“The Temptation to Forget, When Times Are Tough”  

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 

September 3, 2023 

Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service 

Pastor Nicoletti 

The Reading of the Word 

This morning, in our annual rotation through different portions of Scripture, we pause our time in Philippians, and we return now to our fall series in the Book of  Deuteronomy.  

For a brief refresher: The Book of Deuteronomy takes place as the second exodus generation of Israel is preparing to enter the promised land. God had rescued Israel from Egypt in the exodus, he brought them out of oppression and slavery, and to the edge of the land he had promised to Abraham. But then Israel rebelled against God. And so, God led them back into the wilderness for forty years, until that adult generation had passed away, and a new generation of Israel had risen up. Then he brought them back to the edge of the promised land, and charged them to enter once again. The Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’s final instruction to Israel before he dies and they go to enter the land. 

With that in mind, let’s turn to our text this morning: Deuteronomy 8:1-10. 

As I read the text aloud, where our English translation has replaced the personal, covenant, name of God, “Yahweh” with the more generic-sounding title “the Lord” (in all caps), I will continue my practice of restoring the covenant name back to the text.1 

With that said, we turn now to our text. Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning. 

Moses said to the people: 

8:1“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that Yahweh swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that Yahweh your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 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 Yahweh. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, Yahweh your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of Yahweh your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7 For Yahweh your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless Yahweh your God for the good land he has given you. 

This is the Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.) 

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25] 

Let’s pray … 

Prayer of Illumination 

Lord, we do believe that your word  

is firmly fixed forever, with you, in the heavens. 

Your faithfulness endures to all generations, 

you have made this world and it stands as you will it to. 

Lord, as your people, help us to never forget your precepts, 

Because by them you have given us life. 

Lord, we are yours, save us, 

for we have sought your ways. 

Grant us life now through this your word. 

In Jesus’s name. Amen 

[Based on Psalm 119:89, 90, 93, 94] 


Our text this morning is focused on how Israel will understand the difficult times they have been through. 

At this point in the story, Israel has wandered in the desert for forty years. For the men, women, and children standing at the edge of Canaan, this is what they’ve known for most of their lives. And it has not been easy. It has been, as verse two says, a time of being tested and humbled. 

By “testing” it means that it has been a test that has revealed what is in their hearts. And by “humbled” it means a time of trial. The Hebrew word used there can also mean “to afflict.” [Wright, 122] This has been a difficult time for Israel. 

Now, as the rest of the chapter attests, things are about to change, and that will bring its own challenges, but here the question that emerges is how God’s people should think of such times of testing, trial, and affliction. 

And we often need to consider the same question. How do you think of times of testing and affliction in your life? Take a moment, and bring such a period in your life to mind. Maybe it’s distant. Maybe it’s more recent. Maybe you’re walking through it right now. 

Bring that period to mind, because this morning, Moses will push us to think about the temptations we faced during those trials and afflictions, and how we related to God in the midst of it all. 

And as he does, what Moses has to tell us, at root, is that when we are faced with trials and afflictions, we are tempted to forget that God is our Father. 

When faced with trials and afflictions – when times are tough – we are tempted to forget that God is our Father. 

And to see that temptation more clearly, and to combat it, we need to consider three things: 

  • First, we need to consider the shape of those temptations. 
  • Second, we need to consider the alternate story behind those temptations. 
  • And third, we need to consider the truth that can defeat those temptations. 

So, the shape of those temptations, the alternate story behind those temptations, and the truth that defeats those temptations. 

The Temptation 

First, what is the shape of those temptations? 

When we face tough times – when we face trials and tribulations – we are tempted to forget that God is our Father … but what does that look like on the ground? 

Well, there’s a lot we could say about that, but our text this morning points us to four specific forms of this temptation that we face. It shows us that when times are tough, we are tempted to: 

  • Despise our daily dependence, 
  • Deny our need for God’s Word, 
  • Dispute that God has our best interests at heart, 
  • And disregard some of God’s commands 

So, we are tempted to despise, deny, dispute, and disregard. 

To Despise Our Daily Dependance 

First, in times of trial, we are often tempted to despise our daily dependance. 

Moses stresses that daily dependence in verses three and four. He writes: “And [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know.” […] And “Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.” 

What dynamic is Moses bringing their attention to here? 

Well, he is reminding them that as they walked through the trials and afflictions of the wilderness wandering, one of the great truths Israel had to grapple with was the reality of their daily dependance on God. And as they grappled with it, they were tempted to despise it. 

But their daily dependance on God was written for them in neon lights. They had no reliable sources of food in the wilderness. They had no reliable means of getting food or growing food. Their food came directly from God – he gave them manna, bread from heaven, to feed them and sustain them, and he did it on a day-by-day basis. With the exception of the day before the Sabbath, each day, for forty years, God gave Israel food for that day only. Anything they gathered beyond that day’s need would rot by the next morning. Israel’s trials in the wilderness forced them to see and to experience, and to remember, each day, the reality that they were daily dependent on the Lord. 

And that truth went beyond their need for new provisions and even to the maintenance of what they already had. Moses highlights that in verse four: in the wilderness, they were obviously dependent on God for their garments to remain usable and their bodies to keep working. They didn’t have the same resources to make new clothes, or to accommodate medical needs, as they might have elsewhere. And so, in each of those areas, they felt much more acutely their dependence on God, even to just maintain what they had. 

In the wilderness, Israel had their dependence on God highlighted for them. And as they saw that dependence, they were tempted to despise it. 

Trials and affliction, in general, tend to highlight our dependency. Often in times of trial or affliction, we’re either seeking, but failing to grasp, something we think we need, or we’ve lost something we think we need. But whatever the details, a common reality is that when things are tough, we feel more acutely just how dependent we are. We can’t, on our own, just exist. We’re dependent on so many other people and so many other things. So much is outside of our control. We want to be self-sufficient. We want to be self-secure. And we’re so obviously not, but we so desperately want to believe that we can be – we want to believe that if we just had this one or other thing, then we would be self-sufficient and self-secure. 

A theology professor at Bucknell University, Addison Leitch, once told the story of a conversation he had at a mission conference: 

“Two young women hearing his preaching decided they wanted to give their lives to missionary service. Both sets of their parents were extremely upset with Dr. Leitch […]. They said to him, ‘You know that there is no security in being a missionary. The pay is low, the living situation may be dangerous. We’ve tried talking to our daughters. They need to get a job and a career, maybe get a master’s degree or something like that so that they have some security before they go off and do this missionary thing.’ 

“And this is what Dr. Leitch told them: ‘You want them to have some security? We’re all on a little ball of rock called Earth, and we’re spinning through space at millions of miles an hour. Someday a trapdoor is going to open up under every single one of us, and we will fall through it. And either there will be millions and millions of miles of nothing – or else there will be the everlasting arms of God. And you want them to get a master’s degree to give them a little security?” [Keller, 26-27] 

The idea that we can be self-sufficient and self-secure is ludicrous. The universe around us points to it. Our very biology points to it. As Israel learned in the Exodus and as Moses reminds them here, we need food. Without it we become weak, and we eventually die. As Moses reminds Israel in verse 15 of this chapter, we also need water. Just a few days without it, and we perish. If that were not enough, remember that your life is not only like a breath, but it depends on breath – just a few minutes without it, and you are done in this life. With every breath, you have, built into your very body, a reminder, every second, of every day of your life, that you are a dependent creature – you cannot be self-sufficient or self-secure. You need provision from outside of you to live. 

This is an obvious and undeniable truth. It’s also a truth that our trials in life tend to highlight and remind us of. And it’s a truth that we are strongly tempted to despise.  

So the first form of this temptation we can face in times of trial is that we are tempted to despise our dependence on God. 

