You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
October turns the corner this week, and November looms large because it ushers in the holiday season. Packed full of traditions, Thanksgiving and Christmas mean much in our culture, but at the heart of all the festivities is the feast. In every culture, on every continent, and in every century there is (and has been) a tradition of gathering around the table for a celebratory or commemorative meal. Food brings people together like nothing else.
It’s what the Jews have done for millennia–since the Exodus with Moses. Every spring, families sit around a table to observe the Passover with a meal. It’s exactly what Jesus was doing that last night with His disciples. They gathered around a table–to break bread, to drink wine. To remember God’s faithfulness.
Jesus often reclined at tables for meals during His three years of ministry. But, Jesus didn’t just sit around tables with His friends. He also ate with His enemies. With:
- Sinners, like tax collectors (Luke 15:1-2; 19:1-10).
- Leaders who wanted Him dead, like Pharisees (Luke 7:36-39; 14:1-4).
- Betrayers, like Judas Iscariot (Mark 14:28).
Jesus models for us how it looks to live in the confidence of our identity and in the presence of our Father. When we sit at God’s table, we can rest–because in His presence, our enemies pose no threat. When we trust in who we are as God’s children, we fear no evil because we know we belong to the Father.
Good Ol’ Shepherds
By now we’re catching on how a good shepherd functions–protector, provider, care-giver. For shepherds like David, those treks through the valleys, dark and dangerous as they may have been, held a big enough payoff to risk the dangers. Above the valleys, hidden among the mountains, mesas awaited. Mesas were flat, plateau-like spaces, shaped a bit like tables (Keller, 126). And they were full of fields perfect for hungry sheep.
Diligent shepherds would set out on their own before the snow melted in the spring, leaving the sheep in the safety of their home pastures. They’d hike the valleys and mountains to the mesa, clearing paths and the mesa itself from poisonous plants while checking for predators who watched from surrounding peaks. Shepherds would go before their flocks to prepare the ‘table’ in the presence of all ‘enemies.’
Then, when the shepherd would lead his flock among the predetermined paths to the mesa, he remained close to the sheep, ever vigilant for the enemies who watched the table he’d made ready (p.129). His preparedness promoted survival.
At the Shepherd’s Table
So it is with us. Jesus goes before us and makes a way–through every desert, valley, and mountain of our lives. We can trust He’ll do this for us because He has been faithfully leading His followers for thousands of years. He led:
- Abraham to a new land (Genesis 12:1).
- The Israelites by cloud and fire till they entered the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21).
- David safely through the desert while King Saul hunted him (1 Samuel 23:14).
- Paul throughout the Gentile lands (Acts 13:4; 16:6-7).
- Philip to the presence of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:29).
Likewise, our Good Shepherd guides each of us. In HIs omniscience, He knows every turn and bump, every threat and blessing before they happen. In His omnipresence, He goes before us–a demonstration of His caring nature–pulling the poisonous weeds, clearing the paths, and making ready a table. And He hems us in from behind–a sure sign of His protective nature (Isaiah 52:12; Psalm 139:5).
Jesus’ preparedness promises protection. Provision. Plans. Presence. Because He is the Way (John 14:6).
So even with our enemies sitting in plain view, we can rest. We can recline with Jesus because we’re sitting at our Father’s table where all has been made ready. In His presence, enemies have no power. God is omnipotent. Our Shepherd never fails.*
Long before we choose to follow Him and listen to His voice, Jesus makes a way for all who will believe in Him to have life eternal with Him. As only Jesus could, He made known this plan before the way became a reality.
While sitting at a table.
Surrounded by the Twelve, Jesus finished the feast by instituting a New Way (Luke 22:14-20). The bread and the wine of the Passover became symbols of His broken body and shed blood–His means for our way. His death would prepare the path toward eternal life (John 3:16). His resurrection would make it possible for us to live above sin (1 John 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
The moment we step onto this path following our Good Shepherd, we become part of His family. Our identity is firmly set as children of God (John 1:11-13; 1 John 3:1). Jesus has prepared the table for all of His brothers and sisters, so like the disciples of old, we can sit with Him and feast. And because we belong to Him, we don’t need to fear evil. His Spirit dwells in us. Paul clarifies,
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”Romans 8:14-15, NLT
The next time you come to the Table–the one prepared by Jesus Himself–remember His faithfulness. Each bite of bread and sip of wine becomes a remembrance of our Shepherd Savior, the One who has made a way for each of us. We can also reflect on the reality that we sit at the table with innumerable sisters and brothers for a feast like no other.
