The Table of the Lord

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” —Psalm 23:5

THE table to which the psalmist refers, and which he declares had been prepared for him by the Lord, is well illustrated by the oriental shepherd’s provision for his sheep. In using this language we need not think of David as departing from the shepherd and sheep illustration employed in the earlier verses of this psalm, and picking up a new metaphor. Rather, he is continuing the lesson of the Lord’s care for his people by referring to another custom of the shepherd, namely, that of especially protecting a choice feeding ground from enemies of the sheep, thus permitting them to graze contentedly and safely.

In that wild country where David tended his father’s flocks, the sheep were probably never entirely safe from attack, but often in and around the choicest of the feeding grounds deadly enemies of the sheep lurked in greater numbers than elsewhere. If the sheep were to benefit from these especially green pastures, extra precaution and watchfulness had to be maintained by the shepherd and his assistants. It may be to this that David referred when, in the shepherd psalm, he addresses his Lord, saying, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”—that is, directly in the presence of enemies, and in spite of them.

What a true illustration this is of the manner in which God has cared for all his sheep of the Gospel Age, and particularly those of us who are living at this end of the age. Rich and nourishing indeed has been the spiritual food which our Good Shepherd has provided for us; and even though we are surrounded by enemies, his protecting care has enabled us to continue feeding in peace and quietness. The table provided for us consists, of course, of all the precious truths of God’s Word, his precious promises, his instructions, and the opportunity thus afforded of understanding his plans and purposes. It is on these that we live as new creatures in Christ Jesus. Yes, we live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matt. 4:4

In a very special way, and in fulfillment of his own promise, the Good Shepherd has, at this end of the age, prepared a table for his sheep, and they have been feasting at this table throughout the entire harvest period. This is in harmony with Jesus’ promise that when he returned he would gird himself and serve his people with “meat in due season.” This meat in due season has been provided in abundance. The Good Shepherd has indeed prepared a wonderful table for us, and in that provision we daily rejoice—Matt. 24:45

Present Truth

We are prone to forget how wonderfully the Lord has blessed his people in this end of the age. There is a danger that the truth may become commonplace in our hearts, that we will no longer appreciate it as we should. If we are not sufficiently alert to our privileges it is possible for a spiritual lethargy to creep over us, causing us to become indifferent to the great value of the truth in our lives.

Meat in due season is what the Lord has promised to provide for his people. As the Good Shepherd, he knows just what his sheep need. He knew what was essential for the welfare of the Early Church. He knew what his people needed throughout the Middle Ages. During that dark and threatening time a special place was prepared for them in the wilderness, where they were nourished for twelve hundred and sixty years. (Rev. 12:6,14) And now in the end of the age the Good Shepherd is again providing for his sheep. How soul-satisfying indeed is the table he has prepared for us! And how true it is that it has been prepared in the presence of our enemies!

The Lord’s people need the sustenance of present truth today if they are to remain alive as new creatures. The weeds of false doctrine have no power to sustain spiritual life. The erroneous conceptions of Christianity are failing, and those who have nothing better on which to feed are losing their faith in God and in his Word. Unbelief is sweeping over the earth like a tidal wave. The theories of nominal churchianity cannot stand up against it. Only those who know the truth, and who are daily feeding upon it, are able to stand.

It is said that shepherds of the East, when preparing a table for the flock, make sure that no poisonous weeds are growing amidst the grass. How wonderfully this illustrates the Good Shepherd’s care for his sheep during these last days! When our Lord returned and prepared this table by supplying meat in due season for the household of faith, an important phase of his preparation was the removal of the poisonous doctrines of mystic Babylon in order that his sheep might feed upon the pure truths of his Word without injury to them as new creatures.

As a result of the foretold falling away from the faith which occurred following the death of the apostles, practically every precious doctrine of the divine plan became distorted. Man’s fall into sin and death took on a new and strange meaning. Instead of death being the penalty for sin, it was taught that fallen man was to be eternally tortured in a hell of fire and brimstone. Instead of the hope of salvation meaning that man would have an opportunity of being restored to the lost paradise, it meant an escape from the necessity of being tortured forever.

The coming to earth of God’s beloved Son to be the Redeemer of the lost race was distorted to mean that God himself became incarnate in flesh. The death of Jesus was misinterpreted to mean that God only appeared to die. By some strange quirk of theology it was taught that Jesus was divine when on earth, but after his feigned death and resurrection he returned to heaven as a man, in a human body, scarred by the wounds received at Calvary.

