Please read Psalm 23:5-6 in the King James Version.
Preacher James Botts has observed human nature and wrote about it in a sermon entitled “Refreshing My Empty Times.”
“As Labor Day arrives, many of us are officially getting out of summer mode. Remember when it was springtime? We wanted it to be summer: swimming at the beach and enjoying the great outdoors? Then when summer came, we wanted it to be fall: cool dry breezes, colorful leaves and football. Then when fall arrives we begin to look toward winter, snow days and spending the holiday season with family. But when winter comes, we want it to be spring again, sunny days, nature blossoming back to life and baseball.
“One man put it this way. When I was a child I wanted to be an adult with freedom and respect. When I was 20 I wanted to be 30, more mature and sophisticated. When I was middle aged, I wanted to be 20, full of youth and energy. When I was retired, I wanted to be middle aged, seasoned by experience and without physical limitations. Then my life was over, and I realized…I never got what I wanted.
“So many of our lives are characterized by dissatisfaction, always wanting something else, yet feeling empty and wanting more after we get it. Children want more toys, teenagers want more freedom, adults want more money and seniors want more time.”
(James Botts, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/refreshing-my-empty-times-james-botts-sermon-on-fulfillment-49947.asp?Page=1, on 7/24/13.)
It appears that one key to contentment is to transcend our natural tendency to view distant grasses as greener and concentrate on the clump before us. In practical terms, this involves finding meaning and sufficiency in what is, instead of concentrating on what is not. We should favor the present moment, not making it hostage to the past or future.
This is the equivalent of going to a dinner party and eating what’s set before you. (How many children and former children have heard that?) In the case of life, God, the LORD, is throwing the party. We’ve been thinking about how the Lord is my Shepherd. To conclude our look at Psalm 23, we’ll switch the metaphor and think about how the Lord is my Host…
And God populated the earth with broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow vegetable of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.
And Satan created McDonald’s. And McDonald’s brought forth the 99-cent double-cheeseburger. And Satan said to Man, “You want fries with that?”
And Man said, “Super size them.” And Man gained pounds.
And God created the healthful yogurt, that woman might keep her figure that man found so fair.
And Satan brought forth chocolate. And woman gained pounds.
And God said, “Try my crispy fresh salad.”
And Satan brought forth ice cream. And woman gained pounds.
And God said, “I have sent your heart healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.”
And Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter.
And Man gained pounds and his bad cholesterol went through the roof.
And God brought forth running shoes and Man resolved to lose those extra pounds.
And Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil to change channels between ESPN and ESPN2.
And Man gained pounds.
And God said, “You’re running up the score, Devil.”
And God brought forth the potato, a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition.
And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fat fried them. And he created sour cream dip also.
And Man clutched his remote control and ate the potato chips swaddled in cholesterol.
And Satan saw and said, “It is good.”
And Man went into cardiac arrest.
And God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.
And Satan created HMOs.
(Retrieved from http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=46 on 7/25/13.)
You aren’t gonna let the devil have the last word, are you?
The Shepherd becomes the Host.
We’ve learned about how shepherds treat sheep. While every shepherd saw to it that his sheep were fed, none of them fed the sheep at the table! So we clearly have a change in symbols between vs. 4+5.
In a few hundred years after David wrote Psalm 23, the Prophet Isaiah would add definition to this image of God as our Host:
“And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the LORD GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.”
In a culture where ordinary travelers had no access to the limited number of inns and when family visited, they stayed for days, even weeks, hospitality is a big deal. It’s becoming a vanishing art in our culture, so we find it more difficult to relate to this imagery. To David and his readers, the depiction of God as Host would have had a great depth of meaning.
The duties of the host included two of the three things mentioned here.
It was customary in biblical times to put oil on a guest’s head. This was a custom set in Scripture (Psalms 45:7; 92:10; 133:2; Amos 6:6; Luke 7:46). The oil in use was usually olive oil with perfume or spices added. It was intended to be soothing and fragrant; something pleasant to ease the rigors of travel. It was also intended as an honorific. In Luke 7:46 Jesus mildly rebuked Simon the Pharisee for his lack of hospitality because he failed to anoint Jesus’ head. “The oil of gladness” is also a biblical symbol of joy (see Isaiah 61:3).
The cup was, in that culture, a symbol of hospitality. It was the host’s job to keep his guest’s cup filled. The host in verse five is generous beyond what was expected, however; he fills each cup to overflowing. This image is a word picture very similar to what we saw for the Shepherd earlier and is similarly meant to convey the same truth; God will take care of you. What’s added here is the element of impractical generosity.
PSS 116:13 uses the cup in a slightly different way: “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.” Here’ it’s the ultimate act of hospitality; God welcoming His people to heaven. In JHN 10, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. In verse ten, He describes His mission in this way, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Sounds like an overflowing cup to me.
The table prepared “in the presence of mine enemies” is even more over the top. I can see two possible explanations here.
The first is is a promise of vindication. God takes such good care of His own that He will give them triumph over those who have decided to be their enemies. The “enemies” could also be understood to be the circumstances of this life that cause us difficulty.
The second is a promise of reconciliation. The sharing of food in David’s culture was a very special act of hospitality. It meant far more than in our own culture. It is a way of making an agreement of peace.
As the Biblical History website explained biblical customs, sharing a meal was an equivalent of the “peace pipe;” a shared experience that bonded even adversaries together.
“When Abimelech wanted a permanent covenant with Isaac, the confirmation of that covenant came when Isaac ‘made them a feast, and they did eat and drink’” (Genesis 26:30). The expression, “bread and salt” is sacred in Eastern cultures to this day. “When it is said, ‘There is bread and salt between us’ it is the same as saying, ‘We are bound together by a solemn covenant.’ Dr. Thomson, a Syrian missionary, was once guest in a Bedouin sheik’s tent. The host dipped a bit of bread in some grape molasses and gave it to the missionary for him to eat. Then he said to him, ‘We are now brethren. There is bread and salt between us. We are brothers and allies.’
(Retrieved from http://www.biblehistory.com/links.php.cat=39&sub=407&cat_name=Manners+&subcat_name=Hospitality on 7/25/13.)
In all of this we are to be assured, as we were in v. 4, that there is no reason for us to be afraid. God will take care of us. Rest in that promise.
Our Host assures of blessings in this life and in the next.
In this life, the blessings of goodness and mercy are promised. These promises, like the God who made them, abide constantly with His people.
“Goodness” refers to God’s abundant care and His promises to abide with us.
“Mercy” can also be translated as “love.” Here David expresses his confidence in the loyalty of God to His people. He does not change; His positive regard for His people and constant work on their spiritual maturing continues every day we live. We can’t count on people; they come and go in our lives and don’t always keep their promises. We can’t count on things; they rust or rot or decay or are stolen; worldly things are prone to let us down. The one person we can count on is the LORD; He will always love us.
In the life to come, an eternal place in the presence of the Lord is promised. “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” is obviously not a reference to the temple or any other earthly dwelling. All man-made structures are slated for destruction on Judgment Day or before. David is writing here about the REAL “house of the LORD,” the one that will exist in the New Heaven and the New Earth. That is a place we cannot inhabit in this life.
Here’s how this promise is expressed in Revelation 7:15-17 and notice how similar this promise sounds to the one we read earlier from Isaiah.
“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
Being a follower of Jesus could be summarized as knowing where we are headed and working toward that destination every day. More immediately, David is writing about God’s presence with us, assuring us that our relationship with God is not limited to the four walls of any building, but that He abides with us everywhere.
As always, God is the hero of Psalm 23. We pay attention to the sheep and the guest, but it’s not about them is it? It’s about the Shepherd and the Host. David wrote to direct our attention to God, not ourselves. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, David did such a good job of directing our attention that this Psalm has become the preeminent chapter in the Bible. He has written to allay our fears and express our greatest hope.
A newly-married young blonde called her mother in tears. She sobs, “Robert doesn’t appreciate what I do for him!”
“Now, now,” her mother comforted, “I am sure it was all just a misunderstanding.”
“No, mother,” the young woman laments. “I bought a frozen turkey and he yelled at me about the price.”
“Well, that is being miserly,” the mother agreed, “Turkeys are only a few dollars.”
“No, mother it wasn’t the price of the turkey, it was the airplane ticket he objected to.”
“Airplane ticket…. What did you need an airplane ticket for?”
“Well mother, when I went to fix it, I looked at the directions and it said, ‘PREPARE FROM A FROZEN STATE,’ so I flew to Alaska.”
(Retrieved from http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=3266 on 7/25/13.)
I probably should have apologized in advance for that joke! I offer it as a contrast to the feast that is promised us here in Psalm 23 and in Revelation 19. When the time comes, we will be seated with Jesus at a heavenly banquet. It won’t be in a “frozen state,” but in the new heaven and earth. It will celebrate the culmination of God’s plan to redeem his creation. It will be the most joyous event possible because it will be the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the realization of our hopes and dreams.