You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil.
Psalm 23:5

Reflect

In her book, This is God’s Table, Anna Woodenden describes her experience at Garden Church. Anna felt a calling to feed those who live at the margins of society both physically and spiritually. So she gathered a group of believers who shared her vision and together they leased an abandoned lot in San Pedro, California where a large homeless population lived at the bottom of a hill covered in wealthy homes. They prayed for an opportunity to bring this disjointed community together and create a space where both needs would be met and all would be welcomed.

True to its name, Garden Church started with a garden. Once they had cleared the lot and prepared areas to grow food for the hungry, the founders of this church decided to put a table at its center. But it wasn’t just any table. They selected a large cedar stump to represent a place where the community could work to feed others and also come to be fed. They would have worship services around this table followed by meals where people would contribute what they could and take what they needed. The first act of this community of believers was to dedicate this table to God by pouring oil on it.

As Anna explains “I didn’t anoint the cedar stump, our table, with frankincense oil that morning in the empty lot on 6th Street because I thought something magical would happen. I anointed it because we humans need physical things to remind us of what is deeply true… the table would be a place that we would continue to gather around. It would prophesy the deep truth that all are welcome around God’s table”[1]

In the days of the Old Testament, to eat and drink at someone’s table created a bond of mutual loyalty, and could be the culminating event in the making of a covenant. This happens after God made a covenant with Israel during the Exodus, when the elders “saw God‚ and they ate and drank.” This happened again at the Last Supper‚ when Jesus announced, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood (1 Cor. 11:25).”[2]

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are no longer rebels and sinners who reject God’s guidance and provision, but covenant members of God’s community. Out of his abundant joy, God welcomes people to his table where we can enjoy fellowship with one another, and with our God. The invitation to God’s table is one we can all joyfully share.

In Psalm 23, verse 5 describes a banquet custom that we are much less familiar with in our context, being anointed with oil. The words translated “anoint” literally mean “make fat.” At the banquet David envisions in Psalm 23, the host pours perfumed oil on the guest’s head. This was a gesture of generosity, as these oils could be expensive. The fragrance from the oils would perfume the air.

Providing oil for guests was also a gesture of care because oil was thought to help heal wounds. For example, in the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan pours oil on the traveler’s wounds (Luke 10:34). Oil could also provide comfort in the hot, dry climate of the Middle East. “In a climate where dry skin was a problem, especially for travelers, anointing with oil was a refreshment.” [3]

In Psalm 23, the act of anointing the guests’ heads with oil is another sign of God’s super-abundant generosity. It’s an extension of the care that David so vividly describes throughout this psalm — green pastures, still waters, safe journeys, and a seat at a lavish table where no expense is spared to make us comfortable.

The oil in verse 5 is also a reminder of how we should respond to God’s generosity. Like the founders of Garden Church, we can share the bounty of our divine host with those who are in need both physically and spiritually. In our own context, we can share the same message –all are welcome around God’s table.

Can you think of something a modern host might do that would be the equivalent of anointing guests head with oil? What could we do to honor our guests and make them comfortable no matter what their background or situation?

[1] Anna Woodenden, This is God’s Table (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2020) 27.

[2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 130.

[3] Waltke, Bruce K., James M. Houston, and Erika Moore. The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010. Print.

Pray

As you go before the Lord, imagine being anointed with oil as a guest at his table. Praise him for all his generous gifts. Ask him to show you how you can show his generosity to all those who cross your path, particularly those who are different from you.

About the Engage God DailY

Jesus invites us to know him personally and engage with him daily. Through daily Bible reading and prayer, we can grow in our relationship with him. The Engage God Daily is a daily resource designed to help you better understand the Bible and take you deeper into the concepts taught on Sunday mornings.

Use this guide to prepare for next Sunday’s teaching. Each day presents a reading, Scripture, and a prayer to help grow in your walk with Christ this week. 

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