Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on December 2, 1979
WE ARE GOING TO THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY where Moses gives his final song of instruction to God’s people. Under the hand of God, Moses led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness for many years. And he tells them in Deuteronomy 8, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”
Now before we get into this message, I have a confession to make. There have been many times during this past year when I was certain that the Lord did not know what He was doing. Our knowledge has to be adjusted by God’s word. Have you ever thought, even for a fleeting moment, that you might not make it through the year? God’s people had that thought too frequently. So the first generation of those who came forth out of Egypt’s bondage did not make it into the Promised Land.
The first generation had offended God so deeply with their disbelief that they were denied entrance into the Promised Land. God decreed that all those who were 20 years of age and older would be denied entrance, but all those under 20 would make it in. Now 40 years have passed and Moses is preaching to a mixed audience. There were some listening to Moses who were approaching 60 years of age, and they were going to be allowed to go in.
Moses is giving them a message that looks back but also looks forward. That is why this is a good text for a year-end message as we look forward to the start of a new year. “Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee.” The first thing to remember if you are a child of God is that the Lord does lead. I said facetiously, but it was not all that facetious, that there have been times when I was sure the Lord was not leading. And yet no matter what my feelings were, I have preached this enough times to have it deeply ingrained: if you really want God’s will for your life, it is harder to get out of God’s will than it is to stay in it.
One of the weapons the devil uses to confuse the saints of God is to make them worry about God’s will. Quit worrying about trying to find His will; find Him. Proverbs 3:6 says that if we acknowledge Him in all of our ways, He will direct our paths. Psalm 37 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” Luke’s Gospel says that Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” Now many people are lost and don’t know it, but whether they know it or not, every man apart from God is lost, and Jesus came not just to seek, but “to seek and to save that which was lost.”
What nonsense to think that Jesus would take the step He took to seek us, pay the price He paid to save us, and then after finding and saving us, He would play hide-and-seek with us for the rest of our lives, leaving the burden on us to find Him after He found us. Again, if you really want to be in God’s will, it is harder to get out of it than it is to stay in it. What do I mean by want? The Scripture says that “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” Literally it says, “as many as grasped hold of Him, to them He gave the right and the privilege to become the sons of God.” God does not expect us to consume all of His word at once, but we are to seek to know His will. That is why it is unthinkable to me that a person can be a Christian and not want to be taught God’s word. God’s word and God’s will are one. Here in God’s word, He says what He wants. You know your own heart. When we have grabbed hold of our Lord and want His will, and when we are seeking in every way to acknowledge Him, He will direct our paths.
So the starting point is to remember “the LORD thy God led thee.” Underline those words in your Bible. Though there may have been times when we thought that He did not know what He was doing, the Lord led us here. God has no false starts, and there are no spiritual “tryouts.” There are trials in the sense of God chastening and developing us, but there are no tryout opportunities where you get to say, “I’ll go there and see if I like it.”
We quoted from Psalm 37: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” It does not say that the races or the jumps are ordered by the Lord. He orders our steps, and there are no false steps in Him. What about the times when we slip? Psalm 94 says that when my foot slipped, “thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.” As we go into a new year, I want us, individually and as a church, to “remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee.”
You might ask, “Do you really mean that God led us into some of the messes we’ve gotten into?” Yes. “Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee.” Many people believe that God determines the outcome and He is not responsible for some of our little meanderings. Yes, He is! That is what this verse says: “Thou shalt remember all the way.” But what if God’s people are disobedient? These people in the Old Testament certainly were. They were the worst in giving God problems. Yet God’s word through Moses says, “Thou shalt remember,” and that includes you and me, “all the way which the LORD thy God led thee.” I can think of a couple of turns I would have left out in this past year. And there were a couple of potholes I would have avoided. But the Scripture says, “Thou shall remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee.” He was leading all the time.
It is interesting to read God’s book; you don’t really have to preach if you just let the book do the preaching. Many times I will take a verse of Scripture and read it over and over again. The first time I read it I will underline one word. Then the second time I read it, I will underline another word, and the third time I will underline a different word. I will read it as many times as there are words in that verse, pausing at each word to look at the whole verse from the perspective of that one word, like a facet on a diamond. And that is a little of what we are doing today.
“Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness.” Who wants to stop and think about 40 years in the wilderness, and all the way in it? Paul says in Philippians 3, “Forgetting those things which are behind . . . I press toward the mark.” Moses and Paul are both God’s spokesmen, and they are speaking about different perspectives of the journey.
There are things we ought to forget, including former desires, former things about ourselves. But we are to “remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness.” Distill out the things that we are to remember, and look back. How did we get into the wilderness? God delivered us from bondage in Egypt to put us in the wilderness. Sure we might yearn for the taste of “leeks and garlic” when we are out in the wilderness and trusting God’s hand to provide, and anybody who doesn’t know that truth has a lot to learn. God delivered us from Egypt, with its bondage of sin and its ultimate end, which is death, and He put us into the wilderness. That is the missing message of modern Christianity, and it is high time that those who are not yet Christians understand what they are getting into. But my message today is to those of us who have been in the wilderness for a number of years.
“Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee. . .” One of God’s primary objectives is to humble you and me. You might say, “I thought He liked me.” He does, but there is no sin as hard for God to deal with as pride. Pride is rooted in the desire to exalt self. Pride is rooted in that driving force in our nature that makes us want our way. And pride is the expression of wanting my way to the point of deifying my way, so that anything that serves what I want becomes right.
We have to understand the enemy of the soul that leads to death. Sin starts with desire. The Scripture says, “when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin.” That word “lust” translates a Greek word that simply means “desire.” When desire hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin, and sin bringing forth death. Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” That is the root of all sin. But as Reinhold Niebuhr said, we cannot live with ourselves just going our own way; we have to convince ourselves and the world that our way is the right way. That is what produces the pride that God has to deal with, and He has trouble dealing with it.
There is no such thing as freedom in a vacuum, without a master. The devil tries to peddle that illusion to all of us. There is only a choice of masters. It is true that “whom the Son sets free is free indeed,” but “no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” The Scripture says we must “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus says, “He that forsaketh not all that he has cannot be my disciple,” and He lists everything that might compete with His claim on our lives, including one’s own life also. You are going to have the Lord as your Master, or you are going to be a slave to self, sin, the world and the devil.
Your choice is to serve either the masters of Egypt who give you leeks and garlic and a few little tokens here and now, or the Lord who will give you life eternal and the right to be called the “sons of God.” There is no middle ground between those two choices. You might say, “That is so old-fashioned!” I know that. Why is it so hard to communicate it? Because nobody acts like they believe it. Much of today’s church world has a message that says, “Come to God and everything is going to be okay,” or “How to make faith work for you,” or “How to be a success in God.” The message of God’s book says, “Become a Christian today and you’ll be led into the wilderness for 40 years. Become a Christian and God will lead you to humble you.” God wants you humbled!
Richard Halverson said that God has a purpose, a process and a time schedule. The purpose states His objective, the process is the way in which it is accomplished, and the time schedule is under His control. Everybody wants the purpose: we all want to be adjudged humble. But we don’t like the method God uses to get us there. How do you get humbled? The way to get humbled is to be humiliated. Honestly, who wants to be humiliated? But God knows what it takes to humble us. That is God’s purpose until He gets the self under control, even the self that aims toward God’s good things.
The people wanted to go to that Promised Land, but God wanted them ready. Jacob was God’s choice to receive the blessing, but an unhumble Jacob was not the instrument that God wanted to use. Jacob did not become Israel, a prince who has power with God, until he finally was humbled and broken to the point where all he could do was cling and hang on.
“Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee.” Circle those pronouns in your Bible. God in His infinite wisdom and all-knowing abilities has every one of you in His infinite care. You may have just been struck with a tragedy that has left you broken-hearted. At such a time you might think that God doesn’t even see you. But our God, with all-knowing precision and care, is leading each and every one of you individually. There is not a person receiving this message whom God doesn’t see and know about.
Does that mean each and every one of you is exactly where God wants you to be? No. But for those who acknowledge Him in all their ways, He will lead and work out His purpose. The promise is to those, like Jacob, who will finally quit wrestling in their folly and just start hanging on to God. In that instant, He goes to work on your problems. God does lead. That does not mean you cannot get out of step. I was wrong every time I thought that God did not know what He was doing. The truth is that there were many times when I did not know what He was doing. You can believe differently in your self-righteousness if you want, but there is not one of us who has walked unerringly during this past year. We all have questioned, doubted, and had second thoughts. We all have “double-thought,” as Peter did when he walked on the water and started to sink. Those actions do not take you out of God’s sight. Psalm 139 says, “LORD. . . Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising.” But the moment we turn to Him, and in the days we consistently acknowledge Him, He is leading. God has you in mind.
Whatever your condition, God is working on you to humble you. How many messages do we hear taught these days that this is God’s way? God laments about a people who only see His acts but who do not understand His ways, which are to humble you. I asked in a previous message, “How many people want to go to a church where the pastor is going to reprove them and rebuke them?” Likewise, how many people are going to hunt for a church where it is made clear that one of God’s purposes is to humble you? Is this God’s word or not? Too many people would say, “I would rather go to a service where I can feel electricity running up and down my spine. I want to go to a church that makes me feel good!” Well, so what? Who doesn’t want to feel good?
“God led thee these forty years. . .“ The number 40 is the product of the number 10, which typifies human responsibility, and the number 4, which symbolizes the whole earth. So as long as you are on this earth, this message applies to you. “God led thee these forty years on the wilderness, to humble thee.” How many people can honestly say, “Praise God for the way of humiliation?”
What is the second reason why God has led us this way? “Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness. . . to prove thee.” I don’t see anything to gladden anybody’s heart in this verse, do you? Yes, the Lord has led us. I suppose that would be something to be happy about, but it sure doesn’t look like it at the time. Is God on trial, or are we on trial? We are on trial? Peter said the same thing, Paul certainly said the same thing, and John also said it. While John was on the isle of Patmos, he referred to himself as “your brother, and companion in tribulation.”
“Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness,” to put thee on trial. That doctrine just won’t sell today. Why should we put up with these trials? Why should we even come to church? Because it is right! If we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He shall direct our paths. Psalm 37 says, “Commit thy way unto the LORD. . . and he shall bring it to pass.” What shall He bring to pass? He will humble thee and prove thee. Why does He want to put us on trial? “To know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.”
What a contrast to the message of so many books that line the shelves of Christian bookstores today. Many voices are saying, “Do you want to be a Christian? Just simply walk down the aisle and say this little prayer, and walk out in a rosy glow ever after.” That is just not the way it is! We are saved from Egypt, its bondage and its end, in order that God might go to work on us to get us ready for heaven. God’s purpose is to finish what He wanted to do in Adam and Eve, who messed up God’s plan. As a king is trained to be king, and from the beginning knows what he is being trained for, we are destined to be sons of God, and God is working us over. The only thing that will prove us is to put us in the wilderness. Remember, it is all tied together: “Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness. . . to prove thee.” You might ask, “But God, can’t I take my test in more comfortable surroundings?” No, it is the wilderness that proves you.
Salvation is like watching the waters of the Red Sea swallow up the Egyptians. You have parted company with the power of sin and you stand there on the shore and watch Egypt’s power drown. Your back is to the wilderness as you are looking at God’s accomplishment. You look toward the Red Sea and you see the waters swallow up the Egyptians, and like Miriam, you grab the timbrel and you lead the people in a dance and say, “Look what our Lord has done for us!” But 90 percent of Christianity is still standing there looking back rejoicing. They only have one message: “Look at them drown, and here we are delivered!” Then they are like the children of Israel, who journeyed only three days into the wilderness and found no water. That is when God proved them and the bitterness of their heart came out. That is when they began to murmur and their dance changed to complaint and they said, “Would to God we had died back in Egypt!”
More than once this last year I have said to God, “Why don’t You leave me alone, God, and let me do what I want to? Why do I have to go through this?” Well, without the “this,” I wouldn’t ask “why?” He proves you to know what is in your heart. Some people worry me because I never see anything squeezed out of them, which suggest to me that God isn’t leading them.
I like “sinners” better than most “saints.” At least sinners know what they are. I cannot stand bland Christians hiding the truth of what is inside them as they smile. But I like the reality of God’s true saints. Do you remember that Paul got angry at Titus? Titus promised to meet Paul at a certain place, and Titus didn’t show up. So Paul leaves because Titus was not there. You read on in Paul’s Epistles when much later he is describing a worse circumstance and he says, “The Lord comforted us by sending Titus.” God knew exactly when Titus should be there. He let Paul be proved by the earlier circumstance.
I grew up in the church and had to listen to too much idealistic preaching from those who placed themselves in an ivory tower, insulated from the saints who have to struggle in the reality of life. There were some congregations that received no more than a little platitude dished out on Sunday that would never meet the reality of their lives on Monday. You are not going to hell because you were devastated by what hit you on Monday, that dashed the hope you received on Sunday. God is working on you, that is all. He is proving you.
I could preach this message out of 1st Peter, where he tells those saints scattered throughout Asia to “eulogize” God in their tribulation. Peter tells them that the very pressure cooker they are in squeezes out that side of their nature for which Christ had to die. And if you love your Lord, you must want in some way to respond to Him for what He has done for you. Christ died for your sins. So without the pressure cooker, your old nature would not have come forth, and you would not know it was still in you.
There are many people who grow up in the church and go through life, and though they say it verbally, way down deep in their soul they do not really think that they did anything that put Jesus on the cross. They give lip service, they can state the creeds, they know exactly how to say the “sinner’s prayer,” but they very seldom sit in a church service on Sunday with any real sensitivity that Jesus had to die for the sins they committed in the past week. How many of you this past week were sensitively aware of doing things that Christ had to die for? That tells the state of your sensitivity, your understanding of God’s ways and your closeness to God.
Peter’s words are to a church that is enduring persecution. The practice and admonition to “greet one another with an holy kiss” became an excuse for accusing Christians of gross immorality. The taking of the Lord’s Supper and the recitation, “This is My body and this is My blood,” made the communities in which they worshipped gather in condemnation and accuse the Christians of cannibalism. And that was just the beginning. From there they were made the scapegoat for every evil in the Roman Empire. Peter describes the church as being persecuted on every side.
When that persecution hits you, it is going to bring forth reactions that will make you aware of what is still in your heart, and it is those sins that caused Jesus’ death. So what are you going to do about those sins? He already bore them, but we can identify with Him by putting down that sinful nature in our being, and taking that as an opportunity to deal with the residual element in us that is to be put off. Peter is telling us that we are going to be sons of God, and that we are moving into a positon of promise.
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee . . . to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.” There are people who will respond to a sermon and want to give their hearts to God. How easy it is to sing, “I Surrender All.” But God is going to find out, “Will you keep His commandments, or no?” Jesus says, “Ye are My disciples indeed, if ye continue in my word.”
“He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger. What does that do to the theory that says, “Since God is a good God, He will never let anything bad happen to you?” He suffered thee to hunger. That means He left you without what you needed, in the natural, long enough for you to hunger after it. I want you to understand that this is a legitimate hungering, not a deprivation of something that is illicit and wrong. There is no sin in hungering for food. But we are to remember that the God of all love and compassion “led thee, to humble thee, and to prove thee,” and He also “suffered thee to hunger.” That is pushing us to the extremity, depriving us of certain legitimate natural things. Let that settle in. This verse tells us that the way God leads in the wilderness sometimes brings us to deprivation of legitimate natural wants.
It is simply not true that you can attain a place with God where all the desires of a natural heart will be satisfied. When Christianity wakes up to that fact, there will be fewer disillusionments along the trip. Happiness is a natural desire, but it is not guaranteed to Christians. Money in the bank and physical security are natural desires, but God has not guaranteed those things. Food is a natural desire, but it is not always guaranteed. God will let us be deprived long enough to hunger, that He might feed us with “manna.” The word manna means “What is that?” I translate it as a whatchamacallit. The people went out and found this little white thing on the ground, and they used a word in their language to describe it, saying, “Here is this thing – what do we call it? What is it?”
