By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Why ask God for bread and not cake?
When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert to turn a stone into bread, Jesus responded: “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4) Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 from a story about God’s daily provision of manna, during the nation of Israel’s forty year sojourn in the wilderness, which reads:
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. (Deut 8:3)
It is humbling to receive only what you need. How many of us only pray for the bare essentials of life?
The Apostle Paul did. He wrote:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:11-13)
In asking only for daily bread, Jesus’ humble prayer is highly ironic. Why? God’s presence is almost always associated with super-abundance—a cake moment. In the Gospel of John, for example, Jesus’ first miracle is to turn water into wine—more than a hundred gallons of wine of better quality than expected (John 2:6-10). Later, Jesus feeds five thousand with just a couple of loaves of bread (John 6:5-14). God is not stingy. His trademark is overwhelming generosity.
If you pray for daily bread and get an overwhelming response, then God’s presence is revealed. If you pray for cake and get the same result, God’s presence is hidden in His generosity.
When the people of Israel were hungry and alone in the wilderness, God provided for them daily with manna. God presence and provision was so meaningful to them that Moses had Aaron place a jar of manna in the Ark of the Covenant (Exod 16:32). By contrast, later when they stood in front of the Promised Land (a cake moment), God’s presence was hidden from them and they returned to the wilderness for another forty years (Num 13).
Jesus’ bread request suggests even further irony. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In Hebrew Beth-lehem means: house of bread. Because the Hebrew word, lehem, can also mean food, Jesus may have simply meant for us to ask God to provide food for the day.