Life's meaning discerned by the retrospect of it.
The remark has not infrequently been made that incidents closely connected cannot be rightly understood till the time has come for them to be reviewed in their entirety as matters of history. What is true of events generally, applies in all its force to the wonders included in the rescue and wanderings of the people of Israel. And that which may be said of them, holds good, in this respect, of the life-story of God's children now. Two words would sum up the pith of their experience—"redemption," "training." Redeemed first, trained afterwards. Redeemed, that they might be trained; trained, that they might become worthy of the redemption. Both the redemption and the training had in Israel's case a depth of meaning of which the people knew little at the time, but which Israel's God intended from the first. Afterwards, their varied experiences, when reviewed as a piece of history, became matter for grateful record and adoring praise. The paragraph before us now is "the aged lawgiver reviewing the experiences of Israel in their wanderings ." Four lines of meditation open up—
I. THERE ARE MANY LESSONS WHICH GOD 'S CHILDREN NEED TO LEARN .
1. "To humble thee" ( Deuteronomy 8:2 ), i . e . to bring them to feel their dependence on God. This, indeed, seems such an obvious truth, that men ought not to need to be taught it. But we must remember that, before we are redeemed, our training for eternity has never begun at all, and that when redemption is with us a realized fact, we then present ourselves to God only in the rough, relying on his love to make us what we should be. And one of the lessons we have thoroughly to learn is that "without Christ we can do nothing."
2. "To prove thee" ( Deuteronomy 8:2 ). A double proof is indicated.
There is no subject on which the young convert is so ignorant as—himself; and he never can become what a Christian should be till he sees his own conceit. He must become a sadder man ere he can be a wiser one.
3. "That he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread alone." It has been remarked that, as Moses in this clause refers to the manna, the meaning is:
Doubtless this is true. But it is not the whole truth, nor do we deem it the truth here intended. We know that with these words our Savior repelled one assault of the tempter. This being so, we are set somewhat on a different track for their interpretation (cf. Matthew 4:3 , Matthew 4:4 ). Our Savior's reply is, in effect, "Man has a double life, not only that of the body, but also that of the spirit; you ask me to nourish the lower at the expense of the higher—to get food for the body by a negation of the self-sacrifice for which I came. It is not bread alone which sustains the man. He has a higher self, which lives on higher food, and I cannot pamper the lower at the cost of the prostration of the higher." Now, with such light thrown on the passage by our Lord, we are led to regard the words of Moses as referring not only to the supply of food, but rather to the entire discipline in the wilderness, as intended by God to bring out to the people the reality and worth of the nobler part of man. Our God cares more for growth of soul than for comfort of body. His aim is not only to find us food, but to train us for himself. Nor was it that they only might learn these lessons, but that others in after time might see on what rough and raw material the Great Educator will condescend to work, and with what care he will work upon it.
II. GOD ADOPTS VARIED METHODS OF TEACHING THESE NEEDED LESSONS . The clauses in the paragraph indicate these.
1. There was "the way" by which they were led. It was not given to Israel to choose it. It was not the shortest way. It was "the right" way annointed by God.
2 The method of sending supplies: "Day by day the manna fell." They were thus taught to live by the day.
3. The disappointments they met: "These forty years." If they had been told, when they set out from Egypt, that so long a period intervened between them and Canaan, they would scarcely have set out. And if God were to unveil to us the incidents of coming years, we could not bear the sight.
4. The wants they felt: "He suffered thee to hunger." God sometimes lets his people feel how completely they are shut up to him.
5. Yet there were constant proofs of thoughtful care ( Deuteronomy 8:4 ). We do not understand any miracle involved here, still less so odd a one as the rabbis suggested, that the children's clothes grew upon their backs; The meaning of Moses surely is, "God so provided for their wants that they needed not to wear tattered garments, nor to injure their feet by walking without shoes or sandals."
6. There was also chastening ( Deuteronomy 8:5 ). This word includes not only correction but all that belongs to the training of a child (cf. Hebrews 12:7 ; 2 Samuel 7:14 ; Psalms 89:32 ; Job 7:17 , Job 7:18 ; Proverbs 3:11 , Proverbs 3:12 ; Revelation 3:19 ).
