Here’s the shepherd at work again for the benefit of the sheep.
The word table refers to tableland or mesa. It was a flat-topped plateau high in the mountains.
This high plateau land was sought after by the shepherds because it was the best grazing place for the sheep.
Phillip Keller in his book "A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23" shows how middle-eastern Shepherds prepare the tableland for the sheep.
Tablelands are remote and hard to reach, but energetic and enthusiastic shepherds take the time to get the land ready for the arrival of their flock.
As soon as the snow has melted the shepherd makes a trip up the mountain to see where the flock's summer grazing land will be. He will decide where the camps will be so that the sheep have the best grounds to bed down and the best places to graze. On one of his trips up the mountain a shepherd will take salt and minerals and distributes them over the grazing area. I was up on the North York Moors preparing for our Sept 60 mile hike for Christain Aid, and noticed little heaps of white minerals in amongst the sparse grass and heather placed there by the farmer for the sheep. The tableland doesn't have everything a sheep needs so the shepherd brings what the tableland lacks.
On the later trips just before the sheep arrive a shepherd will remove the poisonous weeds that have grown. Sometimes a shepherd will spend days removing these weeds.
The shepherd will also clear waterholes, springs and other drinking places as during the fall rains, winter snow and spring run off leaves, twigs, rocks and dirt will be washed into a water source. All this must be cleaned out.
A shepherd will also have to spend time repairing dams he has made in previous years so they will hold water for the sheep once again.
How has the Good Shepherd prepared the tableland for us?
1. He became one of us. He knows what we go through so He knows how to prepare the way for us. He has been there.
For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:18
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
2. He gave us the Bible as our instruction book, our map and compass… paths to follow and pitfalls to avoid.
3. He prays for us.
And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail. Luke 22:31-32
Jesus warned Peter that Satan was after him and that He was praying for Him that his faith would not fail. The Good Shepherd knows what we are going to go through, what danger lays ahead and prays for us.
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25
4. Not only does He pray, He also makes an escape route for us.
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. I Corinthians 10:13
5. In Christ we have everything we need
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32
6. His provision is daily. Give us this day our daily bread. The fact that God is providing for you today should give you confidence He will provide tomorrow.
7. He provides abundantly. Life in all its fullness John 10:10
This is one of the loveliest stories in the Old Testament:
1 Now David said, "Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?"
2 And there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba. So when they had called him to David, the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "At your service!"
3 Then the king said, "Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?" And Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet."
4 So the king said to him, "Where is he?" And Ziba said to the king, "Indeed he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar."
5 Then King David sent and brought him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo Debar.
6 Now when Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, had come to David, he fell on his face and prostrated himself. Then David said, "Mephibosheth?" And he answered, "Here is your servant!"
7 So David said to him, "Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father's sake, and will restore to you all the land of Saul your grandfather; and you shall eat bread at my table continually." 2 Sam 9:1-7
…And likewise we share at the table of the King, at Communion, the Eucharist. His table, His invitation, and we find sustenance here.
Jesus said to them, "Come and eat …." Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are You?" -knowing that it was the Lord. John 21:12
8. And we are protected too… in the culture of Jesus’s day whenever a host had a feast it became his responsibility to protect the people under his roof …. The Shepherd knows how frail we are…even the hairs of your head are numbered….there is not one second of the day or night that He is not watching over us.
How precious are your thoughts toward me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you. Ps 139: 17-18
It is great to know that He who created us, saved us in Christ, gave us Eternal Life and peace with God, never lets go of us, never.
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?" Heb 13:5-6
God provides a table for me then, even in the presence of my enemies. This I find intriguing.
Why did David mention enemies? He could have left us with the first phrase on its own… You prepare a table before me…It is enough is it not to know that He does for us all that we have mentioned above…..but David deliberately takes it further.
The shepherd is pictured providing for the sheep whilst looking out for the lion, bear or wolf he knows are there, and will never abandon the sheep, but will stand between them and the enemy .. he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
Now Satan is our enemy.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 1Pet 5:8
..and Paul makes it clear… For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God… Eph 6:12-13
People are not our enemies….powers at work in them may well be, for God hates the sin but loves the sinner.
People have put various interpretations on this business of ‘in the presence of my enemies’, but for what its worth, here’s my take on it:
Do you ever suffer from indigestion? Why?
One of the reasons is that you do not stop, relax, take time to eat and enjoy. If you are tense and wound-up about something it can be difficult to eat at all! If you do eat, when your stomach is churning, I do not need to tell you what may happen next!
I think that David is showing that our trust in the Good Shepherd needs to be like this:
I can sit down and relax and enjoy right in the face of all that might disturb and upset me.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Can you see it? We are loved! There is no fear… you prepare a table before me and invite me to come and sit down and eat and enjoy with the full assurance that my enemy is watching. Satan is not a respecter of persons. He hates everyone including me with a passion and is out to destroy my life. But I am to trust in you, and not be even the slightest bit anxious because you are watching over me with love, and you lay down your life for the sheep.
In this context of love…there is no fear. That is how I see it. That I reckon is why David put that phrase in. It is about God’s love and care for us. Yes. But it is also about our trust in Him. Trust like this. Faith like this… that we can sit and eat where we should be trembling or running away. I want that sort of faith.
1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust."
3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
8 Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place Ps 91: 1-9
Staying close to the Shepherd does not guarantee a problem free life, but when problems come He is with us protecting and encouraging us. Remember always Romans 8v28… he is always at work for our good you see.
I hope when you read Psalm 23 again you will read it slowly one word at a time and allow yourself to feel its impact.
A. God prepares; He is the source of everything.
B. God prepares a table; He prepares a bountiful table.
C. God prepares a table for me ; I am welcome.
D. God prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies; Satan is out to get me but I will simply trust my Shepherd absolutely.
Today, thank Him for all He is doing as your source of everything, for the table He has prepared, for the fact you are welcome to sit at the table and for the fact that God is your protection from the enemy.
And for the faith you need to move forward fearlessly in your witness and service for Him.
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