‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.’ Psalm 23:5a.
It reads as though the Shepherd has taken the ‘sheep’ on a picnic. The word picture of ‘prepare’ indicates He had gone to a lot of trouble for it means ‘to set out in order.’ What has He placed upon it? Refreshment for the body after a day’s journey. What has preceded this ‘picnic?’ The possibility of or the fact of travelling through the valley of the shadow. Whilst fear may not have dominated, it would strike me as unusual if a wee bit of nervousness wasn’t tingling the spine. So, here is the Shepherd’s opportunity to settle the sheep and to provide nourishment for the next day. Treats with which to surprise and please may also be on the menu. David makes this a personal, one on one ‘picnic.’ We can understand the imagery of Shepherd waiting upon the sheep, but what about the Master waiting upon the servant? Jesus said He would do this for the servant found faithfully fulfilling his responsibilities when Jesus returns, Luke 12:37. The One who was prepared to wash the disciples feet is not adverse to being a waiter to honour the faithful. What a wonderful and gracious Lord we serve and worship.
When we apply the psalm to our circumstances can we recall the Lord ‘feeding’ us in a strange place? Mary and I were on a short term mission and study trip to Africa and experienced the Lord’s ‘picnic table.’ We were not so much in enemy territory, but in the midst of a different culture. What did the Lord do to refresh us? We went to a camp for refugees from a civil war. There we met some Christians who welcomed us, spoke English and shared a time of worship with us in their distinct celebratory style. Also, in the camp were family members of people we knew back home. What a joy to tell them of their loved ones and to be able to take messages back home! The stress and strain of ministry and travel were eased then swamped by God’s grace reaching us through His people.
The concept of the table is also more than simply sharing a meal. It is coming under the protection of the householder. Even if enemies found themselves within the same house and at the same table honour forbade them to begin hostilities. It was offensive to the owner and to the culture. In psalm 41:9 David speaks about a person who breached this trust. Such a person is personified in Judas at the Passover time in the Upper Room with Jesus. (A similar breach is told in Jeremiah 41:1-3.)
With that in mind I wonder if the following words of the verse take on a deeper meaning: Rather than David’s enemies prowling the perimeters or spying from hidden vantage points, they are sharing in the table time. This may be hard to accept until you realise the grace and power of the Shepherd. ‘When the ways of people please the Lord, he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them.’ Proverbs 16:7. The heart of the Good Shepherd and His transforming power is written about by Paul in Ephesians 2. An implacable dislike, even hatred, between Jews and Gentiles, is overcome when both make Jesus Saviour and Lord. He is our peace. He breaks down our barriers. He puts us into one Body (the Church) and we are ‘built together spiritually.’
What then does this tell us about ‘sheep head-butting sheep?’ Something is wrong. The have been bitten by a parasite and its causing them to be ‘unsheep like.’ It also effects their relationship with the Shepherd. Something is overriding His indwelling grace. Something is creating a betrayal of their ‘table manners.’ Unless this spiritual ‘bug’ is removed it will devour faith, relationships and testimony. Imagine what would have happened after the betrayal of Jesus by all the disciples in the Upper Room. Guilt, self-righteousness, denial, shame and the ‘blame-game’ would have made null and void their future message – if they had a future. What did Jesus call on them to do to prove each of them as disciples? To love each other! (Read John 13). That was the power of Christ’s resurrection grace, redemption and forgiveness. It had overwhelmed their betrayal of their Lord. It also dealt with any recriminations they would have held against themselves and each other.
The Lord’s Table (Communion or Eucharist) is the ‘sheep’s’ table today. There our Shepherd wants to refresh us, equip us, sooth our troubled heart and mind, heal broken relationships and mend any shredded witness. Read why this is so important in 1 Corinthians 1o:16-22. 11:17-32. When Jesus is our Lord and He breathes His peace in us then we will be at peace with each other.
Then He can anoint our individual and collective heads – but that is for next week.
©Ray Hawkins March 2016