Sermon: A Divine Explanation for Scarcity
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.
(Deuteronomy 8:3, KJV)
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
On Sunday, July 25, 2010 NBC television’s 20/20 featured a revealing look at hard times in southeast Ohio. There, food, housing and basic human needs were reported as being scarce. Everyone featured as being down and out in the program were white Americans.
One of the strategies they employed to address their impoverishment was to write President Obama on paper plates. These poor whites somehow thought it was the President’s responsibility to put a chicken in every pot and bread on every table.
Some who were in attendance at the West Tennessee Baptist Missionary and Educational Association the following weeks commented on the program. Generally this African American audience believed the people bore the responsibility for their plight and not the president.
I found this interpretation interestingly ironic. Usually in America, poverty is associated with African Americans and it is conservative white Republicans who accuse them of being irresponsible and therefore are poor.
This commentary at the Association where racial roles were reversed had the same argument. The only difference was that the identities of the poor and the commentators were reversed.
Our text, however, casts a different light on the issue of scarcity. We are told here that in the case of wandering wilderness Jews that God allowed them to hunger in order to humble them. They needed to be taught a lesson that they were not self-sufficient. They were dependent beings. They needed God to provide their sustenance.
Less we hastily conclude that God is sadistic in toying with the Israelites’ diet, we must understand that the text states that God tempered scarcity with mercy. In the midst of their humbling hunger, God miraculously sends manna to the Israelites while thy wandered in a desert for forty years.
It truly was a miracle food. The Israelites did not recognize it. It was unfamiliar. It was unlike anything that they had ever seen. The Pulpit Commentary suggests that in bewilderment the Israelites called it Màn hoo? in the form of a question.
Despite their bewilderment, the manna appeared faithfully to provide the wandering horde their daily nourishment. In the midst of a food shortage, every morning God’s new mercies appeared in a sufficient supply of manna.
This scripture is indeed a rare insight into the reason for suffering. The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz coined the word theodicy to describe the antithesis of God’s goodness in light of human suffering.
Certainly this is a disturbing and mysterious field of study. Within theology, theodicy is probably the most difficult to explain. Throughout history, humans have asked “why do bad things happen to good people?” For example, why in one town did a tornado destroy a church building, but did no damage to a XXX rated club that was in the vicinity? Why did a preacher and his wife die before their sixtieth birthday, but an evil doer can live to a ripe old age? Why do church attending, faithful stewards of their treasury get laid off their job while a lazy slacker gets to keep his or hers?
The Jewish rabbi Laurence Kushner chose to answer such questions by suggesting that perhaps the bad things happen independent of God. He has the audacity to say that God has nothing to do with the bad things that happen in life.
At least, here in this text, we are told that this is not universally the case. God in the text not only allowed the Israelites to experience hunger, but He had a purpose for it. He was out to humble them. God wanted them to see that they were not their own. They could not keep themselves. Without God, they could do nothing. They needed God in order to have full stomachs. They needed God for daily bread.
In fact, God wanted them to learn that the most fundamental human need is not physical bread. The word of God is far more needful than a loaf of Wonder bread. The loaf only gives temporary relief to the physical appetite.
However, the word of God can speak eternal truths to the soul. God’s word is so powerful that when tucked away in the heart, it will stop its possessor from sinning against God. God’s word is a lamp unto its pupil’s feet and a light unto his or her path.
The recognition of the preference of God’s word over physical bread was repeated by Jesus in refuting temptation in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:4) He expounded this truth even though He had fasted forty days and was famished.
The truth is that some things to which we are subjected we do not understand at the time. We do not know why we must cry sometime. We do not know why we must endure foul weather. We do not know why the East Wind blasts our crop and we must experience a lean year.
In our scientific age, we are quick to assign blame for misfortune. Most often the unaffected are prone to blame the victim for their suffering. Readily, they are accused of being lazy, irresponsible, wasteful, and a poor decision-maker.
Many times these things may be true. Undoubtedly, many people bring problems on themselves. Through unwise actions, they not only invite, but actually lure the wolf of poverty to their door.
Yet, the text alerts us that sometimes God allows things to happen to us to make us. As a believer, we should follow Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane. When He began to drink from the bitter cup, He initially asked that it be removed. Then, in resolute obedience, He said “Nevertheless not my will, but Thine be done.”
Thus, in our moments of hardship and deprivation, invite God to do His will. In disagreeable experiences ask God to have His way. Trust Him and never doubt for surely He will bring you out.