Plus this mention of wild animals—possibly threatening him, and angels, possibly protecting him.
Perhaps that is reading too much into the words “attended” and “wild.” Other translations, old and new (KJV, ERV, NRSV et al), use, instead of animals, the word “beasts,” a word we use most often nowadays in reference to brutal people or monsters. (Look up synonyms for beast and you’ll find I’m right.)
In any case, it reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with the women who attended a discussion the other day I led of Sy Montgomery’s wonderful book on birds, Birdology. We got on the topic of the enmity between animals (all of them, not just the snake) and humans after the fall, how God tells Noah and his family that, from now on, “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands” (Genesis 9:2-3).
That is, the humans may now kill and eat “Everything that lives and moves about” (Genesis 9:3), and the animals, surely acting out of their fear and dread, will kill and eat humans too, about which, God says, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal” (Genesis 9:5).
God then goes on to make his first big covenant, not only to the humans but, emphatically, to the animals as well—to “every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth” (Genesis 9:10)—that “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood” again (Genesis 9:11).
It’s astonishing, the women in the book discussion agreed, how attentive God is to animals—in spite of allowing humans to kill them for food. He includes them in his covenant and holds them to account. He also, in a manner of speaking, justifies the danger they pose to humans.
I’ve heard people wonder aloud about why God created “evil” creatures—that is, ones who are poisonous or aggressive or in anyway dangerous to humans. It seems to me the answer is here. The writer of Genesis is saying that, given our violence—which is specifically identified as the “wickedness of the human race” (Genesis 6:5—the rest of creation would respond in kind.
That’s how it is with violence—or any other kind of meanness. You do it; they do it back.
Anyway, Jesus’ spending forty days with those wild animals—whether as friendly companions or as threats—is intriguing. It the only place in his life story I can think of that explicitly mentions his interaction with real animals of any sort, except maybe the fish that he was always eating and the donkey he rode into
Animals are frequent metaphors in the gospels but rarely appear in the flesh, as it were. And yet Jesus began his work on earth by spending forty days with them. Watching them and learning from them, perhaps—seeing God’s invisible qualities reflected in them, as Paul says. Enjoying their company.