For the week of August 7, 2004 / 20 Av 5764
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3
First published the week of August 11, 2001 / 22 Av 5761


He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:3).

Have you ever been hungry? I know you have. But have you been really hungry? You probably think you have. In this part of Devarim (Deuteronomy) Moses reminds the people about the time not too long after leaving Egypt when they were really hungry (Shemot / Exodus 16). We don't know how long they went without food, but they were really hungry. It was at that time that God began to provide the miraculous manna. In Moses' recounting of this incident, he explains that God was teaching the people an important lesson through this difficult circumstance.

It is not so much the lesson that I want to focus on, but how God prepared the people to learn the lesson. The Torah says that God caused them to hunger. It is not that he allowed it or simply noticed their predicament and thought it would be a good time for a lesson. God was actively involved in this whole thing. He created the problem and provided the solution.

For them to learn the lesson, God purposely put them in a difficult place he made them very hungry. God kept back basic provisions and allowed them to hurt inside. Picture a community of two million people in the middle of nowhere having no food to eat. Picture them having to listen to their children's cries for food and being helpless to do anything about it. It was a terrible situation!

You may think then that God is cruel. Certainly this is harsh, but not cruel. It might be cruel if God had no purpose in it. We might think this is cruel if we fail to understand how crucial it was for the people to learn this lesson.

God was seeking to radically change their understanding of how life really worked. They needed to get in touch with a most basic human need (food in this case), before they could learn that their lives didn't really depend on it as they thought.

As the people of God, they needed to be equipped to live as the people of God. Our natural human disposition to be motivated by physical needs had to be radically transformed. The separation from God the human family experienced after the Garden of Eden resulted in our thinking that we are truly alone in the universe. We tend to believe that unless we take care of ourselves, we will not survive.

This had to be radically eradicated from the people of Israel if they were to live as God's people. They had to learn that their lives were not dependant on human ability, but on God and his word.

This lesson required a harsh confrontation with our natural inclinations. It could not be learned any other way.

This doesn't mean that every difficult situation we face is due to a purposeful act of God, but it often is. That is why the Brit Hadasha (New Covenant) teaches:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4).

James understood that it is through difficult circumstances that we grow in God.

Are you hungry?

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