“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?”Psalm 78:19
You know, when the children of Israel asked this question they were actually speaking against God—these were words of rebellion. But you have to admit it’s a realistic question. How could He prepare a feast in the middle of the Sinai desert? I mean, God didn’t have very many ingredients to choose from in that bleak wasteland to fix His banquet, right? There wasn’t much of anything living or growing. It was an empty, barren desert.
It’s the kind of question I could have been tempted to ask when our sojourning recently took us to a place that reminded me of Israel’s wilderness journey. Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho was the scene of a volcanic eruption about 2000 years ago, and it looks as if the earth still hasn’t recovered. It’s one of the most inhospitable, desolate places on earth.
The ancient lava flows have created vast, barren areas where nothing seems to grow for miles and miles. Parts of it look like massive fields of rich, black soil that have just been tilled—like the ones that are found in the Midwestern parts of the US. Except the fields were “tilled” two millennia ago, and those massive clumps of soil are actually gigantic black basalt rocks in all kinds of forms and shapes. They’re the least fertile “fields” you could ever find! Two thousand years after that cataclysmic volcanic activity, it looks as if death and destruction are still reigning in that bleak landscape.
. . . until you take a closer look!
We were stunned as we hiked through this area and began to see how much life there actually is in this place. It’s amazing, the things that are able to grow—and even thrive!—in this desolate setting.
It starts with the lichens. These organisms may be one of the simplest lifeforms on earth, but they have the amazing ability to grow on the rocks, where nothing else can grow. Patches of bright green, soft white, and deep rust caught our eye, embellishing these ancient boulders. Once those lichens get established, they set off a chain of life that starts encroaching on the barren black fields of Craters of the Moon.
There are “cinder gardens” (not “kindergartens”) where clumps of flowers grow out of the heaps of the fine black volcanic grit. Rabbitbrush, cushion buckwheat, and sagebrush—eight different varieties!—have all somehow gained a foothold in this inhospitable environment. As the afternoon sun beat down, we even spotted a smoothstem blazing star that was beginning to unfold its delicate yellow blossoms, even though it normally doesn’t open until dusk.
In some areas, the hardy conifer called limber pine has been able to find enough nutrition in the volcanic soil to set down roots and begin to grow. And the birds! Anyone who knows me knows that I love birds! We saw rock wrens and turkey vultures, magpies and kestrels, rock pigeons and ravens. There was even a new one for me: the Clark’s Nutcracker.
It was utterly fascinating to see how such a hostile environment could actually yield an exceedingly rich variety of plants and animals. This place that at first glance seemed completely unable to sustain life was actually bursting with beauty and vitality. It spoke to us deeply about Papa God’s ability to take the most barren, inhospitable places and bring forth life.
And that’s just as true in our hearts as it is in creation.
You know what I’m talking about: the places in our lives that seem so dry and broken that nothing could live there ever again. They look hopeless—as if the drought of loss has taken over our garden and sucked out all the life. There’s nothing but barrenness.
But somehow, as Father breathes on us, strength begins to emerge once again. He spreads a table before us in this wilderness and begins to feed us. Slowly our garden begins to return to life. Dead seeds sprout. Life gains a foothold once more. Vitality returns. Barren branches are able to bud and blossom again. Fruit is borne in places that once seemed too desolate to be revived.
God Himself put it this way as He spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “I will turn deserts into lakes. I will turn dry land into springs. I will plant cedar, acacia, myrtle, and wild olive trees in the desert. I will place cedar, fir, and cypress trees together in the wilderness. People will see and know. Together they will consider and understand that the LORD’s power has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:18b-20 in God’s Word to the Nations)
I guess He really is able to “spread a table in the wilderness”! May Father God breathe on the bleak desert places in your life and mine! May He once again perform that resurrection miracle of producing life and fruitfulness in our places of loss and barrenness!
Do it again, Papa!