Can God Spread a Table in the Wilderness?

November 20, 2023

Psalm 78 is story-time with Uncle Asaph. He calls us to gather around his rocking chair. Pay attention as he recounts the glorious deeds, the great wonders, the mighty acts of God. He’s sharing them so his hearers can pass them down from generation to generation. 

A main theme in Asaph’s long and dramatic story is God’s perseverance with his fickle people as they perpetually forget all they’ve seen God do. God works fantastic miracles on their behalf, and they praise him for half a second before noticing something they want, and like toddlers, turn from thanks to whining. Again and again and again. A plotline for this Psalm would make you seasick. 

But oh, how familiar these Israelites look. Asaph holds up a mirror as he’s telling his story, and in it I see not an ancient people group I can easily judge, but the reflection of my own face. Like the Israelites, I witness the mighty acts of God, then turn away in doubt when I’m not getting my way.  

Asaph recounts a time when God caused refreshing water to flow from a rock he split open. A literal stream flowed. But the people sinned more and more, testing God and demanding he give them other things they wanted (v. 17-18). To be clear, life in the wilderness was not cushy. God always cared for them, but they could rarely see where that provision was coming from ahead of time. It was easy to forget what God had done, but their unbelief was still a serious sin. They persistently doubted that God would be faithful to them. They called him a liar. 

“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” they asked with skepticism (v. 19). 

This particular question from Asaph’s 72 verses rattles me. It’s too familiar. The Israelites were looking around at their bleak situation. There were no grapes or gardens or Wegmans in view. They couldn’t see how God would provide. It looked impossible. 

That’s often how I live. A challenge arises, and I turn slowly to survey the landscape. Yeah, nothing here could work. I don’t see any possibilities. It looks pretty bleak. How could this ever change? Is God going to create something out of nothing? Work magic? Spread a table in the wilderness?

Asaph’s goal is to remind us that God can indeed spread a table in the wilderness and has done so a thousand times. The Isrealites saw that table spread in the parting of the Red Sea, water flowing from a rock, the provision of manna in the desert, and much more. But they couldn’t yet see the lavishly-spread table of grace that we can see. In the wilderness of our sin, when we were starving, hopeless, and destined for death, God gave his only son to spread a table laden with platters of forgiveness and hope and soul-filling love. He piled it high with promises and riches and fatherly love. 

Jesus gave his life to set that table of salvation, and he communes with us there, offering us all we need for fullness in him. 

It’s still hard when we’re aware of a need and we can’t see how it will be met. It’s easy to doubt when our circumstances seem dry as dust, but that doesn’t mean it’s excusable. God, through the voice of Asaph, calls us to repent of our unbelief and trust that God will “prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23). 

I don’t know why God’s people forgot him so quickly, but from my own experience, I’m guessing they stopped listening to God’s Word, stopped talking about his mighty acts, and set their eyes on what they didn’t have instead of all God had given. I appreciate Asaph calling us to remember who God is and all he has done. 

We do this by reading our Bibles daily, asking God for more faith, reciting his promises, and remembering him together in community group and at church on Sundays and in our Bible studies and conversations. We do it by voicing his name and memorizing his truth and reminding each other of what we know is true. 

So, Uncle Asaph, by God’s grace, we’re listening, and “We will not hide them from [our] children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps. 78:4). 

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