Scripture is a funny thing. A group of people can read a passage together, and each member of that group could extract different layers. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through God’s Word, both corporately and individually. And the more you read it, the more you see. Sometimes what we see first, what rings most familiar and comfortable, may not be the point at all.

He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Deuteronomy 8:3

When you read this verse, what do you see? What sticks out to you most?

This is a familiar passage, in part. Jesus quoted the bit about man not living on bread alone when refuting the temptations of Satan prior to beginning His public ministry (Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4). So we probably recognize that, but have we looked at the rest of the verse? The context of Deuteronomy may be less familiar to us. Who said this? To whom? And what is he talking about? Let’s take a look.

What’s the deal with Deuteronomy?

Deuteronomy means “second law.” It’s the fifth book of the Bible, and its name is quite appropriate since this is the second time the Israelites were given the Law.

The first time was when Moses received the tablets on the top of Mount Sinai. This story most remember. Moses came down the mountain to find the people worshipping a golden calf they had created from the jewelry they were given while leaving Egypt. Not a great moment.

But think about it: These people had been living in a pagan nation for over 400 years. They had been oppressed and enslaved and didn’t really understand what God expected of them. That’s why they needed the Law to show them how God’s Chosen People were to live differently.

Fast forward a bit: God led them right to the Promised Land, but fear ruled the majority of the spies. They told everyone what they saw, and the people refused to enter. Because they refused to trust Him, God sent them on a little hike and gave them a little time to think.

Deuteronomy comes after forty years of wandering, right before the Israelites made their second attempt to enter the Promised Land. With very few exceptions, the generation that walked through the Red Sea and heard the Law from Moses died in the desert. Their children were now leading the tribes. It was their turn to hear the Law for themselves. Thus — Deuteronomy. Second Law.

Deuteronomy gives this new generation of Israelites a fresh start. It’s a combination of history — Hey, this is what went down. These are the promises God made to your ancestors, and this is how they responded. — and instruction — Remember those promises. Remember the lessons and the consequences. You now get to choose a better way.

Context is vital.

Let’s look at that verse again.

He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Deuteronomy 8:3

Some will look at this and skip right to the familiar bits at the end. See! — we need to study our Scriptures! Physical hunger is less important than our spiritual needs.

Some will look at the beginning and see judgment and cruelty. See! — God let them go hungry! He’s sadistic. When He does feed them, it’s some weird food they’ve never seen before.

We can see the beginning of the verse or we can emphasize the end, but if we skip the middle, we’ve missed the whole point. The middle is our context. It’s our WHY.

…so that you might learn…

God is a good Father. He didn’t lead the Israelites into the desert to kill them. He didn’t send them out there to die and be punished. He sent them out there to wander and learn of His goodness and faithfulness to them. He wanted them to learn to trust Him.

Why didn’t they go into the Promised Land when He led them right to it? Because they were afraid. They were trusting in themselves instead of trusting in Him. They needed to see that they could not provide for themselves — not food or water or protection. They needed to learn that God is their Provider and Protector. He is the One who will fight their battles for them.

Learning the Hard Way

Have you ever had to learn the hard way? Or known someone who insists on the rougher route?

Just like the Israelites, we can lean on our own understanding.
Just like the Israelites, we can forget God and all that He’s done for us.
Just like the Israelites, we sometimes get sent on a little hike.

Maybe the job opportunity didn’t come through as we’d hoped.
Maybe healing didn’t come as fast or in the way we expected.
Maybe a global pandemic sent all our plans flying out the window.

We all want to be in control and when we realize we’re not, our equilibrium can go wonky. We may question things we know to be true (like God’s character or sovereignty) and we may temporarily lose our way. We often feel very, very alone.

Sometimes what looks like abandonment is actually opportunity.

You know, when the Israelites were in the desert, God provided for them, but not bread they recognized. He gave them a miraculous new food, one they couldn’t possibly credit to their own efforts or merit. It was a gift.

Ask questions.

When things don’t go the way we want, let’s ask questions.

  • How can we better TRUST God through this?
  • What can we LEARN from this?
  • What NEW THING might come from this?
  • What GIFTS is God giving us right now?