Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
The book of Deuteronomy begins by saying, “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness…. It happened in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that Yahweh had given him in commandment to them” (1:1, 3). Moses is the spokesperson, but he speaks only what God has given him to speak.
In the first four chapters, Moses recounts Israel’s history with Yahweh. In chapter 5, he recites the Ten Commandments, along with the circumstances in which Moses received the commandments and, in turn, gave them to the Israelites. In chapter 6, he recounts the greatest commandment, “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one: and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (6:4-5).
In chapter 7, Moses begins to prepare the Israelites for the day when they will enter the Promised Land. He reminds them that they are God’s chosen people, and warns them not to intermingle or intermarry with the people who currently occupy the Promised Land. He also reminds them that they are a covenant people (7:12) and promises blessings and prosperity if they will keep the commandments that Yahweh has given them.
Chapter 8 begins with a call to keep the commandments and to remember their history—a history in which God humbled Israel in the wilderness—and a history in which he fed the Israelites manna and kept their clothing from wearing out. He says, “You shall keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him” (8:6).
DEUTERONOMY 8:2-3. YOU SHALL REMEMBER GOD WHO LED YOU
2 You shall remember all the way which Yahweh your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. 3 He humbled you, and allowed you to be hungry, and fed you with manna, which you didn’t know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh.
“You shall remember all the way which Yahweh your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness” (v. 2a). Remembering is important, and God modeled that for us. God remembered his covenant with Israel, and that led him save Noah and the other inhabitants of the ark (Genesis 8:1)—and to promise never again to destroy all flesh by floods (Genesis 9:15)—and to redeem his people from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:24; 6:5)—and to show compassion (Psalm 106:45)—and to provide food (Psalm 111:5; see also Psalm 105:8ff.; 115:12). In other words, remembrance goes beyond bringing something from the past to mind. Remembrance leads to action—to response. Remembrance solidifies relationships.
Now God calls Israel to remember all that God has done for them, and promises to bless them if they do—and to punish them if they don’t (Deuteronomy 8:18-19). They have enhanced their remembrance by foregoing leavened bread during Passover (Exodus 13:3ff.). This was, in part, to insure that “the teaching of the Lord may be on your lips” (Exodus 13:9). They were to “remember the sabbath day and keep it holy”—and were to forego work on the sabbath as an aid to remembrance (Exodus 20:8ff.). God called the Israelites to wear a fringe on their garments “so that when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes” (Numbers 15:40). In other words, remembrance goes beyond bringing something from the past to mind. It leads to action—to response.
“that he might humble (Hebrew: anah) you, to prove (Hebrew: nasah) you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not” (v. 2b). The wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness had a Godly purpose. Yahweh intended to humble (anah) them. Yahweh desires a humble spirit (Psalm 51:17; Micah 6:8). He delivers those who are humble, and humbles those who are proud (1 Samuel 2:7; 2 Samuel 22:28). Humility comes before honor (Proverbs 15:33; 18:12). “The result of humility and the fear of Yahweh is wealth, honor, and life” (Proverbs 22:4).
The word anah suggests the kind of humbling that involves hardship—being forcibly bowed down—being treated harshly (Genesis 15:13; 16:6; Exodus 1:11-12; Psalm 119:71; Isaiah 53:4). It might seem out of character that a loving God would inflict that kind of pain on his covenant people, but they were an unruly people who needed harsh discipline.
Good parents know the importance of discipline—of setting clear limits and enforcing them faithfully. I have seen more than one child ruined by permissive parenting.
The military knows the value of taking people to the limits of their endurance—and of requiring strict compliance with orders and standards. Lives hang in the balance.
God’s effort to humble his chosen people was an act of love. It made it possible to keep them from destroying themselves—and their relationship with God.
“to prove (nasah) you.” The word nasah means to test or to prove. The phrase, “put to the proof” that expresses this idea well. For instance, a conscientious car manufacturer will test critical parts to the point where they fail. The point is not to destroy things, but to determine where they are weak so that they might be made strong. Once again, lives hang in the balance.
God tested Abraham (Genesis 22:1)—and Israel (Exodus 15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Deuteronomy 13:3 Judges 2:22; 3:1, 4). They often failed that test, but Yahweh maintained his covenant relationship with them in spite of their frequent sins. What was in their hearts was less important than what was in Yahweh’s heart—and that was love.
