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You Prepare a Table Before me in the Presence of my Enemies: Psalm 23:5

You Prepare a Table Before me in the Presence of my Enemies: Psalm 23:5

By Ted Schroder,
June 12, 2016

The promise of the 23rd Psalm is that the Good Shepherd will protect his people against their enemies and throw a victory banquet for them. This affirmation of faith in the 23rd Psalm is expanded in Psalm 91.

Just inside the Florida state line on I-95 at the welcome center you will find a memorial to Hazel Emery Dunlap. The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs erected it for her contribution to the beautification of the welcome centers in this part of Florida. I officiated at the service when that memorial was dedicated on October 20, 1985. Hazel Dunlap was a lovely Southern lady, who was a member of my congregation in Orange Park. I was visiting her in the hospital as she was undergoing cancer therapy and encouraged her to read the Psalms. When I returned for my next visit she said, "I have been reading the Psalms, but they are full of references to enemies, and I don't have any enemies!" I said, "Hazel, what are you fighting now? You are fighting cancer, discouragement, fear, death." St. Paul wrote, 'The last enemy to be destroyed is death.'

Who are your enemies and how does the Lord defend you against them? I married John and Nancy many years ago. Nancy gave birth to a beautiful daughter, and then shortly afterwards found that she had breast cancer. She fought the disease valiantly but it was of a pernicious variety. On the night she died, as I was driving over to the house, these words came into my mind, "An enemy has done this." They are the words of Jesus in his parable of the wheat and the weeds. God sows good seed, but the devil comes in and sows weeds. (Matt.13:24-30)

The Bible teaches that there are three sources of evil in life: the world, the flesh and the devil. The world is the physical environment, and system of culture, that distracts us from God, and provides an alternative view of reality from the Gospel.

"World is an atmosphere, a mood. It is nearly as hard for a sinner to recognize the world's temptations as it is for a fish to discover impurities in the water. There is a sense, a feeling, that things aren't right, that the environment is not whole, but just what it is eludes analysis... it is hard to put our finger on what is wrong." (Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p.15)

The flesh is that conscious and unconscious inner life that operates out of our egos, our dispositions, and our addictions. The devil is that spiritual power who plays on these elements to tempt us to rebel against God and despair. All three are our enemies.

Jesus talked about "a man's enemies will be members of his own household." (Matt.10:36) The Gospel can divide families, and there can be co-dependent and abusive relationships. You may have to relate to a family member who is antagonistic to your faith, a child who has rejected Christ, or a relative who has turned against you. Children live in forty-three percent of households with reported partner violence. Fifty percent of female victims are injured by an intimate partner.

The 23rd Psalm reminds us that the Good Shepherd prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. The sheep are able to safely graze because they are under the protection of the shepherd who stands guard over them. He nourishes us in the midst of conflict. The Table stands for the saving action God has taken to protect us.

This is seen most clearly in Exodus 12 which describes the institution of the Passover meal. The people of Israel were to eat a lamb and take some of the blood and put it on the doorframes of their houses as a sign to protect them from the destructive plague that would befall Egypt. The meal was to be eaten annually to remind them of the Lord's protection and their deliverance from slavery. They were to be reminded that they were the Lord's people and to be thankful to him for their deliverance. The great festivals at the Temple in Jerusalem were to be celebrated with a feast in the presence of the Lord to remind them of their saving relationship with the Lord.

Joyful, sacrificial meals in the house of God were a feature of Old Testament worship. The worshipper saw himself as the guest of God.

"How often had God already prepared a table before him and, acting as a loving Host, had honored him! Indeed, had he not actually been the guest of God all his life, and had he not been privileged to receive from his hand blessings in abundance, meat and drink, and joy at many festivals? Even his enemies who look askance at his joy cannot spoil his delight in the goodness and presence of God."(Arthur Weiser, The Psalms)

Worship is meant to celebrate God's victory over his and our enemies.

This is what Jesus is doing in the Last Supper. He told them that they were to do this in remembrance of him. It is designed to remind us of his victory over evil. The Supper of the Lord was to seal his relationship with his disciples. He was going to fight a battle on the Cross so that we might be protected from our enemies. Jesus said that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Paul said that Jesus "disarmed the spiritual powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15)

The Good Shepherd has done everything that is needed to protect us from our enemies. He has disarmed them, and defeated them. They have no power over us. We can feast at his Table and celebrate our deliverance. When the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, is celebrated, and we genuinely participate by faith, the kingdom of God is advanced, and the kingdom of darkness is diminished.

Some years ago, I was asked to help with the cleansing of a house which had manifested signs of demonic activity. Bloodlike stains would appear on the walls, and the residents were fearful. I celebrated Holy Communion in that house, and the phenomena disappeared. It isn't that the sacrament is magical in its operation, but that when God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies, and we claim the protection of the Cross, and pledge our loyalty to him, the kingdom of God will drive out all the snares of the enemy.

What about national enemies, terrorists, those who would harm us and our loved ones? God has established governing authorities to protect us through the provision of the military and the police (Romans 13:3,4). Every nation and city has to protect itself from aggression and violent criminals. The Rev. Dr. Mark Davidson has compiled a book of military prayers to use in the face of the enemy. Here are two such prayers which we can use for protection.

Thou, O Lord, art just and powerful: O defend our cause against the face of the enemy.
O God, Thou art a strong tower of defense to all who fly unto thee:
O save us from the violence of the enemy.
O Lord of hosts, fight for us, that we may glorify Thee.
O suffer us not to sink under the weight of our sins, or the violence of the enemy.
O Lord, arise, help us, and deliver us for Thy name's sake. Amen.

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (War Cries, p.83f.)

Who are your enemies? Who threatens your eternal well-being, your wholeness, your peace and your joy? The Good Shepherd invites you to come under his protection, and share in his victory banquet. Don't let your enemies intimidate you. They are defeated by Christ. Live out your life by faith in that reality.

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island Plantation, Florida

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