God is so vast and infinite that He presents Himself to us in many different ways. No one metaphor can convey the whole of who He is and what He does. Scripture presents God as our powerful Creator, reigning King, and redeeming Savior. Moreover, He is also our loving Father, strong Rock, and safe Refuge, and a myriad of other images. Each of these pictures communicates a unique and important aspect of our awesome God and our relationship to Him.
To this point in Psalm 23, David has represented God as his Shepherd. This image conveys that the LORD is supremely devoted to caring and providing for him—guiding his steps, feeding his soul, and restoring his spirit. As we come to verse 5, though, the metaphor suddenly shifts. David portrays God in a yet different light: as a gracious host who serves David in His grand banquet hall with a lavish meal.
David writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Here, the scene shifts from the outdoor field to the indoor meal. David transitions from a sprawling countryside to a grand royal hall, from green pastures to a dining table, from still waters to an overflowing cup.
Despite the shift in these vivid images, these verses maintain the one dominant theme that runs throughout the psalm. David is portraying God’s care for His own people. Whether God is pictured as the good Shepherd or a gracious Host, whether David sees himself as a sheep or an invited guest, the message is the same. God is attending to the needs of David––and us.
“You Prepare a Table Before Me”
David writes, “You prepare a table before me.” We would normally think of David rendering service to God. But here, he states the total opposite—God is attending to his needs. The setting is a large banquet hall, and God is preparing a lavish table in order to serve David a meal fit for a king.
The word “prepare” means ‘to arrange, to set in order, to set in place; to ordain.’ Here, God is understood to be setting the table before David and putting everything into its right place. The dishes are perfectly positioned, the drink is poured, and the meal is cooked and served. Every detail has been given the strictest attention. Nothing David could possibly want has been overlooked or omitted.
By way of analogy, this is how David sees the LORD caring for him. God is feeding him the meat of His word. He is pouring His truth into David’s soul to bring him much joy and peace. Never has David been so satisfied.
The same service is available to all believers. We are all given a place in the royal banquet hall and treated like a guest of the King. Throughout this feast, the LORD’s eye is upon us, anticipating our every need. In His perfect timing, He is bringing to our table exactly what we need, precisely when we need it. Here is His incomparable love in action.
“In the Presence of My Enemies”
Remarkably, David adds that God’s exquisite meal is served “in the presence of my enemies.” He pictures himself as seated at a large banquet table with many people seated around him. Among these other attendees are David’s “enemies”—in the plural. These many adversaries are seated close to him, while the LORD is serving him.
Elsewhere, David speaks of his closest friends seated near him at a meal, but turning on him and becoming his enemies: “Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). To “lift up the heel” pictures a foe turning against him in order to subdue him. Surprisingly, these enemies are seated at the table next to him as his supposed friends.
David recognizes that the Lord ordains the dinner and sets the table. He is in charge of the other invited guests and sets the seating arrangements. These traitors who are betraying David are sometimes within his own royal cabinet. They even arise from his own family.
In my ministry, the greatest hurts I have endured have been from those who were the closest to me. Nevertheless, the Lord is the one who sets the table and ordains where they were seated around me. God used it all for my greater good, to humble me and cause me to trust His grace even more. You can surely give a similar testimony.
Some of you have family members or in-laws who have positioned themselves against you because of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this case, you can relate to what David is writing here. Let me remind you that the Lord’s grace and encouragement are more than sufficient to sustain you to live in a way that will glorify Him, no matter the opposition.
“You Have Anointed My Head With Oil”
David continues, “You have anointed my head with oil.” This may refer to the practice of the host receiving a weary guest who has walked some distance under the hot sun by pouring sweet-smelling oil on the head. If so, this pictures the refreshing graces of God that revive his parched soul in the midst of life’s heated trials.
This practice of anointing with oil could also allude to when David was anointed with oil in preparation for his coronation. The oil poured upon the head of the king-to-be represented the fullness of the Holy Spirit upon him, granting the wisdom needed to fulfill his kingly duties. In this case, this anointing pictures the empowering of the Spirit David needed to fulfill what God called him to do.
Such an anointing with the Holy Spirit is presently active in the life of every believer (1 John 2:20, 27). It was even necessary for Jesus Himself to be anointed with the Spirit as He began His public ministry (Luke 3:22; 4:18; cf. Isaiah 61:1). Likewise, the LORD has anointed you with power to live the Christian life in His presence.
“My Cup Overflows”
Finally, David adds, “My cup overflows,” referring to the continual outpouring of God’s fullness into David’s life. He learned that God’s supply far exceeds His need. He was not given mere mercy drops from heaven, but a deluge of grace—far more than he could ever comprehend.
God was so lavish in pouring out His goodness into David’s life that his cup could not contain it. His heart was overflowing with divine provisions. This speaks of the fullness of blessing that God has for him—and for all believers. I want to remind you that God is not miserly towards you, but has opened His vast storehouse and is pouring out grace upon grace on your life.
This was David’s testimony, and may it be our experience. May we know what it is to have a seat at the table in the Father’s house and be served by Him. May we open our hearts and take in the fullness of what He has for us. This is how great it is to know the Lord.