The Faithful Provisions of the LORD—Psalm 23:5

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The LORD provides for his people’s spiritual and physical needs as a gracious host: An Exposition of Psalm 23:5
from A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1 (1-41)
by Allen P. Ross

In verse 5 the scene changes from the pasture to the banquet hall, and the image of the LORD from shepherd to host.[1] Here David reflects on the provisions of a host to his honored guest.

He begins: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” The idea is another implied comparison; the LORD provides for his guests the way a banquet host would pro- vide. And to “prepare a table” means to lay out food and drink on a table (so “table” is a metonymy of subject). The setting and circumstances that the psalmist intended are not immediately obvious. The verse probably refers to the provision of actual food, for the LORD provides all good gifts (and the feeding in verse 1 referred to teaching spiritual things). It would still be considered a spiritual provision here, especially if it were a thanksgiving feast eaten in the sanctuary, the house where the LORD welcomed his guests. That food would be most clearly a divine provision,[2] but the image of the host may not carry such specific attachments.

The qualifying phrase supports the idea that it is physical food—“in the presence of my enemies.” The prepositional phrase (literally “in the face of”) introduces the enemies, those who op- pose and harass him. According to customs, the honored guest was safe because the host was obliged to protect a guest at all costs.[3] Sitting down to eat and drink in the midst of danger from enemies is a marvelous picture of safety and security. David is saying that God provides food and safety for his people.[4]

The second half of the verse continues the image of the host, now with the anointing oil.[5] It was the duty and delight of the gracious host to give the guest scented, perfumed oil to freshen up (especially after being in the sun and sand; modern skin lotions may be similarly refreshing). The word “oil” is common (ׁשֶמן ); it means “fat, oil, olive oil.” In Ecclesiastes 9:8 it is a token of happiness (cf. 9:7). In Ezekiel 16:20 it is symbolic of prosperity. II Kings 20:13 presents it as a royal treasure. In Hosea 12:2 it is a tribute given to Egypt. It signified wealth, prosperity, happiness, and honor. Here it is a pleasing provision of hospitality for an honored guest. In the New Testament Jesus stopped the criticism of the woman anointing him by reminding his host that he had given him neither water or oil when he entered his house (Luke 7:44–5).

The verb “anoint”(ָּת ְנ ַּדּׁש  ) is from the verb “be fat,” which in the causative piel stem can mean “make fat” and “anoint.” This anointing is not the ceremonial anointing of a king (ׁשח ָמ ), but a symbol of festivity and joy. It is used in Proverbs 15:30 to report how “good news puts fat on the bones,” that is, brings joy to the whole person. By ascribing such lavish treatment to God as a host, David is saying that God is the source of his joy, in that he welcomes him and provides for his comfort and refreshment.

Finally, David exclaims, “My cup is filled to the brim.” The old translation of “My cup runneth over” captures the point as well, for the idea (of ְרוָיָה) is that it is well-filled, filled to satiety. The “cup” in the Bible is a symbol of one’s portion or lot in life. It may be bad, such as a “cup of his fury” that would forewarn judgment (Isa. 51:17), or of fire and brimstone (Ps. 11:6). The judgment motif is also present in such uses. The Father gave Jesus such a cup to drink, the crucifixion, from which he prayed to be delivered (Matt. 26:39). But the cup may also be good, as here in Psalm 23 (and in Ps. 16:5; 116:13). In a banquet hall the cup would be filled with choice wine, so David is saying that the LORD has filled his life with good things. In a way this line summarizes all that has gone before in this meditation on the provisions from the LORD; but specifically it highlights the physical provisions of the LORD in life.

[1] Some interpretations carry the image of the shepherd in this verse as well, making the table mean tableland, and the anointing a treatment of the sheep, but that is forced. The language is more at home in the setting of a banquet hall.

[2] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1939), p. 115.

[3] Briggs, Psalms, p. 210. Compare Lot’s attempts to protect the angels who came to stay with him. The prophet Isaiah employs the same components of eating and drinking in the presence of enemies, but in that context the participants seem unaware of the enemies outside who are poised to attack (Isa. 21:5).

[4] There is no basis and no need for changing the word “table” to a word for some kind of weapon just because the passage mentions the enemies.

[5] Here the perfect tense must harmonize with the imperfects throughout; it would be characteristic perfect or gnomic perfect.

This post is adapted from from A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1 (1-41) written by Allen P. Ross. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

All three volumes of A Commentary on the Psalms are now available as a set! 

For thousands of years, the Book of Psalms has been one of God’s people’s richest resources for expression of worship and development of the spiritual life. At the same time it is one of the more complex and challenging sections of the Bible for expositors. Pastors, teachers, and all serious students of the Bible will find this commentary invaluable for developing their understanding of the Psalms and for improving their ability to expound it with precision and depth.

For each psalm, Dr. Allen Ross guides the reader through a detailed exegetical outline, proposes a homiletical outline, and offers a summary expository idea of the message of the whole psalm. The commentary includes discussion throughout of three primary challenges to understanding the Psalms:

Textual issues: Every major textual difficulty is addressed in order to help the expositor understand the interpretive issues and make decisions when there are multiple available readings.
Poetic language: The Psalms are full of poetic imagery, devices and structures. Ross discusses this “language” of Hebrew poetry in its context with each psalm, specifying the precise devices being used and how they work in the psalm.
Grammar and syntax: The Psalms’ Hebrew poses a challenge to many expositors, whether they are familiar with Hebrew or not. This commentary illuminates Hebrew constructions word meanings in a way that is helpful both to readers who are comfortable with Hebrew and those who are not.



About Author

Allen P. Ross (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Prior to this, he taught at Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry and Dallas Theological Seminary. His publications include Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus, and Introducing Biblical Hebrew.

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