Psalm 23:5 Text & Translation
תַּעֲרֹ֬ךְ לְפָנַ֨י׀ שֻׁלְחָ֗ן נֶ֥גֶד צֹרְרָ֑י דִּשַּׁ֖נְתָּ בַשֶּׁ֥מֶן רֹ֝אשִׁ֗י כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה׃1You prepare before me a table | in front of my enemies | You anoint with oil my head | my cup overflows (Ps 23:5, AT)
With this line, the psalmist switches from depicting God as the Shepherd to depicting God as the Host.2
Prepare a table refers to a feast3 and generous hospitality (cf. Pr 9:1-6).4 Tables were common in wealthy households, but not ordinary homes (cf. Judg 1:7; 2 Sam 9:7-13; 2 Ki 4:10; Job 36:16).5 The rich Host provides rich foods.
They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God; they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness? (Ps 78:18-19, NIV).6
Other psalms suggest a connection between offering sacrifices in the Temple or tabernacle and eating a feast:
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Ps 63:2-5, NIV; cf. Ps 22:25-26;36:8,116:13,17-18).9
Divine Dinner Protection
Considering that the last line (Ps 23:6) speaks of being in the house of the LORD, some think this psalm is about a worshipper on a journey to the temple (or tabernacle) of the LORD.10
I am not too, sure about this, however. Would the psalmist’s enemies also be in the temple?
The historical context of this psalm is uncertain. Like many other psalms, it seems to be written in a very general way, allowing singers to draw upon it in a variety of situations.
That being said, when his son Absalom was trying to kill him, David did have a feast in the presence of his enemies (2 Sam 17:27-29).11
However, in “the presence of” may be too weak of a translation. I prefer in front of (נֶגֶד | neged) since there is likely a tone of taunting.12
When young, brothers and sisters often tease each other. But usually not when mom or dad is around. Siblings know that bullying is not going to fly when mom is around. They might even make faces at their sibling to taunt them, for they know they can’t do anything about it when their father is around.
Along the same lines, the psalmist does not fear his enemies since His Heavenly Father is around. And this may even be a victory feast with captives or “defeated rivals as reluctant guests”13 – where God is depicted as a “protective shepherd king” (cf. 2 Sam 9:7-13; 2 Ki 25:27-30).14
Also, in the ancient Near East, to eating with someone resulted in a lasting bond of mutual and even covenantal loyalty.15 For example, after the LORD makes a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, and after they are sprinkled with the blood of the covenant, they ate and drank together (Ex 24:8-12).16
Furthermore, Jesus spoke of the new covenant in His blood — at the Last Supper (1 Cor 11:25).17
In any case, the psalmist sings confidently of God’s protection in hostile circumstances (Ps 23:4) and from hostile people (Ps 23:5)/18
Anoint (דָּשֵׁן | dāšēn) is more literally translated “make fat”.19 God the Host makes the psalmist head fat with oil.
Anointing a guest’s head with oil (שֶׁמֶן | šāmēn) was the part of the ancient cultural etiquette for hospitality and honoring guests.20
Nowadays, it’s customary to take guests’ coats and offer them something to drink. Back then, perhaps after a long journey on foot, it was customary to allows one’s guests to freshen up with oil.
We see this custom even in the 1st century. In the New Testament, when Jesus visits the home of Simon the Pharisee, after the woman pours perfume on His feet from her alabaster jar, He says to Simon:
You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. (Lk 7:46, NIV).23
The psalmist says the cup is overflowing (רְוָיָה | rĕwāyâ) using a word that literally means “saturation”25 and metaphorically refers to “superabundance”.26 This is a depiction of God the Host’s generosity.27
In these lines, the picture switches from God the Shepherd to God the Host. Here, the LORD shows His generosity and hospitality — even in the presence of the psalmist’s enemies. The psalmist sings confidently of God’s presence and protection in hostile circumstances (Ps 23:4) and from hostile people (Ps 23:5).
- Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 23:5.
- UBS, 234; Wilcock, 86; Longman, 136; Jacobson, 244
- UBS, 234
- Gen 18:18; Ex 2:18-20;Walton, 341 cf. Pr 9:1-6; Longman, 136
- Waltke, 442
- Broyles, 125; Jacobson, 244; Craigie, 207
- Broyles, 124; Dt. 12:17-19, 14:22-29; Jacobson, 244; Goldingay, 352; Craigie, 208
- Futato, 103
- Broyles, 124
- Broyles, 124
- Motyer, 500; Wilcock, 86
- UBS, 234 cf. BDB, 617
- Kidner, 129; Jacobson, 244
- Walton, 341; cf. Jacobson, 244; Goldingay, 352; Waltke, 442
- Kidner, 129 cf. Longman, 136
- Kidner, 129
- Kidner, 129
- Motyer, 501
- NIDOTTE, 1000; TDOT, 310; cf. TWOT, 199
- UBS, 234; BDB, 1032; TDOT, 251; HALOT, 1568; NIDOTTE, 172; Futato, 101
- Matthews et. al. IVP
- Walton, 341
- UBS, 234; Goldingay, 352; Briggs, 210
- TDOT, 360; UBS, 235
- TWOT, 836
- NIDOTTE, 1078 cf. Craigie, 208; Waltke, 443
- UBS, 235