2 July 2013

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (v. 3)


Actions have consequences. If the people of Israel observe God's commandments, then they will prosper in the promised land. This prosperity is not conditional on their obedience - God will not make them suffer if they disobey. It is simply a consequence of their obedience. If they do God's will, then they will live at one with the whole of God's creation and so, in God's promised land, they will flourish. But if they disregard God's commandments, then they will be 'out of synch' with the order of life, and so will fail to flourish. Those who know and love God will long to do God's will as a way of pleasing God.

The purpose of their wanderings in the desert, according to today's passage, was to teach the people their utter dependence on God. The gift of manna (Exodus 16) showed God's love in providing for the people in new and unexpected ways, alongside the miraculous preservation of their clothes and their health over all these years. The people became humble when they realised that they did depend wholly and solely on God.

As the Israelites prepare to enter the promised land, the word 'remember' hangs over them. The land is rich and fertile, described in sumptuous, luxurious detail (verses 7-10) - but they must not become so obsessed by the riches of the land that they forget their dependence on God. Instead, let them remember the days of the desert, when they knew how far they depended on God, and so survived in an alien and hostile environment. For the readers of Deuteronomy, the challenge to 'remember' resonates all the more powerfully, given that they had probably been settled in the promised land for centuries.

So, says the writer, don't be misled into thinking that "bread alone" is enough, even in prosperity, even in the riches of the promised land. The words of God's mouth are the true source of life, and in following them, we find God's blessing. And if we don't follow them, then even bread, the most basic food of all, becomes inadequate and insufficient for our needs (Matthew 4:3-4).

To Ponder

  • In what ways could you depend more completely on God?
  • This text suggests that we live better if we align ourselves to God's will. What does this insight offer to the debate about how to respond to climate change?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.