Every Thought Captive

Can God Spread a Table in the Wilderness?

"They spoke against God, saying,
    'Can God spread a table in the wilderness?'"

Psalm 78:19

On the surface, the question seems innocent. The people of Israel had followed God out of Egyptian bondage into an arid wasteland. They were hungry. They were exposed. They were exhausted. Though they bore in themselves the promise of a new creation, the meat pots of captivity were now being remembered as the pleasure-filled, good old days. And so the question might have genuinely hung in their hearts as a poor man’s prayer: “Can God spread a table for us in the wilderness? Can Yahweh sustain us in such a place of unforgiving emptiness?” Surely such a cry, the cry of a broken heart voiced as an earnest question before God, is no act of rebellion. How could it be? It is a cry that God Himself raised publicly in the moment of his own forsakenness (Matthew 27:45-56). God is often honored by our questions—and perhaps never more than when our questions arise as veiled pleas for mercy.

But this was no such question, as the psalmist makes clear. They spoke against God. This line was Israel’s taunt. God was on trial, the evidence of His goodness spread before the court of the people who had appointed themselves to decide His fate. Sure, He “divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters to stand like a heap” (v. 13). Of course, “in the daytime He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light” (v. 14). And yes, He had even “split rocks in the wilderness and [given] them drink abundantly as from the deep” (v. 15). But it was not enough. He owed them more. He owed them a feast worthy of their suffering. He owed them a banquet that would serve as a sacramental reassurance that they deserved more than their circumstances. They were better than this! They were entitled to a table in the wilderness! And if God could not provide the table, then maybe he should be stripped of His rank altogether.

Isn’t it interesting how the exact same question can have two very different lineages—humility or arrogance? And wouldn’t you think that this, the disposition of the questioner’s heart, would make all the difference in the sort of objective answer that God provides?

But, consider God’s response:

Therefore, when the Lord heard, He was full of wrath;
    a fire was kindled against Jacob;
    His anger rose against Israel,
because they did not believe in God
    and did not trust His saving power.
Yet He commanded the skies above
    and opened the doors of heaven,
and He rained down on them manna to eat
    and gave them the grain of heaven.
Man ate of the bread of the angels;
    He sent them food in abundance. (Psalm 78:21-25)

Be sure, God did not soften Israel’s offense. He became enraged with their rebellion, and He named it what it was—unbelief. Israel’s heart was not right before God.

 Yet God provided the feast. Yet God opened the doors of heaven. Yet God sent food in abundance. Israel was not required to possess the heart of angels in order to receive the bread of angels. All she had to do was eat what God had given.

And the same is true for us, though the table has been extended and the food richened. “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” No matter how you ask the question, no matter the quality of your heart in the inquiry, or no matter the progress of your sanctification, God has provided His answer. In your wandering and wanting, He has commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven, and spread before you and His creation the table of His grace in the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus. “For My flesh is true food and My blood true drink” (John 6:55). This table is not one that will soften your sin, but one that will overcome it. And more, it is a table that will outlast the wilderness and carry you, often in spite of yourself, into the land of promise. God has given you His very Self upon which to feast. You need no other preparation today. Come and eat.

About the Author

Photograph of Chad Scruggs

Chad Scruggs

Senior Pastor

Covenant Presbyterian Church

Chad is originally from Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee. He earned his Master's degree from Covenant Seminary (St. Louis, MO) and served for several years as RUF Campus Minister at Southern Methodist University before becoming a Pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. He has recently accepted the call to be the Senior Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville.