A Bible Reading: Psalm 23. 5 - 6
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)
You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life. (The Message)
We have been studying the book of Psalms in the Rectory bible study group, and a couple of weeks ago we arrived at Psalm 23. We all agreed that this was the psalm we all knew best. Most of us knew it off by heart from childhood. We could also name various hymns based on it ranging from ‘Crimond’ and the less used but lovely ‘Brother James’s Air’ and ‘The King of love my shepherd is’ to the Howard Goodall theme tune to ‘The Vicar of Dibley’. If asked, we all knew that this was a psalm of confidence about God, the Good Shepherd, keeping a protective vigil over us, his sheep. However, we were in for a surprise!
The study guide asked us to compare and contrast the two images used within the psalm: the image of the shepherd and the image of the host at a meal. We had all read or sung the psalm hundreds of times, but we had never seriously considered the change of imagery in verses 5 and 6, obvious now it had been pointed out.
The meal is not just a routine meal. This is a banquet with multiple courses and plentiful wine, carefully prepared by the host. In Ancient Near Eastern culture, it was customary to anoint the guests with fragrant oil as a sign of hospitality and respect. The idea of protection still continues; the host was expected to protect the guests at all costs. As king, David was under threat from members of his own family, who would have sat at the meal table with him. Is this a case of keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Or is it a demonstration of complete trust in the God, who had called and anointed him for his kingly role from a young age?
Whatever the circumstances, David relies on both God the shepherd and God the host to protect him throughout his life, and he then looks forward to eternity where he will dwell in safety with God for ever.
In our bible study group, we have explored the psalms in several different translations to help us meditate on the content of each one. I have given you two different translations above, so take your time to chew over each verse and take in their riches. There are also two sung versions of Psalm 23 below.
Dear Lord, shepherd and host, thank you for your provision and protection day by day.
Brother James’s Air