Deuteronomy 8, Why We Need the Wilderness – West Palm Beach Church of Christ
Moses is in the midst of a sermon to Israel as they are just a few weeks from crossing into the promised land. Moses is expounding on the law (1:5) preparing them for what they need to know for success and life in the promised land. In this sermon Moses has reminded them that the Lord desires that his people love him with all their being and resources (6:5-6) and they were to teach their children this every moment they had (6:7-25). Further, when they enter the land they were to remember that they were chosen, not because of their size, but because God chose to love them (7:7-8). As we come into chapter 8 Moses again tells the people to be careful to do everything commanded this day so that they will have life in the land. But now Moses is going to explain why the Lord made Israel go through the great and terrifying wilderness (1:19, 2:7).
The Wilderness (8:1-5)
The Lord led the people through the wilderness with a purpose. It was not a waste of time for them to wander in the wilderness the last 40 years. God had a purpose which was to humble them and test them. God was determining what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commands (8:2). I want us to think about this message for a moment. God had the people be in the wilderness so that they would become humble and so their hearts would be revealed. This is the reason for life’s difficulties. This is the reason why God allows suffering. This is the reason why God allows pain and evil. We need to be humbled while we are in the wilderness. We need to be tested. We need to have our hearts revealed to God and to our own eyes. This is the same message as the book of Job. Difficulties test us to see if we will obey the Lord. Difficulties are to humble us, shattering our pride and self-reliance.
You see that this is God-directed all the more in verse 3. “And he humbled you and let you hunger….” Do you see that the hungering was not by accident? We observed this when we studied through Numbers. God let them hunger to humble them. Trials are to create in us a dependence on God. God rules over our suffering and rules over our time in the wilderness, but allows this in our lives so that we will learn. What does God want us to learn? Look at the rest of verse 3.
“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 the Lord.”
God is trying teach us a critical truth while we are in the wilderness: life is about trusting in God. In particular, life is about trusting in what God says. God gave Israel food in the wilderness to teach them something far more important than the fact that God is able to provide food for them. Sometimes this is all that we see is that God will provide. But Moses says that there was a greater message that the people were supposed to learn. The words that promised bread came from the same mouth that promised much, much more. By enjoying the provisions that God gave, just as God had promised, Israel could believe and act on the rest of the words that came out of God’s mouth.
This gives us a deeper picture of what Jesus is doing in the wilderness when he is hungry and tempted by Satan to turn stones to bread. Remember that Jesus quotes this verse. What did Jesus mean? Jesus meant that he could trust in the promises that had come out of God’s mouth to provide for him. Jesus was not only saying that life is more than food. Even more Jesus was saying that he knew God would take care of him because God said he would and that was enough to reject the temptation of Satan. Jesus does what Israel fails to do, waiting for the promises of God to come through to him rather than complaining and turning away from the Lord. The provisions of God in the wilderness are to show us that we can rely on everything God has ever promised and declared (8:4). Life in the promised land comes by trusting in every word that comes from God’s mouth.
So know that God is teaching us through difficulties (8:5). We too often read “discipline” as meaning a punishment for wrongdoing. But that is not the only point. God is allowing the difficulties for times of instruction and teaching. We are learning lessons, just as parents we must allow our children to learn from their decisions and mistakes. Part of our discipline and instruction is to be allowed to make our own decisions and be put in situations where we must decide what we will do. The point is that instruction and training requires experiencing difficulties. It is probably one of the worst things parents do today is to protect their children to such a degree that they never experience consequences for their decisions. By doing so, they learn nothing. Consequences are how we learn from our mistakes. This is the discipline that God gives us so that we will learn to trust in the words of God.
The Problem of Prosperity (8:6-19)
With the humbling and life-learning lessons of the wilderness in mind, Moses tells the people to obey the Lord because the Lord is bringing them into a good land (8:6-10). The Lord is going to bring them into the land and they will eat and be satisfied (8:10). God will satisfy the people if they will trust in him. When they are satisfied they are to praise the Lord for what he has given them.
This is an important teaching because there is a grave temptation when we are full and satisfied. In verse 11 Moses warns that they will forget the Lord by not keeping his commands because they are prosperous. They will be satisfied with physical things and they will forget God. Why does prosperity and physical satisfaction cause us to forget God? Look at verse 14. Our hearts become proud and we forget the Lord and all we has done for us. When we experience prosperity we forget the deliverance God gave. We forget that what God did was for our good (8:16). Pride must not come from our possessions because pride leads us to forget God. Disobedience comes from forgetting what God has done for us. Prosperity makes us think that we have this wealth by our wisdom, ability, power, knowledge, and planning. Look at verse 17.
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. (Deuteronomy 8:17–18 ESV)
God says you have these blessings because he gave it to you. You have blessings because God gave you that knowledge. God gave you that power. God gave you your strength. God gave you good decision making abilities. God gave you everything that you used to have the prosperity that you have today. In fact, this is why God must put us in the wilderness. Otherwise our hearts would be arrogant and we will continue to think that it is about us and our power. So do not say that you did it. Notice that God says that if they forget this, then they will surely perish like the nations that will fall under them when they enter the land (8:19-20). What we are seeing is that prosperity is just as much a test of faith as the trials of life. Prosperity also tests what is in our hearts to see if we will remember that everything we have and everything we have achieved comes from the Lord.
What Moses teaches is that the wilderness is the place of testing. The wilderness is humbling. The wilderness reveals what is in our hearts. We see what was in the heart of Jesus when he was brought into the wilderness of testing. Jesus showed in Matthew 4 that completely trusted in the words of the Lord. His life was completely dependent on every word that came from God’s mouth. It did not matter that he had not eaten for 40 days in the wilderness. He knew that God was going to provide for him because that was the promise of God. He lived by the very words of God. Israel failed because they did not believe that God would keep his word. This is why they rebelled again and again in the wilderness. They did not trust in what God said. In particular they were to look at the provisions of God and see that God will be faithful to rest of his promises.
What trial are you going through that God is using for humbling? What trial are you facing to cause you to depend more on the Lord? What suffering are you experiencing so that you will trust in the Lord all the more? What are you going through to see if you will obey the Lord or not? We need these difficulties to learn and that is why they are allowed by God. God is teaching us. We need this time in the wilderness to really change us. Friends, it is a spiritual shipwreck for ourselves when we come into trials, suffering, and difficulties and blame other people for our problems. What Moses is telling us to do is realize that God has allowed this difficulty so that you will change. God has given this to you to change you. But we will not change if we look our pain in life as not something that was allowed by God for our transformation. God is humbling us and testing us to do us good in the end (8:16). But we must look at this time in the wilderness in that way.
Not only this, we must consider the problem of prosperity. So many people think that life is based on satisfying their appetites. They think that they can have the good life if they can earn enough money to enjoy the things of life. But these things do not satisfy our deepest desires. Unfortunately our prosperity causes us to forget God. We need to look at all that we have and consider if these things have caused us to forget the Lord. Does our prosperity make us proud? Does our prosperity cause us to think it is all ours? Does our prosperity make us think that we will not be held accountable to God for how we have used it? Israel failed. Jesus succeeded. Trust in the word of the Lord for the Lord does exactly what he says. Through prosperity or through suffering, God is teaching us to never forget that he is always with us and to always trust in him.