When my children were young, they knew exactly who to come to for food. They tugged on my shorts and asked for something to eat. As they’ve gotten older, they tend to forage for themselves. But every day, around 4:30, one of them will come to me and say, “When’s dinner? What are we having?”
As adults, we often forget what children know intuitively. We forget the One who meets our needs, not just for food but for all things—including salvation.
The book of Deuteronomy finds the Israelites about to enter the Promised Land. But before they entered, Moses had to prepare them for what was to come. He reflected on what happened during their forty years of desert wanderings, including the reason they wandered. He reminded them of God’s law, his covenant promises, and the punishment for failing to follow God’s commands.
In Deuteronomy 8, Moses explained to the Israelites that their time in the wilderness was to humble and test them (vs.2). Instead of giving them what they wanted right away, God let them hunger. “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (vs. 3). As a good Father, he made sure their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell (vs. 4). And also like a father, he disciplined them (vs. 5).
They were about to enter a land flowing with water, filled with wheat and barley, vines and trees. A land where they would lack nothing. But, Moses warned, the temptation would be for them to forget God in the new land. With all the good things they would have, “then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (vs 14). With such abundance, they would forget all that God had done for them in freeing them from slavery in Egypt and sustaining them in their journey through the wilderness. And worse, the temptation would be, “beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (vs. 17-18). Once they forgot God, they would then turn to other idols and worship them instead of God, “and if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish” (vs. 19).
Hunger Makes Us Remember
As creatures, we are dependent upon our Maker. All things come to us by his grace, “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). “He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry” (Psalm 147:8-9). Even more, we are chosen, saved, sanctified, and glorified by God’s grace.
But we are sinners, and prone to wander. Just like Israel, we quickly forget our need for God. We forget who God is and what he has done. That’s why God lets us hunger and often makes us wait for the manna to fall. It humbles us and reminds us that we need his grace. In fact, allowing us to hunger is a grace as well.
Not only do we forget our need for God and his grace, but such forgetfulness often leads to pride, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” We readily trust in ourselves, thinking that what we have comes through our own hands. We are ungrateful and fail to give God the thanks he is due. Such forgetfulness also leads to idolatry (vs. 19) as we turn to worship the gifts rather than the Giver.
Jesus, the true Israelite, quoted from Deuteronomy 8 when Satan tempted him to turn the stones into bread to feed himself. Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Unlike Israel— and unlike us—Jesus never forgot his Father. Though hungry, Jesus waited on God and became the perfect, sinless substitute for our sins.
God provided our greatest need through Christ who freed us from sin and brought us back into right relationship with God. We are united to him by faith and in him we have all we need. In John 15:5, Jesus taught us to abide in him in complete dependence, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Deuteronomy 8 is a helpful passage for us all in our own desert wanderings. It is a reminder to remember and not forget the God who provides all things. And to know that when we hunger, it is a grace which causes us to remember what Christ has done for us and run to him— like a child.