In thinking about this statement it is well to bear in mind that the sheep are approaching the high mountain country of the summer ranges. These are known as tablelands.
So it may be seen that what David referred to as a table was actually the entire high summer range. Though the place may have been remote and hard to reach, the energetic sheep owner takes the time and trouble to ready them for the arrival of his flocks.
Early in the season, even before all the snow has been melted by spring sunshine, he will go ahead and make preliminary survey trips into this rough, wild country. He will look it over with great care, keeping ever in mind its best use for his flock during the coming season.
Then just before the sheep arrive, he will make another expedition or two to prepare the tableland for them. He takes along a supply of salt and minerals to be distributed over the range at strategic spots for the benefit of the sheep during the summer. The intelligent, careful manager will also decide well ahead of time where his camps will be located so the sheep have the best bed grounds. He goes over the range carefully to determine how vigorous the grass and upland vegetation is. At this time he decides whether some glades and basins can be used only lightly whereas other slopes and meadows may be grazed more heavily.
He will check to see if there are poisonous weeds appearing, and if so, he will plan his grazing program to avoid them or take drastic steps to eradicate them.
Another task the active shepherd takes on in the summer is to keep an eye out for predators. He will look for signs of wolves and bears. He will have to hunt them down or go to great pains to trap them so that his flock can rest in peace.
The picture here is full of drama, action, and suspense — and possible death. Only the alertness of the sheepman who tends his flock on the tableland in full view of possible enemies can prevent them from falling prey to attack.
We are given a picture of our Saviour who knows every trick, every treachery of our enemy Satan and his companions. Always we are in danger of attack. Scripture sometimes refers to him as “a roaring lion” who goes about seeking whom he may devour.
At all times we would be wise to walk a little closer to Christ. This is one sure place of safety. It was always the distant sheep, the roamers, the wanderers that were picked off by the predators in an unsuspecting moment. Generally, the attackers are gone before the shepherd is alerted by their cry for help. Some sheep, of course, are utterly dumb with fear under attack; they will not even give a plaintive bleat before their blood is spilled.
But Christ is too concerned about us to allow this to happen. Our Shepherd wants to forestall such a calamity. He wants our mountaintop times to be tranquil interludes. And they will be if we just have the common sense to stay near Him where He can protect us. Read His Word each day. Spend some time talking to Him. We should give Him the opportunity to converse with us by His Spirit as we contemplate His life and work for us as our Shepherd.
There is another chore the sheepman takes care of on the tableland. He clears out the water holes, springs, and drinking places for his stock. He has to clean out the accumulated debris of leaves, twigs, stones, and soil that may have fallen into the water source during the autumn and winter. He may need to repair small earth dams he has made to hold water. And he will open the springs that may have become overgrown with grass and brush and weeds. It is all his work, his preparation of the table for his own sheep in summer.
The parallel in the Christian life is that Christ, our great Good Shepherd, has Himself already gone before us into every situation and every extremity that we might encounter. The Christian walk can thus become a mountaintop experience — a tableland trip — simply because we are in the care and control of Christ, who has been over all this territory before us and prepare the “table” for us in plain view of our enemies who would demoralize and destroy us if they could.
It is encouraging to know that just as in any other aspect of life where there are lights and shadows, so in the Christian life, there are valleys and mountaintops. Just because the shepherd has gone ahead and made every possible provision for the safety and welfare of his sheep while they are on the summer range does not mean they will not have problems there. Predators can still attack, poisonous weeds can still grow, storms and gales can still come swirling up over the peaks. Yet in His care and concern for us, Christ still ensures that we shall have some gladness with our sadness, some delightful days as well as dark days, some sunshine as well as shadow.
An excerpt from A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23