Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
In addition to the danger of being drawn aside to transgress the covenant, by sparing the Canaanites and their idols out of pusillanimous compassion and false tolerance, the Israelites would be especially in danger, after their settlement in Canaan, of falling into pride and forgetfulness of God, when enjoying the abundant productions of that land. To guard against this danger, Moses set before them how the Lord had sought to lead and train them to obedience by temptations and humiliations during their journey through the desert. In order that his purpose in doing this might be clearly seen, he commenced (Deu 8:1) with the renewed admonition to keep the whole law which he commanded them that day, that they might live and multiply and attain to the possession of the promised land (cf. Deu 4:1; Deu 6:3).
To this end they were to remember the forty years' guidance through the wilderness (Deu 1:31; Deu 2:7), by which God desired to humble them, and to prove the state of their heart and their obedience. Humiliation was the way to prove their attitude towards God. ענּה, to humble, i.e., to bring them by means of distress and privations to feel their need of help and their dependence upon God. נסּה, to prove, by placing them in such positions in life as would drive them to reveal what was in their heart, viz., whether they believed in the omnipotence, love, and righteousness of God, or not.
The humiliation in the desert consisted not merely in the fact that God let the people hunger, i.e., be in want of bread and their ordinary food, but also in the fact that He fed them with manna, which was unknown to them and their fathers (cf. Exo 16:16.). Feeding with manna is called a humiliation, inasmuch as God intended to show to the people through this food, which had previously been altogether unknown to them, that man does not live by bread alone, that the power to sustain life does not rest upon bread only (Isa 38:16; Gen 27:40), or belong simply to it, but to all that goeth forth out of the mouth of Jehovah. That which "proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah" is not the word of the law, as the Rabbins suppose, but, as the word כּל (all, every) shows, "the word" generally, the revealed will of God to preserve the life of man in whatever way (Schultz): hence all means designed and appointed by the Lord for the sustenance of life. In this sense Christ quotes these words in reply to the tempter (Mat 4:4), not to say to him, The Messiah lives not by (material) bread only, but by the fulfilment of the will of God (Usteri, Ullmann), or by trusting in the sustaining word of God (Olshausen); but that He left it to God to care for the sustenance of His life, as God could sustain His life in extraordinary ways, even without the common supplies of food, by the power of His almighty word and will.
As the Lord provided for their nourishment, so did He also in a marvellous way for the clothing of His people during these forty years. "Thy garment did not fall of thee through age, and thy foot did not swell." בּלה with מן, to fall off from age. בּצק only occurs again in Neh 9:21, where this passage is repeated. The meaning is doubtful. The word is certainly connected with בּצק (dough), and probably signifies to become soft or to swell, although בּצק is also used for unleavened dough. The Septuagint rendering here is ו̓פץכש́טחףבם, to get hard skin; on the other hand, in Neh 9:21, we find the rendering ὑποδήματα αὐτῶν ου' διεῤῥάγησαν, "their sandals were not worn out," from the parallel passage in Deu 29:5. These words affirm something more than "clothes and shoes never failed you," inasmuch as ye always had wool, hides, leather, and other kinds of material in sufficient quantities for clothes and shoes, as not only J. D. Michaelis and others suppose, but Calmet, and even Kurtz. Knobel is quite correct in observing, that "this would be altogether too trivial a matter by the side of the miraculous supply of manna, and moreover that it is not involved in the expression itself, which rather affirms that their clothes did not wear out upon them, or fall in tatters from their backs, because God gave them a miraculous durability" (Luther, Calvin, Baumgarten, Schultz, etc.). At the same time, there is no necessity to follow some of the Rabbins and Justin Martyr (dial. c. Tryph. c. 131), who so magnify the miracle of divine providence, as to maintain not only that the clothes of the Israelites did not get old, but that as the younger generation grew up their clothes also grew upon their backs, like the shells of snails. Nor is it necessary to shut out the different natural resources which the people had at their command for providing clothes and sandals, any more than the gift of manna precluded the use of such ordinary provisions as they were able to procure.
In this way Jehovah humbled and tempted His people, that they might learn in their heart, i.e., convince themselves by experience, that their God was educating them as a father does his son. יסּר, to admonish, chasten, educate; like παιδεύειν. "It includes everything belonging to a proper education" (Calvin).
The design of this education was to train them to keep His commandments, that they might walk in His ways and fear Him (Deu 6:24).
