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. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deut. 8:3-5)
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by our Daily Bread. OK, bad pun. But the point is how often we, and Evangelicalism as a whole, have taken what is truly deep and rich and trivialize it into cheap piety saleable to the masses. From a pietist background, how else should we think about showing our dependence upon God and His Word than in spending 5 minutes of each day reading shallow "Christian" drivel and calling it a devotion? And then we wonder why is that Christianity is not practical, or that this daily reading seems more like ritual than actual true enjoyment. Perhaps the problem is because we have trivialized God's Word, and make the reading of God's Word into something more like the reading of inspirational sayings. In fact, for some "pastors" like Joel Osteen, there is no real difference between what He says and the inspirational sayings of self-help gurus!
The real context of the phrase that "Man shall not live by bread alone" is not in a time of comfort and ease. Many people might think the Exodus was a great time of deliverance from slavery, and that is true. But many people do not consider the costs of the Exodus, as if deliverance is such an enjoyable event. It is not! In leaving Egypt, Israel thrusts herself into the unknown. Her calendar was disrupted, one's daily routine in life is disrupted. The food has changed, there is no permanent home, and everything seems to be settled upon the whim of one man's decrees, a man that none of them have elected to be their leader. When Israel cried to return to Egypt, it is not so much that they love slavery, but that Egypt offered stability and certainty. But what certainty or stability do they have with Moses in the wilderness? And while it is true that God is leading His people, for most of Israel most of the time, since God is unseen, the earthly impression is that of an unelected dictator telling them where to go, what to do, and how to worship. And if any of them object, like Korah, supernatural punishments and plagues will come upon them (Num. 16).
The context of Deuteronomy 8 therefore is one of destabilization. God removed the pillars of stability of Israel's life, such that they have nothing whatsoever to depend on but God alone. This is the context of the phrase "Man shall not live by bread alone," not the idea that it is a good thing to get daily "spiritual nourishment" through 5 minutes of devotion every day. It it for those whom God has brought to the end of themselves, so that they will say
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:25-26)
And we respond, like Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," (Jn. 6:68b).
Deuteronomy 8:3-5 itself shows us that it is God's discipline that brings us to Himself. He Himself removes our pillars of support and security, because we have made them into idols and put our trust in them. We have put our trust in job security, in having peaceful lives (as if God owes us peace), relatively just government (as if God owes you a good government), and for Singaporeans, our CPF. Those are the crutches and idols in our lives that take the place of Christ, and that is why it is hard for people to trust in Christ, because we have become too comfortable. We have taken God's blessings of health and prosperity and made them into a curse upon our souls. And thus we cannot say that we have learned dependence upon God, because we have not. We trust in all the other things God has given, and think we are entitled to them. If God were to remove them, we curse God for taking any of them away from us, as if we are entitled to all these things. And then we ask how we can make Christianity practical to us! Ever read the story of the rich young ruler? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals are just like that rich young ruler, someone who is looking for something he can do to make himself better, but unwilling to let God actually touch the things He puts His trust and security in.
It is only in times of trials and tribulations that the worth of a man's faith is made manifest. When God begins to shake your life, will you, following the advice of Job's wife, curse God and die? Or will you surrender what God has blessed you with, acknowledging that it is God who gives, and God who also takes away, and regardless of what happens, God is to be blessed. Can you therefore say that you have learned to not live by bread alone but by the Word of God?
Christ of course is the fulfilment of this passage, as He took our punishments on our behalf and live the righteous life, with trials and tribulations, for us. But this does not imply that God is no more disciplining His children. We continue to need to learn this lesson of trusting in God alone, not for our salvation but for our sanctification. Those whom God loves He disciplines, and conversely those whom the Lord does not discipline, He does not love. True Christians living in this life will face trials and tribulations, and much sorrow, as God disciplines us for our good. We will slowly learn from experience what it is to trust in God alone, and thus, like Israel, learn that man is not to live by bread alone but by the Word of God.