A Meditation on Psalm 78

Kevin J Youngblood

Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.

18 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.

19 They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?

20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.

Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”

(Psalm 78:17-20)

Psalm 78 recounts a time when Israel raised the very question that many are asking today, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” With prices skyrocketing in grocery stores everywhere and parents struggling to even find, much less buy, baby formula for their infants, we find ourselves panicking like Israel in the desert and questioning God’s ability to provide even our basic life necessities.

The psalmist, however, is anything but sympathetic toward our fear and doubts. For him, the question itself is a severe sin, a threat to the fundamental trust on which our relationship with YHWH is based. It is, in fact, nothing less than rebellion. While I must admit that, initially, the psalmist’s reaction to this seems harsh to me, it does force me to recognize that YHWH had ALREADY provided manna from heaven and water from the rock. In the face of such remarkable provision, YHWH’s and the psalmist’s exasperation is more understandable.

Reading and praying this psalm has been an extremely beneficial exercise for me lately as I too struggle with fears over inflation and my responsibility for feeding two hungry, growing boys. Can God spread a table in the desert? YES! He has done so before as Psalm 78 so powerfully reminds us. Psalm 23 reminds us that he can even spread a table right in front of our enemies and keep them at bay while eat a leisurely meal before resuming battle! Psalm 37:25 is similarly encouraging in this regard. Here the psalmist says, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.”

These are encouraging words to read, meditate on, and pray at times like these. Our Lord Jesus adds his own warning about worrying about such things as times like these. “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life what you will eat or what you will drink, not about your body, what you will put on.” Jesus then goes on to point to the birds and how they never fret over food because God the Father always makes provision for them. Similarly, no one is as well dressed as the wild flowers of the field despite their lack of concern about their appearance.

I know that all of this may seem to make light of a situation that to far too many is really quite dire. That is certainly not my intention. It does strike me, however, that we are far more concerned about making light of the situation than we are about making light of the God who has the situation in hand. This I think is what has the psalmist who composed Psalm 78 so up in arms. After all, who is more likely to share his food with the needy than the one who, because of his faith in God’s provision, feels no need to hoard what he has?


Thank you for these reminders from the psalms and from the gospel accounts of your faithful provision. How timely they are as many of us struggle with inflation and find it more difficult than usual to put food on the table and gas in our tanks. Help us guard our hearts against ingratitude and the tendency to belittle your power and provision in the face of hardship. Your track record speaks for itself for those who have eyes to see. Lord Jesus, thank you for pointing us to the birds and the flowers thus expanding our vision of divine love and care to all creation. Forgive our anthropocentric perspective that seeks always to be the center of divine attention. Holy Spirit, calm our fears lest they get the best of us and provoke us to speak rashly. Remind us of God’s faithfulness in the past and keep us grounded in that faithfulness in the present. Cultivate in us the same contentment you cultivated in our brother Paul who knew how to find contentment in times of plenty as well as in times of want (Phil 4:11-13).