“He suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with what is that?” Let food typify anything that satisfies natural desires. God causes us to find satisfaction in a whatchamacallit. It doesn’t look like something that will satisfy that hunger. The only thing we can say for it is, “God provided it, so eat it!” Then what did it taste like? Honey! The whatchamacallit tasted pretty good when you ate it. God’s ways are not our ways.
I am sure that there were some in the camp who complained, “Oh, Lord, I have a taste for leeks and garlic. At least they have a bite to them. And now I’m supposed to eat this white, bland stuff?” Leeks and garlic represent everything that satisfied natural taste. God takes the leeks and garlic away and feeds you with a whatchamacallit. He is going to develop new taste buds in you. He is going to make you feed on unknown things given by His hand. When God leads people out into a new way, they are always trying to hang on to a little bit of Egypt. But if they would grab hold of the whatchamacallit and eat it, they would find that it tastes like honey.
“That he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” God’s word proved the manna, and God’s word provides our path. God’s word says that He will provide. “Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.” The Septuagint Version translates the word chasteneth with a Greek word that means “to child-train.” So we are to remember today that the Lord humbles, proves and suffers us to hunger. That is, He takes away some things we have been feeding on to get us hungry enough to eat His whatchamacallits, and oh, how it hurts!
Some of us will never stop growing fat, sticking to a staple diet of the past, until God deprives us of it. Have you ever dieted long enough to find that you will eat certain foods that you formerly couldn’t stand? You have to get hungry enough to want to eat whatchamacallits. These are God’s ways.
God trains us like a coach, the way a coach makes a boxer fight one round before he fights fifteen. Why? Verse 16 says, “Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee . . .” Notice how He keeps bringing up that same theme. When God says something more than once, pay attention. “That he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end.” Circle that word thy. God has you in view individually, not just a bunch of us, you.
What is God’s purpose for this breaking, this humbling, this proving? “That he might . . . do thee good at thy latter end.” Circle those last two words. Someone will ask, “Do you mean I can’t get it here and now? Do you mean the preacher can’t guarantee a sure-fire, victoriously good day today?” No, you have to wait! That is what Christianity is about: you have to wait. That is the meaning of the 40 years in the wilderness, to humble thee, to prove thee, to let you hunger so He can teach you to feed on what He provides. He wants to chasten you, that is, to train you and make you stronger every day, to humble you and prove you. Why? “To do thee good at thy latter end.”
Christianity is always looking to the future. John Dewey conquered the world in the 1920s with progressive education. And as A.W. Tozer has pointed out, progressive education and pragmatism not only conquered the secular world, they conquered the church world. The fundamental effect of progressive education was to change the criteria of truth and value, to change the benchmarks by which judgments were made. Truth became that which worked for you as an individual, and value became that which satisfied you as an individual. The benchmark for all judgments was you. And the basis of every happening was now; only now exists.
The way you learned became much more important than what you learned. You learned to solve problems, and “problems” were defined as anything that upset your satisfaction now. And the solution to your problems was anything that gave you satisfaction now. Many people who have never studied philosophy are captive to a philosophy and do not know that they are slaves to it. This whole generation in American grew up just as captive as the Israelites in Egypt, in a bondage to self and its gratification, and preachers are having a terrible job trying to deliver them from it.
That is what is wrong with modern Christianity. Happiness and “what I want” have become the criteria of truth and value. “Give it to me now” has become the standard. That is heresy! We are destined for eternity, and if you don’t know that, you are not a Christian at all. Anything we get now is icing on the cake and only the earnest of our inheritance.
The only joy I am promised here and now is His presence. He is with me in the wilderness, with me to humble me in the wilderness, with me to strengthen me while I am being proven in the wilderness, with me to hold me up while I am being chastised in the wilderness, and with me while I am hungering in the wilderness, that I might learn the true source of life eternal: God and His word! That is Christianity, and there isn’t any other. God’s purpose is that out of this vale of tears He might bring forth what Malachi calls “His jewels,” to do thee good at thy latter end.
Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
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