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Jun 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 3, 2012 – Psalm 5

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . . Psalm 23:5a

INTRO: Have you noticed that some people don’t like poetry?

Perhaps a teacher spoiled poetry for them
– they told to find the meaning of a poem and then told what they found was wrong
– the fact is, poets want to open doors and windows and multiple meanings are possible

I think, most people who don’t like poetry tend to be those who think too literally
“If the poet wants to say he finds pleasure in simple things, why not just say, ‘I find pleasure in simple things’? Why use a long poem to say it?”
– the literally minded are like Christians who are suspicious of art unless it is specifically religious or has a caption that explains its spiritual meaning
• they’ve got at least one thing right: art can be dangerous

A number of Bible scholars insist that David changes metaphors in verse 5
– he no longer refers to a shepherd, but to the host of banquet
• they remind us that “sheep do not sit at tables or drink from cups”
– that’s true, but why should start taking the poem so literally now?
• or if we’re going to be that literal, shouldn’t we expect more? If David told us at the start “The LORD is my shepherd,” why not tell us now, “The LORD is my host”?
– sheep do eat — the table and cup are simply more metaphors

With that problem out of the way, we come to another one that’s much bigger

Our first real challenge with verse 5 is that it is absurd

It makes no sense – the poet combines two images that don’t go together
– if we imagine the ideal eating arrangement, what images evoke the best way to enjoy a meal?
• not the presence of my enemies, but  “in the presence of my family and friends”
– I avoid dinners and receptions if certain people have been invited
– the presence of our enemies is more likely produce indigestion than joy

Can you feel the tension this verse creates?
– of course, this is what poetry is supposed to do – stir up feelings and then explore them

Who are the enemies?

They show up frequently in the Psalms – more than eighty times
– most often, like here, it is plural — “enemies”

Who are they?

  • nations at war with Israel – or Israel’s God
  • adversaries among the poets own people – usually engaged in “dirty politics”
  • a person who previously had been a friend or posed as a friend

What is it the enemies do?
– they threaten, taunt, betray, slander, attack, ridicule
– they can do real harm – with their mouths or with weapons

What effect does the enemy have on the poet?
– fear, anxiety, outrage, urge to take revenge, discouragement

How does the poet respond to his enemies?
– sometimes he calls down curses on them
– most often, he prays – he tells God about them
• and several times during prayer, his heart is carried from fear of the enemy to trust in God

We can approach this verse in meditative prayer by asking:
– what do my enemies help me to discover about myself?
– what issues hidden inside be are brought out into the open by my enemies?
– this is a valuable gift that only our enemies can give us

There are two enemies in particular that I want to warn you about
– the narcissist and the sociopath
– both can be incredibly charming and attractive
• that’s how they draw people in and keep them hooked
• but you’ll never be able to make peace with them

I am for peace, but when I speak,
They are for war.
(Ps. 120:7)

– the narcissist cannot care about you (but he can act like it)
• he will always do only what is good for himself
– sociopaths find their pleasure in damaging other lives
• they’re very convincing liars
– for them, success is:
• getting you to distrust, dislike, or disrespect another person
• getting you bogged down in negative emotions
• drawing you into conflict – either on their side or else they turn against you
– the way they hook you into ongoing skirmishes with them:

  1. They invent a lie – frequently, about your motives (your ego, evil designs, etc.–see Neh. 6:6-7
  2. When we’re maligned, we feel an inner urgency to defend ourselves — to correct the lie and get the truth out there
  3. If you respond, then they’ve got you and there is no end to the battle

– what did the psalmists learn to do regarding the lies and slander of his enemies?

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity,
And have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
(Ps. 26:1)

– they took the issue to God with unwavering trust, and there they left it in his capable hands

The presence of our enemies is an issue we must resolve

Of all our distractions in prayer, the schemes and actions of our enemies can be most forceful
– the spiritual energy we want to put into our time with God gets drained off

The challenge, is to make certain the enemies are only a distraction and nothing more
• to realize that their effect on our thoughts and emotions is temporary
– if we take them too seriously, they will no longer be a distraction but a preoccupation
• they will influence our actions even when we don’t intend to strike back

It’s okay to notice them and spend time before God with the feelings they arouse
– usually, the feelings are resolved in meditative prayer
– if not, then we have to release them to God and let him help us with our burden

Enemies are a reality we do not choose
– we did not set this table or throw this party – we’re guests here
– we did not choose where this dinner takes place or who has been invited
• but unless we face and resolve our irritations, we will not be able to settle into peace

“You prepare a table before me”

In other places, prepared is translated “set” a table – to arrange the meal on the table
Do you hear what the poet is saying?
– God is not a spectator – he doesn’t passively observe human lives
– he knows about our enemies – and he doesn’t avoid them
• why not? Because they are no threat for him
• for that reason, he can use them like any other situation in our lives
• our enemies become his tool, like everything else

The table is a symbol of sharing (hospitality), feasting, and bonding
– so why does God set a table for us in presence of our enemies? What is supposed to happen at this table?
– God may be:

  • sending a message to the enemies, “God is our Protector” — “In your face!”
  • training us how to be at peace in all circumstances
  • working out a reconciliation between us and our enemy

CONC: What will you take home today from all of this?

I’d like you to remember that Jesus gives us a different view of our enemies
– we do not go after them with a sword, but with love
– we see them as our Father in heaven sees them, and he “is kind to the ungrateful and evil”

In the third and fourth centuries, monks began to give away their property and possessions and leave their cities
– they moved into deserts and lived in caves or small rooms
– wanted their hearts to be free from all the stuff of the city — greed, ambition, hostility, lust, and temptation
– they saw abandoning the world as the only way to bring the total focus of their lives to God

What about us? What if we can’t abandon life in the city and all its challenges?
– we have to learn to see through it

We assume we live in one place and move through time
– but time is forever – objects and the spaces they occupy change
– for example, last year, a vacant car dealership stood at the corner of Stonehill and Camino Capistrano  – today an active four-story hotel occupies that space

The face of the world is constantly changing – it is “passing away” (1 Jn. 2:17)
– to stand with God is to stand in eternity
• this is where we stand in contemplative prayer — right in the heart of the eternal now
– to stand in eternity is to see through the temporal objects and spaces of this world

If we can see through the transparent world to reality, then we can also learn to see through our enemies
– and if we can see through our enemies, then we can find our way to love and peace

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