Here is the sermon on Deut 8,2-6.11-18 held by Rev. Dr. Karl Böhmer this morning. 2 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. 3 And he humbled you andlet 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[a] that comes from the mouth of the Lord.4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lordyour God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the Lordyour God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today,12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock,16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Bewarelest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Famous Last Words. For some reason, people seem to set a lot of store by a person’s last words. They are often recorded for posterity. There are many famous examples, ranging from Roman Emperor Vespasian who died saying, “Woe is me. Methinks I’m turning into a god,” to General John Sedgwick who was killed in battle during US Civil War while saying, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…” to Karl Marx who said to his housekeeper: “Go on, get out – last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
In a sense, the whole book of Deut. is a book of Famous Last Words. They are Moses’ Famous Last Words, spoken to the people of God gathered at the river Jordan getting ready to go and finally take possession of the promised land. One last time, Moses marshals his strength, one last time, raises his voice, addresses the people of God, one last time. The difference being, of course, that Moses’ Famous Last Words also happen to be just one part of the enduring Word of God, that God himself is speaking, and that he also has something to say to you and me here today.
I would like to exposit on what the Lord says here in three brief sections. The first is “The curse of blessing;” the second, “the blessing of curse;” and the third, “the food of God’s people.” Now the Lord has promised to his people that they will enter a land of milk and honey, a land with many blessings. Blessings to make the mouth water. Much to eat, not just kop en pootjies (walkie talkies), not just stywe pap and phutu, but honey and meat and gravy, gourmet goodies to make you go weak at the knees. And there will be flocks, great herds they can graze on the grounds of the Union Buildings, and money too, silver and gold, ingots and bullion to make the Guptas jealous. Yes, the Lord will bless his people. But, warns Moses, but… but… Remember the curse of blessing. Take care, he warns his children, take care that these things do not so fill your stomach and so fill your heart that you take your mind off the Lord and set your heart on your wealth, that you devote your prayers to your stomach. A sumptuous mansion in Silver Lakes or Sandton and sushi parties with Kenny Kunene is something many of us may secretly lust after. But such blessing comes also with such great curses that one wonders whether it might not be better to stay in a shack and have nothing to eat but mopani worms. For when the stomach is bloated and full, it is easy to forget the Lord. [14.17] When want becomes need, and need becomes have, then have also becomes deserve, and deserve becomes pride, and pride worships no god but the great false golden god ego. As the saying goes, be careful of what you wish for – you just might get it. To put it plainly: The great prophet Moses warns God’s people that the curse of blessing might well mean spiritual – and therefore eternal – death.
The great church father Tertullian preached on this text and commented (I paraphrase): “God made it so that those who eat a lot and who always want to eat more, who are greedy and have voracious appetites, that the wealth they grab and the riches they seize will not satisfy them but make the appetite only ever greater. Israel replaced God with God’s blessings, and they pulled them away from God. Their wealth made theirs heart dull, and their ears heavy, and their eyes blind; so they could no longer see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. (Isa 6:10) This is why God expressly forbade his people from eating fat: (Lev. 3:17) So that the fat would not make them so full and dull that they have no room for God. Here God was teaching man not to be studious of the stomach.” Tertullian, On Fasting, VI, ANF 4:105.
Yes, dear students, the blessing you want may well come with potential curses you don’t want. But by the same token, the “curse” you have may well be a blessing. As the people of Israel stand there by the river – tired, weary after 40 years of wandering, without milk and honey, having long lived in a land of snakes and scorpions and thirsty ground and little water, a land of permanent heat wave and rocky barrenness – who would ever want to live in a place like that? And for 40 years! Surely they wanted to forget such horror as quickly they could – in his Famous Last Words, Moses tells them: Don’t forget. Remember the hardship and your suffering. Because this “curse” was God’s blessing to you. He humbled you, so that you would trust only in Him to lead and guide, to feed and provide. He was testing your heart, to see what was in it. Your father was disciplining you for your good. So it is with you in your life. You might well look on what is hard in your life and wonder when it will end, look at your suffering and your lack and need, and wonder whether God has forgotten you, hates you, is cursing you. Dear saints, listen to Moses. Here in his Famous Last Words he shows you this is not so, and the NT backs him up. What son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Heb. 12) If there were no discipline in your life – hardship, testing, endurance – then it means you are fatherless, there is no father in your life who loves you and shapes you and molds you as his own true child. Much that you look on as curse is in fact blessing.
Yes, and then we consider in this week of temptation and in this time of fasting what is the food of God’s people. Moses reminds the people of the manna God gave them every morning. Manna literally means “Man hu?” “What is this?” The people did not know what they received from God’s hand. The Lord had to open their eyes and show them. But always there was enough for just one day, not more. They got each day their daily bread. Here again the Lord was teaching them through His blessing and care. Their hunger kept them close to Him, the bread bound them to Him.  The manna was a daily lesson that the Israelites could not feed themselves, could not provide for themselves, dare not turn away from the Lord; they had to trust Him to give them their daily bread, and they had no choice but to rely on Him completely. It is no different with you and me. Jesus teaches us to pray: Give us this day our daily bread. Food for this day, trust in the Lord always. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. God’s Word is no Famous Last Word, but an eternal, living Word that is your true food. Think here of the words of Jesus at his temptation, as he fights Satan for you, a fight that came down to the finish at the cross. Draw strength from his life-giving word for your own times of temptation. Draw nourishment and strength and healing and zeal and life itself from Christ, who is the living Word of God, the personal Famous Last Word, if you will, and give thanks that this Word is eternal – the famous last Word because HE is the first Word, the Word of eternity, fed to you in His supper as nourishment for eternity.
Hear the words of St. Ambrose as he teaches those who would become pastors, directing them to good will: “It is therefore a good thing for us to be bedewed [i.e. to be given the manna that falls with morning dew by means of] the exhortations of the divine Scriptures, and that the word of God should come down upon us like the dew. When, therefore, you sit at the table of that great man, understand who that great man is. Set in the paradise of delight and placed at the feast of wisdom, think of what is put before you! The divine Scriptures are the feast of wisdom, and the single books the various dishes. Know, first, what dishes the banquet offers, then stretch forth your hand, that those things which you read, or which you receive from the Lord you God, you may carry out in action, and so by your duties you may show forth the grace that was granted you.”
I began with Famous Last Words; I would like to end with Famous Last Words. The famous inventor Thomas Edison supposedly said: “It is very beautiful over there.” Our own dear Dr. Martin Luther’s Famous Last Words were: “We are all beggars. This is true.” Yes, it is, but we are rich beggars, for we sit at the table of a great man who fills our pockets daily with goods. Let us then live as beggars by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord and be good Lutherans, having as if we did not have, possessing as ones who are possessed and as if we did not possess anything, stewards of God’s bounty, hungry for God’s bread, and answering God’s grace with good works that direct others to the Lord’s Famous Last Words and the bread of his grace we receive from him daily. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Karl Böhmer