Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Bauer, Michigan.
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee. Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways and to fear him.
We live in days of tremendous prosperity. While there remain areas of the world where there is still great poverty, those living in North America enjoy the good things of this life like none of their forefathers ever did. Witness the size of the homes in which we live in comparison to those in which our grandparents were raised. Witness the number of restaurants in every city and town. Witness the amount of time and energy devoted to recreation. Electricity is not a luxury, but a necessity. It is thought that a vehicle is needed for everyone with a driver’s license. Almost every house has in its cupboards and freezers not just daily bread, but supplies for a week or more.
When the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, their situation and experience was similar. They were able to move into houses already built and furnished. The cupboards in these houses were stocked. These houses were on plots of land which had on them already mature vineyards. They had everything. They were rich!
With great prosperity comes dangers. The greatest danger is that we forget God and our need of Him. We have everything! We do not really need anything — not even God. We do not say it openly, but we surely can easily act that way. The wise man ofProverbs 30 saw this as the danger of being rich: “Lest I be full and deny thee, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?'” Listen to Moses’ warning later in this chapter. “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God…. Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut. 8:11,14).
For Israel the danger of forgetting God was real because their experience of the contrast between having nothing to having everything was so sudden. The prosperity which was theirs in the land of Canaan was in sharp contrast to what they experienced during the previous forty years in the wilderness. During those forty years in the wilderness they lived literally from one day to the next. God “suffered thee to hunger and fed thee with manna.” They lived on the brink of starvation. Six out of seven nights they went to bed without food for the next day. There was nothing between them and starvation — except God. Except God’s promised faithfulness. Every day God had to provide them with bread miraculously for that day or they would be without.
We also must live in the realization that we have nothing on which to depend, but God’s great and wonderful grace.
Deuteronomy 8 is part of Moses’ final address to Israel just before he died and just before they entered Canaan. Moses had just given great encouragements to Israel for entering Canaan, namely, God would go with them and fight for them. Now Moses is concerned about how they would conduct themselves toward God once they are settled in Canaan. He does not want them to forget. So he encouraged them to remember how well God cared for them in the wilderness. God’s purposeful care in the past encourages us for the present (obey) and future (confident trust).
God purposefully led His people through the wilderness. It was no mistake. He deliberately led them in the most difficult way. It was in this way that the divine Instructor would best teach them concerning His marvelous grace. The best setting for learning God’s amazing grace is in the way of the impossible situation: forty years in the wilderness.
God’s purpose was twofold. First, to prove or to test them (Deut. 8:16; 13:3; Gen. 22:1; Ex. 16:4; Judges 2:22), that is, to make manifest what is in their hearts. Second, to teach them where their confidence must be. The same is true for the afflictions God puts us through. He wants to prove us, that is, to show us what is in our hearts. And He desires to teach us where our strength lies. Constantly we must learn that we cannot be sustained only by earthly things, the things below. Rather we need to learn to live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.” We constantly need the Word of God’s grace and love. “The lovingkindness of my God is more than life to me.”
God sustained Israel with something not familiar to them: manna, which “they did not know nor their fathers.” Their daily sustenance was not the normal or the usual. It was not something they could work at or make happen. Israel’s food came from heaven.
We too live on heavenly food. By nature we do not know what it is to be sustained by the flesh and blood of Christ. To live on the promises of God’s Word is to live in a way concerning which we cannot tell “whence it cometh and whither it goeth.” The life of every believer is an on-going miracle, that is, being kept alive in the midst of death. Further, to be blest to live on the Word of God is not only to live, but also to live forever. To eat earthly bread is to receive temporary nourishment, but the eater always dies eventually. But to feed on Christ is to eat spiritual food and to become immortal; the food transforms us.
Though the manna had to come every day, it was always sufficient. Concerning earthly food we might need different amounts, but there was always enough manna. So every believer has always been given sufficient grace. Up to this moment God has given all the grace we have needed or presently need. He provides grace day by day. “Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16).
Moses showed Israel how well God had provided for them in the wilderness. God provided continued care for their bodies. “Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.” Their clothing did not wear out. It was as good when they entered Canaan as when they left Egypt forty years earlier. Our attempts to clothe ourselves always fail. Physically, our clothing wears out or becomes quickly old-fashioned. Spiritually, every effort we make to cover our nakedness fails, as it did with Adam’s fig leaves. God provides the covering of the righteousness of Christ, and it never wears out. Christ’s righteousness hides our sinful nakedness from God and from ourselves. We must wrap ourselves in the promises of God’s Word, which are the same today as when they were originally given. There is not a stale promise of God or a worn-out doctrine.
