DEUTERONOMY 8 PROVIDES AN important theological perspective on the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Because God is a personal God, one can tell the story of those years in terms of the interaction between God and his people: he meets their need, they rebel, he responds in judgment, they repent — and then the cycle repeats itself. On the other hand, one can look at the whole account from the perspective of God’s transcendent and faithful sovereignty. He remains in charge. That is the vantage offered here.
Of course, God could have given them everything they wanted before they had even bothered to articulate their desires. He could have spoiled them rotten. Instead, his intention was to humble them, to test them, even to let them hunger before eventually feeding them with manna (Deut. 8:2-3). The purpose of this latter exercise, Moses insists, was that God might teach them “that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). More generally: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you” (Deut. 8:5).
Why all this discipline? The sad reality is that fallen people like you and me readily fixate on God’s gifts and ignore their Giver. At some point, this degenerates into worshiping the created thing rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:25). God knows that is Israel’s danger. He is bringing them into a land with agricultural promise, adequate water, and mineral wealth (Deut. 8:6-9). What likelihood would there be at that point of learning that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”?
Even after these forty years of discipline, the dangers will prove enormous. So Moses spells the lessons out to them. Once the people have settled in the Promised Land and are enjoying its considerable wealth, the dangers will begin. “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees” (Deut. 8:11). With wealth will come the temptation to arrogance, prompting the people to forget the Lord who brought them out of slavery (Deut. 8:12-14). In the end, not only will they value the wealth above the words of God, they may even justify themselves, proudly declaiming, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (Deut. 8:17) — conveniently forgetting that even the ability to produce wealth is a gracious gift from God (Deut. 8:18).
In what ways does your life show you cherish every word that comes from the mouth of God, above all the blessings and even the necessities of this life?