Welcomed to God's Table (Psalm 23:5-6)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ⁶Surely 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 end of Psalm 23 pictures the Good Shepherd as Generous Host. Have you thought about what it will be like to be welcomed to God’s table this way?
David describes a table prepared by the Lord Himself. What might such a table be like? Isaiah says, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Isaiah 25:6). This reminds me of the future marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven, where Jesus is now, preparing a place for us (John 14:2). Oh that He might hasten His return!
Enemies Looking On
David knew well the discouragement and peril of enemies. Envied by his brothers, hunted down by his king, and pursued in battle, he was a man other men sought to harm. Yet here he praises God for blessing him while they look on. He did not fear them, because God was with him (v. 4). When the all-powerful God is with us and acting for us, nearby enemies’ threats are emptied of their power to terrify (Romans 8:1, 31-34). We must not let them diminish our delight in God for they will not prevail (Romans 12:19).
In ancient times, a good host poured oil on weary guests (Luke 7:46). Theologian W. S. Plumer says, “the anointing of guests was…to show them honor, and to declare their welcome” (Psalms, 315). Surely God’s oil of welcome was sweeter even than David’s being anointed by Samuel as king.
We no longer routinely pour oil on the heads of our dinner guests, but the picture of God’s eager welcome of sinners to His table applies in every generation and culture. And Christians do still experience an anointing. John Piper asks,
What does it mean to be anointed by Christ, the Holy One? I take it to mean that Jesus has poured out on every Christian something of his own anointing from the Father. And the most complete thing we can say about Jesus’s own anointing is that he was anointed by God the Father with the Holy Spirit. Acts 10:38, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power."
…every believer has come into contact with Jesus so that the oil—or ointment or salve—of the Holy Spirit has touched us (“You Are Anointed”).
In Scripture, the cup often represents God’s wrath, not mercy. “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (Psalm 75:8). This wrath-filled cup is what Jesus asked God to remove from Him the night before He was crucified (Matthew 26:39).
It is because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on the cross that those who trust in Him receive a cup overflowing with mercy.
Scripture commands us to follow God. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Yet here we see David being followed by goodness and mercy. These aren’t things following us around, they are qualities of God’s character. It costs everything to follow Him, but when we do, His goodness and mercy follow us. When we follow Jesus, we gain Him (Matthew 19:29).
Bookends of Certainty
David ends where he began, with certainty: “I shall not want...I shall dwell.” When the Lord is our Shepherd, we have all that we need in this life and certain hope that we will be with Him forever in the next. It may feel at times that we lack, but God assures us that what is necessary, He will provide.
Psalm 23 is a glorious hymn of praise to God. But David was not “at all times...so happy; he has not been able at all times to sing as he does here,” said Martin Luther about this psalm. Who among us hasn’t felt the ups and downs of life? All the more reason to memorize this psalm—to preach it to ourselves when we’re low and sorrowful, and praise God with it when soaring on heights of joy.
When we are weighed down with pains and fears and desires, we can say to our soul, “God is with me, His goodness and mercy follows me, and before long, I will be in heaven forever with Him!”
What tempts you to doubt God’s goodness? Meditate on the promises of the Good Shepherd who does everything well (Mark 7:37) for the good of those who belong to Him (Psalm 119:68).
Remember that for believers, hardships in life are for refining, not punishment. (John 15:2, Hebrews 12:6)
In view of the rest and rewards of heaven where we will be with God forever (Psalm 16:11), troubles on earth with God are always better than avoiding them without Him.