III. THERE IS A REASON INDICATED HERE WHY GOD TAKES SO MUCH PAINS TO TEACH THESE LESSONS . Deuteronomy 8:5 , "As a man chasteneth his son." We might well ask, Why should the Great Supreme do so much to educate into shape such raw and rough natures as ours? That he should do so at all is, per se , far harder to believe than any apparent variation of the ordinary course of physical nature. The reason is found in the words, "Ye are sons." Israel was God's son, even his firstborn. Believers are the adopted children of God; hence the greatness of their destiny, and the earnestness of their Leader in training them for it. It may be said, indeed, by an unbeliever, " I have all these changes in life , but they are not training me ," etc. No, because the one condition is wanting under which all these come to be a training—sonship. This order is never reversed—rescued, then educated. If men have not known the first, they cannot understand the second.
IV. IF GOD CARES SO MUCH TO TRAIN , WE SHOULD CAREFULLY CONSIDER WHAT HIS TRAINING MEANS . ( Deuteronomy 8:2 , Deuteronomy 8:5 .) Let us understand what a high moral and spiritual aim God has in the culture of this life of ours! The life of a man is not a mere material something, on a physical basis; it is the expression of a plan of God. Then let us be as anxious to be rightly educated for eternity, as God is so to educate us. Never let us allow the lower ends of life to master the higher ( Deuteronomy 8:6 ). Ever let us keep the end of life in view. For eternity we are meant, and for eternity we should live. Some have life largely in retrospect , even now . Do they not see that the past is explained by the present? Even so the present will be explained by the future ( John 13:7 ). Let them rejoice that they have a Father who guides by the way which he sees to be right, and not "according to their mind." Some have life before them .
1. Let it be the supreme desire to let life become what God wants it to be—a continuous advance in preparation for heaven. This is of more consequence than all the ease and comfort in the world.
2. Recognize and praise the kindness of God in giving men these chequered experiences of life, if they do but educate for higher service. Don't let us wonder if we cannot understand God's ways at the time. We shall in the end.
3. If we want God to train us for glory—first, we must come out of Egypt. The education cannot begin in the land of bondage,—we must first be the Lard's free men; then, let us leave the way and method of the culture entirely to God. If he were to let us choose the way, what mistakes we should make! Our faith in God even in youth should be such as to lead us to say, "Father, my supreme desire is to grow like thee, and to live with thee. I know not by what paths I need to be led, nor through what discipline I need to be brought, to bring about this end. I leave all in thy gracious hands, desiring that thine infinite wisdom and love should order all things for me. Here I am. Take me as I am, all guilty and defiled. Make me what I should be; and if by thy grace I am ripened for and led to Canaan, then will I sing, 'Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to him which sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!'"
The moral uses of memory.
The memory of man exerts a mighty influence over his history and his destiny. Minus memory, man would be altogether another being. Remembrance of the past is a guidepost, or a beacon, for the future.
The key-word of this passage is "all:" "all the way;" "every word;" "all the commandments."
I. THE SCOPE OF MEMORY . "All the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee."
1. Remember thy needs— how many, how various, how urgent. Our hourly dependence upon material substance for food, and upon a Power beyond and above ourselves, ought to make us profoundly humble. Is there an occupant of this globe so full of need of many sorts as man?
2. Remember thy special perils . Every man has his particular dangers, as the Hebrews had in the desert—perils arising from outward circumstance, moral temptations, evil powers, personal defects and infirmities, distinctive vocation.
3. Remember God ' s suitable supplies . Their needs in the desert were unique and unprecedented ; yet God was prepared for every emergency. It was open to him either to diminish the need, or else to institute new methods of supply. What if the sandy soil refused to yield a harvest? He can distil a harvest from the dewy air. What if flax be wanting as a material from which to fabricate raiment! He can stay, by a volition, the progress of decay and wear. What though the journeys tend to injure and blister the feet? He can make the skin durable as iron and brass. There shall be special blessing for special need. Every man's history is more or less special . Every point of our past history teems with footprints of God. Placed under the microscope of pious memory, every atom yields surprising lessons, sparkling truths.
