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Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

How many of us right now are afflicted, troubled, and battle weary? How many are in the midst of tumultuous situations and cannot foresee the outcome? How many of us have been wounded, feel alone and/or feel banged up and bruised inside or out? A phrase is used in my family for such experiences. We say it feels like we’ve been hit by a Mack Truck (a Semi-Truck). Have you ever felt you were hit by one of those and you don’t know what’s next? Like a tidal wave just hit you, and you are disoriented and don’t know which way is up? It seems that the darkness has gotten darker, heavier, and thicker than ever, and the enemy is aggressively ensnaring the populace of the world. Like a vortex, evil is sucking all into its black hole, and even Christians are feeling the magnetic pull.

Enter Psalm 23:5. This is no ordinary passage. Psalm 23:5 bursts forth with incredible power. Beneath its surface is the personal experience and heart of David as well as the servant’s heart of Almighty God. Though countless numbers of Christians have memorized these very words and can say it by heart, the power of this verse (as well as the rest of it) have not fully been realized nor grasped by most. Understand it fully or not, God still applies it to our lives as the Good Shepherd, and causes us to experience it. But, oh the glorious riches of experiencing it with a better understanding!

Without further ado, let’s do our best to scratch the surface of the depth of these treasures. After all, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter,” (Proverbs 25:2). A major part of scratching the surface is a study in the various Hebrew words of this passage. I will place my full, unedited study at the bottom of the source list if you are interested. However, for the sake of everyone else who might get bogged down in these details, I will at present summarize my findings in a more condensed, reader-friendly version.

Thou Preparest a Table

To begin with, the one doing the preparing is the Shepherd. Not a servant nor an angel nor anyone else is doing the serving. Let’s not glaze over this, and quickly pass on to the rest of the passage. Let that sink in to our hearts. The Lord Himself is doing this. Is this not like John 13:1-17 wherein Jesus put on a towel, took up a basin of water, and washed the disciple’s feet? This is the servant-heart of God. This is the attitude of God who took on human flesh and dwelt among us, who cloaked His glory, and set His holy feet upon our sin-polluted earth (John 1; Philippians 2). The eternal Lord, Maker of all is the one who is setting things in order upon the table, even setting things in order for battle. For the term “to prepare” is actually one of military importance, and one which is often used in reference to getting ready for war.

The Shepherd is laying things in order upon a table, but it is not just any table. It is the table of the Tabernacle. This is inferred by the fact that households of David’s day did not commonly have tables in them, for the people actually reclined on the flood to eat. They did not sit in chairs at a table like we do in the western world. Only two types of tables are mentioned in Scripture: the table of kings and the table of the Tabernacle. Since David so often longs for the courts of the Lord and to forever dwell in the secret place and presence of God (Psalm 26:8; Psalm 27:4; Psalm 61:4; Psalm 84:1-3; Psalm 91; 2 Samuel 6), it is logical to assess that the table David is therefore speaking of in Psalm 23 is that of the Tabernacle. It seems reasonable that David, the apple of God’s eye, is writing of that incredible table of fresh, baked bread and frankincense sitting under the never ending, glorious glow of the menorah and endless ascent of sweet incense in the veiled presence of the eternal Most High God enthroned upon the ark of the covenant?

Leviticus 24:1-9 describes the articles in the holy place including the table before the Lord when it says, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,2 Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually.3 Without the vail of the testimony, in the tabernacle of the congregation, shall Aaron order it from the evening unto the morning before the LORD continually: it shall be a statute for ever in your generations.4 He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the LORD continually.5 And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake.6 And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the LORD.7 And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the LORD.8 Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.9 And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the LORD made by fire by a perpetual statute.”

It is important to take note of two important things here. The first is that the one doing the ordering of items and bread upon the table is a priest, and the ones eating of the bread are the priests who are completely and wholly dedicated and consecrated to the Lord for His service alone. And secondly, the word “to set in order” is actually used of military actions such as setting weapons in order on the battlefield or getting everyone set up in battle array. It is the same exact word that David uses in Psalm 23:5 when he says that the Shepherd “prepares”.

The Back Story: David

This holy bread of the sanctuary is the very same bread that David received from Ahimelech the priest in 1 Samuel 21. It is there that we find David on the run, hungry, unarmed and afflicted with false accusations and the murderous plots of his enemies swirling all around him. He had come from being anointed by the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, to being ushered into the favor of King Saul, to killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, to being a celebrated military leader in Israel, to marrying the king’s daughter and being best friends with the king’s son, to suddenly being unjustly accused, feared, pursued, and murderously plotted against by King Saul. At the opening of 1 Samuel 21 we find David alone and on the run. He had no time to collect his weapons, no time to pack any supplies, no time to take any necessities, no ‘grab-and-go’ emergency bag.

1Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?”2So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place. 3Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found.”4And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”5Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”6So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away…10Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.”

Giving anyone this bread other than the priests was unheard of and never repeated. After all, this holy bread, called “most holy unto Him” (Leviticus 24:9), was for God’s sanctified priests alone. This incredible experience would have impacted David greatly, indelibly imprinting upon his heart the awesome generosity of our great God in a time of extreme and desperate need. And is this not what is being addressed in Psalm 23? Extreme need in the presence of overwhelming evil?

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

And this precious, perfect gift of life sustaining bread did not take place on an island retreat or in a quiet mountain lodge far away from all troubles, but instead and incredibly the Shepherd of Psalm 23 prepares this sumptuous meal in the presence of my enemies. Directly in front of those who are vexing and afflicting the sheep, the Shepherd sublimely and boldly arranges a satisfying meal. He is not hiding the fact that He is giving the sheep a delectable feast, but is actually flaunting it in front of those who hate the very sheep that He is feeding. And those who would steel, kill and destroy the sheep have to look on helplessly in horror at the sheep safely feeding under the protective care of the Shepherd.

Of Sheep and Bread

It is well-known by those who have sheep, that sheep have very poor eyesight. They cannot even see what is directly in front of them at times. “Sheep have their eyes set on the side of the head. They have a narrow field of binocular vision in front of their head and wide peripheral fields of monocular vision. The area in the back of the sheep’s head is a blind spot when their head is raised…With its head down in a grazing position the sheep can see in all directions…” (Sksheep.com). When their heads are up, they are as good as blind and in danger of enemies that are lurking all around them, and sheep have many enemies that would love mutton for supper. When they are not feeding, they are extremely dependent on their sensitive ears to aid them. And with those ears they are always listening for the voice of their Shepherd.

As with the sheep, so it is with us. After all, we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:7). And thus it can be said that we only see clearly when we are feeding on God’s word. After all, Jesus said we shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4). When we are not reading His word we are blind and in grave danger of the enemy of our souls who is there to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10), who seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Because our spiritual eyesight is so bad, it is imperative that we as Christians must be in His word constantly, and must also keep our ears perked up to hear His voice, to hear what the Spirit is saying (Revelation 2-3). For indeed, “…faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). In so doing, we will be made spotless and without wrinkle as Christ’s Bride with the washing of the water of the word (Ephesians 5:26). And the more we are in God’s word, the sharper our discernment between good and evil will be – in other words, even when things are unclear to everyone else thinks ‘what’s the big deal’ and that ‘everything is okay’, we will be able to tell even the slightest deceptive difference because we are skilled at both understanding and using God’s word in all situations. As Hebrews 5:12-14 teaches, “12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

We’ve Been Enlisted: A Kingdom of Holy, Royal Priests

Our enemies are out to destroy us, to eat every drop of us as sacrifices. Our enemies are on every side of us, roving about ravenously and relentlessly. And just like the little sheep we are boldly fed directly in front of our enemies, and our enemies can do nothing about it as long as we stay in tune with our Shepherd who is always watching over us protectively. In the midst of vexing, life-threatening situations and in front of our cruel enemies, God our Shepherd like a servant-priest lays out before us generous, satisfying, consecrated loaves of His word – even Himself who is the bread of life (John 6:31-33). And these loaves are intended only for God’s dedicated and set apart holy and royal priesthood, which is exactly what we now are in Christ (1 Peter 2). And thus we are wholly set apart for the service of God. As Romans 12:1-2 states, “1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

In the Old Testament, only a select group of people, namely the Levites through the lineage of Aaron, were called, anointed, and assigned as priests to the Lord. When Israel lived in the Wilderness with Moses and Aaron, the Levites and priests were the ones who lived nearest the tent of the Tabernacle, smack dab in the middle of all the tribes of Israel. Even if another tribe or a person from another tribe wanted to participate in this calling of the priesthood, they could not. We see this fact colorfully and dramatically portrayed in the stories of Numbers 16-17. The priests were anointed to minister before the Lord in the Tabernacle/Temple (Joel 2:17; 2 Chronicles 5:14; Deuteronomy 21:5; Exodus 39-40) between the ages of thirty and fifty; not younger, no matter how eager, and not older no matter how capable. “From thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, you shall number them, all who enter to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting,” (Numbers 4:23). They were called as servants of the people and of God. Their entire lives were dedicated to making sacrifices on behalf of the people and to minister before a holy God. They were also the ones who partook of the sacrifices that were offered on the altar of God, and were the ones who marched out first into battle.

