Summary: This is the sixth message in a series that takes a fresh look at Psalm twenty-three. This message examines what David means by the Lord setting a table.
The Holiday Season brings with it so many opportunities to eat. Families have the opportunity to get together and sit down to share a meal together. Those meals are usually quite enjoyable. There is always plenty of food and most of the time some of our most favorite foods appear on the table. However, before you sit down to enjoy the meal the table needs to be set. This generally involves the best dishes, the glass glasses, the best silverware, serving bowls, napkins and a nice table cloth. In the past when I have read verse five in the twenty-third Psalm; my mind pictures the Lord preparing a table that far surpasses the Holiday table. For all of us who love food this is a pleasant thought. It seems as though David is abandoning the shepherd imagery here. As I was preparing for this message I discovered that this may not be the case. In fact, David may very much be still thinking as a shepherd. The word that David chooses for table in the Hebrew does not refer to a dinner table. The best translation of this word would be tableland. What in the world is a tableland? It refers to those rich lush pastures in the higher elevations that we discussed in the last message. In fact, the Hebrew word is the equivalent of the Spanish word mesa. With this in mind let’s take a look at this verse through the lenses of a shepherd and gain some new insights from this verse.
I. Understanding the significance of the images David is presenting.
A. David is actually picturing the pastures that are reached by travelling through the dark valleys.
1. The tablelands are the most prized areas for grazing and a good shepherd desires to take their sheep there.
2. These areas a normally barren during the winter but during the summer months they come to life.
3. Although these places were hard to reach, the shepherd would make the effort to get their sheep there because of all the benefits.
4. This may seem like a lot if wasted effort. Couldn’t the shepherd find places for his sheep to graze without going through dangerous valleys and climbing mountains?
5. The shepherd could but it would not be the best pastures for his sheep. In fact, even modern shepherds seek out these mesas for their sheep’s summer quarters.
B. The anointing with oil actually refers to the way shepherds would protect their sheep from flies and parasites.
1. As the weather begins to warm up the pesky flies start to return.
2. Flies are especially hazardous to sheep because they often seek to lay their eggs on the soft moist skin of the sheep’s nose.
a. The larvae when they hatch look like thin white worms.
b. They invade the sheep’s nasal passages and begin to bore into the tissues.
c. This causes a lot of pain and inflammation for the sheep.
3. The sheep will hit their heads against the ground or trees to try to find some relief.
4. In extreme cases sheep will actually try to kill themselves to gain relief.
5. Ancient shepherds would cover the heads of their sheep with a mixture of olive oil, sulfur and spices to protect their sheep from the flies.
6. Modern shepherds still use a similar mixture made of linseed oil and sulfur.
7. The shepherd needed to be diligent in making sure that their sheep were treated with oil on a regular basis because one time would not do the trick.
II. Understanding the Lord’s provision that David is thinking about.
A. Leading the sheep to the tablelands required a tremendous amount of preparation on the shepherd’s part.
1. As the snow begins to melt the shepherd would make the journey to the tableland to survey the area and make the initial plans for leading his sheep there.
2. A second journey would be made just before the sheep would arrive to make plans and accomplish some initial tasks.
a. The shepherd would scout the area for predators and places these predators could hide.
b. The site for the base camp would be determined.
c. Any poisonous plants needed to be located and removed if possible.
d. All the watering areas needed to have all the debris that gathered over the winter removed.
3. Sheep have the habit of trying things that they shouldn’t. Many harmless looking plants could be fatal to sheep.
4. The sheep could follow the shepherd with confidence because the shepherd had already gone ahead of them and made preparations.
5. Undoubtedly, David was reflecting on the parallel between people and sheep.
B. The shepherd at great risk to himself goes ahead of the sheep to scout out and assess any potential dangers.