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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

Why God Lets Us Hunger

by Sara Heitmann posted December 11, 2020

“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.”

Deuteronomy 8:3—5

Why does God let his people hunger? This doesn’t just mean physical hunger for bread. It can be the lack of any good thing. This lack can tempt us to question God’s goodness. In my case, I’ve ached for close friendship that was often elusive. There were times when I feared God was being stingy.

The Israelites grumbled against God when they got hungry, just like we do (Ex. 16:2—3). In spite of their rebellion, however, God gave them manna. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses recounted to Israel their time in the wilderness and explained this was a test they were to remember when they came into the land of abundance (Deut. 8:2, 6—10). There are a few things we can learn from Moses’ explanation.

1. The Israelites hungered.

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to note that God was not telling the Israelites that food was bad or denying that they’d feel hungry without it. God himself provides us with food to sustain our life, and he gives us every other good created thing as well, including the capacity to draw near to one another. Feeling this lack is not wrong, but honors the goodness of God’s gifts.

2. Man lives by the word of God.

If food was good and necessary, why did God take it away? By letting them hunger and then feeding them in an extraordinary way, God showed that he was their ultimate source of life. They were dependent upon him. God’s provision in this case was so strange that when the Israelites first saw it, they asked each other, “What is it?” (Ex. 16:15).

This was to show that ?man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD?(Deut. 8:3). Although God has arranged things so that bread typically sustains our physical life, we’re prone to forget that every life-giving power in creation is borrowed from the original life-giving power of the word of the Creator. “Beware,” Moses warned the Israelites, “lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth'” (Deut. 8:17). Good things become a problem for us when we leave God out of the picture and think we have the power to acquire true life for ourselves. This test was a reminder to the Israelites that the Creator gives life, whether through bread or through this odd flaky stuff they called manna.

3. God intends good for us.

Although it might appear that God was hurting his people by letting them hunger, Moses assured them God was disciplining them “as a man disciplines his son.” He was humbling them in this way for their good (Deut. 8:5, 16). Here was the proof: In spite of their hunger, God not only provided manna, but kept their clothes and their feet from wearing out over 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:4). This supernatural care acted as a reminder that God was with them and would not allow this hunger to destroy them. His plan was to bring them into a land flowing with abundance (Deut. 8:7—10). The test was designed so that once they had this abundance, they wouldn’t foolishly turn away from him.

Hebrews 12 affirms this, reminding us that God’s discipline, though not easy to endure, is a sign that he loves us as his sons and means to do us good. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

4. Hunger points us to God.

Any good thing in life can take on the role of bread in this story–anything we use to convince ourselves we can obtain life apart from God. It can even be something, like bread, without which we will ordinarily die. That’s why it’s easy to accuse God if he takes it away. 

The story of the Israelites in the wilderness, however, teaches us that this deep hunger can be a helpful thing because it forces us to look to God. He lets us hunger and then provides in ways we don’t understand so that we’ll learn to entrust our lives to him, knowing he means to do us good in the end. He offers us abundant life and pleads with us not to waste our efforts on things that can’t satisfy (Is. 55:2).

Don’t be afraid to dwell in hunger for a time, and to feel lack. Only remember the kind Father who uses this to remind us how deep is our hunger for him, and how willing and able he is to satisfy us from his own abundance.

5. True life is in Christ.

Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is the true manna–the unexpected means by which God gives life to his people. He multiplied bread to feed the hungry crowds, but what he truly offered them was eternal life through himself (John 6). “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” he said (John 10:10). He gave life to his sheep by laying down his life for them (John 10:11). Therefore, as he explained to Martha before he raised her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

Last year I walked through a time of loneliness and sought Christ in my hunger. Not only did his promises sustain me, but he’s also using this hunger to expose feelings of rejection I’ve held onto. As I bring my pain to him, he asks me not to erase it but to follow him into it, where from this death he promises to bring resurrection. 

No hunger is wasted if it leads us to the one who is the source of our most abundant life.

Photo of Sara Heitmann

Sara Heitmann

Sara Heitmann graduated from Westminster Seminary California with a Master of Arts in Historical Theology. She enjoys studying modern intellectual history and growing vegetables. She is a member of Providence Presbyterian Church in Temecula, CA.

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