That’s right. The priests often led Israel on the battlefield (Joshua 6; 1 Samuel 4; 1 Chronicles 20). In the passage of Numbers 4:23 quoted above, an odd statement is made: “all who enter to perform the service”. This phrase is a military term, literally meaning “to serve” and “to wage war” and has to do with assembling as an army for battle. They were seen as soldiers actively involved in the warfare of the Lord of Hosts. Thus, when the priests arranged the table and set in order things in the Tabernacle, they are said to be “performing the service” in a military sense. In other words, what the priests were doing in God’s presence no matter how common it might have appeared was in no way common. Their actions in the Temple were ones of battle in a very real war with the enemies of God.

Not only this, the priests were said “to do the work” of the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word “to do” is a term of bondage as a slave. On top of that, the word that follows is “the work” which has to do with hard bondage and the servitude of slaves. The priests were not only consecrated to God, they belonged to Him exclusively. He was their Owner. He was their Master. He was their Commander and Chief. And no matter how mundane their task may have appeared, it was actually anything but ordinary, for their service before God was of strategic military importance. When they baked the bread, arranged the bread, placed the frankincense on top of each loaf, ate the bread together, refilled the oil in the menorah, kept the light lit, took part in offering twice daily incense directly in front of the veil, they were involved in so much more than mediocre actions.

And Christians are now the Kingdom of holy and royal priests in service to our holy and awesome God. We who have believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 10:9-10) have also through the Lord’s Supper partaken of Christ’s sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11), and in so doing, are the ministers in the Temple of God. As it says in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” With this understanding, it is now no wonder that the Apostle Paul called himself a bond servant/slave of the Lord (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1)! And James did too (James 1:1); and John did too (Revelation 1:1); Jude did too (Jude 1); and Peter did as well (2 Peter 1:1).

We as priests, however, instead of lighting the menorah and refilling the oil we are called “the light of the world” who are to always keep our lamps shining (Matthew 5:14-16), to shine out like lights in the universe (Philippians 2:15), and to set our lamps in “order” by having extra oil with which to fill them (Matthew 25). Instead of the Levitical priests keeping the incense continually rising before God on the altar of incense, we as Christians are to offer the incense of our prayers without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18). And finally we are to be about partaking of the word of God – the bread of life, the bread that came down from heaven, that by which we are to live. We are to be setting it in order by “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15-17), rightly interpreting and applying the word to our lives and the lives of others. Furthermore, the word of God is equated with not only bread but the sword of the Spirit by which we are to be praying always with all perseverance (Ephesians 6:17-18).

These are not innocuous, boring actions to be taken lightly. These are the actions of those in the military, priestly service of the King. When we believe and take on the name of Christ – even as the priests wear plates of pure gold with the words “holy to the Lord” upon their heads while serving in the sanctuary (Exodus 28:36) – we sign on for military service, and as the priests of God we are the soldiers of God commissioned with the high calling of continual prayer, continual shining, and continual reading and accurate application of God’s word. This is service for which all Christians are anointed.


Conclusion

The next time you read Psalm 23 and come upon the beginning of verse 5, remember the story of David to whom 5 loaves were given when he was in dire need and under the relentless threats of his very real enemies. It was in the midst of overwhelming and desperate circumstances that God prepared a table before him in the presence of his enemies, and ministered life and health to David’s body and soul to the vexation of those who vexed him.

As each of us endures various trials and tribulations at the hands of our spiritual and physical enemies who readily vex us with their taunts and torments, let us remember that the Good Shepherd serves us by setting in order before us Himself as the word of God and bread of life for our nourishment. He does this directly in front of our enemies who are also His enemies, for our good and to their shame. In so doing, He reminds us that He is the great High Priest who is the servant of all, who understands and has compassion on our weaknesses (Hebrews 4). He also is reminding us that we have been enlisted in the army of the priesthood of God, and we are now holy priests before Him, set apart, royal, partakers of the bread and sacrifice, marked upon our foreheads for His service, soldiers in His army, warriors in a very real spiritual war, and dearly beloved.

When the truth of this awakens in our spirits, we will never read this passage the same again. Indeed, we will never be the same again. I know I’m not.

