Meditations on the Twenty-Third Psalm

Psalm 23
VER. 5. " Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." The bereaved and benighted pilgrim now enters a new path of experience. He is emerging from the thick darkness of the valley. Light from on high is breaking through the clouds, and scattering its beams over his path. He only begins to realize what has happened, and to find out where he is. The departure of his fellow-pilgrim is no dream of the night, but a stern reality under the hand of the Lord. It meets him everywhere and in every form. He has never been this lonely way before, but the footsteps of many are found here, and of Him who knows from experience every step of the way, and how to succor those who are passing through these gloomy regions. Heb. 2:17, 1817Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:17‑18).
Happy thought! The dark and dreary valley, with its days and nights of heaviness, introduce, in due time, the exhausted pilgrim to the rich provisions of the Shepherd's care, and to a more intimate acquaintance with Himself. " Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." He is still in the wilderness, and in the presence of his enemies, but divine refreshment is provided to strengthen him on his way, and in the presence of the Lord all enemies are powerless. Thus, the good Shepherd, when the first heat of the trial is over, causeth His weary ones to sit down under His protection, and partake of the rich repast, which He has dressed with His own hands. Blessed Lord, what thoughtful love and tender care are thine! In the day of nature's extreme weakness, when there is not so much strength left as to see a friend, far less to encounter a foe, thou thinkest of us, and carest for us. Others may upbraid, but thou upbraidest not. Secured by thy presence, we sit in safety at thy table, feed on the bounties of thy love, and are hidden under the shadow of thy wing, from the assaults of our enemies.
Sayest thou, my soul, canst thou say, as many, that such a repast—such an expression of the Lord's own deep sympathies, would amply repay all thy sore travel through the valley? I seek not so to balance things—I cannot—I dare not propose to my Lord another such journey through the desert for anything. Still, if He leads the way, there must be unspeakable blessedness to the soul in following Him. But there is no reason why the Christian should not be perfectly happy with the Lord, though in the depths of sorrow.
"The Lord is my shepherd," he may well say at all times, " I shall not want."
" Wherever He may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack.
His wisdom never faileth,
His sight is never dim,
He knows the way He taketh,
And I will walk with Him."
But here it may be profitable to observe, in meditating on this new line of experience, that the good Shepherd is not now leading the soul beside the still waters, and the green pastures. No, He has done so already. He is now leading the soul into further and higher truth, and into a path of richer experience. As the babes, in the second chapter of John's first epistle, know Abba, Father, and the forgiveness of sins, so the flock of the good Shepherd in our beautiful psalm, start on their journey in the knowledge of Himself, and of what He is to them, and of His grace and love in their salvation. But as we also read in the same chapter of " young men and fathers," so here, some are led on to a more individual character of blessing. "Thou preparest a table before me........thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."
For example; the woman who came to Jesus, in the house of Simon, under deep distress of soul about her sins, He introduced at once, we may say, to the green pastures and still waters. He met her heart's distress about sin with a. plenary pardon—salvation and peace. He thus led her, without raising a single question as to the past or present, into the grace and love of His heart, and into the value and power of His cross. He made her, as it were, to lie down, to find perfect rest, in the green pastures, and beside the peaceful waters of His boundless mercy. Such is the Lord's way in grace with every soul that comes to Him; and such is the inalienable heritage of every sheep and lamb of His flock. As to these things, there is no difference between the babes, young men, and fathers. One may know them better than another, and enjoy them more than another, but they are the same to all. And observe, further, He never needs to repeat these precious sayings. The word has gone forth from His mouth, and " the word of the Lord endureth forever." When He has said, " Thy sins are forgiven, thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace," these words endure forever. Just as the blood on the door posts never was repeated.
" Blest Lamb of God, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till every ransomed saint of God
Be saved to sin no more."
