“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .” (Psalm 23:5)
Shepherds of the ancient world took great care in selecting a ‘table’ where their sheep could safely eat. They were aware that an entire flock could be destroyed because of poisonous plants or other dangers. Vipers hid in holes and bit the sheep’s noses as they grazed. These snakes had to be lured out and killed. Also, wolves and jackals and other beasts hid in caves near feeding areas. The Shepherd had to confront these predators and use his knife to destroy them.
David knew about these enemies of the sheep. He wanted to fight Goliath, an enemy of Israel, and told Saul of how God helped him . . .
And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:37)
These protective actions of a shepherd illustrate the protective actions of God for His sheep. We are helpless and often ignorant of the dangers, finding out the hard way that we need God to protect us.
Peter found out. He denied the Lord even after great insistence that he would never do that. He was helpless and that failure showed him how weak he was, and how much he needed the keeping power of the Great Shepherd. He said . . .
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3–7)
I think of Peter and how he felt after that denial. I know my own stumbling and failures to follow Jesus, and the trials that hammer at me. But I also know that Jesus promised to keep me, just as He kept Peter. My failures will not result in my perishing because the Shepherd is looking out for me.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27–30)
As for being well-fed, I rejoice each day as He takes me to the spiritual food needed to keep me alive and well in Him. He also prays for me as He said He would. “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:8–9)
The promise Jesus made is both valid and valuable; He keeps His sheep. He prepares a table before us just as He prayed, “ . . . I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world . . . . Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:11–12)
I picture myself as a ditzy sheep coming to the Bible without a clue what or where to find my daily bread. But Jesus has gone before me, preparing a ‘table’ so that the words I read for each day are a feast for my soul, a needed nourishment to keep me healthy in Spirit. My enemies are all around me, and unlike sheep, I am aware of their power and intent. Yet instead of being terrified by what could happen, I feed on the Word of God in contentment and joy, knowing my Shepherd has brought me to this table.