And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD 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. 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. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:3, 4; ESV)
You may be aware of the miracles of the Messiah commonly known as the feedings of the 5000 and 4000. What you may not be aware of is how they are tied to this verse. Yeshua made explicit references to the manna not too long after the miracle, but there is more to it than that. The connection with our Torah portion is found in a curious question Yeshua asked one of his disciples leading up to the miracle.
A large crowd had gathered, but they had nothing to eat. So Yeshua asked his disciple, Phillip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat? (John 6:5; ESV) - a fairly understandable question, until we read John's comment immediately following. He writes, "He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do" (John 6:6; ESV). "Test him"? What kind of test is this? He wasn't testing his knowledge of grocery stores and fast food outlets in the area. He and his disciples knew that there was nowhere to buy food, let alone have the amount of money to purchase it. It is clear from the interchange that follows that there was no anticipation on the disciples' part that a miracle was about to be performed. Yet John says Yeshua's question was a test.
The parallels between this situation and the verse from our Torah portion are striking. In both cases the people were purposely led by God into a situation where they had no food. Yeshua like Moses had a large crowd following him. In each case, they faced enormous need. Moses tells us that as God led the people in the wilderness, he was testing them to know what was in their heart. The purpose of this kind of testing is to demonstrate the quality of the thing tested. When our hearts are tested, we discover the kind of people we really are and where we are actually at in our relationship with God.
So like the people of Israel, Yeshua also tested Phillip in the wilderness. Phillip's heart was being tested by the Messiah. By this time, Phillip, like the people of Israel, had seen God's power by Yeshua's hand. But had Phillip come to a place of knowing Yeshua for who he really was? Obviously not.
You might want to come to Phillip's defense; I do. He didn't know what Yeshua was going to do. Yet it seems that Yeshua expected Phillip to trust him. If God is real, does he ever lead us into situations where he will not provide? Is that not one of the key lessons of the manna? Had not Yeshua already sufficiently demonstrated that? So why tell Yeshua what can't be done? Shouldn't knowing him always result in confident faith?
My sympathy for Phillip in this situation reveals the condition of my own heart. When I face difficult problems, I, like Phillip, think first of my lack of ability to resolve it. I easily get anxious and overwhelmed by difficult situations. But for those who know God, is anxiety and being overwhelmed ever an appropriate response? My heart has been tested, and I have been found wanting.
But, thankfully, that is not the end of it. God knows our lack of faith better than we do. He tests us to cause us to face reality. Unless we are honest about the condition of our hearts and lives, we won't become the people God calls us to be.
Both through Moses and Yeshua, God teaches us to focus not on our needs and the normal processes of life ("man does not live by bread alone"), but instead to be attentive to everything he says to us ("but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD"). As he tests us, we have the opportunity to learn this lesson.