Lessons learned in the Wilderness

Week twenty one: Deuteronomy 6–8; 15; 18; 29–30; 34

Malcolm Gladwell made the 10,000-hour rule a big hit with the simple concept that mastery of a skill comes after someone practices it for 10,000 hours. The children of Israel were under the tutelage of the Lord for 40 years. Calculating their learning time, keeping it to only 12 hours per day, the children of Israel experienced 175,200 hours of learning in the wilderness. Hopefully, the children of Israel obtained mastery in following the law and following the Lord.

In Deuteronomy, or the second law, the Lord seems to repeat himself. But this repetition reviews all that the children of Israel should have learned during their sojourn in the wilderness. In Deuteronomy chapter 8, the Lord said: “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.” (Deut 8:2)

We are similarly on a sojourn to humble and prove us so that we can know our hearts and whether we will keep His commandments even in the tough conditions of the wildernesses in our lives. In this chapter, the Lord reviewed with the children of Israel the same lessons He wants us to learn during our sojourn here on earth.

First, the Lord fed the Israelites manna so that they would learn that man does “not live by bread alone” (Deut. 8:3). When the Savior was fasting in the wilderness, Satan tested the His self-control by tempting Him: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” (Matthew 4:3) The Savior answered by quoting from Deuteronomy, referring to the test the children of Israel had of eating manna in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Have we learned the lesson that the word of God should be foremost in our lives, far above other worldly appetites?

During the Savior’s earthly ministry, he also referenced the lessons learned from manna: “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat…. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger… The Jews then murmured at him because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves.” (John 6:35, 41, 43). He then referenced the sacrament, representing the new covenant and the new manna coming down from heaven: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world… He that eateth my flesh and drink my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (John 6: 51, 56) As we partake the sacrament and feast on His words in the scriptures, we partake of His sustenance.

The next lesson has two parts to it. First, “thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.” (Deut. 8: 5) and second: “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains…a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it;” (Deut. 8:7, 9) If we remain faithful during times of trial or chastening, He will bless us so that we “shall not lack any thing.”

How do we act after we are blessed? Do we forget the Lord? Do we begin to say in our hearts – I did this on my own? The Lord warns us: “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments and his judgments and his statutes… And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God…. And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.” (Deut. 8:11, 13, 14, 17)

The prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon was similarly worried about the wealth of his people. He reminded them: “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good – to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:18-19)

Finally, the Lord admonishes us to always remember Him, our bread of life. We promise to do that when we take the sacrament, partaking of both the bread and the water. The Lord warned us: “But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth… And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish…because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God.” (Deut. 8:18-20)  

The blessings of the Lord in our lives should help us remember Him and acknowledge that He is the source of all that we have. King Benjamin, during his temple sermon, reminded his people of the importance of acknowledging that everything they had was from the Lord: “I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily…” (Mosiah 4:11)

As we acknowledge the Lord’s hand in our lives and consecrate all that He has given us to further His kingdom on the earth, we shall become His sons and daughters. (Mosiah 5)

Stephen Ricks taught that the focus of Deuteronomy is the love the Lord has for His people and the love we should have for Him. He wrote: “The Israelites, as the children of God and the recipients of his blessings, are expected to return his love. Love (Hebrew ‘ahab) and reverence (Hebrew yare’), translated in the King James Version as fear, are to be the motivating factors in Israel’s relationship with God.[i] In his first epistle, John wrote, “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19.)  Christ taught his disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.)

The New Testament contains more than eighty references to or quotations from Deuteronomy. [ii]  When Jesus was asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” he responded by quoting from Deuteronomy: “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:28–30; Matt. 22:37Luke 10:27Deut. 6:4–5.)

May we find joy in the Lord this week as we always remember Him, as we show our love for Him by acknowledging His blessings in our lives, and as we serve Him.

[i] Stephen Ricks, “Deuteronomy: The Covenant of Love,” Ensign, April 1990.

[ii] Stephen Ricks, “Deuteronomy: The Covenant of Love,” Ensign, April 1990.

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