“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;” (Psalms 23:5 NAS95S)
This just doesn’t happen. When you are surrounded by enemies, you do not spread the tablecloth, unfold the napkin, and take a sip of wine. You don’t take a deep breath, clear your mind, and share a joke with your friends.
No, when you are surrounded by enemies, you are on the run. If you eat at all, it’s some hunk of old, half-a-biscuit, that, as you run, are careful not to leave crumbs behind, lest the enemy be able to track you down. There are no refinements; no pleasantries. It’s wilderness and caves and sweat and fear.
The New Testament theology that informs the Old Testament text is this: Christ has defeated the enemy by his resurrection from the dead, and is thus able to provide for his followers safe refuge. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14) who has given his life for the sheep, and whose work ensures that “no man is able to pluck them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).
The theology is sound and assuring. Our practical application is often flawed.
Because God-in-Christ provides us with such security and pleasure, we often begin to draw the conclusion that we really have no surrounding enemies. If the table is so rich, and the fellowship so fine, then we forget the larger context that we live in this world as pilgrims and strangers, even aliens, and that our many enemies, sometimes categorized under the rubric of “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” are still present, and potent, and prowling about.
Of course, we can err in more than one direction. If we have the tendency to explore the ditch on one side of the path, then surely we are capable of excavating the ditch on the other side as well. And so, not only can we forget “the presence of our enemies” and live as though they do not exist, but we can also, in the rush and tumble of life, forget the table, its fare, and its fellowship. Whether it is our nose to the grindstone, or our feet to the fire, we are hurried and pressed, and we forego the restful intimacies that our Savior requests, even commands.
As sheep, we just take what is given to us. If a meal is provided, we eat. And if the shepherd presides over us for our protection, we accept it. But as intelligent people, we forget and neglect. And so, intelligent men and women, consider this prayer for today: “Lord, let me be a lamb today.”