In service to our soon and coming King,

Holy Light Ministries

Sources:

Mack Trucks website, https://www.macktrucks.com/

“Satan’s Days Are Numbered: Messianic Rabbi Zev Porat Preaches,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNs2adgR4gc

Learning Hebrew: Qal Imperfect Verbs,” https://www.becomingjewish.org/pdf/qal_imperfect-hebrew.pdf

Quote: “The imperfect conjugation is used to express incomplete action and is usually translated as present tense (I walk) or future tense (I will walk). The imperfect also denotes habitual or customary action – past, present, or future tense. The imperfect may also be rendered as one of several modal values (would, should, can, etc.) which are suggested by context and syntax. The Hebrew imperfect does not have tense apart from context and syntax – just like the Hebrew perfect. The Hebrew imperfect denotes incomplete action, whether in the past, present, or future.”

Learning Hebrew: Qal Participle,” http://www.becomingjewish.org/learning_biblical_hebrew/pdf/qal_participle-hebrew.pdf

“Chapter 15: Qal Imperfect…” https://hebrewsyntax.org/bbh2new/15_overheads_bw.pdf

Note: Qal Imperfect has “multiple translations” including, past, present, and future. However, when in doubt translate it as future. “When you don’t have context, translate it as future.” (Hebrew Syntax)

“Chapter 22a – Qal Participle,” http://hebrew.billmounce.com/BasicsBiblicalHebrew-22.pdf

Quote: “The Hebrew participle is a verbal adjective and, as such, shares features in common with both verbs and adjectives…As a verb, the Participle has stem (Qal) and voice (active or passive) and expresses some type of verbal action such as “running” or “studying.””

Hebrew Word Study: Table,” https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2018/08/hebrew-word-study-table/

Quote: “I find it a little disturbing that every modern English translation will render the word shalachan as a table. Shalachan comes from the root word shalach. As a verb shalach means to send someone away, to lay a hand on a person. In other words to forcibly remove a person. Its very origins lie in the idea of separation…Tables for eating are really a Greek and Roman invention. Although wealthy Egyptians used pedestals for eating, the general rule was that people ate on the ground. What came to the mind of the Hebrew when they heard table was the table in the tabernacle where they placed the shewbread to show this separation from the cursed earth. In ancient times a table was used when chieftains would negotiate peace treaties. Here they would actually serve a drink or even a meal as a sign of good faith, in other words, they would not use the opportunity to poison each other. The table became a symbol of a desire to settle a dispute. Even today we talk about moving to the negotiating table. Thus the origin of the word shalak for table comes from the idea of separating one from each other’s differences.”

“Mystery of Mysteries – What is the Showbread?” https://www.hope-of-israel.org/showbred.htm

Quote: “Says the Critical-Experimental Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, the twelve loaves or “cakes” of the showbread were baked by the Levites, the flour being furnished by the people (I Chronicles 9:32; 23:29). Oil, wine and salt were the other ingredients (Leviticus 2:13). Each loaf was to be “two tenth deals” — that is, of an ephah. In other words, each loaf weighed about 13.5 pounds. Every Sabbath day hot new loaves were placed on the table and the old loaves were removed and eaten by the priests, except in cases of dire emergency (I Samuel 21:30-6i; Luke 6:3-4).

Declares The Odyssey of the Third Temple, by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the twelve loaves were baked in specific pans, in a specific fashion, and rested one on top of another with golden shelves separating one loaf from another to prevent their breaking. The table itself was of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, and weighed several “talents” — each talent being about fifty kilograms, or one hundred twenty pounds. Thus the table itself weighed several hundred pounds, perhaps about four-five hundred pounds!”

The Tabernacle, book by M.R. DeHaan

Quote: “The table of shewbread…stood to the north side of the holy place. It was made of acacia wood, and was overlaid with pure gold. It was three feet long, one and one-half feet wide, and two and one-fourth feet high. It had a golden crown or molding all around the outer edge to keep the twelve loaves of bread safely upon the table and to prevent them from falling upon the ground and thus being defiled.” (pg 91)

“Shewbread,” (Commentaries) https://biblehub.com/topical/s/shewbread.htm

“Jesus and the Table of Shewbread,” https://graceandtruth.me/2016/10/25/jesus-and-the-table-of-shewbread/

Quote: “No longer in the bright glare of the sun in the Outer Court of the Tabernacle of Moses, now we are in the room of gold. The Golden Lampstand is the only source of light here and casts the glow from its seven lamps over the Altar of Incense and the Table of Shewbread.”

Leviticus 24,” from Gill’s Exposition, a commentary on Bible Hub,

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/leviticus/24.htm

Quote: “And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row,…. Two cups of frankincense, in each of which was an handful of it, and which were set by each row of the cakes, as Jarchi observes: that it may be on the bread for a memorial; or “for the bread”, instead of it, for a memorial of it; that being to be eaten by the priests, and this to be burned on the altar to the Lord, as follows: even an offering made by fire unto the Lord; not the bread that was after a time taken away, and eaten by the priests, but the frankincense.”

Leviticus 24:7,” various Commentaries, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/leviticus/24-7.htm

Shewbread or Showbread,” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/shewbread-or-showbread

“Frankincense: An Ancient Wonder Cure on the Verge of Extinction,” https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/how-use-frankincense-0010843

What Are Frankincense and Myrrh?”

https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/botany/question283.htm

“Frankincense and myrrh also had medicinal uses. In the Papyrus Ebers of 1500 B.C., priests recommended both resins for the treatment of wounds. Other ailments they were once reported to cure include hemlock poisoning, leprosy, worms, snakebites, diarrhea, plague, scurvy and even baldness!”

“Exodus 27:3,” (Commentaries)https://biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/27-3.htm

Hebrew Word Study – Safely Home – Batzar,” https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2021/01/hebrew-word-study-safely-home-batsar-%D7%91%D7%A6%D7%A8/

Quote: “…the root is tsarar which means to be narrow or closed in. It also carries the idea of being bound up or in bondage.”

Aramaic Word Study – Humiliate – Tsarar,” https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2020/09/aramaic-word-study-humiliate/

Quote: “The word in Aramaic for little one is zo’ra’ which comes from a Persian word for little or diminished, tender, and loved. On the negative side, it means to belittle and humiliate someone. Only the context will tell you if you use a positive or negative definition. It sounds like a child but it is not a word for a child, although it could be. It is used to describe someone who is childlike, innocent, and easily manipulated…The word vex in Hebrew is tsarar which is related to the Aramaic word zo’ra. Before Israel was to smite the Midianites and Moabite dead they were to first humiliate them…tsarar, humiliation. The Egyptians just died for murdering the Hebrews. The Midianites and Moabites not only died but suffered humiliation. Someone who causes a person to sin, to fall away, even to just stumble does worse to him than one who kills him.”

Word Study – To See God’s Glory,” https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2014/01/word-study-gods-glory-2/

“Word Study – Face,” https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2016/02/word-study-face-%D7%A4%D7%A0%D7%94/

“Word Study – All Ye Host,” on Psalm 103 by Chaim and Laura of Chaim Bentorah, https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2015/12/word-study-all-ye-host-%D7%9B%D7%9C-%D7%A6%D7%91%D7%90%D7%99%D7%A0/

Quote: “Note it does not say heavenly host, just host. We assume this is the heavenly host because where else would you find a host. Well, let’s take a look at this word in the Hebrew and see. The word used is tsaba’. This is the word that is used for an army going forth to war. We do not have to consider this host as supernatural angelic beings. In fact, would it not make more sense to apply this to the Hebrew army as it march off to war. Surely King David would be commanding his men to praise the Lord as they go off to war…Somehow I just don’t believe David is wasting all this time in Psalms 103 telling us that the angels are praising God. I can assume that once more what do I care if the angels are praising God or not. What spiritual benefit do I get from reading about angels praising God. That is why I don’t believe these are reference to angels but to us in our various capacities as leaders, rulers, ministers, preachers, teachers etc. We are the ones who need to be reminded to praise God, not the angels, they don’t need some earthly king telling them to praise God.”

Understanding Sheep Behavior,” Saskatchewan Sheep – Sksheep.com, https://www.sksheep.com/documents/Ex_Understanding_Sheep_Behaviour.pdf

The Entire Study and Unedited Version

Thou Preparest

Psalm 23:5 says, Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

To prepare (6186) means “to arrange or set in order” to “esteem” “estimate” “set in a row” and can mean to “set for battle” or to “array”. It can either be interpreted as both a present or future tense. Thus, the one arranging the table in this verse could be said to be doing it both right now and/or in the future. And let us take note that most importantly the one setting things all in a row on the table is the Shepherd Himself. This is not being done by an angel or a servant or anyone else. God is.

