Deuteronomy 8:1–5 (NKJV)
1Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. 2And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. 4Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
On his first missionary journey, as the Apostle Paul traveled through the various cities where he had planted churches, he encouraged the brethren and reminded them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). That which was true for our fathers in Paul’s day is likewise true for us. In His wisdom, God uses tribulations and trials to accomplish His purposes for His people.
So why does He do this? If we are children of God, objects of His love and affection, then why must we enter the kingdom through many tribulations? Our text offers three reasons – for even as we face many tribulations throughout history and our individual lives, so our Israelite fathers did; for forty years they wandered in the wilderness, suffering various trials and tribulations. So what are these three reasons?
First, trials and tribulations humble us. God led our fathers through the wilderness, “to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (8:2). Nothing reveals the depths of our hearts and the many ways in which we still need to grow in holiness (to be sanctified) than trials. We’re sick and what do we do? We, who when healthy are remarkably patient, begin snapping at the kids, are short with our spouse, or grumble and complain against God. So what are we learning about ourselves? We’re learning that we aren’t quite as sanctified as we thought, learning that there is still work for God to do, learning to confess our sin and to acknowledge our continuing need for God’s grace. Trials and tribulations humble us.
Second, trials and tribulations teach us to rely on God’s Word. God tested Israel “that you might know that man does not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3). Rod Dreher, in his book Live not by Lies, recounts that, during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, Silvester Krcmery [kirch-MERRY] faced persecution, imprisonment, and even torture for his faith. Krcmery wrote later in his biography that he came to realize “that the only way he would make it through the ordeal ahead was to rely entirely on faith, not reason. He says that he decided to be ‘like Peter, to close my eyes and throw myself into the sea’” (153). Tribulations force us to rely on God’s promises even though we cannot see the fruit of them at present. Trials and tribulations teach us.
Finally, trials and tribulations remind us that we are children of God. “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you” (8:5). In times of trial, if you are in Christ, then know in your heart that this trial has not come because the Lord hates you but because He loves you. As a loving Father, the Lord is sending this trial to chasten you that you might learn to remain faithful to Him and to grow in maturity. Trials and tribulations remind us that we are God’s children.
As you may have noticed, today is the first Sunday in Lent – so our call to worship, our greeting, confession, creed, color, and benediction have changed with the season. Lent, like Advent, is a time of preparation and anticipation, a time of longing. We await the coming of Easter and the celebration of Christ’s triumph over death. Lent reminds us that, until our own resurrection, we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God. Lent harkens back to Israel’s 40 years, and to our Lord’s 40 days, in the wilderness. Hence, Lent is a time to remember that times of trial and tribulation are not strange. Paul writes that even our Lord Jesus, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered …” (Heb 5:8). So if our Lord Jesus had to learn obedience by suffering, dare we think that we shall be exempt? Let us then “count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).
So reminded that times in the wilderness, times of trial and tribulation humble us, teach us to rely on God’s Word, and train us as His children, let us acknowledge that we often respond to such trials in unbelief rather than in faith. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sins to the Lord.