Let us now turn, in further illustration of the truth before us, to the bereaved sisters of Bethany. They, too, were in great distress, but of a very different kind to hers who bathed His feet with tears. It was no question with Martha and Mary as to forgiveness and justification, but of needed consolation and strength, in the hour of their deep sorrow, and of nature's utter weakness. And, oh, what new treasures He opens out to them! The deep treasures of His love, tenderness, sympathies, power, and consolations. Oh, what sights they saw, what words they heard, and what blessings they received! "But for the death of their brother," as one has sweetly said, " they might never have seen the Redeemer's tears." But this was not all, though these tears must be the wonder of heaven, and the deepest consolation of His bereaved ones in all ages. They are embalmed in the heart of sorrow. But the mourning sisters were also privileged to see, not only the most touching expression of His manhood, hut the crowning display of His Godhead. " Jesus wept"—" Lazarus, come forth." And it was to them, in their deep sorrow, that He revealed the blessed truth—" I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.''
What glory to God, may we not say—what a telling forth of what our Jesus is—what comfort for the mourner—what blessing to Mary, flowed from the death of Lazarus Γ In a high and blessed sense, the soul has only to do with the Lord Himself at such a time. Experience becomes more and more a personal thing. Now, it is not so much the language of the soul—what great things the Lord has done for me, as, what the Lord Himself in to me. Communion is not only a real but a personal thing " Thou preparest a table before me." " Thou"—" me." And sweeter far than tongue can speak, or pen can write, is the refreshment which the Lord provides at such times. It comes with the unmistakable impression of His own hand.
He who knows the end from the beginning, and sees what is coming, alone can make prevision. Nothing takes Him by surprise. The cloud that has darkened the heavens, and desolated the earth, He saw, before it was the size of a man's hand. It may have come upon the pilgrim, suddenly, like a thunder-clap, so that, for the moment, he knew not where to look—what to say—or, what to do. He was overwhelmed—his soul was sinking-in deep waters. But there was one eye that saw what was coming, and prepared for it. And, oh, what a preparation is His! With wonder and amazement, the soul can only worship, in the presence of a love that has thought of everything, and provided for everything, even to the least thing. Adorable Lord, what grace is thine! what care for thy people! But, why wonder? No event, no circumstance in the event, could be too minute for Him who counts the hairs of our head, and suffers not a sparrow to fall to the ground without His providence.
Take an illustration from Scripture of His present watchful care over His people; an illustration too, which is the result of His rejection on earth. (See Matt. 14:22, 3622And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. (Matthew 14:22)
36And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole. (Matthew 14:36)
; also, Mark 6; John 6) " And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitude away." It turned out to be a dark and stormy night, and, to outward appearance, the disciples were left alone in the midst, of the raging billows. " The ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary." But there was no Jesus in the ship with them—no blessed master to compose their troubled minds, or encourage their drooping hearts. " And it was now dark, and Jesus was not there." Had the night been calm and clear, they would not have felt His absence in the same way. But now everything seemed against them. The troubled sea—the stormy wind—the darkness of the night—the difficulty in rowing, and the Lord's absence, made their position one of perplexity and distress. No doubt, they were ready to conclude, that not only had their Master forsaken them, but that the elements had conspired against them.
But where is the Lord all this time, and whither has He gone? Has He ceased to care for His disciples? or, is He not aware of their distress? He has gone to the place of power, and that power He is using on their behalf. From the mountain, whither He had gone to pray, His all-seeing eye is following them unweariedly. Not a single wave has touched the vessel without His measuring hand; and not a breath of wind, that He has not sent forth from its chambers. He is at the helm, we may say, both of the winds, the waves, and the vessel. His hand lays hold on everything—He rules over all. Never was He more near to His people, or they more dear to Him, than when they were passing through the storm, apparently alone.
The whole scene is a living picture of the richest instruction, and sweetest comfort, and of what has actually taken place. Personally, of course, the Lord and His disciples were apart, but in spirit and in power He was present with them. He permitted the storm to arise in His absence for the trial of their faith. And who does not find it hard now, to pull against a strong head wind? But so it is with the people of God in the present period. The world has crucified their Lord, and they have to cross the troubled sea of this life alone. The Church is as a widow and desolate, so that she is to keep up the remembrance of her Lord's death, and her own identification with Him in it, according to His will, until He come. Her place of lonely widowhood is never to be forgotten. To deny it, would be to deny that her Lord was slain.