To Deny Our Need of God’s Word  

A second form this temptation can take is that we are tempted to deny our need of God’s Word. 

And we see this in verse three. There Moses says that one of the thigs God was making clear to Israel in the wilderness, was that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.” 

This verse, we should note, is not meant to negate the importance of bread for human life. Rather, what it denies is that human beings need “bread alone.” Rather, what we need includes everything that comes to us from God’s mouth. That includes, the promises of God, and the law of God, and most centrally God’s revelation to us of who he is, and how we can relate to him. [Wright, 123] 

We might think of it like this: It’s true that we need many things from God. But what we also need – in fact, what we most need – is God himself. We need a relationship with God. We need his Word to connect us with him, and to assure us of his love. But often, in times of trial, we resist that. 

We focus instead on the practical. We maybe stop reading the Bible … or we stop praying … or we stop going to church. Or, if we do those things, we do them only to seek practical helps, and not to draw close to God himself. And it’s not that the practical is bad – we may need those practical things. But we cannot live on the practical alone. We need every word that comes from the mouth of God. And that includes the words where he tells us who he is, and how we relate to him. We need that even more in times of trial and affliction. But it’s often in times of trial and affliction that we most resist that. 

It’s the sort of pattern many of us have seen in our children. Something is wrong. They are struggling. There’s some situation that they’re trying either to get through or to solve. And maybe they come to us for practical help, or maybe we go to them while they’re off trying to solve it themselves. But then, as they talk about the situation, we see their struggle, their anxiety, or their anger, or their sadness, or their distress. We see that they may need practical help. But we also know that they need more than that from us. They also need relational connection and comfort that only we can give. And so, maybe before we offer even a single practical help, we draw close to them, and we embrace them, and we speak words of comfort and love to them. 

And sometimes they receive that. Their tense bodies soften. They hug us back. They take a deep, calming breath. And it’s good. 

But other times they get even angrier. They push us away. They tell us they don’t want a hug. And they focus all the more fervently on the practical situation. They fail to see that in that moment, while they maybe do need real practical help, they also need more than that. The practical is not enough. 

And we can be like that when we relate to God. We can focus so myopically on the practical that we refuse any other Word he may have for us – any word of comfort, any word of love, any word of grace. We spurn his embrace, we deny the importance of our relationship with him in that moment, and we try to focus his attention on the practical issues at hand. 

One of the difficult lessons Israel had to learn in the wilderness – in their time of trial and testing – was that they didn’t just need things from God. They needed God himself. They couldn’t live on bread alone. They needed every word that came from God’s mouth. 

So the second temptation we often face in times of trial and affliction, is that we are tempted to deny our need for God’s word to us. 

To Dispute God Has Our Best Interests at Heart  

Third, in times of trial and affliction, we are tempted to dispute that God has our best interests at heart. 

And I think this aspect of Israel’s past is evoked by Moses’s repeating of God’s promise to Israel about where he is bringing them. 

Take a look at verses seven through ten. In Hebrew this is part of one long sentence, that just goes on and on about how wonderful the land will be where God is bringing them. [Wright, 125] This had always been God’s intention for Israel. But they had not always believed that. They had repeatedly disputed it. 

When God first brought Israel out of Egypt, and they faced trials and afflictions there, Israel’s response in Exodus 14 was to say: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” [Exodus 14:11] They assumed that God had brought them out of Egypt to kill them. 

When God saved Israel again, reiterated his promises to them, and then brought them to the edge of the promised land, Israel’s response was to say: “Why is Yahweh bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?” [Numbers 14:3] They again assumed that God had brought them to the promised land to kill them. 

When we are in times of trials, or when we’ve been through times of trial, we are tempted to dispute that God really has our best interests at heart. We can be tempted, instead, to believe he has the worst of intentions for us. 

Can you see times you’ve done that? Can you see times you’ve suspected that God was really just out to get you? That his real intention all along, is not to bless you, but to crush you? Have you found yourself disputing … or cynically dismissing … God’s promise that he is working all things for your good? 

