Deuteronomy Chapter 8
The Jewish feast of Rosh Hashanah—the New Year—is a time to think about new beginnings! One of my favorite Jewish prayers that is said on the Jewish New Year, which falls this year on the evening of September 25 and concludes at sundown on September 27, is called the Shehecheyanu, which literally means, “that we are alive!” Allow me to recite this for you.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man ha’zeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
According to Jewish tradition, this prayer is said whenever we enter a new season . . . a holiday, a birth, a new house, job, marriage. It is a prayer of gratitude to God for enabling us to enter a new season or time of life. It is a reminder to thank God for His faithfulness after going through something difficult . . . we stop, reflect, and express our gratitude to God for His love and faithfulness
I have many reasons to say this prayer at this moment, as Jewish people around the globe begin a new year, which, according to the Jewish calendar, is year 5783!
We have passed through great difficulties over the last several years: we have experienced social, health, and political crises; a long and now protracted war in Ukraine; and the growing intensity of terrorist attacks in Israel to name a few. In the midst of these worldwide challenges, you might be going through a personal wilderness of financial hardship, declining health, or family struggles.
This life and our experience in a fallen world may easily be compared to the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel—it is filled with both joy and suffering!
Yet, we have made it, by the grace of God! You are reading this devotion, which in itself is certainly a very good sign! But, if you are like me, you are also ready for a new start. His mercies are new every morning, every day, and every year. He is unchanging in His love and grace, ready to forgive, bless, and guide. He is the God of new beginnings!
I have been reading Deuteronomy chapters 7–9 and was struck by some of the life lessons the ancient Israelites learned through their desert wanderings found in chapter 8.
We know from this chapter that hard times are not always thrust upon us because of our sin and disobedience . . . though sometimes it is! Yet, often the Lord leads us through the wilderness to help us grow in grace.
I want to highlight three lessons I have been learning through Deuteronomy 8 and my experiences these past couple of years, and hopefully this will encourage your soul as together we enter this new year with gratitude to God for His love and care.
First, God leads us into the wilderness of life to shape our character.
Many of our most valuable life lessons come through experiencing hard times, not good times. However, most often, we only discover these lessons upon reflection once the struggles and difficulties are over. Clearly Moses was calling upon the Jewish people to reflect and learn from their forty years of wilderness wanderings before they entered the blessings of the promised land.
In verse two, Moses wrote, “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”
Sometimes, the difficult challenges we face are gifts from God designed to help us better understand what is in the depths of our hearts. We learn more about God—and ourselves—during hard times.
Moses’ use of the word ’anah (עָנָה) meaning humble in verse two caught my attention. It is the very same Hebrew term used in Leviticus 23:27, which says:
“On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord” (emphasis added).
This humbling of oneself was a reminder to Israel to completely rely upon God for everything.
Yeshua, Jesus our Messiah, willingly chose to humble Himself and experience affliction for a redemptive purpose.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4, emphasis added). Isaiah used the same word for humble (עָנָה) used in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Afflictions and suffering are not always bad from God’s perspective. He often allows or even causes these experiences for our benefit. He uses difficulties to purify us, and when we understand His purposes for our suffering, it can lead to greater joy and a more powerful sense of His presence with us in the midst of the wilderness.
The difficult experiences of life help us identify with Yeshua who went through great suffering to identify with us.
In the New Testament, His brother James wrote,
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
The second lesson we can learn from the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness is that God is sovereign and used the trials of life to purify our souls and—for Jesus followers—to make us more like our Savior.
God uses wars, seasons of serious illness, and even pandemics in the lives of Jesus’ followers to helps us love Him and others even more.
This was also true of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us,
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. . . . Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:10, 17–18)
Finally, we learn that we can trust Him fully to protect and provide for us in both good times and bad.
Moses points out the ways in which God cared for them during forty years of wilderness wanderings, and that He will do the same once they cross the Jordan and enter the promised Land. We know He will also care for Jesus’ followers in the same way.
You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. (Deuteronomy 8:2–4, emphasis added)
I am amazed at how He has cared for Chosen People Ministries these last couple of difficult years. Thousands heard the gospel, our staff and finances grew, He fed us (a little too much!), and though there were moments when we thought we might wear out, He did not allow it. As we reflect today on what God has done for us in the wilderness, we are able to rejoice knowing that He takes care of us and uses seemingly bad experiences to help us grow in our faith.
Moses offered a final warning to the children of Israel that good times can turn out badly if we allow ourselves to grow comfortable in this world—this wilderness, which is not our true home—and forget about the Lord. His good promises assure us of a bright future. He calls us to remain faithful during the hard times, to grow in faith, and to learn to be totally dependent upon Him—lessons we could never easily learn when everything is going well.
“Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today” (Deuteronomy 8:11).
We learn some of life’s best lessons in the darkness. But we must continue to apply them in the light. What joy it is to look at all God did for the Israelites in the wilderness and what He has done for us during the difficult moments He allows us to experience as well.
Let us remember that the same God who led the Israelites through the wilderness is the God who loves us, sent His Son to die for our sins, and provides all we need to walk through the wilderness of this life. We, too, will make it into the land of promise because He is faithful—His mercies are new every morning, how great is His faithfulness.
Allow me to offer you a word of blessing . . . the traditional Jewish New Year’s greeting:
“L’Shana tovah tikatevu!”
May you be inscribed for a good year—based upon the tradition that God inscribes us in the Book of Life at the end of the Day of Atonement because of our fruitful repentance during Rosh Hashanah and the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur.
Yet, as followers of Jesus the Messiah we know that repentance does not save—we are only saved through His finished work at Calvary. Because of His sacrificial death, our names have been inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
I pray you will have a good and sweet year, knowing that Jesus the Messiah has inscribed you into the Lamb’s Book of Life.