In this life temptation will come. It is inevitable. It is the very nature of the world. But not every season in life and not every temptation is the same. There are unique temptations that come in the difficult and desert seasons in life. We struggle with things we are not able to overcome and over issues we feel are noble but don’t seem to bring anything but pain. We feel as if God has abandoned us or may even actively be against us. These are real seasons in life with God, and can be some of the most difficult, but God has some things to say about the temptations of the desert.
Though the language is stark, it is nonetheless true – God led his people in the wilderness and even tested his people through the trials they faced there. Moses says, “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” (vs. 2). In the desert God’s people faced some very real and difficult things, beginning with hunger and thirst. Adding to the natural difficulties is the fact that God did the leading into the desert with a few things in mind for them including humility, obedience and testing.
The inclusion of humility here is powerfully instructive. They were the children of generations of slaves and had spent their entire lives wandering in a barren wilderness. Do they really need humility? Hasn’t life been difficult enough on them? It turns out, however, that God’s most-used descriptor for them is not “humble,” but some form of “stubborn” or “stiff-necked.” Neither the ignominy of slavery nor the difficulty of the desert made them humble. Humility is not a function of our physical or material position in life, but of the position of our heart with God. The most destitute can be proud; the wealthiest among us can be humble.
In addition to humility, they needed to learn where their source of all sustenance came from. Moses says that God did these things, “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” (vs. 3). They wandered in a desert where there was no bread, so God provided bread from heaven. They had no meat, so God sent quail. There were no water supplies easily at hand, so God cracked open a rock and water flowed. There were no major cities along the way where they could buy new clothes for the ones that were wearing out in the wilderness wanderings, so God kept their shoes and clothes from growing thread-bare. These needs were met, not by what we might recognize as normal or natural means, but by the voice of God commanding that their needs be met.
Possibly the deepest fear we face when we wander through a desert is that we simply will not be taken care of, that our needs won’t be met. We are accustomed to working to pay the bills and applying our own skills and talents to our lives so things go as smoothly as they can. But when we are met with the barrenness of a land with no food or water, our abilities run out quickly. And often this is the only place where we learn – really learn – that the voice of God is our only source of provision.
And then we know that the abundant provision of the Promised Land is the voice of God working to provide for his people. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land” (vs. 7).
To drive the point home, when he was hungry after forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus Christ rebuked Satan’s temptation to turn stones into bread by quoting from Deuteronomy 8. Jesus refused the bread of temptation in favor of the food that can only come from the voice of God himself.