This portion is called ekev after the first few words in it, meaning ‘because of’ or consequently or as a consequence of. In its entirety, it deals with the themes of what will happen if Israel chooses to obey and of course in parallel, what will happen if not. But above all, this passage deals with the consequences of blessing!
What really stopped me in my tracks were the following verses from Deuteronomy: chapter 8 vv2-3:
You are to remember everything of the way in which Adonai led you these forty years in the desert, humbling and testing you in order to know what was in your heart – whether you would obey his mitzvot or not. He humbled you, allowing you to become hungry, and then fed you with man [manna], which neither you nor your ancestors had ever known, to make you understand that a person does not live on food alone but on everything that comes from the mouth of Adonai.
God makes it clear that for EVERY STEP, He led us: every high and low, every desperate prayer for help, when life seemed cheap and death an easy option, ALL of this was in His plan. And worse, the Torah says this was His way of humbling us, to exhaust our own possibilities and strength, literally to bring us to the end of ourselves. We struggle to comprehend that God would actually choose to do that to us, put us through the washing mangle of life – why? To TEST our hearts to see what’s inside. He deliberately puts things into our lives to test us to see how we respond.
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if God just blessed us anyway, regardless? Easier yes, but it would be disastrous for us! We’d grow spiritually fat and lax and then fall away from Him, just as the Torah warns about here. There are no spiritual shortcuts to the maturity and deep lasting faith that overcome every hurdle and obstacle laid in our path.
Indeed, Yeshua set up a situation that demonstrates this well.
John 6:5-6: …so when Yeshua looked up and saw that a large crowd was approaching, he said to Philip, “Where will we be able to buy bread, so that these people can eat?” (Now Yeshua said this to test Philip, for Yeshua himself knew what he was about to do.) What was Yeshua testing for? He was looking for a response; he wanted to see faith. Phillip’s response should have demonstrated confidence in God’s ability to provide in seemingly impossible situations, just as we as a nation survived in the wilderness on the manna God provided (hence the link here with the bread). Without it we would have died. Ask yourself the question, when has God ever put you in a situation where He cannot, and HAS NOT provided in some way to get through it? Does He place you into a position where He simply will not provide? Clearly not, and this is what Phillip should have known.
No-one likes to be tested but here it’s serious and ultimately positive: it allows God and you to see what is in your heart and whether you continue to hang on to God and keep His commandments. It also illustrates that keeping the commandments is an act of faith; we will find ourselves in situations which demand that we deviate from them but the testing is to cling to God anyway, knowing that His path is the right one.
But it gets worse: God also allowed us to get hungry (verse 3). Some of the answer rests once more with the humbling but the key here is that He places us into what appear (at a human level) to be impossible situations. Here we needed God to give us food or we would starve. Sadly it is only at such points that we often DO step out in faith because all other options have been exhausted. God does have to engineer such situations and build them into our lives because otherwise we would never learn to trust Him.
How does all this bring humility? The final part of chapter 8:3 gives us the answer. We do not live on bread alone but every word from God. The humbling has to do with recognising something: that God is actually in control of our lives, able to feed us and provide for us at all times. Moshe didn’t provide the manna supernaturally, God did. What we NEEDED was provided. Yeshua, by connecting this concept with Himself, demonstrates again that God is able to provide even for our salvation and redemption, providing a sacrifice for sin which we were and are unable to bring ourselves.
By being forced to see that we ‘don’t provide our own bread’, we learn some deep truths. We should NEVER fall into the trap of patting ourselves on the back and saying how wonderful we are, with all our merits (of the fathers or ourselves) and think thereby we are the ones who are righteous or who deserve the blessings of God. God alone is our source and He has done everything for us. He has done all for us because of who He is not because of who we are. As Rav Shaul concludes in Romans 4:13, it is faith that ultimately stands and not our observance. Amen.