“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 the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)
The nation of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. Though they constantly rebelled against Moses and complained about how God was treating them, God remained faithful. When they had no food, he provided for them. When they had nothing to drink, God brought forth water from a dry rock (Numbers 20:11). He remained faithful in His promise to lead Israel into the prosperous land of Canaan.
There is no shortage of parallels between the nation of Israel and the Christian Church. (By parallels, I mean typology, not allegory. They’re two different things.) In fact, one of the main themes of the Book of Hebrews is just how important the Old Testament nation of Israel was in foreshadowing Christ’s work for the church. How does this verse from Deuteronomy hold significance for us today?
The wandering of Israel in the desert provides us striking images that we can use to explain the Church’s sojourn on this earth. What did God do to Israel? He humbled them. Yes, He eventually led them into the Promised Land, but not before they were disciplined time and time again for their rebellion. They were taught that without God, they all would have perished in the wilderness. God wanted them to learn that without Him, they amounted to absolutely nothing. He taught them not to just live on bread and physical food, but also to yearn for and treasure the life given by the Word of God, with which preserved His people.
Hopefully you can see the parallels begin to line up between Israel and the Church. Does the Church exist apart from Christ and His work? Certainly not. Just as Israel would have perished without God, so too would the Church perish if Christ were not to have complete reign over it. The people of Israel attempted to wander off in directions that differed from God’s plan. Ultimately, He made it clear to them that He was in charge, not them. We are told by Paul in Colossians 1:18 that “[Christ] is also head of the body, the Church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” Christians, as the Church, are the body of Christ here on earth, with Christ Himself as the head and king. Jesus Himself is the one who ultimately provides for and preserves the Church.
God gave the Israelites the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where their wandering and sojourning would cease, where they could live in peace. God brought them to Canaan only after He had humbled and disciplined His people. They were taught to be completely reliant on God and the words of promise from His mouth. God richly rewarded in His mercy and grace, continuing to guide them despite their rebelliousness.
This is a picture of our lives as Christians. Every single day, we are disciplined by God’s law, broken down, made completely worthless in our sin, only for Jesus to pick us back up, wash our sins away through baptism, and speak to us the message of God’s faithfulness. We amount to absolutely nothing on our own. Our worth cannot be found anywhere apart from Christ. We were killed, buried, and resurrected along with Jesus when we were linked to His perfect righteousness in baptism. We spend our lives in a sinful world, constantly clinging to Christ’s promise of Heaven. We are taught not to rely on worldly things, but on the Word of God. Our Heavenly Father feeds us holy and faith-sustaining manna in the gift of communion. Christ reigns over us, over the Church, and promises to never forsake us. He will guide us until He returns, leading us into the Promised Land of Heaven, where we will live under Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We recall these words of promise given to us by God years ago:
“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.'”
Isaiah 25:8-9 (ESV)
 Luther’s Small Catechism, Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed