2 And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NKJV
Right after His baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to fast and pray for forty days and nights, surviving only on water. Jesus came as the promised Jewish Messiah, and as such His experience paralleled that of the Israelites. The Israelites went without bread for a short period before being provided with manna. Jesus went the full forty days without food, presumably as a symbol of the forty years His people spent wandering in their desert.
I had always thought that going forty days without food was a miracle of God, but it turns out that ordinary men have done that, as well. I found this out at a Bible Study I led at the local jail.
One of the men who was a regular attendee at the study was an older but vigorous gentleman named Richard. As we studied the account of Jesus in the desert, I made a comment about how it must have been a miracle for Jesus to survive that long. Richard immediately spoke out, “I did it”.
Richard said that as a young man, he took on the forty-day water-only fast as an act of devotion to God. He said that he was absolutely starving the first few days, but after that, the hunger went away. He was able to operate fine without food for weeks after that, living only on water. Wow! I don’t think I would get past day one, (nor do I believe God is calling me to do that, at least not yet).
The problem comes at around the forty-day mark. According to Richard, he became ravenously hungry again as his final day approached, and by this time, the hunger is a sign of dying.
With Jesus in the desert, the forty-day mark was also a time of hunger.
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4 ESV
We observe a few things here. The Spirit of God led Jesus into the desert to fast and pray and to be tempted by the devil. Jesus is 100% God, but lived His time on earth as a man, following the direction of the Father in perfect obedience. He was subjected to temptation by the evil one just as we are, only much harder. The evil one was doing everything in his power to disqualify Jesus from His mission of salvation, and Jesus prevailed for our sake.
Jesus began to experience the “second” hunger at the forty-day mark, the hunger that leads to death. But He had apparently not quite yet fulfilled the Father’s will, and the evil one tempted Him to shut it down early in disobedience by turning one of the nearby stones to bread.
I have seen pictures of some of the large stones in that area. They are rounded off by the wind and appear as large loaves of bread sitting on the desert floor. This must have been a very real temptation to the starving Jesus.
Jesus responded to the temptation of the devil by quoting scripture, the very word spoken through Moses in the desert as they came to the end of their forty years. The power of God lies in His word, and Deuteronomy 8:3 had the power to overcome the temptation of the devil.
May God help us all to overcome the challenges in our lives through the power of His word and His Holy Spirit.
We overcome temptation by spending time in and leaning upon the word of God and in prayer. Staying close to and praying with other believers is also extremely helpful.
From time to time, we may feel led by the Spirit of God to spend time in fasting and prayer, although it may just be a meal or two rather than Jesus’ (and Richard’s) forty days. It is a personal decision between each person and God.