“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…” (Psalm 23:5a)
We can read these words and miss the fact that this Psalm is discussing sheep and their care. Phillip Keller, a former shepherd in the Middle East-turned pastor, explains that the high mountain lands of the summer ranges are known as alplands or tablelands (Keller 104) these were high flat-topped mountains (* see link below for a picture of Table Mountain). When looking at the photograph of Table Mountain it is not hard to understand why these types of terrain are known as tablelands. Keep in mind that after the valley the Psalmist arrives at the mountain top. These lands were scouted out by the shepherd before the sheep got there. The shepherd was very familiar with the terrain. This land was scouted and the grass was cared for. Areas with poisonous weeds were sectioned off or the weeds were destroyed by the shepherd. These lands were places where shepherds desired to feed their sheep.
In spite of the many positives of these lands there were dangers here too. The poisonous weeds were not the only threat to the sheep’s lives; they faced dangers of many predators (lions, bears, wolves etc) and storms. The shepherd was familiar with all of these dangers and could protect the sheep from all of these dangers. Phillip Keller observed that it was the sheep that were furthest from the shepherd who got hurt or even killed.
I find it amazing that after the valley the sheep arrive at the mountain top, but, even here, there are dangers to be faced. In the face of these dangers there is a blessing in feeding in these bountiful lands. It tells us that regardless of where we are we must stay close to the Good Shepherd. We must be careful not to stray because even on the mountain top there are dangers. The good news is that the Good Shepherd knows the dangers and He can protect us from all enemies.
Over and over in this Psalm we see the preparation that the Shepherd makes for His sheep. The Shepherd takes time and energy to make sure that in every situation the sheep are fed and protected from whatever they may face.
I just want to remind you that the Good Shepherd is with us, let us not stray from Him lest we be overtaken by the enemy!