The Israelites were to continue mindful of this paternal discipline on the part of their God, when the Lord should bring them into the good land of Canaan. This land Moses describes in Deu 8:8, Deu 8:9, in contrast with the dry unfruitful desert, as a well-watered and very fruitful land, which yielded abundance of support to its inhabitants; a land of water-brooks, fountains, and floods (תּהומות, see Gen 1:2), which had their source (took their rise) in valleys and on mountains; a land of wheat and barley, of the vine, fig, and pomegranate, and full of oil and honey (see at Exo 3:8); lastly, a land "in which thou shalt not eat (support thyself) in scarcity, and shalt not be in want of anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose mountains thou hewest brass." The stones are iron, i.e., ferruginous. This statement is confirmed by modern travellers, although the Israelites did not carry on mining, and do not appear to have obtained either iron or brass from their own land. The iron and brass of which David collected such quantities for the building of the temple (Ch1 22:3, Ch1 22:14), he procured from Betach and Berotai (Sa2 8:8), or Tibchat and Kun (Ch1 18:8), towns of Hadadezer, that is to say, from Syria. According to Eze 27:19, however, the Danites brought iron-work to the market of Tyre. Not only do the springs near Tiberias contain iron (v. Schubert, R. iii. p. 239), whilst the soil at Hasbeya and the springs in the neighbourhood are also strongly impregnated with iron (Burckhardt, Syrien, p. 83), but in the southern mountains as well there are probably strata of iron between Jerusalem and Jericho (Russegger, R. iii. p. 250). But Lebanon especially abounds in iron-stone; iron mines and smelting furnaces being found there in many places (Volney, Travels; Burckhardt, p. 73; Seetzen, i. pp. 145, 187ff., 237ff.). The basalt also, which occurs in great masses in northern Canaan by the side of the limestone, from the plain of Jezreel onwards (Robinson, iii. p. 313), and is very predominant in Bashan, is a ferruginous stone. Traces of extinct copper-works are also found upon Lebanon (Volney, Travels; Ritter's Erdkunde, xvii. p. 1063).
But if the Israelites were to eat there and be satisfied, i.e., to live in the midst of plenty, they were to beware of forgetting their God; that when their prosperity - their possessions, in the form of lofty houses, cattle, gold and silver, and other good things - increased, their heart might not be lifted up, i.e., they might not become proud, and, forgetting their deliverance from Egypt and their miraculous preservation and guidance in the desert, ascribe the property they had acquired to their own strength and the work of their own hands. To keep the people from this danger of forgetting God, which follows so easily from the pride of wealth, Moses once more enumerates in Deu 8:14-16 the manifestations of divine grace, their deliverance from Egypt the slave-house, their being led through the great and terrible desert, whose terrors he depicts by mentioning a series of noxious and even fatal things, such as snakes, burning snakes (saraph, see at Num 21; 6), scorpions, and the thirsty land where there was no water. The words from נחשׁ, onwards, are attached rhetorically to what precedes by simple apposition, without any logically connecting particle; though it will not do to overlook entirely the rhetorical form of the enumeration, and supply the preposition בּ before נחשׁ and the words which follow, to say nothing of the fact that it would be quite out of character before these nouns in the singular, as a whole people could not go through one serpent, etc. In this parched land the Lord brought he people water out of the flinty rock, the hardest stone, and fed them with manna, to humble them and tempt them (cf. Deu 8:2), in order (this was the ultimate intention of all the humiliation and trial) "to do thee good at thy latter end." The "latter end" of any one is "the time which follows some distinct point in his life, particularly an important epoch-making point, and which may be regarded as the end by contrast, the time before that epoch being considered as the beginning" (Schultz). In this instance Moses refers to the period of their life in Canaan, in contrast with which the period of their sojourn in Egypt and their wandering in the desert is recorded as the beginning; consequently the expression does not relate to death as the end of life, as in Num 23:10, although this allusion is not to be altogether excluded, as a blessed death is only the completion of a blessed life. - Like all the guidance of Israel by the Lord, what is stated here is applicable to all believers. It is through humiliations and trials that the Lord leads His people to blessedness. Through the desert of tribulation, anxiety, distress, and merciful interposition, He conducts them to Canaan, into the land of rest, where they are refreshed and satisfied in the full enjoyment of the blessings of His grace and salvation; but those alone who continue humble, not attributing the good fortune and prosperity to which they attain at last, to their own exertion, strength, perseverance, and wisdom, but gratefully enjoying this good as a gift of the grace of God. חיל עשׂה, to create property, to prosper in wealth (as in Num 24:18). God gave strength for this (Deu 8:18), not because of Israel's merit and worthiness, but to fulfil His promises which He had made on oath to the patriarchs. "As this day," as was quite evident then, when the establishment of the covenant had already commenced, and Israel had come through the desert to the border of Canaan (see Deu 4:20).
To strengthen his admonition, Moses pointed again in conclusion, as he had already done in Deu 6:14 (cf. Deu 4:25.), to the destruction which would come upon Israel through apostasy from its God.