Difficult times are painful. We typically endure hardships rather than choose them, and the last few years have provided an abundance of challenges for everyone. Fortunately, we can learn to see our trouble in a way that helps us grow rather than to despair. A lesson from Ancient Israel may help gain that perspective:
After coming out of slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel wandered in the desert forty years, facing a variety of trials. As that period drew to a close, Moses spoke to them about those years and the purpose of them.
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors 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. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deuteronomy 8:2-5
There are at least three important insights from Moses’ words here.
- “Wilderness” tests reveal what is hidden in the heart. Moses tells the Israelites that “God led you all the way in the wilderness for forty years, in order to humble and test you, in order to know what was in your heart.” Why would that be necessary? Because we are not naturally humble. All sin has an element of pride, because the beginning of sin is believing we know better than God. As a result, we are often unaware of the issues within our own hearts. Pride carries its own cloaking device. The blessing of trials is they can break our pride so that we are willing and able to listen to and hear what is going on in our hearts. The revealing is important, but what is revealed is the most important. The test is to see “whether or not you would keep His commands.” Trials can expose whether we obey God when it is hard. This really is the test of obedience. My cat is a great example. I can tell my cat to lay there, and she appears wonderfully obedient. But it is really just a coincidence—I am telling her to do what she already wants to do. We will truly find out if my cat is obedient if she jumps into the car when I tell her we need to go to the vet. We find out if we are obedient when our will diverges from the will of the one who commands us.
- Hunger and need are good teachers. Moses continues, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, … to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The trial which God designed for the Israelites purposely brought them into a situation where they were deprived of a basic need – food. In the process, they learned there was something more important than food, namely, words from God.
This lesson is significant because no one doubts the importance of food. However, many people doubt the importance of God’s words. God put the Israelites in a situation where the people must depend on His word to provide food. This test teaches the people to value God and His Word even above His blessings.
- Discipline is constructive. Moses concludes this look back on their trials, “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” A father disciplines to build up his children not to tear them down. The whole reason for this “wilderness test” was to build wisdom and strength into the Israelites that could not be obtained any other way.
It is very easy to lose heart in the middle of a trial. Whether it is a sickness, a job loss or underemployment, or family strife that makes everything else fade grey, it is important to fix our eyes on God. He permits these trials, not for our destruction, but to build us up. These seasons are often the times of our greatest growth. We learn about ourselves and we learn about what really matters – God Himself.
If you are well today, praise God for this good season. If you are weary and burdened, remember the Israelites and the God who loved them; the same God who loves you.