I have spent the majority of my lockdown time in the kitchen. There’s planning the meals, prepping the kitchen, prepping food, cooking food, serving food, cleaning up food, cleaning up dishes and clothes covered in food, just to start over again. Two to three times a day. It feels like my whole life is about food. That is, when it’s not about laundry and very small claims court (aka, kids fighting).
Since we’ve had to isolate from our support system, it’s just me on kitchen duty. Feeding five hungry people. Six if I include myself. It’s a full time job.
Food is on my mind. Every time food has come up in my bible studies the last week or two it’s caught my attention. There it is again! Food. In my life and in the bible.
The bible actually has a lot to say about food. There are all the Levitical laws surrounding food. The celebration of the Passover in Egypt and again at the opening of the temple with Solomon, and during the revival of practicing the Law with Josiah. The writing on the wall at the end of Daniel happens during a feast. Jesus taught and reached out to the lost over meals, He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000. I could go on, but let’s just say that there are many pivotal moments that happen over and around food.
One of the first sermons I remember about food revolved around Esau trading his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup. I was in high school and my pastor loved to do word studies and find that little nugget that unpacked the whole phrase and brought all this meaning to passages I had breezed over on my way to the “good stuff” in the past. This time the phrase was “The red stuff.” Which was the descriptor for the soup.
Esau lost his birthright, which entailed his identity, his inheritance, his future for a bowl of red stuff. He was hungry, and he spent everything he had to fill his hunger. I remember the sermon because in high school I was always hungry, and I found the power of hunger chilling. Emptiness, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, has a driving quality. It can drive us to make irrevocable, life changing decisions.
When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, they had good food. Garlic and leeks are listed amongst the many instances of grumbling in Exodus and Numbers. In their emptiness from slavery they comforted themselves with food, and when they were uncomfortable and uncertain in the wilderness with Moses I wonder if they interpreted that feeling as the same empty feeling they felt in Egypt. They didn’t know how to turn to God to fill their emptiness so they looked back at their old comfort, food, and it became an idol to them. More than once food became a problem and a conflict between God and the Israelites.
Food is still here, offering to bring comfort, to fill emptiness. Food can even bring status through the quality of the food, the quality of life the food had before it became food, the store or restaurant from which it was purchased. It can represent wealth and power, luxury and reward. It can be politicized and leveraged. Food, it seems so mundane, yet so much can hinge on it.
I’m 100% guilty of turning to food rather than God. Comfort eating, stress eating, boredom eating, trying to fill the emptiness that went beyond physical hunger. My husband likes to talk about how I used to “eat the boys under the table” in the dining commons when we were in college. As I mentioned before, I was always hungry in high school. There were many reasons behind this that I won’t bore you with, the point is I had spent years feeling hungry and now I found myself in room with three or four food stations and no limit on how many times you could go back for more. So I often went back for more, I wanted to leave “hungry” behind me and live in “full.”
The problem is, food can’t deliver. The fullness from food doesn’t last. The comfort, stress-relief, and entertainment only last for a moment, an hour tops. Hungry inevitably returns. The driving emptiness keeps driving. God knows this.
In Deuteronomy Moses admonishes the Israelites to remember God after they enter the Promised Land. He reminds them of God’s provision in the wilderness, “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. […] So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna […] 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.” (Deut. 8:2-3 NKJV) Moses goes on to recap other aspects of God’s provision for health and clothing. He describes some of the Promised Land and what makes it a land of plenty.
Moses warns the Israelites a second time to remember the LORD, “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments.” (Deut. 8:10-11 NKJV) Moses then spells out exactly every comfort and prosperity Israel will find in the Promised Land from houses to happiness and full stomachs. He says it will be easy to look around and say it was through their own power and strength that they got all these good things.
So a third time Moses says, “Remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deut. 8:18 NKJV) Moses knows that it’s easy to fill hunger with food and clothes and houses, and to feel like we filled that hunger ourselves with our own strength. That’s why he keeps warning the Israelites to remember who filled their hunger and who gave them strength.
Only God can fill emptiness and stop the driving need to fill it. The short term fillers fall short, it is only God who fills to full and overflowing. Jehovah Jireh, God who provides. Yes He provides food, but He also provides for the hunger that is often behind the food.
Jesus re-emphasizes the truth of Deuteronomy 8 by quoting it during His temptations in the wilderness. He fasted for 40 days and was hungry, Satan took the opportunity to tempt Jesus and told Him to turn stones into bread. Jesus responded with this quote, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” (Luke 4:4 NKJV) Jesus overcame the idol of food in the wilderness. He remembered the LORD, His Father in heaven. Jesus remembered the source of His strength.
That’s awesome, but what about the actual moment of hunger? How does one live on the word of God in the moment of hunger, in the face of emptiness? Moses said it right there in Deuteronomy, remember the LORD your God. How do you remember something? By putting your attention on the memory of it. How do you eat the bread of God’s word? You pay attention and focus on it.
So when I’m uncertain and hungry for comfort, a few chapters of the gospel of John will do me better than the pretzels in the back of the cupboard. When I’m stressed and hungry for relief, a few psalms will fill better than Starburst candy from the gas station. When emptiness knocks at the door of my soul I can answer it with the fullness of the word of the LORD. I can feel hungry and be full because I remember my Father in heaven, who gives me strength. Then go use that strength to cook dinner. Again.