Old Testament Psalms Psalm 23 The Gracious Host

The Gracious Host

David changes his image from a shepherd to a gracious host. God becomes the one who prepares a table before him. Now before we look at this change it teaches us a vital truth about how we relate to God. God can only be compared to things we know, we cannot find a perfect example. Even the image of the church is found in different examples; bride, flock, family, living stones, etc. The change shows that every example we use will always fall short because we use what we see in creation to describe the invisible God who made all creation. Today we will see God as the generous host of those who is his.


Now as we have mentioned throughout this study the twenty-third Psalm; we do not know at what point in David’s life he wrote this Psalm. From the accounts we have recorded in scripture three stories are given to us that could potentially fit within these lines. The first is when David is fleeing from Saul and he comes to Nob, and Ahimelech the priest gives David and his men holy bread (1 Sam 21:3-9). The second is the incident of Nabal in 1 Sam 25:1-43. David is in the wilderness running from Saul (although that is not emphasized in the story). The third and most likely instance is when David is fleeing from Jerusalem from his son Absalom and he is greeted by friends and allies who provide for him a great feast in the middle of the wilderness (2 Sam 17:27-29). We are not told so we need to be cautious to say without a doubt it is one of these three instances, maybe David thinks of all of these as he looks back on his life writing this Psalm. However, for me, the third example is the most likely candidate, especially if you see the valley of the shadow of death as in the previous chapters with the deaths of his unnamed son and Ammon. David had faced many enemies throughout his life, the famous hit song around 1000 BC was about how he killed his 10,000s, and this is the start of his military/political career. He had seen God’s provision in unique situations.

The gracious host sets the place for his guest

With the change of scene, we move from rolling hills, quiet streams, and dark valleys inside to a great feast before us. We all know people who are tremendous hosts, who not only make you feel at home but go above and beyond to make you feel like a dignified guest. David speaks of God as the gracious host who has prepared a table and a spot for him to sit. We often think that David was accustomed to this type of lifestyle, however, for most of his life, he was either living as a shepherd boy out in the fields or fleeing from Saul in the wilderness. Even his years as king were often spent at war or fleeing from his son, Absalom. Throughout his life, he saw hunger and also plenty. Who is David thought that the Lord would prepare him a place to eat at his table. David knows he is unworthy, he calls himself a dead dog and a flea (1 Sam 24:14). In the eyes of his family he was the youngest son who was to watch the sheep in the field (1 Sam 17:28). In the eyes of the world he did not come from any nobility, he brought food for others not the other way around (1 Sam 17:17-18). David would become great, but not because of anything else he does but because the Lord of Hosts was with him (2 Sam 5:10). But the focus is not on the lowly David invited to eat a meal but this is a glamorous feast. This shows the graciousness of God towards his people. William Plumer explains that this is not a meager meal but a fanciful feast, “ To prepare a table was to make ready a feast. It was to do more than to give a loaf of bread to a weary pilgrim. It was to detain one as a guest and set before him the best of everything that could under the circumstances be had.”[1] One great theme throughout the Bible is that of the feasts, the Jewish calendar was marked by weeklong feasts, and the image of the feast travels throughout the whole Bible. You even see this climatic feast in the book of Revelation, the marriage supper of the lamb, which is a glamorous feast that we are unworthy to enter unless we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness (Rev 19:6-9). We celebrate with a small feast here on earth as we await the great feast in Heaven. The Lord is the one who prepares the place for us at his table, we are undeserving but that is what makes him the gracious host. John Stevenson puts it this way, “How amazing is the goodness and condescension of God in thus himself becoming the provider for his people! Vast and unnumbered as they are, there is not one amongst them all whose circumstances he ever overlooks, or for whose wants he does not suitably provide!” [2]

The great host protects his guest

The strange part of this scene is that around this table are the enemies of the guest. Imagine going out to dinner with a very special source or loved one for a special occasion, anniversary, birthday, etc. The hostess walks you to your table and sits you down and you are placed in the middle of the restaurant, and instead of being surrounded by friends and family you have people who were mean to you in middle school, the person who went behind your back at work, and others who have wronged you or even you have wronged them. For me, it would be squirrels and groundhogs. David does not blink an eye, in this line of the Psalm he does not explain what happened in this situation, the fact he does not spend much time on this shows his trust in the host. There is no battle or war mentioned. The great and powerful host can protect the guest from all of their enemies. The presence of the great host is more than the enemies of the guest.


Although the Psalmist does not make a connection to the good shepherd, we shall in this case. The Good shepherd does not let anyone snatch his sheep out of his hand (John 10:28). What great comfort that is the great host will not let the enemies of the guest snatch them from their place at the table. Peter explains that our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). However, the great host is too powerful for this prowling lion.

