Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing (through the experience of your faith) that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope.”
“Filled with this sweet peace forever,
On we go through strife and care,
‘Til we find that peace around us
In the Lamb’s high glory there.”
Today’s Study Text:
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
Psalm 23 Part 20
“Our Eternal Friend”
“When we please the Lord, even our enemies make friends with us.”
What do the words, “my enemies,” mean to me in a practical way?
Has there been a time in my life when an enemy became my friend?
“There is only one true way of conquering enemies in this warring world, and that is to make your enemy your friend.”
“We should conduct ourselves toward our enemy as if (they) were one day to be our friend.”
John Henry Newman
There are many interesting words in our vocabulary. One of my favorite words is “hope.” I even love the way the word sounds when it is spoken. It is an uplifting word, especially when it appears in one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson: “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”
There are other words that I find to be the opposite of hope. The word “enemy” is one of those words. Personally, I find the word harsh and cold. The dictionary defines an enemy as, “A hostile force or power; one who is not a friend, who displays hostility or malice toward another; and finally, something or someone that has a destructive effect.”
The Hebrew word for enemy, which is used in Psalm 23: 5, “tsârar,” means to cramp, to be in narrow straits or to cause distress, affliction or adversity. It is this wide variation in definition which allows commentators on the phrase, “in the presence of my enemies,” to share a wide variety of thoughts for our consideration as well as instruction.
In her commentary on Psalm 23, Mary E. Shields offers this perspective: “The phrase ‘you prepare a table in the presence of my enemies’ deals with provisioning of the sheep. The word translated ‘enemies’ can also mean anyone or anything with a hostile intent, for example, the natural predators of the sheep as well as any poisonous plants or weeds.” As we have studied about the lengths a shepherd goes to find lush feeding areas for his flock, we can expect that during certain times of the year, mountainous regions may make for good feeding. However, the shepherd’s watchful eye must always be on the alert for predatory wolves and other creatures which could attack his sheep. Mary Shields also brings attention to the fact that the word “enemies” may also have another connotation: something that could “bind or cramp.” As she points out, “the shepherd arranges a table before those who would bind or cramp the sheep, or cause the space to become too narrow, thus providing another picture of abundance.”
It is important for us to recognize that our heavenly Shepherd’s plans for our lives are grand and expansive. God is not limited to what we can envision. If we take the sheep as an example, with their heads down, munching on the grass they can only see at a particular moment, not only is it unlikely the sheep will become aware of predators, but they also are not thinking about where they will eat in the future. They simply rely on the shepherd to look out for them. Such is the way the shepherd not only scouts out green pastures as a guide, but then he hosts a feast for all who fall under his protective care.
The idea of having a “table” or as the Hebrew notes, by implication a meal, laid out before us has other ramifications when the psalmist notes that this banquet feast takes place in the “presence of our enemies.” Several commentators shine a light on the potential meaning that accompanies a feast in front of those who, as James H. Evans, Jr., explains, may be “enemies who have denied the writer a place at the table, the hospitality due one to another in the hot, desert climate.”
What we also see is the generous response of a gracious shepherd that leads David L. Petersen, in his thoughts on Psalm 23, to conclude that it is the “benevolent action of God who ‘spreads’ a table.” As he describes the scene, Petersen notes that, it may “be the spreading of a woven mat on the ground. Whether textile or wood structure, it is in full view of the psalmist’s enemies.” He then continues with this interesting description of who the “enemies” actually might be. “These are adversaries who have elsewhere been quoted as saying, ‘Where is your God?’” In Psalm 42 we find this exact type of perplexing situation when the question is asked by one who trusts God, “I will say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword crushing in my bones, my enemies taunt and reproach me, while they say continually to me, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42: 9,10 Amplified Bible).
