The first six verses of this chapter discussed trials and discipline. In those verses Moses explained the purposes of the rough times the people experienced over the last forty years. What at first appeared to be harsh treatment at the hands of God was actually a measure of His grace and love. God used the hunger of the wilderness to teach the people to depend on Him, and this humble dependence meant their weakness turned to strength. The lesson of trials is that we are strongest when we have no choice but to rely on God’s strength.
In the remaining verses of the chapter Moses addresses the prosperity that awaits the people in Canaan. Prosperity is dangerous for the child of God because of the complacency and pride that sometimes accompany it. It is because of this that all the warnings of this chapter are targeted at the good times instead of the bad. God knows that we oftentimes have the hardest time serving Him when we feel we need Him the least. God uses both trials and blessing in the life of the believer to bring us to Him. But too much of either can be counterproductive and sins that grow best in the sun make us better understand the need for rain.
These verses provide a stark contrast with verses 1-6 (and later, 15-16). Instead of talking about the hunger and thirst of the wilderness, Moses outlines for them the prosperous times that await them in Canaan. They will live in a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity. Along with food they will have an abundance of natural resources – a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. They will also – unlike in the wilderness – have plenty of water. As a matter of fact they shall not lack anything. They are truly entering a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
The same God who let them be hungry (vs. 3) in the wilderness is about to give them a land of abundance. God made them understand that they do not live by bread alone but He is about to overwhelm them with more bread than they can eat. They know hard times and hunger but they will soon forget both once they live in a land teeming with God’s blessing.
In verse 10 Moses tells the people how to respond to the coming prosperity. Just as obedience is the correct response to trials (vs. 6), thankfulness (along with obedience – vs. 11) is the correct response to prosperity. After the people enter the land and have been satisfied with its abundance, they are to bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.
Thankfulness is the natural response of the heart that understands the source of the blessings it enjoys. Telling the people to thank God for their abundance presupposes that they understand that without Him it would not exist. To thank Him they must remember Him and His provision. The one who is not thankful shows he does not acknowledge God’s role in prosperity.
If the abundance of the Promised Land makes the people forget the hunger of the wilderness they will also likely forget who provided for them in its midst. Moses warns the people not to forget God once they are satisfied in Canaan. The blessings of the land could make them forget their need of Him and no longer keep His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes.
Note that obedience is the correct response to prosperity just as it was to trials (meaning there are two responses to good times – thankfulness and obedience). Obedience is the correct response to any circumstance. It shows an understanding of God’s role in every area of life. Obedience is the loving and thankful response to everything God provides – which is everything. Disobedience is the proud response of one who does not remember the source of his provision or the dependence it demonstrates.
Verse 14 (and 17) shows what happens to the ungrateful man. His pride takes away his thankfulness. Why thank God for something he produced himself? His herds and flocks multiply, his silver and gold multiply, everything he has multiplies and he attributes it all to his own hard work and ability. Thus his pride grows as his abundance grows. He is the source of his own prosperity and his memory of God’s role in giving him the land or redeeming him from Egypt grows dimmer each day.
So it is vital for the people to remember the lessons of the wilderness. It is the forgetful man who does not obey. The one who obeys remembers God’s provision in the wilderness and that he still depends on God in the Promised Land. Forgetfulness, on the other hand, turns into pride which produces ungratefulness which shows itself in disobedience. A good memory leads to humility, which produces thankfulness, which shows itself in obedience.
This illustrates the same point from the study of verses 1-6. Just like with trials, prosperity that God sends to bring us to Him is only effective if we respond correctly. If we respond to God’s blessing with pride, then what is supposed to draw us closer to Him actually pushes us away. In that case God may need to send a trial to change our perspective. With trials, God sometimes keeps us under them until we finally respond to Him correctly. If we do not respond well to prosperity, He typically interrupts it with a trial to humble us and make us appreciate His provision.
