In Deuteronomy 8 Moses warned Israel against self-confidence. He reminded them of God’s manna for forty-years. The key benefit of manna was that it kept them alive. The drawback was that it was dull and predictable. So the ancient Israelites asked, why such a dull diet?
God answered through Moses. It was “that he might humble you.” But weren’t they already humbled by their desperate state as escaping slaves trying to live in the vast and inhospitable Sinai wilderness?
The answer seems to be, no.
As we track Israel’s exodus from Egypt we meet up with a litany of complaints. They complained about the food, about the scarcity of water, and about their security. On the latter score—their insecurity in the face of reported Canaanite giants—they grieved God. How? By refusing to trust his ability and ambition to protect them in the process. And their refusal ensured a manna-only diet for another forty years. God wouldn’t entrust the Promised Land to those who didn’t trust his promises.
After their forty year wilderness hike Moses reapplied God’s promise: days would soon come when they would be free to live in a “good land, a land of brooks of water … of wheat and barley … of olive trees and honey….” Over the years things had been hard. The manna-only menu had been distressing, and God knew it.
God, of course, understood tasty diets. He created wheat bread and honey. He also created pomegranates, fig trees, and grape vines. But he wasn’t ready to give these gifts to people who disobeyed him and complained about his care. “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”
God originally scheduled the manna for a few weeks, as Israel’s emergency rations for the time it took to get from Egypt to Canaan. So it was Israel’s unbelief—stirred by ten of their frightened spies—that extended the manna-eating experience by forty years.
The problem? Israel hadn’t connected the dots. God’s ability to meet needs is … well, it’s more than adequate! But they dismissed God’s ability and reliability when the cupboard seemed bare. Even though he had rescued them from slavery and plagues, protected them from Egypt’s army, from hostile Amalekites, and fed them in the desert. So they should have known that nothing is too hard for God.
So God looked for faith to follow. But it didn’t arrive.
What Israel missed is that God’s compassionate love is the opposite of pride—God lowers himself to care for his people. Yet the proud person—or nation—that tries to harness God will never be satisfied with him. And Israel’s complaints displayed this sort of pride.
Let’s chase the basis for complaints. Human misconduct is one thing. We only need to think back to Exodus 2 and the oppression Israel experienced in Egypt. They “groaned” and “cried out for help.” God responded. He “saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
Of course he knew. He’s God and they were his beloved people. And he hadn’t forgotten about their needs as they were transiting the desert without ready supplies of food or water. What had changed were their caregivers. In Egypt their immediate overseers were self-concerned polytheistic rulers. In the desert God was taking direct responsibility. And that made a difference. God assures us of good outcomes, but not always in the ways we might expect.
So how do people move from fear to faith? From groaning about the Egyptian taskmasters, to trusting their loving Creator? We don’t have a magic answer. The Bible does, however, treat it as a matter of the heart. If we return to Deuteronomy 8 we find heart warnings: be careful lest “your heart be lifted, and you forget LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt …” And, again, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’”
One way to answer the heart question is to ask how well we do today. When our own circumstances seem appalling do we trust God, assured that he has adequate knowledge, power, and love? Or do we groan and complain as if God can’t be trusted?
The dots that needed to be connected during the Exodus era still need to connect in our present exile from our eternal home. If we recognize that God loves us, and cares for us even in our often-harsh transit through this broken world we display faith. We still appreciate our rescue rations and any water we have. We remain humble, not proud.
Let’s conclude, then, with a dot-connecting option: always thank God in every circumstance. Hold on, with heartfelt assurance, to the certainty that “God knows.” And that simple humility may save us from our own forty years of a manna diet.