Making It Our Own
Melissa Helser’ song, “Sound Mind,” has been my go-to a lot in this current season, and much to my joy, its anchoring passage is filled with Psalm 23:4 language.
There’s a table where we meet
In the presence of my enemies
I will listen, I will feast
On every word You are speaking to me
I remember who You are
You’re my fortress and my God
I will stand in authority
In Jesus’ name all this darkness will flee
Melissa has given this sometimes confusing passage a personal context. She has moved from the ‘table’ of the shepherds to the table of Holy Communion to a table where she personally sits with her Good Shepherd.
Her enemies, as listed in other parts of the song, range from chaos to darkness, anxiety to fear. The truths packed into the song remind her of God’s truths, which keep her on the right path. Truths like, God is her peace and God never leaves. A truth like, she can sit at His table–in full view of her enemies–and feast. On His Word.
It’s as she feasts in God’s presence that she remembers God’s power.
My friends, there is a constant battle for our attention. Where will we sit? To whom will we listen? What will we eat? Who will we follow? Psalm 23 arms us with all the truths we need. Our Good Shepherd has gone before us, preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies. When we sit at His table, we feast. We remember His faithfulness.
And, we fear no evil.
Father God, your faithfulness spans generations. You have always been present for your people. You never once abandoned anyone who followed You. No matter how they suffered or struggled, You remained by their side, willing them to allow You to help carry their burdens, to heal their brokenness. We confess that too often we blame You instead of turning to You when life goes wrong. Forgive us, we pray. Lord Jesus, thank You for being the once-and-for-all Passover Lamb, for becoming the door through which God’s forgiveness flows to us. Your broken body and shed blood have opened a new path into wholeness with our Father, and we’re so grateful to walk that road with You, our Good Shepherd. Thank You for all your preparations. We gladly take our seats at your table. And feast. Holy Spirit, continue to remind us of all that our Savior has spoken, of all He wants us to know so that we never forget His faithfulness–so that we remain anchored in His love and truth and grace. Tell us every day that we belong to Jesus so there is nothing to fear. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
(inspired by Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Corinthians 1:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Joshua 23:14; 1 John 1:9; Jeremiah 30:17; 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 10:9; Psalm 23:4; John 16:13; Lamentations 3:22-23)
- Rhythms are changing the way I come at the faith journey with Jesus. Instead of striving for balance, I’m finding daily rhythms that help me engage with my Savior Shepherd. Some days are filled with intercessory prayers while others simple solitude. Some days I study the Word for greater understanding while other days I sit in one passage allowing it to do a work in me. I feel my heart and mind and spirit aligning with the Lord’s. So, I invite you to enter into your own rhythms, to find paths that keep you on the heels of your Good Shepherd. In His presence. Always in His presence.
- One rhythm we’ve been leaning into is Scripture memory. This week we add the first half of verse 5! We’re so close to having this chapter memorized!!
- Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- *Deliverance from evil doesn’t always look like we expect. Beth Moore taught in her Daniel** study that sometimes we’re delivered from the ‘fire,’ or by it, or through it–into eternity. Our confidence comes from knowing God’s heart and constant presence. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abdenego, God is with us always (Daniel 3:25).
- So many songs on our playlist help us to abide in Christ–I think because in their own way, holy music helps prepare the table of our heart for Christ’s presence in us.
- Melissa’s song, “Sound Mind” was on a past playlist, but you can find it here.
- Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23** paints such a vivid picture of how shepherds prepared the table (in the mesas) for their flocks, comparing those efforts to Jesus’ on our behalf.
- Beautiful devotions from Aimee Walker at Devoted Collective and JD Walt at Seedbed inspired so much of this post.
- We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
- As you feel led, share in the comment section. Let us know how God is leading you. And how we can be praying for you. Ask questions. And share your thoughts.
- I hope you’ll invite someone to join our flock. All sheep need the Good Shepherd.