It’s a common temptation in times of trial … and one that wreaked havoc in the lives of the first exodus generation of Israel. It was their downfall. It brought disaster on them and their relationship with God. But it’s still a common temptation today: In times of trial and affliction, we are tempted to dispute that God has our best interests at heart. 

To Disregard Some of God’s Commands 

Fourth and finally, in times of trial and affliction, we are tempted to disregard some of God’s commands to us. 

Moses stresses this in verse one. There, he says to the people: “The whole commandment that I commanded you today you shall be careful to do.” 

Now, again, Moses is looking forward to Israel’s new life in the land. But he does it in the context of reminding them of their time in the wilderness. And that was a time when Israel often did not keep the whole commandment of God. They often did not walk in all his ways. But instead, they disregarded some of his commandments. And the results were disastrous. 

But yet, it’s a very common tendency still for us today. 

In times of trial and affliction, how are you often tempted to disregard some of God’s commands?  

In what ways, in the midst of tough circumstances, are you tempted to believe that maybe sin is actually your friend?  

Maybe just a bit of sin: a bit of sinful deception, a well-aimed sinful attack on someone, a clever but sinful use of money, or a crafty sinful grasping at what is not yours – maybe just the right sin could fix the situation you’re in, and end your trial or difficulty. 

Or, if not that, then maybe sin could be your friend by at least making the trial bearable. Sin could comfort you and get you through it. If you could just enjoy a bit of drunkenness back home … or some sexual immorality late at night … or some secret gluttony in the afternoon … or some abusive anger vented at someone who can’t fight back … or some other sin – maybe that sin could carry you through the tough times. 

And so, you justify disregarding part of God’s commandments. It’s just part of them, you tell yourself – you’re doing great at keeping the other nine tenths of the law … what’s one tenth broken to get you through the day, or to help you out of a difficult situation? 

Are there times you have thought that way? 

How, in the midst of trials, have you been tempted to despise your dependence on God, to deny your need of God’s word, to dispute that God has your best interest at heart, and to disregard some of God’s commandments? 

Those questions, drawn from this text, help us see more clearly the shape of the temptation we face in the midst of trials. 

The Alternate Story 

But they then lead us to a second question: What makes those temptations so plausible to us? Why do those sinful claims seem so believable?  

And here we need to realize that under each of those surface temptations is one big foundational temptation. Under each of the four temptations we’ve reflected on is the deeper temptation to believe that God, actually, is a tyrant. 

Because each of those temptations makes perfect sense and is perfectly plausible if God is in fact tyrannical and unloving – if he’s a cold despot. 

Think about it for a minute. 

It makes sense to despise your dependence on God if God is a tyrant. Who wants to be dependent on a tyrant? That’s a recipe for abuse, because you can’t trust a tyrant, and if anything, with a tyrant, our dependence on him is really just one more tool he can use to manipulate and use us. 

It’s logical to deny our need for God’s Word if he is an abusive despot. Because a relationship to an abusive despot is never sincere. He may feign care for us, and we may feign affection for him, but with a despot there is no safety or comfort in a real relationship with them. 

It’s obvious that God doesn’t have our best interest at heart if he is a self-serving dictator. A dictator cares only for himself, and what he does may or may not work out for us, but frankly, he doesn’t care much one way or the other. 

And of course we should disregard and try to skirt God’s commands if he’s just an oppressive overlord. An oppressor’s rules are only in place to oppress – not to bless. And so why would we submit to them any more than we absolutely have to? No – we’ll do what we think we need to avoid punishment, and then, whenever we can, we’ll skirt his laws. Because those laws are not meant to bless us. 

The temptations we face in times of trouble don’t spring up from nothing. They are logical outworkings of a deeper, even more malicious temptation that’s going on in our hearts: the temptation to believe that God is an oppressor, a despot, a self-serving dictator, and an abusive tyrant.  

