If you’re following the 1979 Book of Common Prayer Lectionary for Lent [see the table here, or use the ESV BCP reading plan here] in recent days, the OT Lessons have been from Deuteronomy 7 – 9.
Last night I found myself struck by Dt. 8:16 about how the Lord humbled and tested the Israelites by feeding them manna.
He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. (NIV)
It wasn’t merely the 40 years wandering in the Wilderness that was God’s way to humble and to test their hearts, but also His provision of manna.
At first that seemed surprising to me when I consciously considered what is written. How could God’s miraculous provision of food for 40 years in the desert be a test or a form of humbling? I think the answer comes in the context of the passages. First, the Israelites are warned not to forget God when they have eaten the fruit of the land and are “satisfied.” And they are strongly warned against becoming proud in their ability to provide for themselves (vs. 17-18):
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
And it is these verses that I think provide the key to how God’s provision of manna is humbling. It’s because there was absolutely NOTHING the Israelites could do to earn it, work for it, control it – NOTHING they could take pride in. Manna is an example of sheer free GRACE. A gift. Utterly unearned. It is humbling to have to need God so much, not to be able to provide for daily needs in our own strength.
As one who to often falls into the trap of trusting in my own performance and thinking that it somehow “adds” to God’s favor towards me, I needed this reminder this Lent. Today I am praying:
Lord, starve my pride this Lent that I may feast on the riches of Your grace and learn to depend utterly on You as the Israelites depended on You for manna. May my heart be satisfied in what You provide, not in the pride I take in my own efforts and accomplishments. May I rejoice in needing You each day.
The Rev. James A. Gibson in South Carolina who posts daily devotionals on the lectionary at Vicar’s Versicles today focuses on the follow up verses in Deut. 9, and his words continued to challenge me and give me much to reflect on. His entry is titled Grace in the Old Testament.
I recommend the whole entry, but here’s an excerpt:
… after forty years of wandering in the wilderness because of disobedience, the Israelites are reminded that they are completely undeserving of the gift God is giving them. It is not because of their righteousness that they are entering the land. Rather, it is because of wickedness that all the other nations are being judged. Israel will be the beneficiary of God’s judgment on the other nations purely because of God’s gracious choice. There could be no more unlikely people for God to have chosen and Moses reminds the Israelites of this fact in no uncertain terms.
“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people,” Moses says. “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness.”
The Israelites are constantly reminded of how stubborn and stiff-necked they are. Time and time again, they forgot about how God had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt. They forgot about all the signs and wonders, the parting of the Red Sea, the water from the rock, the manna from heaven. However, the more they rebelled, it seems, the more gracious God was in providing for them, even though he was so often provoked to anger.
Read the whole entry here.