I remember the Sunday evening I got a phone call asking if I could come to the hospital. I found my friends snoring in the ICU waiting room. Their teenage daughter had been in an accident, and they had been there for two days with little sleep. The car was totaled, and we weren’t sure yet which way it would go for her. Her hair was buzzed, which exposed surgical seams on her scalp held by staples. While hooked to machines sustaining her life, she missed her high school prom.
Over the next few months, when I would talk with her parents, I could see a question in their eyes. The question is a common one. It’s the same question those who have been affected by the recent hurricanes might ask. It’s the same question I hear in the understandable exasperation of many minorities in our country. And it’s the same question survivors of the Las Vegas shooting are left asking.
The question goes something like this: If tomorrow is as difficult as today, or is even harder than today, how will I go on? Maybe you have felt the weight of that kind of despair.
Not by Bread Alone
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins has a line that gives voice to this feeling. He says to Gandalf, “I feel all thin, sort of stretched . . . like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites knew what it meant to feel thin. But before they entered the land of promise, God wanted the people he had redeemed to know why he would allow them to feel so stretched. In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses tells God’s people,
“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.”
Many people are familiar with the second part of this verse (“man does not live by bread alone”) because Jesus quoted it in the wilderness during his forty days of fasting. But the verse has two parts, and it’s precisely the relationship between them that makes the verse so powerful.
When We Have Nothing Left
Part A says, “He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna.” It’s Part A that reveals the way God went about teaching Part B, “man does not live by bread alone.”
At first glance, it could seem that God was actually teaching the complete opposite lesson. One might think that if people had to rely on food every day to survive, then God was simply teaching that people need to rely on food to survive — as if he were saying, “Each day I let you get hungry and then I feed you, so that you might learn that people need food to survive.” But the biological lesson is not the lesson.
To realize how Part A directly relates to Part B, we need to think about how manna functioned in the life of an Israelite. Each day, a person would collect just enough manna for that day. If you collected too much, attempting to hoard the resource, the manna would breed worms and stink (Exodus 16:20). In other words, manna never needed an expiration date because you always knew it expired tomorrow — unless tomorrow was a Sabbath in which case the manna lasted an extra day (Exodus 16:22–24).
To describe this in imagery more familiar to us, consider your fridge. Each night when you go to bed your fridge is empty. Your freezer, empty. Your cupboards, empty. You seek out your neighbors, but their house is also empty. The grocery stores, marketplaces, and gas stations, empty. Not a single McMuffin or Dunkin Donut or box of Wheaties to be found. Each night when you go to bed, all the needed resources for tomorrow are gone. As you lay in bed with your tummy already rumbling, there’s nothing left.
Nothing left except a promise! You’d still have the promise from the mouth of the Lord that tomorrow he would provide for the needs of tomorrow. Every night, you’d have an empty manna jar. But every night, you’d have the promise from the mouth of the Lord. This is the lesson of Deuteronomy 8:3.
Feed on Gospel Promises
When we fear tomorrow may be more difficult than today — when we feel like butter scraped over too much bread — God wants us to feed upon his promises.
Feed your soul on the promise that if God clothes the lilies and feeds the birds, he will certainly care for his children (Matthew 6:25–33). Feed on the promise that his grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Feed on the promise that God is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Feed on the promise that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that those who believe in him can have eternal life (John 3:16).
And if tomorrow does indeed turn out more difficult than today, and the next day is so hard that it kills us, God has promised to raise his children to a life better and brighter than we could even imagine (Revelation 21:1–7).
Rock Beneath Us
These promises are ours because we have a Savior who conquered sin and death and evil. When Jesus, the True Israelite, felt the duress of forty days in the wilderness — alone, with no food, and assaulted by the tempter — his faith in his Father’s provision never wavered. Satan mocked him, targeting what he thought could be Jesus’s breaking point, saying, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). But in that moment, Jesus told the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). Where Adam failed, the Second Adam did not.
Left to ourselves, we are always, only, ever a house of cards. Yet beneath our flimsy hope of self-sufficiency rests the rock-solid promise of a good and gracious God, always strong and sovereign. This promise sustained my friends as they waited in the ICU for their daughter to recover. It sustains me when life is hard. And it can sustain you when you fear what’s ahead.