“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The care that this shepherd exercises for His dear sheep is unsurpassed. “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Whereas danger normally gives rise to fear, the sheep of his flock, those who listen to His voice and follow Him and not another, “fear not.” “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
And why is it that His sheep live in such a state of peace and security? Is it their self-confidence that in the face of danger they possess the cleverness or innovation or strength to overcome whatever ‘evil’ confronts them, even death? No.
Their confidence is not based on anything within the sheep themselves. It is based solely on the fact that when they look up, when they look out, they see their Shepherd. And the fact that He is “with them” assures them that they are safe and secure. “For you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
It is at this point in the 23rd Psalm, that David breaks from the pastoral picture of a shepherd and His sheep that he has painted, and that we have carefully looked into during this season of Lent. Truth is, we’ve known all along that David wasn’t really talking about sheep and shepherds, but about the people whom the Lord has made His own, and how He provides for them and protects them.
What follows from this point forward is a picture that simply doesn’t fit the world of sheep and shepherding at all. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Frankly, sheep do not sit at tables, nor do shepherds anoint the head of their sheep with oil. And obviously, sheep do not drink from cups.
Here, David paints a picture that turns out not to be figurative at all. This is the picture of the believer who lives in a world of unbelievers. David has real ‘enemies,’ some that he has made himself and some, simply because he is a believer and follower of the God of Israel. But these ‘enemies’ are very real and not at all figurative of something else.
It is while he is “in the PRESENCE of his enemies” that David’s Lord does the most strange and unexpected thing for His believer. What we would naturally expect is that the Lord would destroy David’s enemies, or at least arm David with helmet and armor and spear as Saul tried to do when David went out to meet the enemy, Goliath.
But no, the Lord “prepares a table” for David, in the “presence of his enemies.” A ‘table’ is a shorthand way of saying, ‘a meal,’ or even ‘a feast.’ And the ‘anointing with oil’ and the ‘overflowing cup’ suggest that this is no ordinary meal but a very special and important feast.
“In the presence of his enemies” David is invited to sit down at a “table” which his Lord has prepared for him. “In the presence of his enemies” David is invited to eat and drink what his Lord has prepared for him. What could be stranger or more contradictory to our sense of reason than this?
But it is just such strangeness and such contradiction to our thoughts and our ways that throws us into the strange and incomprehensible ways of the Lord. For this “table” that He sets with this “food” and this “drink,” is the very means by which He defends His believer against his ever-present enemies. It is in this strange and mysterious way that our Lord protects His believers against all that threatens them, and even gives them the victory over their enemies.
As David sees his enemies encircled about him, he also sees His Lord’s presence and protection in a table and an anointing and an overflowing cup. And it is based on these things, these seemingly powerless and most ordinary and lowly things, that he is utterly confident and at peace and boasts of his safety and security in the face of his enemies. ‘Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.’
David’s Lord is our Lord and our Lord is David’s. For the Lord is One and He never changes. As it was for David, so it was for all the Prophets and the people of the Old Testament who listened to the voice of the Lord and followed Him. And so it was for the Apostles and the people of the New Testament. And so it is for us, as long as we continue to hear His voice and follow Him.
On that night when all the forces of evil and every enemy of every believer was about to be unleashed in full fury, Jesus set a table for His apostles. As all hell was about to break loose on Him and consequently on them, His concern is that they eat and drink from this table that He has set.
It was not figuratively but literally, while He was in the presence of his enemy, whose name was Judas, that David’s Lord and our Lord “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’”
It is not for Himself that He sets this table and gathers His apostles around it to eat and drink. It is for them. This is how He intends to defend them from His enemies, and consequently theirs. By giving them this bread and wine, He arms His beloved Christians with all they need to withstand the enemy and even gain the victory.
The power of the Christian to resist every enemy that surrounds us, whether it is the devil, the world or our own sinful nature, is not in screaming and yelling or arguing or scheming. Nor is it by the use of force. Our power against our enemies is in the food that we eat and this drink that we drink from this table that our Lord has set for us.
In a strange and mysterious way, the Lord Himself is physically present in the bread and the wine. And therefore as we eat and drink this bread and this wine, He is physically present not only ‘with us’ but also ‘in us’. And with the almighty power that is His, he defends us against all of our enemies.
Surrounded by enemies on every side, the believer who eats and drinks of this divine table is so confident and bold in the face of whatever the threats may be, that like David, we boast, “If God is for us, who can be against us… Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…” (Rom. 8)
This kind of protection and care in the face of our enemies cannot come from what is only ‘spiritual’ or ‘figurative,’ meant only to remind us of something that happened two centuries ago. It must be ‘real.’ It must be ‘now.’ It must be the real presence of the Lord Himself.
This is why we are to come to this Table frequently, and why it is taken to those who are not able to come here. It is the basis for our security and confidence “in the presence of our enemies.” And this is why our absence from this Table for too long is so very dangerous.
The number and power of the enemies that surround us may vary from believer to believer. Some are face with enemies that seek to overcome us with physical pain. Others seek to lure us away from our Lord with pleasure and luxury. Others feel the forces of evil at work against them in the scorn and rejection that may come by publically confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and I belong to Him. For all of these enemies and whatever others may attack us, the Lord has “prepared a table” for you.
There is however one enemy that we must all face and that no one can escape – and that is death. There is no greater comfort for the believer as death draws near than to eat and drink this divine meal. For in eating this bread and drinking this cup, we receive within our very body the One who has overcome even death but giving His very body over to it and rising again on the 3rd day.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”