The Table

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

God Himself is setting things in order upon what is translated as a table (7979). This comes from a root (7971) that means “to send” “to stretch out”. Tables as we know them today were not a common household item in the Old Testament days. In fact, in the Bible, tables were only mentioned in reference mostly to the table in the holy place of the Tabernacle and the table of various monarchs. As for common people, tables with legs were rare. Most reclined on the floor for eating with a sort of mat “stretched out” in front of them.

Though many could say that the table set by the Shepherd is a king’s table of abundance, that is not the position to be taken in this article. In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, 1 Kings, 1 Chronicles, Ezekiel, and Malachi the term is most often used of a piece of furniture found in the Tabernacle, namely the Table of Shewbread. Furthermore, David longed to make his abode with God in the Tabernacle, to dwell in His presence forever (Psalm 26:8; Psalm 27:4; Psalm 61:4; Psalm 84:1-3; Psalm 91; 2 Samuel 6). Thus, when David wrote Psalm 23, would it not stand to reason that he again is writing of that incredible table of fresh, baked bread and frankincense sitting in the never ending, glorious glow of the menorah and endless ascent of sweet incense in the veiled presence of the eternal Most High God enthroned upon the ark of the covenant?

In Leviticus 24:1-9 we read, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,2 Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually.3 Without the vail of the testimony, in the tabernacle of the congregation, shall Aaron order it from the evening unto the morning before the LORD continually: it shall be a statute for ever in your generations.4 He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the LORD continually.5 And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake.6 And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the LORD.7 And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the LORD.8 Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.9 And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the LORD made by fire by a perpetual statute.”

Notice the phrase “set in order” (6186) used in the passage above. As far as I’ve been able to assess, this phrase is not used in conjunction with any king’s table as mentioned in the Bible, but only with the table of the Lord in the Tabernacle. And notice too that the one setting it in order is a priest, and the ones eating of the bread are the priests who are completely and wholly dedicated and consecrated to the Lord for His service alone. Furthermore, and this will be important later on in this article, it also means, to “arrange a battle, i.e. draw up in battle order” such as in Judges 20:22 and 1 Samuel 17:8 and to “arrange weapons of army in order for battle” such as in 1 Chronicles 12:9 and Jeremiah 46:3. Even the word for “preparing” as we saw above had to do with setting or arraying for battle.

Here are some interesting facts about the table as related by different writers. “The table of shewbread…stood to the north side of the holy place. It was made of acacia wood, and was overlaid with pure gold. It was three feet long, one and one-half feet wide, and two and one-fourth feet high. It had a golden crown or molding all around the outer edge to keep the twelve loaves of bread safely upon the table and to prevent them from falling upon the ground and thus being defiled.” (DeHaan, pg 91).

According to The Odyssey of the Third Temple, by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, “The table itself was of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, and weighed several “talents” — each talent being about fifty kilograms, or one hundred twenty pounds. Thus the table itself weighed several hundred pounds, perhaps about four-five hundred pounds!”

On top of that,“… the twelve loaves or “cakes” of the showbread were baked by the Levites, the flour being furnished by the people (I Chronicles 9:32; 23:29). Oil, wine and salt were the other ingredients (Leviticus 2:13). Each loaf was to be “two tenth deals” — that is, of an ephah. In other words, each loaf weighed about 13.5 pounds. Every Sabbath day hot new loaves were placed on the table and the old loaves were removed and eaten by the priests, except in cases of dire emergency (I Samuel 21:30-6i; Luke 6:3-4)” (Mystery of Mysteries).

And though some commentators think the loaves were unleavened, they likely were not. I say this because, if they were unleavened, God would have called them that. God is very specific. The fact that He did not call them unleavened logically leads one to conclude that they indeed were leavened.

The Back Story: David

This holy bread of the sanctuary is the very same bread that David received from Ahimelech the priest in 1 Samuel 21. It is there that we find David on the run, hungry, unarmed and afflicted with false accusations and the murderous plots of his enemies swirling. He had come from being anointed by the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, to being ushered into the favor of King Saul, to killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, to being a celebrated military leader in Israel, to marrying the king’s daughter and being best friends with the king’s son, to suddenly being unjustly accused, feared, pursued, and murderously plotted against by King Saul. At the opening of 1 Samuel 21 we find David alone and on the run. He had no time to collect his weapons, no time to pack any supplies, no time to take any necessities, no ‘grab-and-go’ emergency bag.

1Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?”2So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place. 3Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found.”4And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”5Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”6So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away…10Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.”