A swollen foot is a common ailment in the hot desert. However, walking was never a painful experience for Israel. For forty years they walked without pain. Though they lived in a weary land, their strength did not fail. Many times our feet are almost gone and our steps well nigh slipped (Ps. 73:2). Yet our feet are kept on the way by Him whose preservation fails not. Those who walk with God shall never grow weary (Is. 40:31).
Moses wanted Israel, just before they entered Canaan, to “consider in thine heart, that … the Lord thy God chasteneth thee” in the wilderness.There must be time taken to ponder and consider. Unswollen feet, garments which never wore out, and food given daily from heaven are all of little value unless we purposefully stop and consider. We must meditate in our hearts, that is, give our deepest thoughts to it.
Meditation discovers the hand of our heavenly Father accomplishing high purposes and achieving great goals. First, see in troubling events not fate or the weather or other humans, but the hand of the almighty God. See the sovereign control of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will. See a God who is never out of control. Realize that He is always guiding by His determinate counsel and His sovereign providence. See Him who works all things together for good.
Second, realize that the difficult times are the activity of the almighty and wise heavenly Father who is chastening His children. “As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.” Our chastisement is a sign of divine childhood — an evidence of His love. We must accept it in the spirit of children and not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when we are corrected.
Great benefit is derived from the furnace of affliction, as well as from the pleasures of prosperity. Affliction shows us God in a rich and wonderful way. It does it by making us stop in our rush through this life and forcing us to consider. Presently God is trying us with great prosperity. Prosperity, too, is a testing. But affliction has a way of giving us pause when we would be normally rushing from one earthly thing to the next. It forces us to stop taking everything for granted. A miscarriage makes us realize that we may never think that everything will be all right. A traffic accident can suddenly change our priorities for a day or longer. The discovery of cancer powerfully stops us in our often mad pursuit of the pleasures of this life.
There are things which God wants to accomplish through the means of our considering at those times when the heavenly Father chastens us.
The chief lesson to be learned is that God is humbling us. “He humbled thee.” To be humble is literally to till the ground or to cultivate, and then this word means to afflict or depress. God taught Israel humility in the way of taking from them their normal daily supply. Nothing humbles man so much as when he is in need of food and drink, with no obvious supply. The Israelites were reduced to the most abject condition, broken by the most urgent wants. It was through this struggle that they learned humility. The road to humility is paved with suffering, sacrifice, and self-denial.
Not that all suffering guarantees humility. Outside of a relationship with God, it causes bitterness. But those who see their suffering from an eternal perspective, from within the context of God and His gospel, learn to cast themselves on the Lord. They learn that men are but grass. Such a perspective erodes our pride and keeps us humble. The position of want brought Israel great blessing. A man who is not hungry cannot be fed, and if fed he will not be as grateful as a hungry man. Being hungry puts us in the position of looking for (urgently so) God’s help. There is room for mercy where there is misery; for grace where there is ugliness. If Israel had the corn of Egypt, they would have missed getting the manna from heaven — angels’ food (Ps. 78:25).
Sometimes we look for comfort and find none, and instead find only fresh cause to despair. This is God’s way of driving us from ourselves, so He can reveal the extent of His care and love. We lose our self-confidence and carnal security, so we can have confidence in Christ instead. Brought low and made to see the depravity of our hearts and weakness of our faith, we learn to look up.
First and foremost, we must learn to live by God’s Word of grace, not only earthly food. We need every word that proceeds from Jehovah. Jesus quoted this when tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:4).
Second, just keep obeying, loving Him with your all and doing what He commands. The constant danger of prosperity is that we forget the Lord our God and do not keep His commandments; that when we have eaten and are full, dwell in our goodly houses, and our silver and gold is multiplied, our hearts are lifted up and we forget our God (cf. Deut. 8:10-17). Continue to fear Him, that is, rightly know Him, be ever conscious of His presence, and have a constant awareness of what you owe Him. Delivered out of deep distresses, supported under great burdens, forgiven of heinous sins, saved unto so great salvation, are we not so grateful that we will try to be always obedient to our Savior?
Keep His commandments in the home, in relationships, at work, and at play. Search out His Word to learn what He wants you to do. Keep it as you would a treasure, carefully putting it in your heart.
Dwell constantly on what He has done for you (forget it not, but remember), so that the principle of grateful fear is always present within you.