They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:19)

The penetrating simplicity of that question arrested my heart this morning. I have backpacked in wilderness. There’s nothing hospitable about it. Any food I eat must be hauled in on my back. Any water I drink must be carefully purified lest I contract an intestinal parasite. Even the ground is impossible to sleep on in most places absent my inflatable air mattress. 

The wilderness in view in Psalm 78 was particularly hostile. It was a desert. It was also the very place Israel wandered for 40 years. No food. No water. Hot sun and sand mile after mile. It makes me think of a rim-to-rim backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon I took a few years ago. Talk about a wilderness designed to kill you. The shaded thermometer at the bottom read 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 

So many situations in this life feel like a wilderness, whether physical, financial, relational, or sexual. What you are convinced you need to survive, let alone experience the joy of human flourishing, isn’t just temporarily missing. It’s permanently unavailable. Forget a table of lavish provision. I’m talking basic viability. How long can I keep going? How long before I succumb to the effects of deprivation? Those are the kinds of questions that storm the gates of human sanity in the wilderness. Yet that is the very place the Lord delights to spread a table of provision for his people. 

Can I spread a table in the wilderness? No.

Does God spread a table in the wilderness? Yes. 

The historically documented answer to the rhetorical question in Psalm 78:19 is a resounding, “Yes.” The Lord didn’t lead them to a hidden stash of bread. He gave them bread from heaven. He didn’t show them a secret spring in the ravine. He made water gush out of a rock. He didn’t tell them to get used to being vegan. “He rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas” (verse 27). He didn’t cobble together dusty dandelions and crunchy crickets and make it work. He worked a miracle. Not once. Not twice. For 40 years. All the food and water they needed to live, despite their incessant grumbling and complaining. 

Can I spread a table in the wilderness? No. 

Does God spread a table in the wilderness? Yes. 

The Lord did it for Israel and he’s been doing it ever since for his children, both when we faithfully choose to trust him and even when we don’t. Think about that. The Lord didn’t spread a table in the wilderness for Israel in response to impeccable faith. Far from it. His chosen people “did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power” (verse 22). That sounds familiar. “Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven” (verse 23). The unfailing mercy of God drives the engine of his generosity. 

Fearful saint, are you navigating a wilderness? Do not speak against God. Do not look at your surroundings and conclude you will never have what you need to live. Look to the Lord. Trust the Lord. He specializes in spreading a table in the wilderness, giving us all we need for life and godliness in the most inhospitable environs (2 Peter 1:3). Is he able to take what is slim and makes it sufficient? Yes. But do not limit him to what is already present or natural. He delights to make a provision for you that is unquestionably supernatural, calling into existence the things that do not exist.

Matthew grew up attending KingsWay and joined the pastoral staff in 2009. God has blessed him and his wife, Aliza, with three rambunctious boys. Matthew did his undergraduate work at the University of Richmond in chemistry and political science, spent a year at the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College, and received his Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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