Hunger. It’s one of the most basic of human desires. And in the Bible it is one of the most important concepts related to salvation, faith, and one’s experience with God.
Physically, hunger and our attempts to fill our stomaches are experiences that unite all mankind. While experienced differently in famine-afflicted Africa or affluency-afflicted America, an “empty stomach” is something that speaks to everyone. We cannot go without food, and thus we search for something to fill us up and give us life.
Spiritually, the language of food, famine, eating, nourishment, and emptiness fills the Bible. From the plethora of fruit trees given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the Manna in the wilderness, to the loaves and fishes that Jesus provided for his followers, God has provided physical sustenance. At the same time, food has been a source of destruction—sin entered the world through eating the forbidden fruit; Esau lost his inheritance when he chose stew over his birthright, and Paul says that men ate and drank destruction on themselves when they wrongly ate the Lord’s Supper.
So clearly, food plays a key role in our physical and spiritual pursuit of God. At the same time, Scripture often speaks of eating metaphorically. Psalm 34:8 reads, “Taste and see that the Lord is God.” And Psalm 36:8 says that the children of man “feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” Apparently, our experience with food—physical bread, meat, and drink—is meant by God to teach us what it means to feed on the Lord and drink from his streams of life.
Still, I suspect that for all we know about food, we may struggle to understand what it means to feed on the Lord. If God is Spirit (John 4:24), then how do we feed on him? And if he is invisible, where do we go to find fullness in him?
Just this last week, I preached a message on feeding on the Lord. My repeated command: Feed on the goodness and grace of God. But how? I can imagine someone saying, “That’s sounds great, but what does that mean?” So here is my answer to that question: What does it mean to feed on the God who is invisible?
Three Things to Know: God is a Living Bread, Faith is a Kind of Feeding, and Scripture is a Nourishing Word
In order to understand what it means to feed on the Lord, there are three things to know and one thing do.
1. A Living Bread
At the risk of sounding crass, it is important to see how much the Bible speaks of food when it comes to seeking God. Truly, this is what John Calvin called God’s “accommodation.” God speaks to us in a way that we—creatures who depend on food—can understand. Like a mother speaks to her nursing child, God speaks “baby talk” to us. And part of that baby talk is an invitation to come and eat.
Literally, God is the one who provides food for his people and all creation (see Psalm 104). In Psalm 81:10 Yahweh defines himself as the God of redemption who feeds his people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Likewise, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Lest we over-spiritualize Jesus’ words, we are called to come to God seeking our daily provision: “feed me with the food that is needful for me” (Proverbs 30:8).
Metaphorically, Jesus calls himself “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48) and the source of living water (John 4:13–14; 7:37-39). In context, Jesus uses images from Israel’s past to explain his identity. Just as God fed Israel in the wilderness and provided water for them in a dry land, so Jesus came to be God with us (Immanuel), the Divine Shepherd who would die for his sheep (John 10:11). In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say,
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53–58).
Through the centuries, these words have been sorely misunderstood. Yet, they are only confusing to those who do not understand what it means to feed on God. Indeed, God made us in his image with tastebuds and stomachs to glorify him with our eating. At the same time, in our eating we learn how to approach God. He is our food, our life, our source of soul nourishment. And those who have been born again know what it means to hunger and thirst for the Lord and his righteousness.
2. A Feeding Faith
In the same place where Jesus calls his disciples to “eat” his flesh and “drink” his blood he explains what faith is. Faith is not a decision of the mind, an agreement of the will; it is the longing of the soul and hunger of the stomach. It is coming to Christ hungry for him. As Jesus puts it: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
There is in Scripture a spiritual hunger and thirst that only Jesus satisfies. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon laments his experience in the world. He has tasted and seen everything the flesh can acquire and yet he is empty. He’s eaten the best food, drunk the best wine, acquired the most wealth, tasted the highest glory, and had the choicest women. Yet, for all his fullness, Solomon expresses only emptiness without the Lord.