But let us return for a moment to the exquisite scene before us. Towards the close of that interesting day, the ancient prediction was fulfilled. " I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread." Thousands of the people were miraculously fed, and, as we read in John, they wanted to take Him by force and make Him a king. But Jesus perceiving this, " departed again into a mountain Himself alone." The hour was not yet come for the crown of David to flourish on the head of his son and Lord. The people were in unbelief, and He would not be made a king to gratify their worldly desires. He departs from them, and goes up to a mountain to pray alone. He refuses to be king by the will of man, but He takes the place of priest before God. Blessed fruit of His rejection.
But here, carefully observe, and mark well, Ο my soul, the hand of the Master in drawing this beautiful picture. Before He ascends up on high, He dismisses the multitude, or the unbelieving nation. Then He gathers His disciples, or the believing remnant, into a ship, and launches them on a tempestuous sea alone. And now, He goes Himself to a mountain to make intercession for them. " And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, he was there alone." But during the long, dark night of His absence, His eye of love, which neither slumbers nor sleeps, followed His loved, though tossed and tried ones, all the way through the deep. Ο blessed Lord, what a night that was to thee! Its silent watches must have pictured to thy far-seeing eye these last eighteen hundred years and more. During the long dark night of man's day, thy beloved ones have had to meet an opposing current in this evil age, which is indeed hard to strive against. But the morning watch brings relief. This dark and dreary night, with its toiling and rowing, will soon be past. " Surely I come quickly," is the word of Jesus; and the Spirit speaks as if we could count on nothing more than " the twinkling of an eye," between us and the coming of the Lord.
" And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him, and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid-me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, Ο thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God." Peter may represent the Church. He leaves the position of the Jewish remnant, and goes out in faith to meet the Lord, without the support of nature. But he fails, as the Church has done; he fails, as she has done, through not keeping Christ and His word before him. He looked at the waves—the circumstances, in place of looking to the Lord. So long as Christ filled his eye, he imitated Him, and walked on the sea as He did. But the moment his eye is off Christ, and on the billows, he begins to sink. Faith can walk on rough waters as well as smooth, if the eye is kept on the Lord. The Lord had said " Come," to Peter, and that was enough. He who created the elements, could make the sea a pavement for His servant. When Christ and His word are kept before the soul, we can walk on the rough sea of life as well as on the smooth waters.
But, oh, gracious Lord, thou art as ready to answer the cry of distress, as the voice of faith! But the honor that belongs to the walk of faith is lost. " And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, Ο thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship the wind ceased. The Lord, in company with Peter, rejoins the disciples in the ship, and immediately the troubled waters are at rest. When the Lord and His heavenly Bride return to Israel, all their troubles and persecutions will be at an end. He will be owned and worshipped as their own Messiah, the son of David, the Son of God. " Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying Of a truth thou art the Son of God." But the blessing flows out unto all the earth.
" And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they went out into that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased, and besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment; and as many as touched him were made perfectly whole." Here we have a bright millennial scene. The Lord is received joyfully. The place of His former humiliation and rejection is now the scene of His power and glory. He has come down from the place of His intercession. His ancient people who were in deep waters, He immediately brings to a peaceful shore. In the world, which is filled with the works of Satan, He exercises His power in healing and blessing. He relieves a distressed and groaning creation. The trail of the serpent disappears, and joy and gladness, health and beauty, fill all lands. Hasten, Ο Lord, hasten in thy time, that promised, coming, happy day.
But, meanwhile, may those who are now toiling through the deep waters, in patience possess their souls. Surely, we know thee better than did thy disciples of old. Thy love has been fully manifested, and we know thine unfailing intercession for us at God's right hand in heaven. The night may be dark, the billows high, the wind boisterous; circumstances may be cheerless, joyless, and gloomy, but " the night is far spent, the day is at hand." "The coming of the Lord draweth nigh." " Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry." The tempest-tossed vessel will soon reach the shores of eternal rest, and be welcomed by many who have been safely landed there before. Till then, Ο most gracious Lord, may our hands be kept steady at the oars, and our hearts confiding in thee, while we sleeplessly watch for the first radiance of the Morning Star.