Summary: God’s path will never lead me where the grace of God will not preserve me
Living as a Christian in the United States in the year 2016 is certainly not an easy thing to do. Once you identify yourself as a disciple of Jesus and you commit to live your life according to His purposes, plans, and ways, you are going to immediately face both physical and spiritual enemies in your life. There will be those who will call you hateful and bigoted. Some of your family members and former friends may either shun you or even openly attack you for your faith. You might even be sued or lose your job or suffer financial harm as a result of holding firm to your Biblical values.
And when we find ourselves in the midst of those enemies, it’s often difficult to know how to respond. Do I ignore them? Do I run from them? Do I hide from them? Do I retaliate?
Fortunately for us we’re studying a Psalm written by a man who knew firsthand what it was like to live among those who were both his personal enemies as well as enemies of his God. And this morning, we come to verse 5, where we find the Biblical answer for how to deal with our enemies:
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
(Psalm 23:5 ESV)
There is a noticeable change in the Psalm that takes place in this verse. At least at first glance, it appears that David has changed metaphors here. After all, the sheep don’t sit down around a table and eat a meal that the shepherd has prepared for them. And certainly the sheep don’t drink from a cup.
However, Phillip Keller, in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, suggests that David is actually continuing the shepherd and sheep metaphor here. He explains that the high mountain meadows where the shepherd take their sheep in the summer are often referred to as tablelands. Here in the southwest United states and in southern Europe, those high plateaus are known as “mesas” – the Spanish word for “table”. And a number of other commentators and pastors seem to have followed his lead when dealing with this verse.
On the other hand, there are a number of commentators who see an abrupt change in metaphors here in verse 5 where they see God being pictured as a gracious host. But I don’t think that we have an either/or choice here. The author of the Psalm, David, had been a shepherd, but he was also a king, who was expected to be a gracious host. So as David writes these words it is not unreasonable for him to think of God as both a shepherd and a king/host. For us, I think that means that both metaphors have something to offer when it comes to our understanding of this verse.
With that being said, I think that the Scriptures give us a pretty good indication of David’s thinking here. David knew what it meant to sit at a table in the presence of his enemies. He often sat at the same table with King Saul, even though Saul eventually turned on David and hunted him down to try and kill him. There is a good chance that situation led David to write these words in another of his Psalms:
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,