You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever. Psalm 23:5-6
The image of a protective shepherd of verses 1-4 leads into the image of a generous host in verses 5-6. Together, these images portray a dangerous journey that ends when the faithful shepherd leads the flock to a full table in warm home. The shepherd feeds, leads and protects the sheep along the way. The host welcomes, feeds and overwhelms the guests with generous hospitality once they arrive. David’s enemies watch but cannot disrupt this special meal. Perhaps they are captives at a postwar celebration, or perhaps the host is strong enough that they dare not try to disrupt it. David is anointed with oil, which can signify either the welcome of lavish generosity or the coronation of a royal figure. An overflowing cup is a sign of abundance, in this case due to overwhelming generosity. Though previously hunted by enemies, David is now pursued only by God’s good and faithful love. Living in God’s house means constant access to God’s immediate presence in the sanctuary (v. 6).
You prepare a table before my in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5 (CSB)
Starting in verse 5 the image shifts from shepherd to friend. The identification of the Lord with a shepherd emphasizes his care and protection, but he is much more that for a person who is in close fellowship with him. While protection from enemies is still implied, it is intensified with the image of a banquet (“table”) that is served while the enemies look on. In Jewish society oil was a symbol for rejoining (Psalm 104:15) and was also used in the welcoming of guests (Psalm 45:7; 92:10 and Luke 7:46).
In essence verse 5 is telling us that God cares for the needs of each of his children, even as evil forces attempt to destroy his or her life and soul (Romans 8:31-39). With three main points:
- Confronted daily by Saturn and surrounded by an ungodly society, God sustains believers physically and spiritually. He gives us what we need so that we can live and enjoy his presence (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). The Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for his own sheep, has made this available (1 Corinthians 11:23).
- The phrase “Anoint my head with oil” refers to a practice provided for honored guests at a banquet. This speaks of God’s special favor and blessing through the anointing (the refreshing and empowering) of the Holy Spirit on the body, mind and spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
- The phrase “My cup overflows” literally translates, “My cup is an abundant drink.” It probably refers to a shepherd’s cup, which was a large, hollowed-out stone that could forty or fifty gallons and from which the sheep drank.
Only goodness and faithful love with pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live. Psalm 23:6 (CSB)
The verb pursue is commonly used for attackers, but here the Lord’s “goodness and faithful love” are personified as the ones who chased David throughout his life. The phrase “As long as I live” represents the Hebrew “for the length of days.” This is equivalent to the parallel “all the days of my life.” Though some translate this as “forever,” it is nowhere else used that way but always refers to one’s earthly life (Psalm 91:16 and Proverbs 3:2 and 16). “Dwell” (in Hebrew “yashav”) is similar to the word for “return” (in Hebrew “shuv”). In this verbal form, it differs only in the vowels. It is possible that the request is to return to the sanctuary of the Lord throughout one’s life, although the preposition “in” argues for the idea of “dwell.”
In essence verse 6 is telling us that with the Shepherd staying with us through life’s journey, we will receive constant guidance, help, kindness and support. No matter what happens, we can trust God to work for our good in all circumstances (Romans 8:28 and James 5:11). The goal in following the Shepherd and experience his goodness and love is that one day we will be with Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17), see his face (Revelation 22:4) and serve him forever (Revelation 22:3 and John 14:2-3).
Today’s Bible Readings:
Ezekiel 45:13-46:26, 1 Peter 1:13-2:10, Psalm 119:33-48 and Proverbs 28:11
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