II. THE MORAL USES OF MEMORY . They may be summed up under one head, viz. to perceive that God was in every event—that every word of God is a force for giving life.
1. A calm review of the past discovers the moral purpose God has kept in view . As when a man stands in the midst of complicated machinery, he is deafened by the roar, and bewildered by the manifold movements, that he cannot detect the definite end which that machine serves. To gum that knowledge, he must move away, and take in by one glance the effect of the whole. So, amid the whirl and excitement of passing events, we do not discern the definite purpose God has in view. We must get a bird's-eye view kern a new elevation. To reduce the pride of man's heart, to persuade him that God rules, are laudable purposes of Divine leadings.
2. The remembrance of the past exhibits the fatherly disciplines of God . Mingled tenderness and severity is conspicuous in God's dealings. We can see now that we had the sunshine of his favor when we kept the pathway of obedience , and that as often as we became wayward, the rod of his indignation fell. We can see now the likeness between God's treatment of us, and our fatherly treatment of our children. Faithful discipline is better every way than foolish fondness.
3. Memory revealed to them the fact that God was making in their life a great experiment . The vicissitudes and hardships and surprising deliverances in the wilderness were now seen to be tests, by which God would discover whether the people were worthy of Canaan, competent to be the depository of his truth. The object was to prove them, whether they could be entrusted with this Divine mission. So, every man's life is God's experiment. The question to be solved in each of our lives is this," Are we worthy a place in God's eternal kingdom?" Every effort is made by God to make this experiment successful.
4. A review of the past serves to show that man has a nobler life than that of the body . The main purpose why the Hebrews had been fed for forty years on manna was this , viz. to demonstrate that our well-being is not dependent on material things. Man lives not by bread, but by the Divine word. Even bread itself is a product of God's word. All the processes of mastication, digestion, assimilation, are the effects of Divine command. Our entire life is nourished by the word of God. Practical obedience is to the soul's life what digestion is to the life of the body. "My meat and drink is to do the will of my Father in heaven."
III. THE BENEFICENT EFFECTS OF A MEMORY DEVOUTLY EXERCISED . If we remember "all the way"—its subtle and intricate windings, and the faithful leadership of our Guide; if we appreciate the vital value of "every word" of Jehovah; we shall resolve henceforth to keep "all his commandments."
1. Remembrance will excite gratitude . Our gratitude is largely deficient, because we do not consider and reflect. if memory will fulfill her office well in supplying fuel for the altar of the heart, the flame of love will burn with a more constant glow.
2. Remembrance of Divine favors will convince us that God ' s interests and ours are identical . It is the natural effect of sin to persuade us that God is our enemy. We say, "Depart from us." But, when with unbiased mind we ponder the proofs of God's kindness, we yield to the evidence that he is a true Friend. Experience teaches us that it is our interest to obey.
3. Remembrance of past favors aids the operations of conscience . The conscience becomes hard before it becomes blind. Whatever keeps alive feeling in the conscience benefits the whole man. If there be light and life in a man's conscience, he will resolutely say, "I must not sin. I will fear God and keep his commandments."
4. Vivid remembrance of God ' s past goodness is a vigorous incentive to obedience . A sense of obligation for the past cannot fully express itself, except in acts of hearty obedience. When we realize fully that our every step has been under God's guidance, that every good thing has come from our Father's hand, and that every word of his is empowered to give us joyous life,—then are we constrained to say, "All that the Lord commandeth us will we do."—D.
The uses of adversity.
It is a great matter when in any experience of life we can read the Divine purpose in bringing us through it. The speaker in these verses unfolds the design and lessons of the wilderness discipline. Our Lord, in the temptation, found an application to himself ( Matthew 4:4 ). Every believer will find the same in seasons of adversity.
I. ADVERSITY A DIVINE ORDINANCE . ( Deuteronomy 8:2 .)
1. Divinely sent . "The Lord thy God led thee" (cf. Matthew 4:1 ). Jesus led of the Spirit into the wilderness. Adversity may come through natural laws, as the necessary result of sin or folly; even so it is of God's ordinance—the punitive expression of his will. But adversity is not necessarily punitive. The best man living may be led into straits of affliction, of which his own actions are not in the least the causes ( Job 1:1-22 ; Job 2:1-13 ). It is God who has "led" him thither for some purpose of his own.
2. The duration of which is divinely determined : "these forty years." God marks for us the term of our probations. Jesus was "forty days" without bread ( Matthew 4:2 ).
II. THE GRACIOUS USES OF ADVERSITY . That of the Israelites was designed:
1. To humble them . It aimed at destroying the spirit of self-dependence, out of which comes pride and haughtiness ( Deuteronomy 8:17 , Deuteronomy 8:18 ). It made them feel how absolutely they depended for everything upon God—taught them how at every step they hung upon his will.
2. To teach them reliance . Faith is reliance on a Divine Power working for us and in us. "What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" Faith cannot tell, but it waits God's time and God's way of providing, confident that in his own way he will provide. This was Christ's attitude in the wilderness ( Matthew 4:4 ).
3. To test obedience . Adversity acts as a test of the disposition. The end of God's discipline is to bring to light hidden lines of character, and to advance life to a crisis. It threes us to moral determination. Will we obey God or will we not? The younger generation of Israel, whatever their faults, showed by their conduct then and thereafter ( Joshua 24:31 ) that the discipline of the wilderness had not been without good results.
III. GOD IS WITH US IN ADVERSITY . Though bread failed, God fed them with manna ( Deuteronomy 8:3 ). Their every want was supplied. Jesus teaches us to trust the Father for the supply of all our needs ( Matthew 3:1-17 :25, 34). His own trust, vindicated in the refusal to make stones into bread, was rewarded by angels ministering unto him ( Matthew 4:11 ). He " ate angels food" ( Psalms 78:25 ). Our wants are not supplied by miracle, but by providence, which is all-sufficient to provide for us in every ordinary case.—J.O.
Not bread, but God's Word.
The lesson of the manna gathered up into one concise sentence. It teaches us—
I. TO SEE GOD IN SECONDARY CAUSES . The Word of God is as truly the creative and nourishing principle in ordinary bread as it was in the extraordinary supply of manna. It is not bread, as something subsisting independently, but bread as the product of Divine power, and as possessing properties which the Word of God imparts to it and upholds in it, which is the staff of life and the object of our prayers ( Matthew 6:11 ).
II. TO BELIEVE IN GOD ACTING ABOVE NATURE AS WELL AS IN IT . If God wills life to be sustained, he can sustain it in other ways than by bread. He is not tied up to one set of means. He can act, if it pleases him, independently of means altogether, the creative word being sufficient to sustain. This is the direct meaning of the text, and a part of the significance of Christ's answer to the tempter ( Matthew 4:4 ).
III. TO RECOGNIZE IN MAN THE EXISTENCE OF A HIGHER LIFE THAN THE PHYSICAL . The physical is not the highest in us. We do not live by bread alone. A higher life is found in depending on God's Word, in obeying it, and in abiding by it, whatever the immediate consequences. The lower life may need to be given up that the higher may be saved ( Matthew 16:25 ).—J.O.
The lessons of the wilderness.
Moses here recalls the leadings of God in the wilderness, for the warning and instruction of the Israelites. And we are taught, surely, such lessons as these—
I. THE WAY OF SALVATION IS ONE ALSO OF HUMILIATION '. This is, indeed, God's plan, "to hide pride from us." The way of salvation through Christ is humiliating . We are proved by it and made to see what is in our heart.
II. AT THE SAME TIME , IT IS A WAY OF MARVELLOUS MERCY . For God supplies our wants and sustains us in a truly marvelous way, like the Israelites in the wilderness. Thus—
1. The manna was to teach them dependence on his word . It was given when they were hungry and despairing; it was given daily; its only guarantee of continuance was God's promise;—all was, therefore, to keep them depending upon his sure word. And life's discipline brings us to the same persuasion that man must live upon the promise proceeding out of the mouth of God (cf. Matthew 4:4 ). Our Savior vanquished Satan's insinuation that he must use his miraculous power or perish, by resolving to continue trusting in God.
