God’s Tests are Humbling
Moses says in Deut. 8:1,
1 All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers.
Once again, to keep God's commandments is to choose the path of life, wherein we “multiply” instead of dwindle, we increase instead of decrease. Under the current Babylonian administration of the earth, multiplication of money is good, but multiplication of people is evil, for they have chosen the path of death and have called it good.
Because Babylon's system does not work well, they blame the problem on the people, rather than upon the system of government. Under Babylonian rule, many people die of starvation and disease. Pollution is rampant in air, land, and sea. They blame overpopulation, but their claim is hypocritical, for they seek to destroy all but about 500 million of the earth's population through war, starvation, chemical pollution, abortion, and sterilization. Why? Because fewer people are easier to control, but the real underlying reason is that the satanic mindset loves to destroy and kill what God has created.
The Kingdom of God, on the other hand, promotes life. God created the earth to support far more people than are alive currently. People starve, not because of overpopulation, and not because food is scarce, but because the Babylonian system impoverishes people so that they cannot afford to buy the food that is otherwise readily available. Famine and drought, of course, appear to have many scientific causes, but in the end the Bible tells us that even such things are caused by spiritual blockages brought about by the violation of God's laws.
The Purpose of the Wilderness
Moses then reveals to us the real purpose for the wilderness:
2 And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
Israel's example as “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) is the same as the New Testament church, which remained in the wilderness for 40 Jubilee cycles. God's purpose was the same—to humble us and test our hearts to see if we would be obedient to His law or not. In the days of Moses, Israel failed virtually every test that God gave them, showing that their hearts were continuously rebellious against God. Has the New Testament church done better? No, a study of church history shows that it too has failed every obedience test.
In verse 2 Moses makes it clear that God was concerned with Israel's humility and obedience. When He gave them the law at Mount Horeb, His purpose was not so that they would become proud of their ability to keep the law. The law was not meant to make men proud, but to humble them. Those who thought highly of their ability to keep the law had misunderstood the law and God's intent. The purpose of the law was not to allow man to say, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like the other people,” but rather that we would say, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:11-13).
The law was provided as the perfect standard of the character of Christ so that we would see how the nature of man (since Adam's sin) falls utterly short of that perfect standard. When we learn the law, the contrast ought to be clear between the old flesh man and the New Creation Man, for “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
Yet seeing this contrast need not discourage us, for Paul tells us that we are to identify with the New Creation Man within, that is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It is the old fleshly man that sins, for that is our heritage from the first Adam. But the heritage we have received since being begotten of the Spirit is a new man that does not sin (Rom. 7:20) and, indeed, cannot sin (1 John 3:9). At the present time, however, both of these “men” reside in us, giving true believers two personalities with whom we may identify at will.
The Great Lesson
Moses then reveals the lesson we ought to be learning:
3 And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
The difficulty we experience in identifying with the Christ in us is the true source of humility. Yet our inner spiritual man is fed daily by the manna from heaven even as we feed our flesh with physical food. As we partake of that heavenly manna, we learn to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. That manna includes the law, which proceeded out of His mouth at that first Pentecost under Mount Horeb in Exodus 20. In other words, we are to live by—and according to—the nature, the character, the mind, and the will of God as seen in the Person of Jesus Christ.
As we feed our spiritual man with such manna, that New Creation Man—begotten in us by the Holy Spirit—begins to grow until it reaches the point of maturity when it can be brought to full birth and manifested to the world. The New Creation Man will only eat manna. It can eat no flesh. If we provide it no manna, its growth will be stunted, and its birth will be delayed.
When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil, He was tempted by carnal words in Matt. 4:3, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But Jesus would not eat such food, for it was not manna from the mouth of God. It was counterfeit manna from the adversary.
So He replied, “It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” He would eat nothing served by the devil, for He knew that such food could only feed the old fleshly man. The Spirit, in fact, had led Him to fast forty days in the wilderness. Who was this devil to contradict the leading of the Spirit?
Jesus' forty-day fast simulated Israel's forty years in the wilderness, wherein God had allowed them to experience hunger in order to test their hearts. Whereas Israel failed in their test, Jesus succeeded. Israel's complaints against Moses during those years showed that they were still eating from the hand of the devil, rather than from the mouth of God. For this reason, Israel thought only of their flesh when they ran out of food, and that impulse brought them to the point of wanting to stone Moses. Jesus, however, walked by faith and desired only the manna of hearing the word.
Provision in the Wilderness
Moses continues in Deut. 8:4-6,
4 Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5 Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6 Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.
This seems to imply that the Israelites had only one garment and one pair of shoes which did not wear out during the entire forty years in the wilderness. However, I think that Moses' point was that they never lacked adequate clothing and provision in the wilderness, even when God tested them occasionally with hunger. Ferrar Fenton translates this, “Your clothes were not rags, nor your feet shoeless in those forty years.” In other words, God provided for their basic needs, even as He provides for us today.
Even so, we must understand that God's wilderness training often involves tests to manifest what is in our hearts. Of necessity, those tests mean that we must occasionally suffer lack, even as Jesus fasted in the wilderness. It is only under such duress that our hearts are exposed and any lack of faith is manifested.
When the church thinks that such lack itself is the result of unbelief, they miss the point of God's test. It was not the devil, but God Himself who led Israel into the wilderness. The pillar of fire and cloud led Israel into the wilderness. Neither was it the devil but the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the wilderness to suffer deprivation (Matt. 4:1). By the design of God, the temptation itself has been accomplished by the devil; but it was not the devil who forced Jesus to fast and to suffer deprivation. That was the will of God alone.
So also it is with us today. We ought to expect times of difficulty. But we must also see that those times of difficulty are part of the manna from the mouth of God. If our spiritual man is strong and well fed with manna, it cannot be overpowered by the fleshly man's desire for bread and comfort. Therein lies the test. Therein can we measure the strength of our flesh and the strength of our spirit.
These difficulties are God's way of disciplining us “as a man disciplines his son.” It should not be pictured as a judge disciplining a criminal, but as a father disciplining (discipling, training) his son. The motive is love, and it is personal. It arises out of God's desire for a mature son. The goal of God's discipline is to bring sons into glory, which is the state in which the son is like his heavenly Father.
Through discipline of the law, He has caused his sons “to walk in His ways” (Deut. 8:6). True sons have adopted God's way of life—the way He thinks, His perspective, His character, and His will. Hence, the law has been written on the heart of the son, and he has adopted his Father's way of life, so that he may enjoy the inheritance and use it as God intended.