Education Hour: 10:45am | Sunday Service: 9:15am & 10:45am

The Lesson Behind the Labor

The Lesson Behind the Labor

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

This morning we are between sermons series: last week Jason completed our study of 2 Samuel, and next week we are going back to the gospel of Luke. Back in May, we left off the gospel of Luke around the beginning of chapter 8, which is where Jason will be picking up next week.

So, I thought this week would be a good week to go back to a verse I’ve been thinking deeply about for nearly a decade. It’s a verse that encourages me many times when life is hard, in fact, even explaining some reasons why God would let life be so hard. We are going to Deuteronomy 8:3. Half of the verse is familiar to many of us, while likely the other half is less familiar. In a moment I’ll be reading all of the first 10 verses of Deuteronomy 8. If you are using the brown Bible’s on the end of the row, it’s on page 198.

As you’re turning there, let me give some context. Moses, the author, is about to die, and Deuteronomy is his final pastoral charge to the people he has been pastoring for forty years. In perhaps just a few short days Moses will climb Mount Nebo to its highest peak. Mount Nebo is in Moab on the north side of the Dead Sea, which is east of the Promised Land, east of the Jordan River. When Moses climbs the mountain, he’ll see Jericho. He’ll see the Promised Land. And if visibility is good that day, perhaps he will even be able to see all 60 miles across the land that was to become Israel, all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He’ll see all this, and then he’ll die.

But when we pick up the book of Deuteronomy here, it’s not as though we are at Moses’s bedside, as it were, while he undergoes under hospice care. No, his strength, his resolve, his health are not diminished (see 34:7). Instead, Moses is more a man on death row than hospice. Some years before he had disobeyed God, and as a consequence, he would he would not enter the Promised Land.

So Moses’s words in Deuteronomy are calculated, thoughtful, and premeditated. Before the people of God move to a land of plenty, Moses wants them to understand what it was that God had been teaching them in the wilderness for forty years.

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read. After I’ve read the passage, we’ll pray and study this together.

8:1 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Introduction

When I see the footage of the devastation in Houston from the hurricane, and I see streets that have become rivers, and I watch interviews with survivors who have lost everything they own, I notice that many of them are saying the same thing.

It’s the same thing I can hear in the understandable exasperation of many minorities in our country: their confusion and anger, and their wondering what’s next.

Sometimes, when I visit you in the hospital or talk with you on the phone or in the café at church or at a men’s breakfast, I can see it your faces too. I can see it in the way your posture slumps. Sometimes I can hear it in the tremble of your voice.

It’s a question, really. It’s a question I sometimes have. I can see it in bags under my eyes when I look in the mirror. When our relationships are wounded, when our finances are thin, and our health is fragile, it’s what we’re all asking.

The question goes like this: If tomorrow is as hard as today, and the next day is harder still, how will I go on? Again, if tomorrow is as hard as today, and the next day is harder still, how will I go on?

J.R.R. Tolkien gives Bilbo a line about this in The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Bilbo says, “I feel all thin, sort of stretched . . . like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” Some of you feel like this. These are times when you reach into your pockets desperate for resources, and all you can find is pocket lint. These are times when you need daily bread, but the cupboard is empty. These are lonely times, a wilderness even. Yet even as I describe it to you, you should know that many of you who think you are alone are actually feeling the same way so many others feel: wondering how the needs of tomorrow will be met.

And we often feel deep-seated worry because we haven’t gone deep enough. What I mean is this: we haven’t seen beyond our resources to see God. We haven’t learned the lesson that’s the lesson behind our labors, the lesson behind our efforts. And as such, we don’t often experience the hope beyond our suffering.

Beneath the flimsy hope of self-sufficiency, there is the sturdy, rock-solid hope of a good and gracious, a strong and sovereign God. And what we see in Deuteronomy 8:3, is that—painful though it be—this is what God wants us to know. God wants us to learn the lesson behind our labors, which is the lesson that God is God, and he means to do us good.

When the people of God had tried to enter the Promised Land some forty years before this passage, you know what they found? They found there were giants in the land of promise! They found that their enemies had better weapons and bigger armies. And guess what: these warriors and weapons didn’t get less deadly over forty years.

But the hardships weren’t their only trial. There was the impending trial of prosperity. Look again at vv. 7–10,

7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Their temptation was going to be to forget that apart from God they were always, only, ever a house of cards.

The good news for God’s people is that class had been in session for the last forty years. For forty years, God had been teaching one lesson repeatedly. Look again at v. 3, the main verse we will focus on this morning.

3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Many of you are familiar with the part of the verse because Jesus quoted it in the wilderness during his forty days of fasting (Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4). But as you can see, Deuteronomy 8:3 has two parts, a Part A and Part B. Jesus only quotes Part B.

