Great is Thy Faifhfulness

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence
of mine enemies:

Thou hast anointed my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.” –Psalm 23:5

These words bring a notable shirt in the imagery of this Psalm upon which we have been meditating. In the first four verses the Psalmist uses the picture of the sheep and the shepherd, carrying on the theme of the opening words of the song. Now David moves on to his second thought, “I shall not want” and focuses our eyes on a banquet table. God is more than a Shepherd who provides; He is a King who lavishes His riches upon His guests. This picture of a banquet speaks of a fellowship and a divine provision which simply cannot he seen in the imagery of dumb animals and their watchful keeper.

Notice also that, as if to express this fellowship, communion and divine provision in a most warm way David no longer speaks of Jehovah as “He” but as “Thou.” In doing this, he says that there is a very personal blessedness for the pilgrim.

Yes, there are changes in the word picture which David uses, but the theme remains the same: Our trust must be in the Lord God, for in Him “I shall not want.”

What a picture the psalmist draws in this verse! We are blessed in spite of our enemies. Before us is placed the banquet table of His fellowship and we are satisfied. Here David tells us that though we may experience trials of faith, yet the Lord gives evidence of His constant love and faithfulness. What a precious postlude to the words of verse four where we read of the dark valleys and the forbidding shadows. Our enemies will not be able to hinder us. You see, when God comforts His children, nothing is lacking.

As David leaves behind the idea of the sheep and the shepherd. he recalls his “I shall not want.” Now, taking this as his theme. he continues, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

“A table.” What David wants us to see is not just a table like one which might he on display in the local furniture store. He wants us to see a table prepared for a feast—a table prepared in a very special way for a very special dinner. We are to see a table sparkling with linen, silver, crystal, a table pleasant to behold. But we are to see more; a table loaded with good things which we reserve only for that extra special dinner. In other words, we are to see a table prepared by a king for a king.

Showing us this table, David is telling us three things about our faithful God. First, our Covenant God desires to have Covenant fellowship with His people. He would know us intimately. Second, He desires to provide for His people—He is a God of gracious providence. Third, He desires that His beloved people rejoice unceasingly.

Is it not true that this gracious God makes known His loving intent morning by morning? With number. less blessings He befriends us. Calvin says that as a father holds out his hand filled with good things for his children. so our Father God holds out His hand to His beloved children. Consider His care for us in this “dog-eat-dog” economy. Has He left us in want? We know the answer in our hearts, don’t we?

Still, we often echo the ungrateful “But look how much more he has!” Does he really? Asaph who wrote that comforting seventy-third Psalm thought that way until he understood the end of those who basked in the riches of this world. Then he realized that he was a beast in his coveting. God has been good to him. At another point, David says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread (Ps. 37:25).” Truly, God is good to Israel!

Yet, this wealth is not our real riches. This table of physical provision and material prosperity might not be set before us and still God’s prepared table would he there for our good. Our true wealth. Christian, is in Christ. In Him it is wealth untold! This is the wealth that neither moth nor rust corrupts and that thieves cannot take from our hands.

Do we not need to confess that this table -the table of spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus—has been set before us all along this pilgrim journey. We have known constant evidence of God’s faithfulness. Once I met a lady who was so lonely that the mere thought of it brought tears to her eyes. She had no children, only nieces. Her husband had gone to glory many years before. And yet, biting her lip and holding back the tears she would say, “I have no need to cry. God is too good to me. His mercies are new every morning.” At her age she was beyond material needs, really. But her comfort was in God. He was abundantly faithful to her.

Oh, how beautiful this is! He supplies our every need. No, not all our wants, because the Lord still knows what is best. We may pray and pray, importunately. And God’s answer is, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” But wonder of wonders, our NEEDS never go unfulfilled. We sin, and oh how our lives are turned upside down because we do not the truth. Our hearts ache! But there is forgiveness when we need it. We are afraid. Our lives in this valley of the shadow of death are perforated with fears. Then, in the hour of our need, we have the comfort of His presence. “Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed for I am thy God.” We grow faint and it seems as if we will drop right there on the pathway of our pilgrimage. Then God’s food is available; we eat and are nourished.

