You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…
David was a man who knew what it was to have enemies. After David was anointed the rightful king, Saul, whom he was replacing, sought to murder him. Saul pursued him for years and David lived under a constant threat. Later in his life, David’s son Absalom sought to depose his father and take his throne. Once again, David was forced to go on the run. To have someone actively oppose you and even wish you harm is always painful, but what a tragedy when a beloved son becomes a hostile enemy.
In Psalm 23, David doesn’t sugarcoat the reality that we face as we walk through this fallen world. Even though we enjoy the Shepherd’s presence and protection, there are dark valleys full of danger, and enemies who threaten. Yet Yahweh promises victory for those he leads home.
To be seated at the King’s table shows a guest’s special relationship with the ruler. It would be like being seated at the head table at a British royal wedding with Queen Elizabeth on one side and Prince Charles on the other. In the image David is painting, the divine King is publicly honoring his guests and as they enjoy fellowship with him. They share in his generosity and joy. But this is not so for those who oppose him. The King’s enemies will stand at the outskirts of this celebration. They watch the festivities from a distance
History is littered with horrific tales of how kings treated those who opposed them. Violence and bloodshed have too often been the consequences of being caught on the losing side. However, there is something unique about being an enemy of God. He offers to turn those who oppose him into loyal friends. He is so gracious that every guest seated at the King’s royal table is a former enemy. Since the Garden of Eden, humanity has rebelled against his guidance and provision. Yet in Christ we have been welcomed to dine with the King.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus gave his disciples some radical instruction about how to treat their enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says something that would have shocked his hearers, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43–45).
We are so well loved and cared for by our King that we can be gracious to our enemies. Even when we are our most forgiving, we are only offering a smidgen of the grace that’s been given to us. That doesn’t mean we don’t seek justice and accountability. It is not loving to allow someone to harm others without holding them to account. Yet, we can love our enemies by sharing God’s generous provision with them. We can pray that they will accept the King’s offer of forgiveness and mercy and join us at his table.
As King, David had no doubt hosted many a feast. He knew what it was to be a generous host. Yet he was looking forward to being honored at the table of the ultimate King and experiencing his abundant generosity and welcoming acceptance. When there were no more enemies for the King of Israel to worry about, he knew he would find peace and rest in the King’s presence. We can look forward to the same thing.
What enemies scare you the most? How could having greater trust in God help you with that fear?
Although we may sometimes encounter people who want to do us harm, our biggest enemies are the spiritual forces who oppose God (Ephesians 6:12), sin, and death itself. Take time to pray against those forces in your life and in the lives of those around you. How can you pray in faith to the King who will ultimately defeat them all?