He Prepares a Table Before Me“Community orbited around the table through conversations, feasting and regular time spent face to face over meals.”
SHEPHERD & KING (Part 12)
Think of some of the tables you have sat at that bring back memories of special people and events in your life. Some tables have the ability to bring rich memories pouring back into our mind, embracing us in a warm remembrance of loved ones no longer with us. Just now I can remember sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table as a child, watching her roll out dough. When I am in an antique shop and see one of those metal legged Formica tables, I instantly remember my grandmother. I can remember the cloud of flour dust that engulfed the table, the thud and squeak of the wooden rolling pin as the dough was rolled out, getting to sample a small piece before it became a properly baked pie.
“Some tables are more ominous. These tables have the ability to cause us great anxiety and fear. Have you ever had to be placed on the operating table? The room is cold, you have to arrive very early in the morning and you have not eaten in hours. Someone goes over the risks involved as you try to find the best way to find some comfort in a poor-fitting gown. Someone smiles down at you from behind a mask and says, “Try to relax.” These are tables we would rather avoid.
Some tables cause awkwardness and disorientation. Think about trying to find a table in the lunchroom on your first day of middle school. There is an elaborate web of social norms and relational constructs to navigate. A wrong choice can send the student down a path from which their social status may never recover. At least that is what is racing through the student’s mind at the time.
This list of tables conjures up memories, emotions and thoughts. Each of these tables evoke different feelings, depending on the context. What comes to mind as you consider each one?
- The Kid’s table
- Breakfast table
- The defendant’s table
- The board room table
- Thanksgiving table
- The mortician’s table
- Picnic table
- Bridal party table
- Multiplication table
- The table of the Lord
- The dinner table
- The carpenter’s table
- The card table
- Holiness table
Our experiences and backgrounds have shaped our responses to hearing their names spoken.
It is helpful to consider something about the context of the table that David references in the familiar lines of Psalm 23: “He prepares a table before me.”
Fred Wright has written, “In the lands of the East, when a host accepts a man to be his guest, he thereby agrees at whatever the cost to defend his guest from all possible enemies during the time of his entertainment.” He goes on to recount the experience of an American missionary who was serving in the East.
“Dr. Cyrus Hamlin was being entertained by a governor. The host took a piece of roast mutton and handed it to the missionary, saying as he did so, ‘Now do you know what I have done?’ In answering his own question, he went on to say: ‘By that act I have pledged you every drop of my blood, that while you are in my territory no evil shall come to you. For that space of time we are brothers.’ The Psalmist felt utterly secure, though he had enemies close by him, when he knew that God was his host. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”
(Psalm 23:5 KJV).
This extreme sense of hospitality is birthed out of the customs of the ancient Near East. Guests are thought of as gifts from the Lord Himself. A high level of appreciation and honor are bestowed on those who will share your table. As an Eastern proverb says, “The guest while in the house is its lord.”²
David seated at the table prepared by the Lord means that he is an honored guest under the protection of the Lord. Even in the presence of his enemies he was at peace, secure and safe. The words of the governor, sited in the passage above, are hauntingly relevant in an apostolic reading of Psalm 23. Jesus offers every drop of His blood in order to secure our protection and our place at the table of the Lord.
In 1 Samuel 9, we see David imitating the Lord’s gracious hospitality. After defeating King Saul and ascending to the throne of Israel, David pledges that Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and Grandson of Saul, would always have a place at the king’s table.
Our world could benefit greatly today if we could imitate the gracious hospitality of the Lord. Imagine a world in which we became champions of the peace, security and safety of those we share community with.
In a recent Christianity Today article, Sandra McCracken shared a story of friends who, while serving as missionaries, splurged on the purchase of a large table. The table became a focal point, illustrating their priority of hospitality. “Community orbited around the table through conversations, feasting and regular time spent face to face over meals.” She ends her article with this beautiful phrase: “Setting out plates and forks can become a liturgy of fellowship…when we gather, God’s Spirit infuses hope into the rhythms of our lives.”
It is my prayer that we accept the Lord’s invitation to come to the table that has been prepared for us and that we, having been the recipients of this gracious hospitality, would extend the same to those who the Lord has called us to serve. We in The Salvation Army, are blessed with countless tables. Let’s press them into service as extensions of the Psalm 23 table, prepared and ready for those who would accept the Lord’s invitation.