…You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over…
–Psalm 23:5, Revised English Bible, c. 1976, Oxford University Press.
Anything trouble you about this translation? It certainly brought me up short when I read it last night in The Divine Hours, pocket edition (Phyllis Tickle, editor). After looking at all 18 available English translations on Bible Gateway (along with both French translations), I’m even more puzzled as to how “enemies” or “foes” or “adversaries” could have become “those who trouble me”.
Lots of people trouble me, often without intention or even awareness on their part. My sons trouble me, a lot. Some politicians trouble me, big time. Rude sales clerks irk me. But are they the adversaries in the presence of whom God has spread a banquet for me? I am going to assume that “those who trouble me” must imply that they intentionally want to cause me trouble.
I’m fascinated by how much that simple change of phrase has personalized this verse for me…a verse I never could relate to, since I don’t consider myself to have any enemies per se. I’m fascinated–but troubled, because the immediate mental picture which sprang to mind was of our younger son. I’d just had yet another long conversation with him about how he sees no evidence of God’s goodness or truth in his life, and no value in the Bible. (To his credit, he is really wrestling with these issues, talking frankly with us and not letting go of his anger. We find this much more encouraging than his apathy would be.)
Of course one’s own family being adversaries is not an unbiblical notion either.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
–Matthew 10:34-39, NIV, emphasis mine.
At this point, the aggressor in our home is hoping (at least this is his overt goal) to make us admit that our faith is unsubstantiated, bogus. He troubles us with hostile, inflammatory language. Sometimes I refuse to engage. Once I answered his question in writing, and may choose to do so again. My hope is that somewhere in the midst of this battle–much of which is being waged with his own spirit–the Holy Spirit will be able to pierce the shell of willful unbelief with truth. The bonds of self-deception are thick and tangled, and I know there is only One who can set him free.
This said, I return to the psalm and I wonder: What is the purpose of spreading a table in front of one’s foes? Is it a picture of being vindicated publicly? Divinely favored, in the face of those who have questioned, “Where is your God?” Did any of King David’s enemies turn to the Lord when they saw that God was with him? I’m betting they did. All of which brings me back to that verse I mentioned in a post last week:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
–I Peter 3:15
As I bear witness to the ways that God encourages me–and I’d better be paying attention to those daily ways!–with gentleness and respect, might not the one who now troubles me begin to develop a hunger for the feast that I enjoy? Indeed, I think he’s already getting hunger pangs. He just can’t admit it yet.