“He humbled you, and allowed you to be hungry, and fed you with manna, which you didn’t know, neither did your fathers know” (v. 3a). God began feeding the Israelites manna when they complained of hunger to Moses, saying, “We wish that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots, when we ate our fill of bread” (Exodus 16:3).
In response, God told Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from the sky for you” (Exodus 16:4). That bread from the sky later became known as manna (Exodus 16:31).
The manna became part of God’s testing protocol. He told the Israelites to collect only enough bread for that day. Would they would obey? When they collected more than was needed for the day, “it bred worms and became foul” (Exodus 16:20).
“that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh” (v. 3b). Bread has always been a staple of people’s diet—so much so that the word bread is often used as a proxy to mean food of any kind. That’s how it is used in this verse.
Bread has been called “the staff of life”—the mainstay of our diet. Jesus taught us to pray for daily bread (Matthew 6:11)—and assured us that our heavenly Father knows that we need food. But then he put these things in perspective by saying, “But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).
Jesus also said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) and “I am the bread which came down out of heaven” (John 6:41)—a claim that he was offering spiritual sustenance. And, of course, he took bread—and blessed and broke it—and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).
That is the kind of spiritual emphasis that this verse from Deuteronomy makes when it says that we live “by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh.” It acknowledges that, while food and water are necessary to the sustenance of life, nothing is more necessary than the word of God.
We, the church, must remember the centrality of the word of God. We rightly provide help to needy people—food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, hygiene—but our motivation to do so will soon wither unless we are fed and strengthened by the word of God. Our first duty is to be fed by and to feed others on the word of God.
DEUTERONOMY 8:14b-16a. GOD WHO LED YOU—GOD WHO FED YOU
14b You forget Yahweh your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where there was no water; who brought you forth water out of the rock of flint; 16awho fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers didn’t know.
“You forget Yahweh your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage“ (v. 14b). For the Israelites, the greatest temptation of prosperity is that they will become focused on material things and forget Yahweh, who made their prosperity possible.
They will be tempted to forget their centuries of slavery in Egypt—and their miraculous deliverance in the Exodus. They will be tempted to forget the plagues that caused such suffering in Egypt that pharaoh finally allowed them to leave. They will be tempted to forget that, when they were trapped between the waters of the Red Sea at their front and the Egyptian chariots at their back, Yahweh saved them. They will be tempted to forget that, at Yahweh’s command, Moses stretched out his staff over the sea and divided it so that they Israelites might pass through the sea on dry ground. They will be tempted to forget that, once they had passed through the sea, at Yahweh’s command, Moses stretched out his hand over the sea so that the waters returned to their natural state, drowning the Egyptian army. They will be tempted to forget, not only their history with Yahweh, but Yahweh himself.
“then your heart be lifted up, and you forget Yahweh your God.” The epitome of forgetfulness would be for the Israelites to remember their own victories—and to forget Yahweh’s role. They will be tempted to remember their military exploits—and the work they did to subdue the land itself—and to forget the hand of God that brought about their success. When that happens, they will begin to believe that they are a nation of giants, rather than a nation led by a wondrous God. Then they will be poised to take a fall, because God will need to discipline them once again to bring them back to their spiritual senses.
“who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where there was no water; who brought you forth water out of the rock of flint“ (v. 15). Once settled in their good land—the land into which Yahweh is leading them—Israel will dwell in fine houses amidst many possessions, and their memories of the wilderness will quickly fade. In their comfort, they will be tempted to forget their uncomfortable years. They will be tempted to forget the poisonous snakes and their ever-pressing need for water. They will be tempted to forget that Yahweh provided water from a rock.
“who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers didn’t know“ (v. 16a). When their storehouses are overflowing with wheat and barley (v. 8), they will be tempted to forget the time when they had none. They will be tempted to forget the manna with which Yahweh fed their ancestors. Once they have bread to spare, they will be tempted to forget that Yahweh made it possible for the Israelites to gather their daily bread in the manna-fields, but that Yahweh also made it impossible for them to gather tomorrow’s bread, unless tomorrow happened to be the sabbath.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan