This verse takes place within the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. After 40 days of fasting Jesus is hungry (it wouldn’t have taken me that long!) and the devil attempts to entice Jesus to turn stones into bread. This verse is Jesus’ response.
The Greek here is interesting to me.
“…by every word…”
This is the noun rema. It means spoken word. Jesus is quoting the written word of God in order to talk about living by the spoken word of God. Grammatically, “word” here functions as a direct object of the verb “live”. We live by the spoken word.
This is the verb Zao. It means “to live.” It’s related to the concept of breathing and is related to the noun Zoe (Life). Grammatically it functions as singular future middle indicative. Here’s what that means. I had to look it up myself of course.
singular: matches the singular subject “Man”
future: this action will take place in the future after the statement.
middle: this action will be performed by the subject; the subject may be impacted by this action.
indicative: “it is”, as opposed to subjunctive “it may be” or an imperative command.
How am I to live? I am to live by every spoken word that comes out of God’s mouth. I am not passive in this. Because the verb “live” is in the middle voice, man is the “doer” of the action though still a beneficiary of the action.
The implication here is strong. The assumption is that God is speaking and that his spoken words contain what I need to truly live. I must exercise my will in order to benefit from the power of his words. The comparison to bread is telling. Instead of receiving life from eating bread, I receive life from eating the spoken words of God. The bread of God’s word is available. I must choose to eat.
It seems like many people view themselves as being passive in the experience of hearing God. If God speaks, I will hear him. If I’m not hearing him, he must not be speaking. This is an incorrect way to think about hearing God. Just because you are not eating bread doesn’t mean there’s no bread. Just because you are not hearing God’s spoken word doesn’t mean that he’s not speaking.
Are you choosing to hear today? Are you listening?