Summary: Because of God’s protection we have hope.
“Go in Peace: Protection for the Way”
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” The psychoanalyst Victor Frankl and his friends were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. It was winter. They had been marched off to work in the morning, spent the day at hard labor, been given only a little thin soup to eat, and then staggered back to camp in the late afternoon. Many were already sick; most of them had lost loved ones; everything they owned had been taken away from them. As they were lying around on their bunks one of the group came running inside and told them to come outside quickly. They dragged themselves outside and were immediately confronted with a majestic sunset. They gray, metallic skies had broken open, and a glorious splash of color had exploded across the horizon, and reflected in the pools of water around the concrete yard. They stood in awe, overwhelmed by the miracle of the sunset, transformed by this message from God. Their hearts were lifted and their souls refreshed. God’s sovereign hand had smashed through the walls of hatred and wrong. God had spread a table before them in the presence of their enemies. What an illustration of David’s theme: BECAUSE OF GOD’S PROTECTION WE HAVE HOPE.
With verse 5 David’s images begin to be multi-sided. More than one meaning lies behind them – all with this same theme. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Let’s look, first, at DAVID’S PICTURES OF PROTECTION. There are three pictures. The first and primary one is of the Shepherd. In the summer the good shepherd would lead his sheep to the high mountain plateaus for grazing. These high plateaus were called TABLELANDS. The Shepherd had already made several trips there to prepare the land. According to Phillip Keller the shepherd would distribute salt and minerals in strategic places, would determine the best place for the camps to be set up, would check for good, clean watering places and would check out and prepare the soil while clearing it of poisonous weeds. These tablelands were usually high and isolated enough that enemy animals could only overlook the flock from a distance; so the sheep were in a protected place. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
A second picture switches the imagery. It Points to A KING AND HIS BANQUET. During David’s day it was common practice following a battle for the victorious king to prepare and host a victory banquet. Often the vanquished army would be paraded in front of the festive crowd as part of the celebration. The people were protected by the successes and victories of the king. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
The third of David’s pictures is that of PROTECTIVE HOSPITALITY. The Shepherd often served as a gracious host in his tent. His tent was considered a sanctuary, a place of refuge, where every guest – even those not necessarily worthy – was considered a guest of God. Eastern hospitality guarantees the security of the guest. As J. H. Jowett wrote, “All the hallowed sanctions of hospitality gather around him for his defense. He is taken into the tent, food is placed before him, while his elevated pursuers stand frowningly at the door.” “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
As we analyze the imagery THE ONE CERTAINTY IS THAT GOD ALWAYS SETS A TABLE. The greatest blessing of God comes not in not granting success, giving health, guaranteeing wealth or popularity, but in graciously providing for and protecting us, even in the face of the enemy. Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youth’s rite of Passage? His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night, he is a MAN. He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own. The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blows the grass and earth, and shakes his stump, but he sits stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man! Finally, after a horrific night the sun appears and he removes his blindfold. It was then that he discovers his father sitting on the stump next to him. He has been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.