2. The raiment did not wax old , to strengthen still further their trust . It was a wonderful arrangement which allowed them forty years' wear in the wilderness out of the same garments. It must have been good clothing from Egyptian looms. But after starting there it remained, resisting the tooth of time. Each Israelite had evidence on his person of a particular providence.
3. Neither did the pilgrims become footsore . Their feet did not swell. They were made equal to their journey. The wilderness was not too rough for them. Their freedom from bodily inconvenience must have been a great source of satisfaction and comfort to them. In a similar way does God supply all our need and fit us for our pilgrimage.
III. GOD 'S CHASTISEMENTS ARE PATERNAL . So was it with Israel in the wilderness. They suffered at the hands of God, but it was what wayward children might expect from a faithful parent. So is it with ourselves (cf. Psalms 103:13 ; Hebrews 12:1-14 ). Pain becomes blessed when we know that love sent it for a gracious purpose. We are all in the hands of a Father in heaven. He deals with us according to his infinite wisdom and love. Let us make more of the lessons of this wilderness journey than ever, and go on in the strength of God towards the everlasting home, profiting by his chastisements on the way.—R.M.E.
FURTHER EXHORTATION TO OBEDIENCE , ENFORCED BY A REVIEW OF GOD 'S DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS .
That they might be induced the more faithfully to observe all the commandments which had been enjoined upon them so as to go on and prosper, they are called to remember the experiences of the forty years in the wilderness, when God guided them and disciplined them for their good. He humbled them that he might test the state of their heart and affections towards him, using the distress and privations to which they were subjected as means of bringing out what was in them, and of leading them to feel their entire dependence on him for help, sustenance, and guidance. Not only by commands difficult to be obeyed laid on men, and by mighty works done in their view, does God prove men (cf. Genesis 22:1 , etc.; Exodus 15:25 ; Exodus 20:20 ); but also by afflictions and calamities ( 2:22 ; 3:4 ; Psalms 17:3 ; Psalms 81:7 , etc.), as well as by benefits ( Exodus 16:4 ). Humbled so as to see his own weakness, chastised out of all self-conceit by affliction, man is brought to submit to God, to hear and obey him; and along with this the experience of God's goodness tends to draw men, in grateful acknowledgment of his mercy and bounty, to yield themselves to him and sincerely and lovingly to serve him (cf. Romans 2:4 ).
God humbled the Israelites by leaving them to suffer hunger from the want of food, and then supplying them with food in a miraculous manner. They were thus taught that their life depended wholly on God, who could, by his own creative power, without any of the ordinary means, provide for the sustaining of their life. And fed thee with manna (cf. Exodus 16:15 ). It is in vain to seek to identify this with any natural product. It was something entirely new to the Israelites—a thing which neither they nor their fathers knew; truly bread from heaven, and which got from them the name of manna or man , because, in their wondering ignorance, they knew not what to call it, and so they said one to another, Man hoo? ( מָן הוּא ), What is it? and thenceforward called it man . That he might make thee know , etc. "Bread," which the Jews regarded as "the staff of life," stands here, as in other places, for food generally; and the lesson taught the Israelites was that not in one way or by. one kind of means alone could life be sustained, but in the absence of these God could, by his own fiat, provide for the sustenance of his children. Every word —literally, all , everything whatever— that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord , i.e. all means which God has by his word provided, or by his word can provide, for the sustenance of life. So our Lord cites this passage in replying to the tempter, who had suggested that if he was the Son of God he might relieve himself from the pangs of hunger by commanding the stones which lay around to become bread. Our Lord's reply to this is virtually." I have this power, and could use it, but I will not; for this would imply impatience and distrust of God, who has engaged to sustain the life of his servants, and who can, by the mere word of his mouth, by his creative will, provide in an extraordinary way for the sustenance of life when the ordinary means of life are wanting." "Jesus means to say, ' I leave it with God to care for the sustaining of my life, and I will not arbitrarily and for selfish ends help myself by a miracle'" (De Wette, note on Matthew 4:4 ; see also Meyer on the place).