By contrast, Jesus (reading Moses) teaches us that man does live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Likewise, in John’s Gospel, Jesus can say that there is food in doing his Father’s will (John 4:32, 34). As a man, Jesus knew hunger (Luke 4:2) and thirst (John 19:28), but as the perfect disciple (Isaiah 50:4) Jesus also learned to feed on the Lord. Thus, he is the perfect example of Job 23:12: “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”
Following our Lord, we learn how to feed on God’s faithfulness (Ps 37:3). Indeed, in the Psalms we find countless expressions of faith poured out in the language of food and drink. For instance,
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
Psalm 63:1, 5
1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. . . . My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.
From this collection of Psalms, we get a clearer sense of what Jesus said in John 6. Saving faith is less agreement with cognitive truth; it is more an abiding appetite for the Lord and a glad consumption of his Word. A heart of faith says “I am hungry for the Lord.” And that same repenting heart replies, “Let’s turn and go eat at the house of the Lord.” Indeed, when we do this, God feeds us and increases our appetite for him.
3. A Nourishing Word
Last, Scripture also teaches us that God’s Word is meant to be “eaten.” Just as we see the Prophets eating the word (Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 3:3), we are called to feed on the milk and the meat of the Word (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:12–13). Indeed, because of all that Scripture does for us—it saves us (James 1:18), creates faith (Romans 10:17), sanctifies us (John 17:17), etc.—its regular consumption is necessary for life; it is not a trifle (Deuteronomy 32:47).
One of the most striking places we see this call to feed on the Word is found in Psalm 19, which finds its background in the Garden of Eden. As D. J. A. Clines has observed, this Psalm uses imagery from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to speak of God’s Word. Indeed, as the forbidden fruit was illicitly desirable for food (Genesis 3:6), God’s word is truly desirable and good for food.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Indeed, from Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 we learn that those who know God’s word most see it as a meal to be eaten, a treasure to be stored up, and a pleasure to ponder. Scripture, to the man or woman of God, is not puzzle to figure out, a religious textbook to master, or a code to break. To be sure, there are difficult parts in the Bible (cf. 2 Peter 3:16), but ultimately, God’s Word is food for the soul. Therefore, there is one thing to do with Scripture . . . Eat it!
Eat the Word! Sit Down and Feed on God’s Word
When you sit down at a meal, what do you do? It’s a silly question, but important. The one thing to do when food is put before you is to eat it. Anything else is awkward or rude.
When you are called to dinner you eat. If you are hungry, you will eat until full. If you are seeking to please the host, you will eat and give praise for the meal. If you are learning how to cook, you will eat and ask questions. And if you enjoying the full experience of the meal, you will eat the entrée and talk to others about the meal.
But if you have “spoiled your dinner” by eating other things, you might not eat. If you don’t like what’s in front of you, you might stir the meat and pick at the vegetables, but that’s it. If you are like a miserable child, you might play with food, fight with the other eaters, or do anything else then eat it. But if that is what you do with food, you insult the meal-giver and invite dismissal from the table.
Can you see how this applies to the Bible? The right way to approach Scripture is to feast on it. From a study of who God is, what faith is, and what the Bible is, we learn that when we come to the table of God’s Word, we are called to eat. To do anything else shows our ignorance; to refuse shows our ungrateful wickedness.
Now, we should remember that just as there are different kinds of meals, there will be different ways on different days to read Scripture. There will be times to sit down and eat big meals of the Bible. Other times there will be tough sections which will require additional chewing. Sometimes you may eat alone; other times it will be with friends. You should find ways to eat what faithful shepherd-chefs have prepared, and in time you should learn how feed on the Word such that you can share it with others.
Still in all these ways of approach, the one call is this: Eat!
Just as your hunger drives you to the pantry, the grocery store, or the restaurant, let your spiritual hunger drive you to the Word. Seek to understand it, yes. But even more, seek to enjoy it. For that is why God has given his word! And when we open the pages of Scripture, they are filled with honey to brighten our eyes and bring us closer to God.
So, lets ask God to give us a hunger for his word and then with faith, lets pick up the pages of Scripture and begin to eat.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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