“And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3, NASB.
How could it be that a God of grace, a God who loves us with kind intent, humbles us, and lets us be hungry? The notion behind grace is that God has loved us with an everlasting love; yet here we have a seemingly sadistic streak in God, willingly leading us into physical and emotional distress. How does that jive with grace? This is not just a disciplinary measure, but something enacted on a whole nation of the chosen, many of which were faithful.
When my son asks for, in fact demands, official Nike socks, when I resist and deny him, it isn’t from cruelty. I don’t think that he is in sin because he wants a certain kind of socks, so this isn’t an issue of discipline or correction. Note also that I do not deny his request from lack of funds; I have the money for it. I want him to have the things he wants, and I weigh out his requests and desires carefully. The truth is, I want him to reexamine what he wants, to deepen and broaden the way he looks at the world, to change his values. As he goes forward, it will be a much greater gift to him to learn to be satisfied with otherwise identical but non-branded socks, because his money will go much further. No one looks at or cares about the brand of your socks, and if they do, they need to change the way they look at people and the world. In other words, there is a much greater gift being offered than socks, and the socks are being denied towards a much greater end. I am trying to give him a taste for wisdom.
We see this directly in this verse. God doesn’t deny them and let them be hungry out of punishment or discipline or cruelty. This lack of provision is intentional, from the very hand of God, towards a good end. He intends that they UNDERSTAND that motive and principle and the underlying thoughts of a man must be fed by the words of God, and this is a much greater need, a much greater hunger, than food. Notice that he does not say, you don’t need food, you only need wisdom. He provides both; He provides physical sustenance in a manner which also leads to wisdom.
Note as well that their lack of provision was not from some lack of diligence or work on their part. This is clear. “HE humbled you and [HE] let you be hungry.” Their very lack was in fact an act of grace. They were humbled, they were hungry, by DESIGN. In a strange way, their lack of provision was God’s provision for them. They themselves valued bread above wisdom, but He saw through it and pressed them into the greater gift.
Notice that they did not ever lack provision. They just didn’t get the kind of provision they were expecting, from the sources they were used to. However, they also gained something far greater. Grace presses us into blessings which we can’t envision and perhaps don’t even think we want through circumstances which often at the time do not seem desirable. Faith says,
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28, NASB.
Now, what of children in Africa who die from hunger? This is not discipline, this evil, and the pure love of God must burn with great wrath against the people who are responsible for such things. We must not press this message into places where even God would not take it. When the circumstances of life and the convergence of the evil interests of men lead to injustice and the harm of someone who is largely innocent, I believe the God who loves us seethes with anger the same as a parent who is grieved for their child who is killed by a drunk driver. There is a walk of faith where provision is hard to see forthcoming, and yet provision comes, and teaches us, and then there is harsh evil. There is a line there, we must embrace the discipline, but fight evil. There is no reason to be crazy.
For those walking in faith, sometimes those things that are working together for good do not seem gracious, but we can expect in the end to live in the good land with a joyful heart full of truth and wisdom. The grace of God not only endures through difficulties, sometimes the grace of God engineers them, to press us into greater blessings that we could not otherwise enter.