Thursday, June 5, 2008

Psalm 23:5 Son, that ain’t no dinette set.

Probably the most difficult thing about this Psalm is our familiarity with it. We have heard it read and preached so often that we only half listen when someone is teaching it. We’ve had it memorized since we were little kids and can probably quote it backwards if we ever needed to. This verse, in particular, probably is the one most misunderstood verse of the entire psalm.

Here is what I used to picture when I read this verse-It’s a sunny day. The sky is blue with little puffy white clouds. I’m standing in a clear, grassy spot in the middle of a forest. In front of me is a long table with all sorts of food (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens, biscuits, etc). There is only one chair. The Son of God stands by that chair what an arm outstretched as if to say “Sit down and eat”. As I approach the chair, I see red, beady eyes peering from the forest all around and hear soft growls. My enemies see me about to eat this huge banquet and are jealous because they can only look on and watch. I sit and prepare to chow down. Did I mention there was a big ol’ jug of sweet tea on the table too?

That, my friends, has absolutely nothing to do with what this verse says.

The shepherd has taken the sheep out from the farm and through “the valley of the shadow of death”. They have now ascended into the mountain. The top of the mountain is called the table. If you remember the old hymn “Higher Ground”, there is a phrase in the chorus that says “Lord, lift me up and let me stand/By faith on heaven’s table land”. I believe this kind of table is what David had in mind when he wrote this psalm because it fits into the kind of work a shepherd would do. In order to “prepare a table” for his sheep, a shepherd would have to go before them and make the table land safe for his flock. He would have to pull up the plants that would be poisonous to his sheep (because that would be the first thing they would want to eat). He would have to make sure there was safe, drinkable water. And sense the flock was in the wild, his sheep would be in the “presence of [their] enemies”. Therefore, the shepherd would have to make sure that he killed off or ran off as many of those dangerous critters as he could. The safety of his flock depended on it.

In like manner, our shepherd has gone before me to “prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. God providentially guides and directs my steps to keep me within His will. While He certainly never causes me to sin nor is it His will for me to sin, He is able to accomplish His purposes in my life in spite of it. We can go confidently forward to carry out His will knowing that our God not only will go with us but has already prepared the way before us. When you go to witness to someone, you can be encouraged by the fact that God has gone ahead of you to prepare the way as you seek to share the gospel.

Further, we should not be afraid of our enemies. As we read in Luke 12, we should not fear those who can only kill our bodies. They really have no power over us if that’s all they can do. We are coming to a time in this country I believe where the enemies of the gospel are going to try in some way to persecute us who stand for Christ. However, we know that ultimately, they have no more power over us than that which God has granted them. They can’t hurt us in any eternal sense. As hard as it is to live a life pleasing to God and share biblical truth with people that is exactly what God, our Shepherd, has led us here to do. Since He has prepared the way and He will protect us from our enemies let us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, serve Him as He has called us.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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