You Prepare a Table Before Me

Psalm 23:5 – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…

Today’s article is inspired by W. Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.

Keller in his book describes his perspective on what it means for a shepherd to prepare a table for the sheep in the presence of enemies. He points out that the high meadows in the mountains where sheep are taken to graze are called “mesas” which means table. As a shepherd he would go before his sheep up to those meadows and make sure those summer grazing pastures were ready. He and his boys cleared the water holes and painstakingly removed the poisonous weeds from the pasture.

In those high summer pastures, there are wolves, and other predators that lurch in the shadows. When he brings his sheep there, he must always be on the lookout for the predator that will attempt to take one of his sheep. Because of the vigil eye of the shepherd, the wolves are kept at bay and the sheep can safely graze, even in the presence of their enemies.

Think of how God has gone before us to prepare a way for us (John 14:1-6). Jesus laid out the way, prepared the table, and we can sit and eat at God’s table today as His children, even in the presence of our enemies. God’s blessing, provision and protections are still right here with us, even while the Enemy (Satan) seeks to snatch us away. We can feast on Christ and His richest blessings, even as our enemy lurks in the shadows.

John 10:9 -I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Called to Bless

We are called by God to bless others. Multiple passages in the Bible talk about how we are to bless others with our mouths. But what does that mean?

Psalm 20 – This is a Psalm of Blessing. Read this Psalm and consider David’s desire and prayer for those he is “blessing.” His desire is for the best things to happen to others. Notice verse 5, when David writes, “May we shout for joy over your salvation.” David’s blessing included the salvation of their souls.

This is the emphasis of God’s blessing that He brought through Abraham. He promised Abraham that through him all nations would be “blessed.” Peter’s commentary on this blessing tell us that God’s blessing was intended for us to “turn away from our sins” (Acts 3:25-26). We are only truly blessed when we are in a right relationship with God. And by by blessing others, including our enemies, our hope and prayer is for them to be turned away from their sins as well.

When the priesthood was set up by Moses, God through Moses gave the priests a blessing that they were to say to the people. Reading this blessing will help us to see what it means to bless people and what kinds of things we are hoping for those we are blessing.

Numbers 6:23-27
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, the LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

This “blessing” of others especially includes our enemies. Do we only wish good for those who are kind to us? Do we only speak well of those who speak well of us? Do we only want the people we like to go to heaven? Let’s read a few passages about blessing our enemies.

Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Luke 6:27-28
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

1 Peter 3:8-11
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it (Peter is quoting Psalm 34:12-16 here).”

1 Corinthians 4:11-14
To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

In fact, God tells us that when blessings and curses come out of our mouths, we are living a contradiction.

James 3:7-12
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Today, let us use our mouths to bless others. That means in our hearts we are wishing the absolute best for them. If we are praying and wishing for the very best for others, that will be reflected in how we talk to them and about them.

God’s Desire to Bless Us

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6:27-36)

This morning, I watched a Bible Project summary of the book of Genesis (part 1 and part 2). What struck me today is how God’s heart to bless all of mankind is so prevalent in the book. From the 1st chapter to the 50th chapter, God’s heart is to bless man, save their lives, and do good for them.

But when you read Genesis, you see selfishness, pride, brokenness, violence, hatred, revenge, deceit, drunkenness, sexual immorality, lust, envy, etc. All of the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5) can be found there. Mankind…we are a messed up and evil group of people, aren’t we? And yet, even though God did punish mankind, God’s heart through it all was to bring His richest blessings to even the vilest sorts of people. He wanted them to repent and be saved.

Look at this pattern in Genesis. God gave Cain time to repent, and even after Cain murdered Abel, God blessed Cain with mercy (Genesis 4). He gave the whole world time to repent until there was only Noah left with his family (Genesis 6). The Lord told Abraham that he would give the people of the land of Canaan several centuries to repent before He drove them out of their land (Genesis 15). Sodom and Gomorrah was spared until there was only Lot left with his family (Genesis 19). And on and on and on it goes.

That’s the heart of God. His heart is to forgive. He wants us to repent. Our loving Lord wants us to be reconciled to Him in a family relationship. He, as our Father, wants to bless us in so many ways. And His desire to do so does not change when we become His enemies. We as humans have done everything in our power to hurt Him, yet He blesses us and wants to bless us even more. He blesses even the most vile and disgusting sorts of sinners today. Even the wicked get blessings from God. That is how God is.

The question really is, “Where is my heart on all of this?”

So, with that in mind, let’s think and pray today about what Jesus tells us in the above passage in Luke 6. Am I like the Father toward those who hurt me? If we cannot bless our enemies and love them, then we are really nothing like our Father in heaven. Is my desire like God’s, in that I seek to love, bless, pray for and do good for those who are against me?

Please, O Father, transform our hearts to be like You. In our homes, communities, churches and wherever we may be, that we may bless the peoples around us because we are your children.

Is This A Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 3

We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.

Let’s look into this further.

In the Old Testament, was it okay to hate your enemy? (Matthew 5:43)

Psalm 139 says the Psalmist David hated the enemies of God with perfect hatred. But we have to keep that in context with the rest of the Old Testament. The Psalmist was intensely and passionately opposed to the wicked ways of man and he stood militantly for God’s ways. But look at how David viewed those who mistreated him.

Even David prayed for his enemies:

Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft. But I, when they were sick– I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning. But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me; wretches whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing; like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth. How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!
(Psalms 35:11-17)

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 19:17-18)

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
(Exodus 23:4-5)

If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house.
(Proverbs 17:13)

“If I have rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me, or exulted when evil overtook him (I have not let my mouth sin by asking for his life with a curse),
(Job 31:29-30)

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.
(Proverbs 24:17-18)

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22; quoted in Romans 12:20-21)

You can see from the Old Testament passages, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to love his enemies, to pray for them, to do good for them and to bless them. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.