Because ours is great weakness, our God sets before us A TABLE. At one point in life this came home vividly to David. Maybe he alludes to this experience here. Weary, heartsick and hungry were David and his friends as they fled Absalom. However, when they came to Mahanaim, a friend had beds for them and food: barley, meal, beans, honey, butler and cheese. With hostility on every side, God gave them food thus showing them that He still governed all things. They were satisfied and strengthened. God treats us in the same way and to us He says, “Come, my beloved; Eat, yea, eat and drink abundantly.” And before us is the feast of the Word and Sacrament.

David sees these blessings given “in the presence of mine enemies.”

Were the image of the text still the sheep and the shepherd, quite a picture could be drawn. After all, the sheep’s enemies arc many. There are the poisonous plants and poisonous spiders; the reptiles, hyenas, wolves, dogs, and jackals; even robbers. However, the picture is of a man now surrounded by threatening foes, while dwelling safely behind stone walls and under a protecting roof. While there are threatening foes without, within there is festivity bathed in an atmosphere of overruling calmness. Here is a picture of the Church in this age as she dwells safely under the shadow of His mighty wings.

Before us is God’s table and this in THE PRESENCE OF OUR ENEMIES. Enemies? Without a doubt we have enemies. If we had none we might wonder if we were really friends of God. There is that old, but ever present, wicked threesome of sin, Satan and the flesh. Subversively they work and again and again we are torn from our comfort in Christ. Carefully, Satan works, planting in our minds doubts and questions. “Where is thy God?” “Has God really said . . . ?” Enemies, indeed.

But our Lord has not forsaken us! He is ever giving us tokens of His care. We cannot be separated from His love. The Hebrew in this verse before us indicates that our enemies stand by but they are utterly helpless. Those who arc hostile to us are ever with us but they cannot remove us from God’s love. This was the comfort of those who were led off to become human torches (or the entertainment of the depraved, in years gone by. They could go saying, “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.” And this is still our comfort.

He surrounds His people: “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night nor for the arrow that f1ieth by day (Psalm 91:5).” Still, in humility we pray:

Leave, O leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me . . . .
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

And David was assured, even as we are, of the prayer’s answer: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies . . . .”

Yes, a banquet is set for us, and that in the midst of adversity. What a blessing! What joy this brings. Of this joy the Psalmist gives expression, “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.”

This anointing the head with oil is a sign of God’s tender love for His own. Again the picture here was familiar to the East. Frequently they would anoint their visitors with some fragrant perfume. This was the way the host of the banquet would express his welcome and his love for the guests. This was a sign that he wanted them to be happy and prosperous.

David could have said the same thing by using the words of Paul, “I know joy unspeakable and am full of glory as I am refreshed daily.” And day by day we are so refreshed by God who in Christ has a tender love for us. In tender love He seeks us out and sets a lavish Table before us. Don’t ever underestimate this evidence of love. Our sinful tendency, too often, is ingratitude. But when we grumble and complain perhaps we would do well to remember our anointing!

David says, MY CUP RUNNETH OVER. Speaking in terms of the Eastern custom when people were given some choice wine in a cup which the host was careful to fill to overflowing, he says that ours is abundance in all that we need.

What a beautiful picture of abundance. An overflowing cup—that’s what Jehovah gives. Nothing is held back. What is it that we need? Compassion? This is given, but not so as to baby us. Our God is full of compassion. Material needs? These, too, arc given, but not for ourselves. Forgiveness? “As far as the cast is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.” Our sins are forever forgotten in God’s gracious forgiveness.

What can we say but, “Jehovah hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad” (Psalm 126:3). But do you know why it is hard to say this? Do you know why these words stick in our throats, all too often? Child of God, we don’t always like the cup into which God’s abundance is put. Perhaps it is a stone cup, or glass or tin. And we would like it to be gold or silver. But the abundance within is what we must see.

Take note of the contents of the cup—not the cup itself. Take notice of the blessings of life under whatever their guise may be and then you will see God’s faithfulness and in faith respond:

Great IS Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness,
Lord, unto me!

Jerome M. Julien is pastor of the Faith Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.