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,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
(Psalm 41:9 ESV)
Many of you may recognize that Jesus quoted those words as he observed the Passover with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion to identify Judas as the friend who was about to become His enemy.
Later in life, David’s own son Absalom turned against him and attempted to take the kingdom by force and kill David. In 2 Samuel 17 we find an account that is particularly relevant to David’s words here in Psalm 23. While fleeing from Absalom, David came to the city of Mahanaim. There, a bunch of guys with unpronounceable Hebrew names prepared a meal for David and his men:
When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”
(2 Samuel 17:27-29 ESV)
I want you to note the name “Barzillai”, because we’re going to come back to him again. But the important thing to note here is that through those men, God had prepared a table for David and in his men while they were literally in the midst of their enemies. Apparently David never forgot their kindness, because on his deathbed, he gave these instructions to Solomon: