And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.
It’s not always this way but, sometimes, after coming through a desert experience, God gives us a clear view of why He ordained it, how He changed us, and how He carried us through it. Moses received such a debriefing just as his literal 40-year desert experience was ending. What a bewildering period. But God explains why the test was necessary. We can draw great encouragement as we walk through our own tests, ordained by this same God, for our sure benefit. He knows exactly what He is doing.
God’s purposes in testing are to humble us (v2), reveal what is in our hearts (v2), and establish a new appetite for living (v3).
The Lord often begins by humbling us. We shouldn’t have to keep relearning this principle, but it’s one of the surest constants of walking with God. His hand forged the harsh vastness of space and also formed the wings of gnats. So, for our advantage, He knows just where to place His finger on our lives to bring us low. The wise, timely, and faithful wounds from God are like none other. His thoroughness shows He will stop at nothing and knows us intimately. When God does the humbling, we are left with a quiet contentment of who we actually are in relation to Him. The striving stops. We can enjoy living under God’s lead instead of charting our own path.
God’s desert hardships revealed what was in the Israelites’ hearts: distrust, suspicion, fear, insecurity, and hatred. Once He bubbled the filth to the surface, He purified them. The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts (Proverbs 17:3). God, Himself, bent low and bore with these people to transform their hearts. For their sake, He tested them with days without water, days without food, threats from enemies, discomfort in the wilderness, and obscurity—all for a prolonged timeframe—so that they would know (in their hearts) that He was their God.
If you’ve ever embarked on a high-protein/low carbohydrate diet, you know that the early days are rough while craving sugar and carbs. But, in time, an internal switch is thrown. Junk food and empty calories lose their appeal. You’ve acquired a new appetite.
God wanted to create a new appetite in the Israelites. Instead of them feeding their souls on bread alone (food, riches, comfort), God wanted them satisfied by Him alone. His test would purposely cause them to be hungry and confused (“manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know” v3). They weren’t necessarily just spoiled; the test was hard.
God wants to create a new appetite in us, too. Instead of feeding our souls on the things of this world (riches, comfort, power, position, reputation, false security), God wants us to be satisfied by Him alone. To live by the Word of God, instead of the bread of this world, takes real maturity. It is seldom acquired by sheer willpower. God often uses bewildering circumstances where we have no choice but to depend on Him. Under the new diet, we discover deep satisfaction from feeding on Him alone.
Accepting the test is easier when we see God’s magnificent support undergirding it all. He reminded the Israelites that while they endured, He provided supernatural protection (“Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years” v4). God closes this debriefing with Moses by asking him (us) to dig deep and remember this testing is normal for those He loves. Verse 5 makes it all bearable, doesn’t it? We are His children. Discipline is what a watchful, loving father does. He has great purpose in it.
Article 12 of The Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us just how breathtaking it is to be a child of God:
“All those justified…enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God…
• have His name put upon them
• receive the spirit of adoption
• have access to the throne of grace with boldness
• are enabled to cry, “Abba, Father”
• are pitied
• are protected
• are provided for
• chastened by Him as by a father
• yet never cast off
• but sealed to the day of redemption
• inherit the promises
• heirs of everlasting salvation”
These astounding gifts assure us that God’s wise testing will bring us new life—never destruction—under His care. Let’s be encouraged!