Sep 28, 2014 2
One of the most familiar, and comforting, of Bible passages is the 23rd Psalm. Back when I was young, and prayer was still allowed in public schools, once a week a designated kid read from the Bible, before the Pledge of Allegiance, in home-room observances.
Not by written regulations of the School Board, or under legal threats from the Federal Government (why would it be any of their business?) but by a custom of courtesy, the readings were usually from the Psalms. Not always, but the presence of a few Jewish students prompted the circumspection. And as students were, relatively, free to choose the reading each week, the 23rd Psalm was about Number One on the hit parade. It is only six verses long, which perhaps is another reason why many students chose it.
But why not? It has universal appeal, offering promises to humanity; it is a spiritual palliative – soothing, encouraging, offering security.
I read it again recently. After reading and reciting it perhaps hundreds of times in my life, subsequent to the 6th grade, something struck me as new and challenging. There is one phrase among the promises and word-pictures that stands out. It is from God via the “Sweet Singer” David, so its authenticity is not suspect, but the verse is, at least superficially, of a different flavor.
In the Psalm we are assured that the Lord provides care and shelter as shepherds do; that He lovingly leads us, restores us, comforts us, protects us, anoints us, and so forth. He offers us green pastures, still waters, “paths of righteousness,” protection in life’s valleys, cups that overflow, goodness, mercy, and an eternal dwelling place.
Surely you remember the actual Psalm, especially after all these prompts: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Have you, too, noticed the passage that is seemingly of a different flavor?
The world has changed much since my childhood days… and yours, too, even if you did not survive the Village School in Closter NJ, as I did. “God is dead,” as the Existentialists say because our culture rejects and dismisses Him. In the same way, Norman Rockwell is dead, relegated to the walls of the cultural Remnant.
We had “enemies” then, at the height of the Cold War. We were ready to survive those enemies by scrambling to the school’s basement and tucking our heads between our knees if nuclear bombs were to fall on the playground. Our society’s enemies now, today, include anonymous killers who want more than to overtake our courthouses. Our enemies want to torture and kill us; by their asservations, to be preceded by attacking peoples’ bedrock beliefs; and then committing heinous and despicable methods of murder. For Christians, it includes bondage, sometimes crucifixion, and beheading. For their fellow, but less enthusiastic, religionists, their promises and practices include bondage and mass executions leading to unmarked ditches. Except for those who are buried alive.
These descriptions are not the usual reports of propaganda (as I recall the dictum that “in every war, the first casualty is truth”). Our self-proclaimed “enemies” brag about these goals and acts, and post videos on the internet.
To return to the Psalm, of course the phrase that stands out is, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Would it seem that consistent to the entire Psalm, David might have written, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my friends”? Every other promise and description is of peace, joy, happiness. Surely a picnic beside the still waters, near the Path of Righteousness, with our friends whose cups are running over, would fit into the picture.
But David, taking dictation from the Holy Spirit, knew what he was writing. Therefore, so should we.
We shall never be free from enemies. Just as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death – that is, obliged to endure it occasionally, not switch on the GPS for detours – God is with us. He will protect. Moreover, we should not want to live in a daisy-world (sorry, Norman Rockwell) that is totally unrealistic. We have enemies, and God prepares tables before us in their presence. Why? To confront them, to witness for Truth, to boldly share our convictions, maybe persuade our enemies.
This does not mean to roll over, declaring that their belief systems are peaceful and merely have been perverted. That is moral cowardice. That will only prompt them to laugh louder. NO. God sets our placemats in the presence of our enemies to confront, not to compromise.
The real menu in this imaginary meal with our enemies is their hatred (however, we are determined to bring sweet desserts of love, making our boldness palatable). And – let us not fool ourselves – these enemies might kill us, but the One they really hate is Jesus Christ. One by one by one among us, the enemy hates us in direct proportion to the presence of Jesus in our hearts. Remember how Satan denigrated Job to God: he doesn’t love You, just Your blessings, Satan charged. Well, Satan hates us according to the amount of Christ that lives in our hearts.
For those cultural self-haters among us who abandon religious tenets and civilization’s traditions, supposing that enemies will be appeased… they are mistaken. They will not even be at the virtual table; they will be despised and eliminated with even less thought than enemies expend on attacking those with strong Christian faith.
God wants us to be in the presence of our enemies. That is, not to avoid, appease, or compromise with them. David did not, in his life. Neither did Jesus. We are to contend… to represent Christ. And we are promised to be equipped, comforted, anointed, blessed, and victorious. God prepares a table before us… right smack in the presence of our enemies. Are you hungry?
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
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A song about the everyday enemies of life, behind which is Satan, no less than the enemies on nightly news programs, is by Jami Smith:
Click: You Prepared a Table For Me