Deuteronomy 8:2-3 “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.”
One of the greatest human virtues is humility. God loves humility and He hates pride, as we are told in these words: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).” However, pride is one of the most obvious signs of the sin that dwells in the human heart. And it comes in so many forms. People can be proud of their race, their physical strength, their intellect, their talents, their family, and their wealth. We can be proud of how much better we are than the next guy, puffing ourselves up because our sins aren’t as bad as their sins, at least in our own eyes. Pride is so deeply engrained in the human heart, but for God and His work in our lives, we would be hopeless.
But how exactly does God take on this monumental problem? How does He work in our lives to overcome it? Well, we get a lesson on this from the verses above regarding the way God dealt time after time with Israel in their travels through the wilderness. These verses tell us that God led them in such a way as to humble them by testing. And what were those tests? Primarily it was by providentially bringing them into situations of physical need. It was in those times, times when they were “squeezed,” that what was really in their hearts was exposed for everyone to see.
One of the first tests as the Israelites left Egypt was the crisis of the Red Sea. Here, as Pharaoh’s army advanced on the defenseless (or so they thought) Israelites, these people, whom God had just miraculously freed from slavery, quaked in fear. They spoke out against Moses in anger wishing that they had never been delivered from slavery at all. But then God acted with the miracle of dividing the waters of the sea and they walked through on dry ground – but the Egyptians, as they foolishly pursued, were drowned. Very soon after this Israel wandered for three days and could find no water. Here they grumbled again against Moses, and again displayed their lack of faith. Soon after, God in His grace supplied them with an oasis filled with springs – something that He knew was there all along for them, but which He only revealed to them after they had failed the test. Then was the test of manna. Here again they grumbled for lack of food, and here again God provided, opening the skies to give them bread from heaven. Soon after this, they were again tested with thirst, and again they complained rather than trust the God Who had always provided for them. It was only then that God, in His grace, gave them water from a rock. And so it continued day after day for 40 years in the wilderness. Day after day God tested them, but more often than not, they proudly rebelled and complained, although God, in His grace, provided.
So, what does this say to you and me in this day and age? Is God doing similar things to expose what’s deep down in our own hearts, to humble and to test us to expose the strength of our faith? Of course, the answer is yes, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The word translated “temptation” in this verse can also be translated “test,” for indeed, they mean the same thing.
Any temptation to doubt that God will provide is a testing of our faith. Any situation where we face a need, any time when our back is against the wall, is a test of our faith as we are tempted to doubt and fear rather than trust and obey. Just like God always came through for Israel, in His time, that is, He will always come through for us, for He is always faithful to His promises. As we are told by Joshua, who not only wandered with Israel for those 40 years in the wilderness, but also led Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). And not one word will fail in our case, though our faith might be severely tested along the way.
May God help us to trust Him when we face trials and may we take encouragement in these words from James, the brother of our Lord: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).” May we know that the things we may lack, like faith and like humility, often only come to us in this way.