When I first became a believer, Psalm 23 was one of my favorites. It instilled so much peace and joy into my soul. I especially loved verse 5, where God prepares a table before David in the presence of his enemies. To me, it was a beautiful metaphor. I would imagine David sitting at a table and enjoying a feast while his enemies were all around him, maybe even shooting at him. Yet in the midst of this, David would keep eating, feeling completely safe in God’s presence. I also saw in this verse a picture of God’s provision – David was surrounded by the enemies on every side and somehow God was providing him with nice meals. But later, I learned something new and special about this verse that I didn’t know before…
You see, there is an interesting Middle-Eastern custom that helps us understand this Psalm even further. Even to this day, between Bedouin tribes and in Arab villages communities there is the practice of “sulha” (an Arabic term, sulha is related to the Hebrew root for the word “table” – “shulhan”). Sulha means a meal between enemies for the purpose of reconciliation. If there is a conflict (for example, if someone from one tribe gets hurt by a member of another tribe), blood revenge may swiftly follow, usually resulting in injury or death. Before this happens, or even after it happens, an attempt at reconciliation is often made. The two families who are involved in a conflict come together to eat. The guilty party confesses they were wrong and the wronged party accepts the apology. Then, they negotiate a recompense or a “peace price”. This negotiation may last for a few days but once the agreement has been reached, the two families are fully reconciled, and a family that was wronged can never EVER bring up the incident again before the offender. From then on it is as if the whole matter had never happened. It’s erased, forgotten altogether.
Just think about God setting a table before our enemies in this context! It means that He is making it possible for us to be reconciled to our enemies. That is why our cup overflows (a symbol of joy in Hebraic thinking) and we realize that goodness and mercy will follow us and we can dwell in the house of the Lord forever… God deals with our enemies and He provides for our reconciliation. Isn’t it a wonderful illustration of how God justifies our sin through Yeshua? And also another dimension to our partaking in Communion? Our sins are erased as if they never existed and we can stand before God and be in His presence.
How much God longs to have His people Israel join Him at His table! The price has been fixed and is already paid. The invitation has gone out, but it is mostly Gentiles who have responded to the call, as Romans 11:25 says, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”. In His great mercy, God has opened up the way for all the peoples of the earth to have their time of reconciliation with Him, through the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. But immediately after explaining the partial hardening, Paul adds,
“In this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”