More to come later..

Is This A Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 1

Is This A Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 2

We have found water

Right now, we are in the process of having a new well dug. So as I’m writing, the well driller is outside prepping the area for drilling…and we are praying!

It made me think of Genesis 26:12-33 when Isaac was digging wells.

The first observation: Enemies

One of the first things I notice is that Abraham and Isaac had enemies. The Philistines had stopped up the wells of Abraham by filling them with earth (vs. 15). Isaac was told to get away from the Philistines because they saw him as too powerful (vs. 16). They were afraid of him and envied him.

So, Isaac left and went away. In this section you see Isaac repeatedly trying to live in peace with his enemies. He digs a well, the Philistines quarrel with him about it, and he just moves on and tries another spot (vs. 19-22). He eventually finds a spot and digs a well where there is no contention from the Philistines (vs. 21).

Because of Isaac’s behavior and the Lord’s powerful working in Isaac, the Philistines clearly saw God’s presence in Isaac’s life (vs. 28). They ask to make a covenant with him, to ensure that he will not attack them (vs. 29). Their fear of him came because he was “the blessed of the Lord” (vs. 29).

In a world where everyone is looking for a fight and a reason to quarrel, what kind of people do we need to be in this world, men? What example do we as men need to set for our sons and daughters in how to live peaceably with all men?

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:17-21)

The second observation: By His Father’s Names

Isaac re-dug the wells of Abraham and called them by the names Abraham called them (vs. 18). There is a great lesson here in following the example and walking in the pathway left by a godly person. Abraham dug these wells, and Isaac respected his father by calling them by the same names.

We can do the same by looking to those who go before us and leave footprints to follow. It may be our parents, grandparents or other godly people in the church who have laid down a pattern for us to follow.

They called sin by its name – “sin.” We need to call it by the same name.

These godly men and women called the Bible the Word of God. We need to call it by the same name.

Our spiritual forefathers showed reverence for the God and Creator and Lord Jesus Christ by the way the lived their lives, by how they worshiped him, and by how they respected His authority. We need to call the wells of faith they dug by the same names.

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13:7-8)

The third observation: The Lord blessed Isaac richly

Isaac’s eyes were on the Lord (vs. 22), and the Lord’s eyes were on Isaac (vs. 24). God encouraged Isaac not to fear because He was with Isaac and would bless him. Isaac built an altar and worshiped God (vs. 25). God blessed Isaac richly in the presence of his enemies.

That reminds me of David:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.
(Psalm 23:5)

By “blessing” I do not mean to say that God is going to shower down material riches upon us. I also do not personally apply this to expect God to give the Kemples a well with perfect water this week. Even if we end up with nasty water again, God is good and He has blessed us richly. He has blessed us “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). It really is the wells of salvation from which we draw the purest and most awesome water (Isaiah 12).

God blessed Isaac in a mighty way, and the enemies of Isaac saw God’s working in his life. This was a testimony to God’s grace and strength and it brought God glory. May we seek God’s blessings for His glory, and not for our own personal gain (see how Paul used “glory” in Ephesians 1:6,12,14).

The fourth observation: In His Time

You know, it took a lot of time and space in Genesis 26 from Gerar to Beersheba (vs. 17,33). It took time to dig wells, it took time for quarrels to happen, and it took even more time for Isaac to move his family, servants and animals to another location.

All the while, in good times and bad, in frustrations and victories, God was with Isaac. He is good. God accomplished His purpose and worked His will in His time, not in Isaac’s.

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
(Isaiah 40:27-31)

What Do You Do More Than Others?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not a “Minimum System Requirements” kind of religion. What is the least I can possibly do and get by? Nope, not with Jesus. He expects more. He gave us His absolute best at the cross when He died for us. He loves the enemies; He sends rain and sunshine down on even the most wicked among us. Jesus expects the same from us.

This does not mean that there are no consequences for bad behavior or that we never confront people who have hurt us. Jesus is addressing our attitude, our words, our prayers and our behavior toward those who are not treating us well. How are you doing with that?

What do you do more than others? Is Jesus saying that we should be religious overachievers and do more religious works than anyone around us so that we will stand tall and look pious? No, that is what the Pharisees (religious leaders) of Jesus’ day were doing. They looked good religiously, but their attitudes stunk and their hearts were corrupt (Matthew 5:20). God expects more. He expects us to be like Him.

What do you do more than others? If you love those who love you, what reward is there for you in that? Wicked people do that! Slimy politicians running for president do that! Oops, I guess I have to love the slimy politician, too…

  • How hard is it, really, to be nice to those at work who are nice?
  • How much of a strain is it to be kind to the checkout clerk when the line is short, she is in a good mood, and you’re not in a hurry? What credit is that to you (Luke 6:32-33)?
  • If you are polite to other drivers on the road as long as they let you into their lane, and there is not a traffic jam, and as long as your air conditioner works, what do you do more than others?
  • If you are kind to others only when they agree with you and do things the way you want them to be done, what do you do more than others?

So, men, today our encouragement comes from Jesus who calls us to a higher plain spiritually. He is leading us to a completely different way of viewing and handling relationships. Jesus calls us to do four very specific things for our enemies: love, bless, do good, and pray. Anybody can be kind to those who are kind. It is easy to thank God for my friends who are so good to me. It is not a challenge for me to go over and help someone with a project if he is always doing the same for me. Do I do those same things for the people that really get under my skin?

What do you do more than others? That is a high calling, men.