Giving anyone this bread other than the priests was unheard of and never repeated. After all, this holy bread, called “most holy unto Him” (Leviticus 24:9), was for God’s sanctified priests alone. This incredible experience would have impacted David greatly, indelibly imprinting upon his heart the awesome generosity of our great God in a time of extreme and desperate need. And is this not what is being addressed in Psalm 23? Extreme need in the presence of overwhelming evil?

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

Thou preparesta table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

And this precious, perfect gift of life sustaining bread can take place anywhere, but incredibly the Shepherd of Psalm 23 prepares this sumptuous meal before me in the presence of my enemies.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew for “before me” (6440) actually has to do with one’s face, and more deeply, one’s character (Chaim Bentorah, “Face”). “Panai comes from a Semitic root panah which is…very complex. It means, presence, face, appearance, before, towards, regarding, to turn, approach even future events.” (Chaim Bentorah, “To See God’s Glory”). As you can ascertain (see), it is a word that means more than merely “before me”, although more often than not this is exactly how it is translated.

The word for “in the presence of” (5048) means “in front of, in sight of, opposite to” and comes from a root (5046) meaning “to be conspicuous,” “to stand boldly out opposite,” and “to declare or make known, to announce.” This means that the Shepherd is not hiding the fact that He is giving us a delectable feast, but is actually flaunting it in front of those who hate the very sheep that He is feeding.

“Mine enemies” (6887) is a participle which means “to bind, tie up, be restricted, narrow, scant or cramped,” “to suffer distress”. According to Bill Mounce in the book The Basics of Biblical Hebrew “The Hebrew participle is a verbal adjective and, as such, shares features in common with both verbs and adjectives…As a verb, the Participle has stem (Qal) and voice (active or passive) and expresses some type of verbal action such as “running” or “studying.”” Though participles predominately end in an “ing”, it can be translated as a noun when it is a substantive. I have noted in my study that throughout Scripture this same form is also translated elsewhere as enemies, adversaries, distress, labor pains, wind or water being bound up, and besieging. Furthermore, according to Chaim Bentorah, “…the root” of the word enemies, “is tsarar which means to be narrow or closed in. It also carries the idea of being bound up or in bondage.” So tied up in the meaning of “enemies” in Psalm 23 is that of afflicting, vexing, humiliating, and bondage.

Of Sheep and Bread

It is well-known by those who have sheep, that sheep have very poor eyesight. They cannot even see what is directly in front of them at times. “Sheep have their eyes set on the side of the head. They have a narrow field of binocular vision in front of their head and wide peripheral fields of monocular vision. The area in the back of the sheep’s head is a blind spot when their head is raised…With its head down in a grazing position the sheep can see in all directions…” (Sksheep.com). When their heads are up, however, they are as good as blind, and in danger of enemies that are lurking all around them, and sheep have many enemies that love mutton for supper. When they are not feeding, they are extremely dependent on their sensitive ears to aid them. And with those ears they are always listening for the voice of their Shepherd.

Is it not interesting that Jesus said to the tempter, ““It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ””? And in Ephesians 5:26 Jesus is said to sanctify His Church through “the washing of water by the word”. And in Romans 10:17 it states that, “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

As with the sheep, so it is with us. After all, we are of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:7). And thus it can be said that we only see well when we are feeding on God’s word. When we are not reading His word we are blind and in grave danger of the enemy of our souls who is there to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10), seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Because our spiritual eyesight is so bad, it is imperative that we as Christians must be in His word constantly, and must also keep our ears perked up to hear His voice, to hear what the Spirit is saying (Revelation 2-3). And the more we are in God’s word, the sharper our discernment between good and evil will be – in other words, the more our vision will be healed. As Hebrews 5:12-14 teaches, “12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

The Point: A Kingdom of Holy, Royal Priests

Our enemies are out to destroy us, to eat ever drop of us as sacrifices. And just like sheep, our enemies are on every side of us, roving about ravenously. And just like the little sheep we are boldly fed directly in front of our enemies, and our enemies can do nothing about it as long as we stay in tune with our Shepherd who is always watching over us protectively. In the midst of vexing, life-threatening situations and in front of our cruel enemies, God our Shepherd like a priest lays out before us generous, satisfying, consecrated loaves of His word – even Himself who is the bread of life (John 6:31-33). And these loaves are intended only for God’s dedicated and set apart holy and royal priesthood, which is exactly what we now are in Christ (1 Peter 2). And thus we are wholly set apart for the service of God. As Romans 12:1-2 states, “1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

