W. Phillip Keller, in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 starts off chapter 10 by defining the "table" David references as a mountain mesa or "the entire high summer range," not the kitchen table I always envisioned it to be. He then describes the massive amounts of time and effort the shepherd puts forth to prepare the mountain table for his sheep.
In the early spring, the shepherd goes ahead and makes preliminary scouting trips. In the weeks before the sheep are to travel through the valleys he returns to the mesas, preparing the table by searching for poisonous weeds. If he finds some he takes great pains to either alter his grazing program or eradicate the poison altogether. He knows his flock will feel entitled to test every morsel, even the ones they know to be dangerous, and one nibble of poison can cost a lamb its life. How much like sheep are we? We live our lives with a sense of entitlement. We just MUST try everything that comes our way, even if we know it to be dangerous. If we’re not careful, our rebellion can cost us our life. How comforting to know our Good Shepherd "is going before us in every situation, anticipating what danger we may encounter, and praying for us that in it we might not succumb."
The Good Shepherd keeps watch for predators. He stands with his flock, in “full view of possible enemies” ready to defend what he both owns and treasures. The predators he stands on guard against are deadly, clever and conniving. They leave carnage – dead ewes, mangled lambs, and a flock filled with fear – but are often never visible to the shepherd who is keeping watch. Satan, God’s archenemy and the father of lies, leaves carnage equal to a ferocious mountain lion. “We see lives torn and marred and seared by his assaults though we may never see him personally.” Satan writhes in pain to see me grazing on my Good Shepherd’s well-prepared tableland. He is always waiting, always watching, ready to attack me the second I stray from the Shepherd’s protection. How comforting to know that my Shepherd stakes His claim on my life and stands in full view of Satan the Predator, spreading His umbrella of protection over my life. “At all times we would be wise to walk a little closer to Christ. This is one sure place of safety.”
A final and crucial chore the shepherd completes to prepare the tableland is clearing the water holes. The shepherd knows where the water supplies are and he goes before his flock, seeking out and eliminating all that blocks access to this life-giving resource. My Good Shepherd is the ultimate example of a shepherd going before His flock. He “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) He has gone before me into every situation that I may encounter. His nail-pierced hands, spread wide, cleared the last obstacle from my eternal watering hole. The blood that flowed from his body brought life to my dead soul. The cost for my Shepherd to prepare the table for me is unfathomable. Who loves like that? The author draws a beautiful parallel from the mountain tableland to the Lord’s Table. He asks, “When I come to the Lord’s Table and partake of the communion service which is a feast of thanksgiving for His love and care, do I fully appreciate what it has cost Him to prepare this table for me?”
If your belly isn’t already full from the table that’s been prepared for you, consider these closing statements from the author. Our Good Shepherd “entered fully and completely and intimately into the life of men upon our planet. He has identified Himself with humanity and has a care and compassion for us beyond our ability to grasp. The Christian walk can thus become a tableland trip simply because we are in the care and control of Christ who has been over all this territory before us and prepared the table for us in plain view of our enemies who would demoralize and destroy us if they could. My Shepherd is immensely pleased when He sees me flourish on the tablelands of a noble, lofty life that He has made possible for me. To find this tableland is to have found something of my Shepherd’s love for me.”
It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to soak in my Shepherd’s love for me but I’m feasting this afternoon. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies and it is SO good.