Life in ministry is teeming with transitions. Whether it’s moving your family to answer a pastoral calling, sending off a missionary from your church, bringing onboard a new pastor, or passing through parted waters of seminary on dry ground—a life lived in service of the kingdom is always in flux, never fixed in one easy, comfortable spot. If you aren’t facing a season of transition, chances are you know someone who is.
But even the most exciting changes in life can bring along a heap of “what-ifs,” debilitating the most starry-eyed optimist. If you’re the person left behind, what will happen to the team, the church, or the elder board? If you’re the one in transition, what about the cost of living, your kids’ school, or the risk of failure? To boil it all down: will God provide? The weeds of worry fester in the dark soil of the unknown.
Thankfully, Scripture is far from silent about transition. After all, the entire drama of redemption is one immense, gradually unfolding transition from the present age to the age to come.
One such transition is the central, epoch-making redemptive event of the Old Testament: the exodus. Recounted continuously throughout the psalter in places like Psalm 78, Israel’s redemption from Egypt is variously designated as “the glorious deeds of the LORD,” “his might,” and “the wonders that he has done” (v. 4).
But as biblical history shows, things are rarely so simple in the perception of stiff-necked people of God.
The Desert of Doubt
Starting with the exodus, the desert in Scripture is not only an image of trial and scarcity, but of—you guessed it—transition.
The old covenant people of God were specifically commanded to teach the exodus narrative and the resulting Mosaic law to their children “that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation” (Psalm 78:8). The wilderness generation—those who witnessed Yahweh’s wonders in Egypt and passed through the sea—were the very ones held up as the archetypal example of distrust during their failed transition to the holy land.
“They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’ He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?” (Psalm 78:18-20, ESV)
Their chief worry in the wilderness, like ours, was: will God provide? But amidst a desert of culpable doubt, their rhetorical questions carry a hidden truth for us.
Yes—God is the God who spreads tables in the wilderness. The fact that Israel’s provisions in the desert resulted in their shame due to the impiety of their doubt (“But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them,” vv. 30-31) is irrelevant to the beautiful truth concealed in their obstinate questioning. God is in fact the God who unrolls ornate tablescapes in life’s wastelands, calling his people to a rich banquet.
To demonstrate this further, we must trace the endpoint of the biblical theme of God’s wilderness provision. What was at least in part an ironic judgment on God’s part towards that generation, his turning over of them to their own wanton cravings, nevertheless became a type of the far better feast awaiting God’s people—the endless spiritual sustenance found in Christ’s redemptive work.
- “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” (John 6:32-35, ESV)
- “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” (John 6:47-51, ESV)
- “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.’” (John 6:53-55, ESV)
- “…all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4, ESV)
- “‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’” (Revelation 21:6, ESV; drawing from Isaiah 55:1)
In the parched wasteland of our own depravity, God enfleshes his Son for us to consume by faith, embracing his atoning death as our death, his resurrection as our life, and his promised return as our blessed hope. We commemorate this fact every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper—not that the physical elements of bread and wine have some mystical connection to Christ’s body but that they depict for us the real, spiritual nourishment of Christ himself.
The Character of Christ
The image of Christ as the one who breaks himself and pours himself out to give life to his people—a soteriological reality—bring us back to the circumstances of the exodus generation. Could God spread a table in the wilderness? The answer is a resounding yes. A better question is, why wouldn’t he?
Why would God perform such miraculous acts to deliver the people from Egypt—turning the Nile’s waters into blood, the radiant North African daylight into a darkness able to be felt, and the cradles of Egypt’s firstborn sons into deathbeds—only to leave them starving and scatter their bones in the desert?
Why would he split a sea, descend onto a mountain, give his law, and covenantally bind himself to a people only to leave them without their basic necessities?
And more to the point: do you really think God will forsake you in the desolate wilds of transition—much less your family, staff, or church?
To the pastor moving to a new appointment: will God somehow forget his calling upon your life when you’re halfway down the highway, U-Haul in tow? To the church releasing one of its best on cross-cultural mission: can’t the God who raises the dead call a new member to the church to serve in their place?
Now, lest we take the physical provisions given to Israel in the desert as a shadow of the work of Christ and warp them into a health-and-wealth, prosperity gospel, it is necessary that we remind ourselves that God does not promise a certain amount of money in the bank, surplus food in the fridge, or margin in the church budget. God promises us crosses to carry as we follow Christ’s footsteps. Simultaneously, he pledges to give us the basic necessities as we serve him (Matthew 6:33, Philippians 4:19). Such promises are not to be taken lightly.
We are all in transition from the present evil age to the age to come, which has already dawned in the arrival of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. We still await the true, consummate marriage supper of the Lamb.
In the meantime, we are sojourners plodding toward the eternal state—following in procession behind a God who readily erects roadside feasts.