Updated: Feb 12, 2019
by Pauline Daniel
When we hear the phrase “man shall not live by bread alone” we usually think of Jesus saying this to Satan when tempted to turn stone to bread. But this was first used by Moses in Deut 8:3 when he told the Israelites that manna wasn’t just sent to feed them, but to make them know that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. In other words, the purpose of manna was to teach the people faith.
How was bread supposed to teach that man wasn’t to live by bread alone? Let us put ourselves in the Israelites’ shoes and find out.
A couple of months after the Israelites left Egypt their provisions began to run out. They were in the wilderness with no source of food. Slavery in Egypt was beginning to look preferable to dying of starvation (Ex 16:1-3). It was then that God promised to send them manna. They now had to choose – believe that God will provide and continue on the journey (which was taking them further away from civilization and sources of food) or go searching for food. That was the first choice of faith.
Then when the manna actually came, they were told to collect only enough for one day (Ex 16:19). In Chennai, whenever there is a warning of flooding or cyclone, we see people stockpiling food because they are worried that provisions will run out. That is a natural human response. But the Israelites were told not to do that. God enforced this rule by making the manna spoil when kept overnight. They had to trust that God would give manna every day. There was no backup plan to rely on in case manna didn’t appear. Their faith had to be in God, not in their stock of provisions. That was their second lesson.
Then the Sabbath came and they were told to collect enough for 2 days so that the Sabbath rest wasn’t violated (Ex 16:23). The people had seen manna getting spoilt when they tried to store it overnight. Yet they were told to believe that the result on the Sabbath would be different. They had to learn to obey God even when it went against common sense or past experience. That was the third lesson of faith.
So God sending them manna wasn’t just about providing for them, it was about teaching them faith and obedience. Bread was used to teach them that man didn’t live by bread alone but by obeying God’s word.
These are lessons that Jesus reiterates in the New Testament. As Jesus’ followers we need to have a faith that
- Doesn’t turn back when faced with difficult circumstances : No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. – Luke 9:62
- Relies on God’s provision rather than one’s own effort : Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matt 6:31-33
- Obeys even when the command seems illogical by human wisdom : But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Luke 6:27-28
Have we learnt to not live by bread alone?