In the Old Testament, only a select group of people, namely the Levites through the lineage of Aaron, were called, anointed, and assigned as priests to the Lord. When Israel lived in the Wilderness with Moses and Aaron, the Levites and priests were the ones who lived nearest the tent of the Tabernacle, smack dab in the middle of all the tribes of Israel. Even if another tribe or a person from another tribe wanted to participate in this calling of the priesthood, they could not. We see this fact colorfully and dramatically portrayed in the stories of Numbers 16-17. The priests were anointed to minister before the Lord in the Tabernacle/Temple (Joel 2:17; 2 Chronicles 5:14; Deuteronomy 21:5; Exodus 39-40) between the ages of thirty and fifty; not younger, no matter how eager, and not older no matter how capable. “From thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, you shall number them, all who enter to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting,” (Numbers 4:23). They were also the ones who partook of the sacrifices that were offered on the altar of God, and were the ones who marched out first into battle.

That’s right. The priests often led Israel on the battlefield (Joshua 6; 1 Samuel 4; 1 Chronicles 20). In the passage of Numbers 4:23 quoted above, an odd statement is made: “all who enter to perform the service”. This phrase is a military term (6633), literally meaning “to serve” and “to wage war” and has to do with assembling as an army for battle (6635). They were seen as soldiers actively involved in the warfare of the Lord of Hosts. Thus, when the priests arranged the table and set in order things in the Tabernacle, they are said to be “performing the service” in a military sense. In other words, what the priests were doing in God’s presence no matter how common it might have appeared was in no way common. Their actions in the Temple were ones of battle in a very real war with the enemies of God.

Not only this, the priests were said “to do the work” of the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word “to do” is a term of bondage as a slave. On top of that, the word that follows is “the work” which has to do with hard bondage and the servitude of slaves. The priests were not only consecrated to God, they belonged to Him exclusively. He was their Owner. He was their Master. He was their Commander and Chief. And no matter how mundane their task may have appeared, it was actually anything but ordinary, for their service before God was of strategic military importance. When they baked the bread, arranged the bread, placed the frankincense on top of each loaf, ate the bread together, refilled the oil in the menorah, kept the light lit, took part in offering twice daily incense directly in front of the veil, they were involved in so much more than mediocre actions.

And Christians are now the Kingdom of holy and royal priests in service to our holy and awesome God. We who have believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 10:9-10) have also through the Lord’s Supper partaken of Christ’s sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11), and in so doing, are the ministers in the Temple of God. As it says in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” With this understanding, it is now no wonder that the Apostle Paul called himself a bond servant/slave of the Lord (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1)! And James did too (James 1:1); and John did too (Revelation 1:1); Jude did too (Jude 1); and Peter did as well (2 Peter 1:1).

We as priests, however, instead of lighting the menorah and refilling the oil we are called “the light of the world” who are to always keep our lamps shining (Matthew 5:14-16), to shine out like lights in the universe (Philippians 2:15), and to set our lamps in “order” by having extra oil with which to fill them (Matthew 25). Instead of the Levitical priests keeping the incense continually rising before God on the altar of incense, we as Christians are to offer the incense of our prayers without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18). And finally we are to be about partaking of the word of God – the bread of life, the bread that came down from heaven, that by which we are to live. We are to be setting it in order by “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15-17). Furthermore, the word of God is equated with not only bread but the sword of the Spirit by which we are to be praying always with all perseverance (Ephesians 6:17-18).

These are not innocuous, boring actions to be taken lightly. These are the actions of those in the military service of the King. When we believe and take on the name of Christ – even as the priests wear plates of pure gold with the words “holy to the Lord” upon their heads while serving in the sanctuary (Exodus 28:36) – we sign on for military service, and as the priests of God we are the soldiers of God commissioned with the high calling of continual prayer, continual shining, and continual reading of God’s word. This is service for which all Christians are anointed.


Conclusion

The next time you read Psalm 23 and come upon the beginning of verse 5, remember the story of David to whom 5 loaves were given when he was in dire need and under the relentless threats of his very real enemies. It was in the midst of overwhelming and desperate circumstances that God prepared a table before him in the presence of those enemies, and ministered life and health to David’s body and soul to the vexation of those who vexed him.

As each of us endures various trials and tribulations at the hands of our spiritual and physical enemies who readily irritate us with their taunts and torments, let us remember that the Great Shepherd as our High Priest, sets in order before us Himself as the word of God and bread of life for our nourishment. He does this directly in front of our enemies, for our good and to their shame. In so doing, He reveals to us time and again that we are holy priests before Him, set apart, royal, marked upon our foreheads for His service, and dearly beloved.

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