The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
And so begins one of the most well known passages of scripture. It is one of the first chapters in the Bible that I memorized as a child. The image of God as my shepherd is as comforting to me now as it was when I first came to understand Him as the Good Shepherd.
He is the One who gives us rest when we are weary, guidance when we are lost, discipline when we go our own way, and abundant blessings even when we don’t deserve them. He is the One who gives out of the overflow of His great love for us.
It is one of my favorite chapters of scripture.
And yet, I have always puzzled over the meaning and placement of verse 5.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
This psalm is sensorially rich. We smell the new grass upon which we lie down. We hear the soft babble of the quiet waters. We see the path laid out before us. We feel our shaking body as it trembles in fear as we traverse the dark valley.
The sensory build up continues until it reaches its crescendo in verse 5 when we finally arrive at the feasting table. I envision a lavish table laid before me, spread with an intricately woven cloth whose golden threads glisten in the candlelight. The delicate crystal goblets tinkle as I gently touch them. The vessels of pure and polished silver gleam. I can see my Master’s face reflected back at me.
The food is piled high on each platter. Memories of pleasure and plenty are awakened as rich scents waft up before me. Savory meats. Succulent fruits. Delicate sweets. The table stretches on and on. It is a feast prepared for me by my Lord. I taste a thousand and one exquisite delicacies that are mine to enjoy, blessings from the hand of my loving Father.
And then, I see them. Right there, just off to the side, but ever watchful, they are there.
“What? Who let them in? What in the world are they doing here?” My mind reels and my stomach turns at the sight.
This is a moment for my Lord and me. A moment to savor. A time for rejoicing together, to delight in one another. It was meant for us to share; not for them to interrupt. I know it was; I saw His face reflected back at me in the silver.
And yet, there it is – the enemy alongside the sweetest times with the Lord. Or said the other way round, the sweetest times of fellowship with the Lord often come when we’re in the midst of the thickest spiritual battles.
A few years ago, during a particularly difficult time in the life of my family, I experienced occasions when I felt the presence of the enemy just that close to me. His hot breath on my neck, dagger drawn, ready to pounce. It was also a time of intense ministry work – finishing writing my book, preparing live talks for the Bible study, and also leading the study. Always, I knew that I had to keep my eyes on my Master’s face. It was the only way to walk through that season of anguish, the valley of the shadow of death, without succumbing to the taunts of the enemy.
And what did my Master so lovingly do as I gazed on His face?
He prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
He prepared that beautiful feasting table of fellowship for me right there in the midst of the firestorm. His voice was so clear. His peace was so sweet. His love was so real.
And now that the season of intense spiritual battle has lifted, I long for the table. Oh how I desire to linger at the banqueting table, even if it must come in the presence of my enemies. It’s harder to see the table when the stench of the enemy and the pressures of life are not as prominent. The presence of my enemies forces me to seek out my Master’s face and it is then that He blesses me with the feasting table He has prepared for me.