The greeting host honors his guest

The Psalmist quickly moves on to explain the host gets out the oil. Now, this is a very foreign concept for us. If you had come to my house and I come and pour oil on your head I am sure you would not be too glad to return, I have never done this so just an assumption. However, this is culturally significant. The New Living Translation tried to capture this idea, “You honor me by anointing my head with oil.” (Psalm 23:5, NLT). Or the Good News Bible translates it, “you welcome me as an honored guest” (Psalm 23:5, GNB). Now they place additional words that are not in the original but for the purpose to help us understand what this line of the Psalm means. They include the words “honor/honored and welcome.” During the time that the Bible was written, it is common for honored guests to have their feet washed and even anointed. However, in special instances, the host would get out of the large vase filled with oil and show their respect to their guest by pouring the oil over them. Jesus speaks of this cultural practice in Luke chapter 7 when Jesus is at the house of Simon the Pharisee and walks a sinful woman with an alabaster jar willed with ointment. She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and heart and then anointed Jesus’ feet. Jesus explained to Simon that this is correct gratitude for one who had been forgiven a great debt. Jesus tells Simon, “You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.” (Luke 7:46)

We see the welcoming host honor the guest at his table. To make this more confusing the word for anointing is not the regular word that is used for anointing someone to an office (like a king). The word used (dishshen) is related to the word “fat”, which conveys a sense of plenty, or ‘slather.’[3] So again is not that the host places a small amount of oil on their distinguished guest but places a generous portion of oil upon the head of their guest. We saw previously in the preparation of a full table, and we will see once the host starts pouring the wine.

The generous host provides for his guest

Now the gracious host turns and opens the bottle of wine for his freshly anointed guest. However, he continues to pour the wine until the cup starts overflowing. Before we continue, we must again understand that this is not about making a mess, in our house an overflowing cup means juice or milk across the table and all over the floor. However, this is a symbol of the generosity of the host for their guest. They explain through this action that while you are sitting down at my table as my guest you will not be lacking for anything (sound familiar?). “I will not be in lack.” The Lord is the generous host who makes our cup overflow. The Lord gives an abundance to those who are his guest. This does not mean prosperity as the eyes of the world understand or even as our sinful hearts would want. The Psalmist gives two examples which we will look at in more detail next week, goodness and mercy. God provides all that we need, but not all that we want.

The question

The big question that we must ask ourselves about this scene that is painted before us is, “Are you going to the table?” Jesus described a feast in the parable of the wedding feast (Matt 22;1-14). The king provides a great banquet for his son and his bride. However, as the invitations are received by the potential guests they did not come, they went away to their farms or business. The King is furious and then invites anyone from the street to be able to come and sit at the table and enjoy this feast. The parable goes on to explain that “many are called but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14). This line in the Psalm paints a beautiful picture, however, it is no good if it is just a picture and not reality. Or to put it another way, the picture is not good if you are not in it. Are you the guest in this picture? There is going to be a great feast in heaven, are you going to be there? Do you look forward to being there? The joyous truth is that this will be a long table of men and women who do not deserve to be there based on their own actions. The gracious host has invited them. As Jesus puts it in Matthew 8:11, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” As Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, he is waiting for a chance to drink this cup with his people. If you know you will be at this table then meditate on this great truth; think of God’s glorious protection and provision as you are privileged to sit at this table prepared by the gracious, great, greeting generous host. John Bunyan’s book “Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ,” or by its puritan title, “A Plain and Profitable Discourse on John 6:37. Shows the cause, truth, and manner of the coming of a sinner to Jesus Christ; with his happy reception and blessed entertainment.” John Bunyan lays out the blessed host welcoming his guests to the table he has prepared for them, in this great book he shows this gracious host not only welcomes but also does not cast out those at his table,

But I am a great sinner, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am an old sinner, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a hard-hearted sinner, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a backsliding sinner, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have served Satan all my days, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against light, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against mercy, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have no good thing to bring with me, sayest thou.

“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.[4]


[1] William S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: Being a Critical and Expository Commentary, with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks on the Entire Psalter (Philadelphia; Edinburgh: J. B. Lippincott Company; A & C Black, 1872), 314.

[2] John Stevenson, The Lord Our Shepherd: An Exposition of the Twenty-Third Psalm (New York; Pittsburg: Robert Carter, 1846), 159.

[3] C. John Collins, “The Psalms,” in Psalms–Song of Solomon, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. V of ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 148.

[4] John Bunyan, Come and Welcome, to Jesus Christ (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 279–280.

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