As Christians we might never say such things out loud. But every time we give in to one of those four temptations in a time of trial, that is what we’re saying in our hearts: that God doesn’t really care about me, he is cold and distant in his attention, he is oppressive and self-serving in his words and his actions, and so I need to look out for myself. I need to protect myself from him. 

It’s not a new temptation. It’s the same temptation Satan brought to the Garden and by which our First Parents fell. 

And that same temptation continues to resonate in our sinful human hearts. 

The foundational temptation underneath each specific temptation we face in times of trial, is the temptation to believe that God is, in fact, a tyrant. 

The Truth 

Which brings us to our third and final point: The Truth Moses brings to bear, to combat these temptations. 

And this we find in verse five. There Moses says to Israel, after recounting their trials in the wilderness: “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, so Yahweh your God disciplines you.” 

The truth to combat the lies of Satan in times of trouble is the reminder that God is our loving Father. And he cares for us as his child. 

And it’s a truth we should hold onto with confidence because God has proven his fatherly love over and over again. 

He has created us to be his children – formed us to be his sons and daughters, bearing his image in his world, and living our lives in a good and loving relationship to him. 

When we rebelled against him – when we fled from his household, he did not abandon or destroy us, but he sent his only Son to die for us, so that we might be saved, and restored to his family – adopted back, once again, as his beloved children. 

When we finally did turn back to him in faith, despite all we had done, despite all the ways we had rejected him, he did not lock us out of his household, he did not treat us as hired servants, but rather, he ran to us, and embraced us, and clothed us as his royal sons and daughters. 

And since we have come into his house, though our lives have been filled with so many shortcomings, so many repeated sins against him, big and small, even so, day after day, moment after moment, he has shown us incredible fatherly patience, forgiving us again and again, bearing with us, loving us, despite our sins and shortcomings. 

God has proven, in so many ways, that he is no tyrant. But in Christ, he is our loving and faithful Father. 

And that remains true even when he leads us into trials and afflictions.  

Because even in that, God has a fatherly purpose.  

Part of Moses’s point here is that the wilderness wandering of Israel – their forty years of trial and affliction – were not wasted time. They were not an “aside” in Israel’s history. But even in that time of difficulty, God had a fatherly purpose for his people. 

That purpose, we’re told in verse five, was a work of discipline. And it was discipline in both a specific sense and in a broader sense. 

When the Bible speaks of God’s fatherly discipline towards his children, it includes, of course, the discipline of correction: when God responds to our sin with discipline in order to bring us to repentance and sanctification. 

But it also includes the discipline of training, so that we might grow into spiritually mature children of God. A soldier in boot camp lives under a form of discipline, in order to mature into a good soldier. A ballplayer lives under a form of discipline in spring training in order to become a more competent ballplayer. God’s fatherly discipline often works in the same way. In fact, sometimes when we are especially faithful, God rewards us with greater discipline, so that we might become even more spiritually mature.  

Of course, other times, discipline comes because we have been unfaithful. But in both cases, it is fatherly discipline. It may be unpleasant at the time. But God intends it for our good. Because in Christ, he is our loving Father. 

When we believe that – when we really believe that God is our loving Father, then we can overcome the four temptations we’ve just considered, in times of trial. 

Confident that God is our Father, we can depend on him without resentment, just as a small child can happily depend on his father. 

Confident that God is our Father, we can eagerly receive his word, because as children, we know we that don’t just need things from our heavenly Father, we know we need him, himself. We need his words of love to us. We need his loving embrace. 

Confident that God is our Father, we can trust his intentions for us. We may not understand what he’s doing in our lives, but we can be sure of his love, and so we can entrust ourselves to his will and his plan, even when it confounds us. 

And confident that God is our Father, we can hold to all of his commands, because we know that they are for our good. His commands are there to bless us, not to harm us. And we can trust him for that, even when we struggle to see the logic of what he tells us to do. 

As we remember that God is our Father, we can rest securely in his arms, as children of our Heavenly Father. 


But we often need to be intentional about remembering this truth.  

And intentionally reminding ourselves of these truths is not something we outgrow in this life. It’s something even Jesus did. 

Because Jesus too faced trials in the wilderness. He too was tempted there by Satan in a time of testing and affliction.  

And the very first temptation that the devil brought to Jesus was to despise his human dependence by using his power to make himself self-sufficient: it was the temptation to turn stones into bread, for himself, so that, in his human nature, he would no longer be a dependent creature.  

And the foundation of that temptation was the question of Jesus’s relationship to God the Father. Satan said: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” [Matthew 4:3] 

“If you are the Son of God.” Do you see what’s going on here? Along with the surface temptation was a deeper temptation, as Satan tried to plant a seed of doubt that maybe God was not Jesus’s Father. [Wright, 125] 

How did Jesus respond? 

Well, he quoted from our text this morning. He quoted from verse three: “He answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” [Matthew 4:4] 

Now, there were reasons why Jesus quoted that specific verse of course. But often, in the Bible, when someone cites or quotes from an earlier portion of Scripture, they’re not just bringing to mind that verse alone – they’re often intending to bring to mind the passage in general that it comes from. And I think that’s obviously the case here as well. 

Jesus didn’t just grasp at a verse that had something to say about bread. He brought up, and brought to mind, a passage that reminded him of his relationship to God. 

Satan began his temptation with the words “If you are the Son of God …” And Jesus responded by quoting from a passage, that just a few verses later said, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, Yahweh your God disciplines you.” Jesus reminded himself of his relationship to God. He reminded himself that he was God’s Son, and God was his Father. And he reminded himself that that was true even in times of trial and affliction – even in the wilderness of life. 

We need to remind ourselves of that as well. 

When you are in times of trial and affliction, you need to be alert to the temptations that will accompany it: the temptations to despise your dependence on God, or deny your need for God’s word, or to dispute that God has your best interests at heart, or to disregard some of his commands. You need to be alert to those. 

And then, when temptations come, you need eyes to see the temptation beneath the temptation. You need to have ears to hear the “If” that comes before Satan’s temptation: “If you really are a child of God …” “If God really is a loving Father …” The temptation will always be to believe that he is not – to willfully forget that God is your Father. 

And then, when that temptation hits us, we need to intentionally remember the truth – we need to remind ourselves, again and again, who we are to God and who he is to us. We need to proclaim, to ourselves, to others, to the devil himself, that in Christ, God is our Father, and we are his children. He loves us. He’s sent his Son to save us. He’s received us with love and joy. He’s been so patient with us. And so how can we doubt his fatherly love towards us, even when he leads us through trials and afflictions – even when he disciplines us for our good? 

And when we remind ourselves of his love … when we believe that he is our Father … then we can delight in our dependence on him … we can seek his loving Word to us … we can trust that he has our best interest at heart … and we can embrace all of his Fatherly instruction for us.  

We can resist the temptations that come to us in times of trial – because we know that God is our Father, and we are his children, and he would never leave us nor forsake us. 



This sermon draws on material from: 

Keller, Timothy. On Death. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2020. 

Wright, Christopher. Deuteronomy. NIBC. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996. 

Note: In my preaching I often cite and draw from a range of sources, which includes material from Christians within my theological tradition, Christians outside my theological tradition (in keeping with our church’s core value of “Reformed Catholicity”), and also (following the Apostle Paul’s example in Acts 17) non-Christians who are well outside of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy. And so, when I cite an author or a source, that citation should not be understood or construed as me necessarily agreeing with, endorsing, or recommending to others anything else from that author or source, except for what I explicitly say I agree with, endorse, or recommend. When engaging with different materials and thinkers, all Christians must exercise wisdom and discernment to determine what is helpful, appropriate, and edifying for each person, taking into account their current needs, wisdom, and spiritual maturity. 

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