“Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.” – Deuteronomy 8:3
Joshua and his hosts are standing on the banks of the Jordan about to cross over into the Promised Land. It is expedient that they be counseled in regard to the promises of the Lord. The forty years’ struggle in the wilderness is ended. They are about to cross the Jordan and find their permanent homes. But their possession of the land is conditioned. They must worship the Lord and keep the commandments. So the lesson of the wilderness is enforced by rehearsal.
Forty years have they dwelt among those arid hills, a scanty vegetation beneath their feet, a cloudless sky and burning sun above. How in this wilderness could such a multitude exist? Only by miraculous power from on high. Only by the wise providence of their God, Jehovah. Only by the manna which descended from the heavens. Throughout their forty years in the wilderness they were miraculously fed by the hand of God. What a lesson this should have been them! Sustained not once nor only occasionally, not for a month or a year, not one man or family, but a whole nation sustained by a supernatural power for forty years!
Why was this? How important must have been that lesson to extend through forty years! What stubborn children, do we say? How slow to learn? We are told very clearly what the lesson is. Hear it in the language of scripture:
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
“And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”
In these words we are told that the sum and substance of the years in the wilderness, fed by manna from God, was “that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”
When the earth brings forth abundantly and there is plenty, it is hard to realize God’s part in giving us life. It seems as though the earth supported man, and that life comes through the bread of nature. So the Lord took Israel into the wilderness where the earth was dry and sterile, where there was no bread, and showed them that it is He that gives life. And He gave life by means of the manna, that came so gently to the ground out of the morning dew. And this was a sign of how He gives life to the spirit, of how life inflows from His spirit into the souls of men when they keep His Word; for He says, “Man shall not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”
This statement, given to the Israelites as they stood for the first time on the banks of the Jordan ready to cross over to their inheritance the Lord used when He had been forty days and forty nights tempted in the wilderness. He hungers, and Satan tempting Him says, “Command this stone that it be made bread.” And Jesus replies, “It is written.” He knew the Scripture story. Indeed He was working out in His own experience the Word of God that came to Joshua, telling him how he could subdue the land and dwell in peace. “It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” Jesus said in temptation.
How clear it is then that the wilderness represents temptation. The Lord in temptation used these words of Moses. The Lord, like Joshua, was about to enter the Holy Land of His glorified Human. Joshua was a type of the Lord, and Jesus was fulfilling the Word in His own life. The manna, this bread from heaven in the wilderness, pictures to us how when worldly things fail, when the earth of worldly living will no more yield increase, the Word of the Lord can and will give life. Bread alone! Do we not know, have we not experienced this great truth of the wilderness, that we cannot sustain life by bread only? External ministry to bodily appetites or to mental desires, no matter how complete and elaborate that ministry, cannot alone give life. Temptations come irrespective of the abundance of bread alone. And indeed is it not true that an abundance of natural things brings most subtle and destructive temptations? Many can stand adversity, few can stand riches. It is the testimony of fact that the temptations of abundance of bread alone are often so subtle and strong that they make the price of riches even physical degeneration and in three or four generations the extinction of the family line.
And why these temptations? In this wilderness story we are shown, and through Joshua at the Jordan we are told the answer: “that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”
And here is given at the same time another explanation of the meaning of our adversities: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.” “To humble thee”; to show us that in our own strength we can accomplish nothing in securing the soul’s life. “To prove thee”; that in our own strength we might try and so ascertain that we are nothing in ourselves. “To know what was in thine heart”; and such is the purpose of our adversity and temptation, that we can see that of ourselves we have no power to keep the commandments. The purpose of our whole pilgrimage here is that we may learn about ourselves, realize our limitations, and turn to Him who is the true bread of life. The Israelites were in the wilderness and were tempted because the way of life eternal lies through such experiences. And Jesus also was tempted in the wilderness. Jesus glorified the human that He assumed. He made the blood Divine truth. He made the flesh Divine good. He made His body to be life in itself, so He said, “I am the bread of life.” “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood” – except ye partake of the Divine good and drink of the Divine truth – “ye have no life in you.” “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” This is the goal to which the world, under the divine providence, is moving. Life is not found in the competitive struggles of competition, but in justice and righteousness, in the way of Jesus Christ exemplified by His life. In Him is life, and His life is the light of the world.
Is this something to be realized in the distant future? Is it too remote to be practical? Is it too hopeless to excite interest or to kindle faith? If one so thinks, he is on the losing side. It is the Divine will that the kingdom of God be established on earth. All progress is toward it. Be it fast or slow, we are moving on toward its accomplishment, because in Christ is the only solution of the world’s problems. The world draws all its power and life from Him. In Him the power to accomplish is present, and this accomplishment will come as we provide the intelligence and open the way by keeping His commandments.
How do we know that the kingdom of Jesus Christ is working its way up through selfishness, ignorance, and worldliness? Because we see it in human progress. Because our experiences are showing us that man cannot find the life that satisfies by living for the things of this world alone, for that life is primarily in every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
We cannot find life in external things alone. We cannot find life in society alone, or in amusements alone, or in sightseeing alone, or in worldly success alone. These are the stones that Satan, tempting the Lord, desired should be made bread. And that temptation is often present with us, the temptation to reject the spiritual and to try to turn worldly interests into living bread.
Israel’s long experience was necessary in order that they might find out what was in their hearts and finally be convinced that man does not live by external things alone, but from the spirit of the Lord in external things.
Why can we not learn the lesson at once and shorten the struggle? We should be able to see that the Lord leads us through our experiences to convince us that true life is found only as we make the Lord our example. It is not the natural but the supernatural that must stand first. And in so doing we find life.
As we make the Lord’s life, as revealed in the Word, our ideal, His kingdom, which may seem so remote and impossible, will draw nearer, and become possible.
His way and life can soon become to us the only thing of vital interest. When we come to realize that we do not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord, we have found life.