Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – That’s Testing!

Psalm 23_TitleLife’s meaning discerned by the retrospect of it.

The remark has not infrequently been made that incidents closely connected cannot be rightly understood till the time has come for them to be reviewed in their entirety as matters of history. What is true of events generally, applies in all its force to the wonders included in the rescue and wanderings of the people of Israel. And that which may be said of them, holds good, in this respect, of the life-story of God’s children now. Two words would sum up the pith of their experience—”redemption,” “training.” Redeemed first, trained afterwards. Redeemed, that they might be trained; trained, that they might become worthy of the redemption. Both the redemption and the training had in Israel’s case a depth of meaning of which the people knew little at the time, but which Israel’s God intended from the first. Afterwards, their varied experiences, when reviewed as a piece of history, became matter for grateful record and adoring praise. The paragraph before us now is “the aged lawgiver reviewing the experiences of Israel in their wanderings.” Four lines of meditation open up—

1. “To humble thee” (Deu 8:2), i.e. to bring them to feel their dependence on God. This, indeed, seems such an obvious truth, that men ought not to need to be taught it. But we must remember that, before we are redeemed, our training for eternity has never begun at all, and that when redemption is with us a realized fact, we then present ourselves to God only in the rough, relying on his love to make us what we should be. And one of the lessons we have thoroughly to learn is that “without Christ we can do nothing.”
2. “To prove thee” (Deu 8:2). A double proof is indicated.
(1) What they were: “To know what was in thine heart.”
(2) What they would do: “Whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.”
There is no subject on which the young convert is so ignorant as—himself; and he never can become what a Christian should be till he sees his own conceit. He must become a sadder man ere he can be a wiser one.
3. “That he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread alone.” It has been remarked that, as Moses in this clause refers to the manna, the meaning is:
(1) That it is not from nature but from nature’s God that supplies come.
(2) That God is free to adopt any course he pleases in providing food.

Doubtless this is true. But it is not the whole truth, nor do we deem it the truth here intended. We know that with these words our Savior repelled one assault of the tempter. This being so, we are set somewhat on a different track for their interpretation (cf. Mat 4:3, Mat 4:4).

Our Savior’s reply is, in effect, “Man has a double life, not only that of the body, but also that of the spirit; you ask me to nourish the lower at the expense of the higher—to get food for the body by a negation of the self-sacrifice for which I came. It is not bread alone which sustains the man. He has a higher self, which lives on higher food, and I cannot pamper the lower at the cost of the prostration of the higher.” Now, with such light thrown on the passage by our Lord, we are led to regard the words of Moses as referring not only to the supply of food, but rather to the entire discipline in the wilderness, as intended by God to bring out to the people the reality and worth of the nobler part of man. Our God cares more for growth of soul than for comfort of body. His aim is not only to find us food, but to train us for himself. Nor was it that they only might learn these lessons, but that others in after time might see on what rough and raw material the Great Educator will condescend to work, and with what care he will work upon it.

II. GOD ADOPTS VARIED METHODS OF TEACHING THESE NEEDED LESSONS. The clauses in the paragraph indicate these.
1. There was “the way” by which they were led. It was not given to Israel to choose it. It was not the shortest way. It was “the right” way annointed by God.
2 The method of sending supplies: “Day by day the manna fell.” They were thus taught to live by the day.
3. The disappointments they met: “These forty years.” If they had been told, when they set out from Egypt, that so long a period intervened between them and Canaan, they would scarcely have set out. And if God were to unveil to us the incidents of coming years, we could not bear the sight.
4. The wants they felt: “He suffered thee to hunger.” God sometimes lets his people feel how completely they are shut up to him.
5. Yet there were constant proofs of thoughtful care (Deu 8:4). We do not understand any miracle involved here, still less so odd a one as the rabbis suggested, that the children’s clothes grew upon their backs; The meaning of Moses surely is, “God so provided for their wants that they needed not to wear tattered garments, nor to injure their feet by walking without shoes or sandals.”
6. There was also chastening (Deu 8:5). This word includes not only correction but all that belongs to the training of a child (cf. Heb 12:7; 2Sa 7:14; Psa 89:32; Job 7:17, Job 7:18; Pro 3:11, Pro 3:12; Rev 3:19).

III. THERE IS A REASON INDICATED HERE WHY GOD TAKES SO MUCH PAINS TO TEACH THESE LESSONS.Deu 8:5, “As a man chasteneth his son.” We might well ask, Why should the Great Supreme do so much to educate into shape such raw and rough natures as ours? That he should do so at all is, per se, far harder to believe than any apparent variation of the ordinary course of physical nature. The reason is found in the words, “Ye are sons.” Israel was God’s son, even his firstborn. Believers are the adopted children of God; hence the greatness of their destiny, and the earnestness of their Leader in training them for it. It may be said, indeed, by an unbeliever, “I have all these changes in life, but they are not training me,” etc. No, because the one condition is wanting under which all these come to be a training—sonship. This order is never reversed—rescued, then educated. If men have not known the first, they cannot understand the second.

IV. IF GOD CARES SO MUCH TO TRAIN, WE SHOULD CAREFULLY CONSIDER WHAT HIS TRAINING MEANS. (Deu 8:2, Deu 8:5.) Let us understand what a high moral and spiritual aim God has in the culture of this life of ours! The life of a man is not a mere material something, on a physical basis; it is the expression of a plan of God. Then let us be as anxious to be rightly educated for eternity, as God is so to educate us. Never let us allow the lower ends of life to master the higher (Deu 8:6). Ever let us keep the end of life in view. For eternity we are meant, and for eternity we should live. Some have life largely in retrospect, even now. Do they not see that the past is explained by the present? Even so the present will be explained by the future (Joh 13:7). Let them rejoice that they have a Father who guides by the way which he sees to be right, and not “according to their mind.” Some have life before them.
1. Let it be the supreme desire to let life become what God wants it to be—a continuous advance in preparation for heaven. This is of more consequence than all the ease and comfort in the world.
2. Recognize and praise the kindness of God in giving men these chequered experiences of life, if they do but educate for higher service. Don’t let us wonder if we cannot understand God’s ways at the time. We shall in the end.
3. If we want God to train us for glory—first, we must come out of Egypt. The education cannot begin in the land of bondage,—we must first be the Lard’s free men; then, let us leave the way and method of the culture entirely to God. If he were to let us choose the way, what mistakes we should make! Our faith in God even in youth should be such as to lead us to say, “Father, my supreme desire is to grow like thee, and to live with thee. I know not by what paths I need to be led, nor through what discipline I need to be brought, to bring about this end. I leave all in thy gracious hands, desiring that thine infinite wisdom and love should order all things for me. Here I am. Take me as I am, all guilty and defiled. Make me what I should be; and if by thy grace I am ripened for and led to Canaan, then will I sing, ‘Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to him which sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!'”

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