The call and development of the church, which is shown in the Bible to be a preparation for the later blessing of all the families of the earth, became merely a means of escaping eternal torture. The heavenly promises of the Bible, assuring each one who follows faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus, of glory, honor, and immortality, and the privilege of reigning with him in his kingdom which will bless the world, came to mean that the only ones to be saved were those who would go to heaven instead of to eternal torture when they died.

The true understanding of the manner and purpose of Christ’s second coming was also lost, with the result that his return became associated with what was often thought of as the crack of doom. Misconceptions of our Lord’s return included the much feared burning up of the earth and a twenty-four hour judgment day. These are but samples of the crude notions and weird superstitions which, through the centuries, had replaced the pure doctrines of the Word of God. All of these might very well be classified as “doctrines of devils” (I Tim. 4:1), for surely they represent the cunning mind of the Devil, the archdeceiver of mankind.

Reverting to the shepherd and sheep illustration, we might think of all these misconceptions of God’s plan as poisonous weeds which through the centuries had grown up in the feeding grounds of the sheep. We can readily see that in preparing a table of meat in due season for his people in this end period of the age, it was essential for the returned Lord to remove these weeds, that the pure food of his Word might flourish for the benefit of his people. And the thoroughness with which he has done this can be testified to by all who are rejoicing in present truth.

As is usually the case where outright miracles are not required, the Lord used a human messenger in preparing the present truth table for his people—“that servant”—who was “wise” because he humbly followed the directions of God’s Word, and “faithful” to the full extent of actually laying down his life in the service of the Lord, the truth, and the brethren. (Matt. 24:45) That monumental library of truth, Studies in the Scriptures, stands today as a veritable banquet of truth for the spiritual nourishment of those who are endeavoring faithfully to follow the Good Shepherd.

Now, through the loving provision of the Good Shepherd, the Lord’s people are able to discern between the nourishing spiritual food of the Scriptures and the errors which through the centuries became associated with the truth. And what a great source of rejoicing this has been to all the consecrated! Now it can be seen that instead of marking the end of all hope for the unconverted, the second coming of Christ signals the ushering in of a time of blessing for “all the families of the earth”—the “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:21

In the light of this glorious hope of restitution for the world of mankind the ransom work of Jesus took on a depth of meaning that previously was impossible to discern. It can now be seen that the death of Jesus as man’s Redeemer guarantees an opportunity of life for all mankind, the dead as well as the living, and that a provision has been made through the great Mediator—Christ and the church—for the merit and efficacy of the ransom to be testified to all “in due time.”—I Tim. 2:4-6

With these basic truths of the divine plan freed of the entangling errors which prevented the Lord’s people from discerning their beauty, other features of the plan fell readily into place, each in its own way revealing the glorious attributes of the divine character in a way which increased the faith and hope and love of all who were privileged thus to feast at the table which the returned Lord had prepared for his sheep.

The fall of man; the giving of the Law to the typical house of Israel; the manner and purpose of God’s dealings with the fleshly house of Israel; the first advent of Jesus—its manner and purpose; the call of the church and her exaltation to joint-heirship with Jesus in the heavenly phase of the kingdom; and, in fact, all the doctrines of the divine plan, can now be seen clearly, and the truth-hungry sheep of the Lord’s pasture can feast upon them in quietness and in assurance.


This bountiful provision of spiritual food is spread for the Lord’s sheep, the psalmist declares, in the presence of enemies. How true that is of the experiences of the Lord’s people who, while in the world, are not of it. We are surrounded on every hand by enemies—enemies that would rob us of the right to enjoy the blessings of the Lord’s table, and, if they were permitted, would destroy us as new creatures. Chief among these enemies is Satan, or, as the apostle describes him, “your adversary the Devil.”—I Pet. 5:8

The Devil is a wily foe of the Christian. His attacks are stealthy and subtle. He endeavors to make the sheep believe he is their friend. Operating through human agencies he suggests that there is better food than that which is to be found at the Lord’s table. He tries to convince the sheep that poison weeds of error are better than the wholesome grass of pure doctrines found within the outline of the divine plan of the ages.

Satan is too clever to suggest openly to the Lord’s people that false doctrines are better for them than the truth. His method is to raise doubts in their minds concerning the truth. He appeals to their pride, telling them that they should allow those who don’t believe the truth to air their unbelief among them. They are told that they should be broad-minded, and be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Those who have been genuinely feasting at the table which the returned Lord prepared for them do not have doubts, and while they regret that some who seemingly rejoiced in the bounties of this rich spread of truth are now doubting various doctrines, Christian love does not demand that the doubters should be given the privilege of promulgating their unbelief among the sheep. If we follow the instructions of the Good Shepherd we will be safeguarded against all these various and insidious attacks of the enemy Satan.