I’ll never forget after our car accident, a feature writer for the local newspaper asked if he could come to our home to interview us. One of his very first questions nearly mirrored the words found in Psalm 42. His question was: “Where do you think God was during this catastrophic accident? How has this crisis affected or changed your view of faith?” It may be that the same thing has happened to you when a devastating crisis has struck your life and then to add insult to injury, those you have relied on for support turn to you and ask, “Where’s your God now? Why isn’t He getting you out of this mess?”
I found that author Harold S. Kushner, in his gem of a book, The Lord Is My Shepherd, is able to get to the essence of how we might look, with an expanded vision at the phrase, “He prepareth a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” As Kushner so eloquently explains: “The Hebrew word translated ‘in the presence of [mine enemies]’ is neged, which ordinarily means ‘opposite.’ Might we take the verse to mean, ‘God, You prepare a table before me in contrast to the people around me, to whom I turned for emotional nourishment, only to be disappointed…Could the psalmist be saying, ‘When something bad happened to me, I turned to my friends for support, for the reassurance that I did not deserve this fate? Some were wonderful, caring, supportive friends. But some people on whom I counted turned out to be false friends. They were not, or maybe could not be, there for me. They could not nourish me emotionally as I needed to be…I needed them to bring light into my darkness, to banish the gloom that enveloped me, but they did not know how to do that. Some were so intimidated by what had happened to me that they couldn’t look at me without worrying that something similar might happen to them. Some stayed away because they felt inadequate. They didn’t know what to say. It bothered them to see me suffer…They all had their reasons for what they did, but I felt alone and rejected in the valley of the shadow. The only thing that kept me going, the only thing…was my faith in God, my faith that when I cried out, God heard me…When I felt alone and abandoned, I prayed and I had this astonishing feeling that I was no longer alone…The Psalmist concluded, ‘God, thank You for being there…Thank You for nourishing me with Your presence when so many others could not help me.”
A feast that nourishes me physically, emotionally and spiritually, right in the presence of those who shake their heads and say with an incredulous tone, “Where’s your God now?” This is what we are promised our Shepherd will provide for us, especially during the darkest gloom and deepest valley. Oh, we may not see Him at first, but never doubt His presence. The “One” who is leading knows the path you tread. He knows the burdens you carry. And everything He does for you, befits His gracious character.
In his book, Out of the Depths, author Bernhard W. Anderson observes that, “according to the Bedouin law of hospitality, once a traveler is received into the shepherd’s tent, and especially once his host has spread food before him, he is guaranteed immunity from enemies who may be attempting to overtake him. In pastoral circles no human protection is greater than that afforded by the table hospitality of a Bedouin chief. So the psalmist expresses trust in the good shepherd by saying that in Yhwh’s tent one finds a protecting and gracious welcome. This divine hospitality is not just a temporary reprieve but a limitless protection from the powers that threaten one’s existence. The host’s tent is none other than the Temple as in Psalm 27 which closely parallels the thought of Psalm 23 – “For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27). This is our Guide…our Protector…our Shepherd…and our Host.
“You never so touch the ocean of God’s love as when you forgive and love your enemies.”
Corrie ten Boom
“Follow with reverent steps the great example of Him whose holy work was doing good:
So shall the wide earth seem our Father’s temple, each loving life a psalm of gratitude.
Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangor of wild war-music over the earth shall cease,
Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger, and in its ashes plant the tree of peace.”
John Greenleaf Whittier
“You have heard that it was said,’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”
Who Is So Low
“Who is so low that I am not his brother?
Who is so high that I’ve no path to him?
Who is so poor I may not fell (her) hunger?
Who is so rich I may not pity him?
Who is so hurt I may not know (her) heartache?
Who sings for joy my heart may never share?
Who in God’s heaven has passed beyond my vision?
Who to hell’s depths where I may never fare?
May none, then, call on me for understanding,
May none, then, turn to me for help in pain,
And drain alone (their) bitter cup of sorrow,
Or find (they) knock upon my heart in vain.”
S. Ralph Harlow
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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