When I first became a believer, Psalm 23 was one of my favorites. It instilled so much peace and joy into my soul. Later, in Israel, I’ve learned something new and special about it that I couldn’t know before. In the Arab-Bedouin culture there is a concept of reconciliation associated with meal. When you think of the verse about God preparing a table before David in the presence of His enemies it makes so much more sense when you understand the culture. I used to think about just as a beautiful metaphor. I would imagine David sitting at the table and enjoying a feast when the enemies are all around him, maybe even shooting at him and he keeps eating and doesn’t care because He feels safe in God’s presence. I also thought it was about the provision – he was surrounded by the enemies on every side and somehow God was providing him with nice meals. But there is an interesting Middle Eastern custom that helps understand this Psalm even further.
Even to this day, between the Bedouin tribes and in the Arab villages communities there is the practice of “sulha”, or reconciliation meal, between enemies. This is Arabic term but is the same as the Hebrew root for the word “table” – “shulhan”. If there is a conflict, or someone gets hurt in a tribe by a member of another tribe a blood revenge may swiftly follow. The revenge usually results in injury or death. But they do try to reconcile when possible. Sulha means a big meal. Two families who are involved in a conflict come together to eat. The guilty party needs to confess 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 now on it is as if the whole matter has 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”. God in his great mercy has opened up the way specifically for all the peoples of the earth to have their time of reconciliation with God, 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!”