Verse 15 shows what they should remember in addition to their redemption from Egypt. God not only brought them out of slavery, He brought them through the great and terrible wilderness. Moses makes sure to vividly illustrate how much the wilderness contrasts with the Promised Land. Instead of brooks and streams and abundant food it had fiery serpents (likely a reference to the plague of serpents God sent to punish them in Numbers 21) and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water. The people must not forget how they survived so dismal a place.
It was easy when going through a place like that to realize their dependence on God. In a land of no water He brought forth a river from the rock of flint. He provided manna when there was no food available. They had no choice but to depend on Him and He came through for them daily in miraculous ways.
However, His provision will actually be no different in the Promised Land. He may not need to provide manna and water from a rock, but He will provide their abundance just the same. It is He who is giving you power to make wealth (18). Manna and water in the wilderness existed solely because of God’s provision. Wealth and abundance in Canaan will exist solely because of God’s provision too. In the end there is no difference other than in the method of delivery.
This is where the humility the people learned over the last four decades will pay off. The hunger of the wilderness will teach them how to live with the abundance of Canaan. This goes back to having a good memory but it also points out the purpose of trials – they teach us how to live with blessing. If the people did not learn dependence in the desert, they would never understand it amidst the bountiful conditions of the Promised Land. But the privation of Sinai will inform their outlook on the blessings of Canaan and lead them to live humbly in both. Trials make us better appreciate blessing but also teach us not to become complacent in the midst of it. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons of trials is that we must live desperately in whatever conditions we find ourselves.
Moses’ warnings in verses 17 and 18 are hugely applicable to the American Christian. We live in our own Canaan and it is tempting to ascribe the comfort and affluence we enjoy to our own efforts (“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves. So thanks for nothing.” – Bart Simpson). The freedom and capitalism that enable material success can also lead to a pride of accomplishment that does not acknowledge God. This is why the reminder of 18 is so important. Regardless of what we posses or attain, it is God who gives us the power to make wealth. We may accomplish much with our talents and abilities, but it is God who gives us those abilities and who provides the opportunities to utilize them. The proud – and ignorant – man says in his heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.”
Do not miss what Moses says at the end of verse 16. He says God provided manna to humble them and test them (to make them realize their ongoing dependence on Him) so He could do good for you in the end. This is incredibly powerful. This phrase is really the Old Testament version of Romans 8:28. All things that God sends into the lives of His people are ultimately for their good or so He can do good for them in the end. For the Israelites, this means the hard times of the wilderness will be rewarded with the affluence of the Promised Land. For the believer, the payoff is a deeper relationship with his Creator (becoming more conformed to the image of the Son – Romans 8:29) and the final reward of eternity.
It is typically dangerous to take verses out of context, but verses 15 and 16 seem to be universally applicable. ANY trial exists so that God can do good for us in the end. God knows that it is best for us to be closer to Him and that we are satisfied only in Him, so He brings things that turn us to Him and deepen our understanding of our dependence on Him. And in the ultimate end He provides an eternity of being in His presence. EVERYTHING – bad times, good times, discouraging times, frustrating times, times when we cannot see anything ahead or understand why in the world we are where we are – are so that God can do good for us in the end. We must remember there is an end and purpose to every trial and that that end will be for our good.
Everything will be alright in the end; if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end – Fernando Sabino.
Moses began this chapter by rehearsing for the people the positive promise of the covenant – obey and live (1). In the last two verses he reminds them of the negative side – disobey and perish. God will give them longevity and prosperity in the land as long as they worship Him alone and abide by His commandments. If they break the first two commandments, however, they will be removed in the same way as the Canaanites.
Lessons of Chapter 8
Trials are a measure of God’s grace because their intent is to bring us to Him.
We are strongest when in our weakness we are forced to depend on His strength.
God loves us to depend on Him and will send circumstances to ensure that we do.
Trials teach us how to live under any conditions.
Prosperity is a measure of God’s grace because its intent is to bring us to Him.
The success of trials or prosperity in meeting their intentions depends on our response.
The correct response to any condition is obedience.
God is our provider in good times and bad, but we oftentimes see it more clearly in bad.
Every circumstance has the promise with it that God intends to do good for us in the end.