge to his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they shall lift you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. Upon asp and cobra you shall tread, and you shall trample lion and dragon under foot.

In Psalm 90, the Psalmist describes the blessing of the angels’ protection of the one who has made the Lord his refuge. And the protection is further described in terms of the Davidic king treading upon asp and cobra and trampling lion and dragon under foot—wild beasts, indeed. With this allusion, Mark may indicate that Jesus was not only dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, but since he was, he also trampled under foot Satan, the dragon and ancient serpent, in the wilderness. Jesus was not primarily an example for his people in the wilderness; rather, he dealt a unique, decisive blow to the enemy as the allusions to Leviticus 26:6 and Psalm 90(EV 91):11–13 show.

In summary, Mark’s brief account of Jesus in the wilderness is pregnant with meaning. The allusions to the Old Testament are actually the key to understanding the brief pericope itself. The allusions indicate that Jesus as Son obeyed under temptation and trial, was consequently blessed, and dealt a decisive blow to Satan in the wilderness.

16 thoughts on “Mark 1:13 and Allusions to the Old Testament

  1. John, I have also long been intrigued by the comment that Jesus was with the wild animals. Thanks for posting your interesting reflections. I also think the vision of messianic peace in Isaiah 11 might be relevant. Some time ago, I read Richard Bauckham’s essay, “Jesus and the Wild Animals (Mark 1:13): A Christological Image for an Ecological Age,” in _Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ_, ed. Joel B. Green and Max Turner (Eerdmans, 1994), which I remember being helpful, even though I don’t recall his precise argument.

    1. Ed, thank you for this reference to Baukham’s work. I’ll have a look. I also think the messianic peace in Isaiah 11 could be relevant. The references in my post would indicate who Jesus is, the blessed and triumphant son, while Isaiah 11 works at a slightly different level, indicating the peace of the new creation that all creatures will have with one another as a result of the Messiah’s work. That Jesus is in the wilderness with the wild beasts at peace with them may function as a foretaste of the great peace to come. Good observation. Thanks again for chiming in.

  2. In his composition, Mark elaborates more than he alludes cryptically for his audience. Just now (in response to this posting) I again read Mark in one sitting to see how often he is allusive of a bigger picture. Not very often it seems or hardly any time. Mark seems to take pains in explaining Jewish features to a audience, probably with a Roman mind-set.
    While I am all for recapturing the supernatural in The Unseen Realm (myself being allusive), not everywhere is there warrant to construct meaning unless with good reason.

    If reference to a greater Messianic blessing or perhaps the scapegoat to Azazel were meant by Mark, the reader would expect a bit more connection judging by the rest of Mark’s work. Maybe Mark just meant that Jesus was not with other people during His fast but where the wild animals were who would avoid people naturally.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Alex. Do you think that Mark is alluding to Israel’s time of 40 years in the wilderness when he says that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days? Especially, after the announcement at his baptism that he is God’s Beloved son. Just curious.

      1. The baptism seems to represent aspects of the Egyptian Exodus, maybe the Jordan crossing into the promised land or both sea crossings. I take baptism to figure death in all pictures. The 40 days seem somehow representative as do many other time markers to allude to something else also. I just want a bit more on the “wild animals” before I am persuaded that it alludes to something New Edenic or other wilderness motifs to signal a theme.

      2. I see. What I’m thinking is that Mark is portraying Jesus as a new Davidic king representing the new Israel in the preceding section and also in the beginning part of this verse. I thought that the allusion to Leviticus 26 picked up on the Israel part and the Psalm 91(90) on the messianic king part. Also, Isaiah 11 might support the messianic king allusion. Thus Mark alludes to his dwelling with the wild animals to show the reader that he has succeeded.

        But I can see your hesitancy on this last connection.

      3. On the other hand, you would have this verse in your favor which may speak of wild (howling) animals:
        He found him in a desert land,
        and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
        he encircled him, he cared for him,
        he kept him as the apple of his eye. (Dt. 32.10 ESV)
        Obviously, there is more work to do and possibly a degree of push back to some ideas. After all, it is important to what we attach significance- The Samaritans attached significance to Mt. Gerezim when none was meant (John 4. 20-22). I remain cautious.

  3. Heb. 2. 17-18 & 4. 14-15 refer to the temptation of Christ as it relates to His High Priestly ministry for believers. Not to put too fine a point on Christ’s person since He has always been king in waiting (even in the O.T. in my view), but the Advent seems to focus on the priestly work and the second appearance on the time with the trampling metaphor and taming of animals. I know its controversial but I see the Advent as making peace between the two offices of king and priest referenced in Zechariah.
    If Matthew had spoke of the wild animals then it would, to me, raise more interest in exploring the New Edenic connection in Lev. 26, Isaiah 11 and Ps. 91 which certainly speak to this event.

  4. John,

    Interesting parallel to Leviticus 26:6 and Mark 1:13. One thought that has persisted in my mind to this day is the following from Isaiah 65:24-25,

    24 καὶ ἔσται πρὶν κεκράξαι αὐτοὺς ἐγὼ ἐπακούσομαι αὐτῶν,
    ἔτι λαλούντων αὐτῶν ἐρῶ Τί ἐστιν;
    25 τότε λύκοι καὶ ἄρνες βοσκηθήσονται ἅμα,
    καὶ λέων ὡς βοῦς φάγεται ἄχυρα,
    ὄφις δὲ γῆν ὡς ἄρτον,
    οὐκ ἀδικήσουσιν οὐδὲ μὴ λυμανοῦνται ἐπὶ τῷ ὄρει τῷ ἁγίῳ μου,
    λέγει κύριος.

    Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.
    The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
    They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
    says the LORD.

    It is in line 5, “ὄφις δὲ γῆν ὡς ἄρτον,” “and dust shall be the serpent’s food,” that the “curse” made against the Serpent of Genesis 3 is NOT removed. All the other animals have the curse removed in the New Heavens and New Earth especially when one looks at Revelation 20-22.

  5. Wonder if there is any possible link with Daniel 7. The number 4 and the word for beast feature prominently theoughout. There are also angels present with the Son of Man.

    1. Three more references, only the last is probably worth attention. But these three have the same phrase as Mark 1.13’s μετὰ τῶν θηρίων. These are Dan 4.15, 17a and Hos 2.20. This last one is the most significant because of its description of the new covenant. For what it’s worth, James Edwards takes it as a reference to the wild beasts of Nero’s persecution (cf. Ignatius, Rom 4-5) and Morna Hooker takes it as a reference to a restoration of Adam’s rule over the wild beasts.

      1. Thanks, Peter. I agree the references in Daniel 4 are less relevant than the one in Hos 2:20. Hosea seems to be describing the new covenant in creation covenant terms, which is interesting. Perhaps, Mark presents Jesus as the New Adam here. Ultimately, the typology is Adam > Israel > David > Christ. I think Mark highlights the Israel > David part in the opening chapter. “The Son of God” in 1:1 highlights all three precursors with Jesus as Son of God par excellence. So maybe Hooker’s view works at this level. I’m happy with the collage of Lev 26 (Job 5), Psalm 91, Isa 11, and Hos 2:20. These references produce a confluence that present Jesus as the antitype and fulfillment of several OT expectations for the Messiah.

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