The world is another enemy of the Lord’s sheep. The world holds out its allurements to the sheep in an endeavor to attract their attention and influence them to leave the green pastures of truth and seek satisfaction elsewhere. There are certain obligations which we all have toward those in the world, but beyond this, time and interest in material things come within the category of what Jesus described as the care of this world and the “deceitfulness of riches.” (Matt. 13:22) In these and in other ways, the influences of the world are at enmity with the new creation. But here again the Good Shepherd protects us if we but heed his instructions and have faith in his promises.

The Lord’s sheep have enemies within as well as enemies without. Indeed, one of the most formidable enemies we have is our own fallen flesh. The table of rich spiritual food which the Good Shepherd prepares for us is for the benefit of the new creature, and seldom does the flesh find this diet satisfactory. As a matter of fact, the flesh is often in rebellion against the truth because the truth, the meat in due season, induces those who feed upon it to offer themselves in sacrifice to God, and the flesh shrinks from sacrifice.

Satan knows how the flesh feels about sacrifice, and he works through our flesh in his efforts to draw us away from the Lord’s table. A moment’s reflection reveals what is occurring along this line, for it is found that in practically every instance the various viewpoints that are being offered to the Lord’s sheep as substitutes for present truth offer escape from the necessity of sacrifice, either in whole or in part.

A doubting Christian is not a sacrificing Christian, and when, through the ready channel of the fleshly mind Satan succeeds in putting doubts in our hearts concerning this or that doctrine of the truth, the result is that we lose our desire to lay down our lives in sacrifice as witnesses of the truth. Why, reasons the flesh, should one sacrifice his life for something which he is not sure is the truth? Verily, the flesh finds satisfaction in doubts.

And through the mind of the flesh Satan has a ready substitute to offer the new creature, a different conception of the Christian life. It is the idea that the true Christian life consists merely of uprightness and morality, and a sense of joy and satisfaction that the Lord is near, and will care for all our needs. With this substitute is mingled the false theory that it is unimportant what we believe with respect to this or that doctrine of the divine plan.

This is not a new deception, for it has been used throughout the entire age. The whole Protestant world has been lulled to sleep by it. It appeals to the flesh, for in addition to side-stepping the responsibility of sacrifice—except the giving up of sinful things—it tends to put one in a favorable light even in the eyes of the world. Honesty, kindness, and patience are qualities which are appreciated by all right-thinking people. Every Christian should possess these qualities, but alone they do not constitute one a Christian.

The true Christian life is one of sacrifice, a following in the footsteps of Jesus. We cannot even begin to follow in his steps until we have cleansed our flesh from sin, and are to the very best of our ability endeavoring to live a morally upright life. Jesus was always perfect. His sacrifice was not that of sinful things, but of his perfect human life. Through the merit of his sacrifice the Lord reckons perfection to us, and upon this basis we can offer our bodies a living sacrifice to him, even as Jesus did. The practical outworking of this means the use of our time, our strength, our talents, our means, in the divine service.

The glorious doctrines of the divine plan reveal this privilege of sacrifice, and inspire us to lay down our lives. As we continue to feed upon the truth we are strengthened to continue following in the footsteps of Jesus. But if we become weary in well-doing, the flesh, with the aid of Satan, is quick to offer a substitute plan, an easier way, a way of less responsibility and sacrifice; and if we are not on the alert we will find ourselves listening sympathetically to his subtleties. The fleshly mind will be quick to agree with the Adversary and will reason that, after all, the Lord doesn’t want us to be extremists. The Adversary would have us believe that it is all right to bear witness for the truth when it happens to be convenient to do so, and when we are sure there is a hearing ear. But this is only incidental, and it is wrong to suppose that God wants us to lay down our lives as his ambassadors, the Adversary tells us.

Again the Good Shepherd comes to our protection if we but give our consecrated attention to him. We know that he wants us to be upright and pure in thought, word and deed; and in addition to this, we note his description of those who qualify to live and reign with him, that of these it is said that they “were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God.” (Rev. 20:4) We know from this and many other revealing passages of the Word that the Good Shepherd has prepared the table of truth in order that we might know the divine plan and be inspired and strengthened to take our place in it as sacrificing followers of him who gave all in order that we might have life.

So we continue to feed at the Lord’s table, and are thereby strengthened to resist all the allurements of the world and the Devil, allurements which appeal to the flesh, but which must be resisted by the new creature. The table the Good Shepherd has prepared is thus found to be bountiful in its provision of spiritual food, and the food is so satisfying that all the enemies by which we are surrounded are unable to attract us away from it, or to hinder us from continuing to rejoice in the Good Shepherd’s tender and loving care.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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