In addition to the danger of being drawn aside to transgress the covenant, by sparing the Canaanites and their idols out of pusillanimous compassion and false tolerance, the Israelites would be especially in danger, after their settlement in Canaan, of falling into pride and forgetfulness of God, when enjoying the abundant productions of that land. To guard against this danger, Moses set before them how the Lord had sought to lead and train them to obedience by temptations and humiliations during their journey through the desert. In order that his purpose in doing this might be clearly seen, he commenced (Deu 8:1) with the renewed admonition to keep the whole law which he commanded them that day, that they might live and multiply and attain to the possession of the promised land (cf. Deu 4:1; Deu 6:3).
To this end they were to remember the forty years' guidance through the wilderness (Deu 1:31; Deu 2:7), by which God desired to humble them, and to prove the state of their heart and their obedience. Humiliation was the way to prove their attitude towards God. עִנָּה, to humble, i.e., to bring them by means of distress and privations to feel their need of help and their dependence upon God. נִסָּה, to prove, by placing them in such positions in life as would drive them to reveal what was in their heart, viz., whether they believed in the omnipotence, love, and righteousness of God, or not.
The humiliation in the desert consisted not merely in the fact that God let the people hunger, i.e., be in want of bread and their ordinary food, but also in the fact that He fed them with manna, which was unknown to them and their fathers (cf. Exo 16:16.). Feeding with manna is called a humiliation, inasmuch as God intended to show to the people through this food, which had previously been altogether unknown to them, that man does not live by bread alone, that the power to sustain life does not rest upon bread only (Isa 38:16; Gen 27:40), or belong simply to it, but to all that goeth forth out of the mouth of Jehovah. That which “proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah” is not the word of the law, as the Rabbins suppose, but, as the word כֹּל (all, every) shows, “the word” generally, the revealed will of God to preserve the life of man in whatever way (Schultz): hence all means designed and appointed by the Lord for the sustenance of life. In this sense Christ quotes these words in reply to the tempter (Mat 4:4), not to say to him, The Messiah lives not by (material) bread only, but by the fulfilment of the will of God (Usteri, Ullmann), or by trusting in the sustaining word of God (Olshausen); but that He left it to God to care for the sustenance of His life, as God could sustain His life in extraordinary ways, even without the common supplies of food, by the power of His almighty word and will.
As the Lord provided for their nourishment, so did He also in a marvellous way for the clothing of His people during these forty years. “Thy garment did not fall of thee through age, and thy foot did not swell.” בָּלָה with מִן, to fall off from age. בָּצֵק only occurs again in Neh 9:21, where this passage is repeated. The meaning is doubtful. The word is certainly connected with בָּצֵק (dough), and probably signifies to become soft or to swell, although בָּצֵק is also used for unleavened dough. The Septuagint rendering here is ו̓פץכש́טחףבם, to get hard skin; on the other hand, in Neh 9:21, we find the rendering ὑποδήματα αὐτῶν ου' διεῤῥάγησαν, “their sandals were not worn out,” from the parallel passage in Deu 29:5. These words affirm something more than “clothes and shoes never failed you,” inasmuch as ye always had wool, hides, leather, and other kinds of material in sufficient quantities for clothes and shoes, as not only J. D. Michaelis and others suppose, but Calmet, and even Kurtz. Knobel is quite correct in observing, that “this would be altogether too trivial a matter by the side of the miraculous supply of manna, and moreover that it is not involved in the expression itself, which rather affirms that their clothes did not wear out upon them, or fall in tatters from their backs, because God gave them a miraculous durability” (Luther, Calvin, Baumgarten, Schultz, etc.). At the same time, there is no necessity to follow some of the Rabbins and Justin Martyr (dial. c. Tryph. c. 131), who so magnify the miracle of divine providence, as to maintain not only that the clothes of the Israelites did not get old, but that as the younger generation grew up their clothes also grew upon their backs, like the shells of snails. Nor is it necessary to shut out the different natural resources which the people had at their command for providing clothes and sandals, any more than the gift of manna precluded the use of such ordinary provisions as they were able to procure.
In this way Jehovah humbled and tempted His people, that they might learn in their heart, i.e., convince themselves by experience, that their God was educating them as a father does his son. יִסַּר, to admonish, chasten, educate; like παιδεύειν. “It includes everything belonging to a proper education” (Calvin).
The design of this education was to train them to keep His commandments, that they might walk in His ways and fear Him (Deu 6:24).