Now, don’t hear me saying Jesus was wrong—I’m certainly not saying Jesus should have quoted more. He’s Jesus. In the wilderness, he quotes three times from Deuteronomy; he knew the whole book. But I am saying that because Jesus quoted only one-half, it likely makes us less familiar with the entire verse. Also, it’s likely that Satan knew Deuteronomy well too. This was two scholars in a quote-battle back in forth over the proper interpretation and application.]

And it is precisely the relationship of Part A to Part B that is so interesting. In Part B you have the lesson that is learned, but in Part A we get insight into the way in which God chose to teach that very lesson.

Those of you in education you might be familiar with the term “pedagogy.” Pedagogy refers to the strategies of instruction. Pedagogy is not simply what is taught, but the way something is taught. So, parents, pedagogy is not simply teaching your children the importance of honesty; pedagogy is the methods you use to honesty. And what we have in Part A is a window into God’s pedagogy.

Look at it again, this time with the parts two visually separated.

3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna . . .

that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Now, you would think—at least I would think—from the way that God did things he was actually teaching the complete opposite lesson from what he says he was teaching.

What I mean is this: One would think that if each and every day people had to rely on food to survive, then God was teaching that people need to rely on food to survive. I let you get hungry and then I feed you, so that you may learn that people need food to survive. This is what God is teaching, right? People need food! We get hungry; we eat. We get hungry; we eat. We get hungry; we eat. Hungry, eat. So that we might learn that man lives on bread.

That, however, is not the primary lesson. There is another lesson behind the labor. The teaching tool of “hungry/eat/hungry/eat” was teaching something else. But what?

To answer this question we have to think about how manna functioned in the life of an Israelite. We are not sure exactly what manna was, but from its description we know it was a bread-like food that God put on the ground in the morning that evaporated as the sun came up. No one is exactly sure what it is; in fact, it is somewhat humorous that the name manna in the Hebrew means, “What is it?” They woke up one morning, and were like, “Hey, what’s this? Let’s call it Man’na; let’s call it ‘What is it?’”

Now, here’s a question for you: How much manna would a person collect each day?

Answer: A person would collect just enough manna for that day and that day only. The next day he or she would do the same; and the next day more of the same. And so on and so forth. If a person attempted to gather more than what was needed on any day, the left over manna in the jar would “breed worms and stink” (Exodus 16:20), which is recorded as happening when people tried to do so.

So, in other words, manna never has to have an expiration date on it because you always know that it expires tomorrow—unless tomorrow is a Sabbath, in which case it did last.

But the point was this: if you were an Israelite—let your mind imagine and feel what this would be like—every night for forty years when you went to sleep your manna jar was empty. When today is over, you don’t have tomorrow’s daily bread. This means you’d be reaching into your pockets desperate for resources and only find pocket lint.

Picture it, church. Let your mind imagine this. Feel these hunger pangs and the worry begins to arise. Every night your pantry is empty. Your fridge, empty. Your freezer, empty. Your cupboards, empty. Your neighbor’s house, empty. The grocery stores and market places, empty. Giant, Kroger, Aldi’s, Target, Wegmans, Costco, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, even Sheetz and Speedway, empty. Each night when you go to bed, all of the food, all of the needed resources for tomorrow—and oh are they needed!—at the end of the night are gone.

So if you’re an Israelite, you sit around the campfire before bed and perhaps your tummy is already starting to rumble, but there’s nothing left to live on.

Nothing, that is, except a promise! The promise that comes from the mouth of the Lord that tomorrow, the Lord would provide for the needs of tomorrow. Every night, empty manna jars. But every night promises from the mouth of God. This is what man lives on. That’s the logic of Deuteronomy 8:3. That is the way Part A teaches Part B. This is the lesson behind our labors. Look at it again,

3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

God is committed to continually putting his people—the people he loves and the people he has redeemed—in situations where they can have their faith in God’s promises strengthened, even if, and perhaps, often if, it means that they go to sleep with an empty manna jar, when we desperately wish it was already full. God does this that we might learn to live on the promises of God.

Look at how this chapter ends. Look at vv. 16–18,

16 [Remember God] who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

Verse 16 says that God does all this—hungry/eat/hungry/eat—“to do you good in the end.” [Comments about “King Of My Heart” by Kutless.] God doesn’t want us to boast on Labor Day at what our hands have done. He doesn’t want us to boast in our labors because God knows that if our hope is placed in us on Monday, then when the winds blow on Tuesday, and the labors of our hands start to fail, our boasting can just a quickly become despair.

Application

I’m not going to presume to know exactly all of the ways, or even a few of ways, God is stretching you in this regard. As a pastor, I am privy to many needs among our church body, and yet I’m aware that I don’t know one hundredth of all the needs.

  • Perhaps, for you it is a more literal daily bread and there are struggles with finances. Money. Electricity. Clothing. Medical bills. Flat tires and cars that need repair. Caring for parents who are aging or children entering college.
  • Or maybe your needs are mostly for emotional stability. You feel like if tomorrow is as hard as today, and if the next day is harder still then you don’t know if you’ll make it.
  • Others of you have struggles with how you relate to your singleness while others have tried and tried to work on your marriage, and the same fights and struggles keep coming back, and you’re not sure that when tomorrow comes, that God can provide the needed strength.
  • Some struggle with infertility while others struggle with a wayward child.
  • For many, there are demands upon demands at work. Projects just seem to be getting harder and harder. You’re swimming in conflict, suffocating in anxiety.

In these times, how do you go on? What sustains you? What do you feed on for nourishment? How do you persevere?

When your manna jar is empty, you feed on the promises of God. Christians recall to mind the promises of God and we trust them. Christians find those verses most fitted to your needs, and you trust them. That’s how you go on. Consider this familiar passage where Jesus promises to take care of our needs.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 30. . . if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25, 30–33)

When your manna jar is empty, we feed on the promises of God. We recall to mind the promises of God and you trust them.

Years ago, just before my last semester of seminary, I quit my job so that I could have time to do a few things that were necessary to transition into ministry. I needed time to prepare my house for the market. I needed time to look for a job when I was finished, which is an involved process. In the meantime between jobs, we lived off a scholarship until I graduated. But as soon as I quit and the income stopped, I remember realizing very quickly that I didn’t have daily bread. Oh I had it for tomorrow and the next day, but when June and July came, which were rapidly approaching, I didn’t have manna for me and my family. And I worried.

This morning, some of you are worried about many things. And if you go the root cause of your worry, what will you find? You’ll find unbelief. We worry because we don’t believe God is good and sovereign. When we worry, we are not believing the gospel, not feeding on the promise that God loves us. We worry because in that moment we are believing that the hope of the universe hangs on us, that we have to put manna on the ground tomorrow. God could say of all of us, “O you of little faith.” What’s he to do with us? What’s he to do with people who go to sleep with more unbelief than belief in our hearts?

Lift up your heads, church. There is a glorious gospel hope. Many years after the forty years in the wilderness were over, there came the true Israelite. There came one who in every way and in every situation trusted his Father’s provision.

When this true Israelite, was under the duress of forty days in the wilderness—alone, and with no food, and being assaulted by the Tempter—he never wavered. He never waffled. His faith held strong.

And when Satan mocked him at his weakest point, saying, “If, [if!] you are the Son of God [and I don’t think you are], command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3).

In that moment, the True Israelite looked into the face of the devil and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

But this story of Jesus’s victory is more than just a story of a good example. The gospel teaches that when Jesus obeyed and trusted God perfectly in this situation—and every other situation, including up to and through his death on the cross—and when he rose again on the third day, ascended to Heaven and sat at his Father’s right hand on a throne; and when we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus; not only are all of our sins forgiven, but wonder, upon wonder, every good act that Jesus ever did, is credited to us in such a way that it is as if, in God’s eyes, we had trusted God perfectly.

What I am saying is this, despite all our fumblings and bumblings along, despite all our worry and misplaced trust, when God makes us part of his family, he views us as perfect. All of Jesus’s righteousness and fullness of faith are seen as ours. God looks upon us as thought we were the true Israelite.

Conclusion

Once I was swimming with one of my daughters at a pool, and at this point, she did not like the deep end much. She preferred the steps and ladder area where it was shallow. But I was committed to helping her learn to trust her father and to enjoy the deep end. So, at one point, I took her in my arms and carried her out to the deep end.

And oh did she squeeze on to me tight! She was scared, which makes sense because by herself she can’t touch the bottom or, at that point, swim to the side. On the one hand, it was sweet to know that she was holding on to her daddy so tightly. On the other hand, however, behind her labor, I realized that she was holding on to me so tightly because she thought that it was her and her alone, who kept herself afloat. She was holding on so tight because she did not realize that it was I, her father, who held on to her, and that’s what kept her afloat.

Don’t press the illustration too far. I’m not saying your holding on to God is unimportant. It is important. But in all your trusting the promises of God, realize that the Lord holds on to you. When your resources are gone, as Paul says in Philippians 4:19, God can “supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Christians can go to sleep each night in the firm assurance that God will give us our daily bread and that Christ is enough for us to feed on. He is, in fact, our manna (John 6).

Download MP3

This entry was posted in Sermons and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>