Grannie’s Cornbread and the Sovereignty of God

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

My mother-in-law would have been 101 years old this last September had she lived that long. Her legacy still stands strong with those who knew and loved her. She was, hands down, the maker of the best Southern cornbread ever. I always felt honored that she allowed me into her tiny country kitchen. It was made cramped by a table big enough for six, that would barely hold all the food she prepared for Sunday supper. There we’d be, with her four feet something little self and me with my five feet ten inch frame. Graciously, she’d let me do this or that odd job to ‘help’ but I suspect it was mainly to keep me out of her way while she made The Cornbread. I can’t prove this, though. The kitchen was her domain and making hearty meals was her love offering to the large extended family I’d recently joined. So she’d allow my company, with one rule: I could help with anything but the cornbread.

I think I talked about it too much, pestering asking her for her recipe after the first time I tasted her version of cornbread. My husband, his brother, and a couple of other males in the family had this practice of cutting around and eating the crunchy outer edge of the round cake, slathered with thick butter. They’d descend like locusts and in one quick motion leave again with nothing left but the middle for those too shy to line up first or too naive to understand where the best pieces came from. I was both. I never got the outer edge, but the middle was heaven on a plate. “Hey, Lorna (Grannie to everyone else), I can help you with the cornbread,” was pretty much how I greeted her on the occasions we could visit. “No thank you”.

Oh, sure, she did tell me the ingredients. And I know enough about baking that I can guess in what order they are mixed in. I still chuckle now, thinking back on it , how she always managed to have her back turned to me when she was making the batter. To this day, I still believe she added something extra, some special ingredient no one knows about, when she knew I couldn’t see. My husband says it’s love, but I’m not buying that. There was something else, too, I just know it! But it wasn’t mine to know. And the sooner I accepted that, the better I’d be.

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

I wonder if that’s also how it is with God, as He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Does He hold something back, out of our eyesight, because we don’t really need to know everything He has planned? When God prepares, He does not share the full recipe with us, does He? He prepares our future His way, in His timing.  He’s under no ‘obligation’ to tell us what goes into His preparations, either. And yet, the prophet Amos tells us: Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7) So what really is going on here?

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

Image result for ancient israel hospitality

The Hebrew verb for prepare is ‘arak.  It describes arranging, ordering and preparing.  Biblical scholar Skip Moen, PhD. says ” When we seek God and His ways, He engineers our lives so that they display the order He wishes, even in the presence of those who stand against us.  Wisdom calls us to “forsake folly and live.”  God invites us to the same table.  Let Him do the organizing, and the meal you will be served will bring you life.”

Preparing a table in ancient Israel was a sign of hospitality and also part of legal and political agreements between friends and allies, never between enemies.  The the meal that God prepares is not for the enemies.  It’s for the one who is in relationship with the Great Host, God Himself.  He’s signifying that even amidst enemy threats, there remains a covenant commitment between Himself and the guest at the table. Because of Who the host is, the guest is guaranteed safety.

The Hebrew word for enemies is tsarar, a root word that means “to show hostility toward.”  In some forms it takes on the nuanced meaning of being bound, distressed, hemmed in, confined and troubled.  We live this experience, don’t we? I sure do! I know there are enemies from without and enemies from within. Even in the absence of outside enemies I am not free if I have a distressed and bound heart.  Same for those in my family.

I think of all the nourishing meals I fed my Russian-born sons, from the time we brought them to our family until when they moved to their own places. Yes, they had regular meals; they could eat to their body’s satisfaction. My table is anything that I desired to give them – a sense of permanency, love, belonging, family, as well as actual food on the table. But a heart that is distressed and bound up in memories of lack leaves the table unsatisfied. My table in the presence of their enemies (the trauma, abuse, and neglect they suffered) is sparse.  

But when God prepares a table, it satisfies, even in the presence of those things that would prevent my receiving of His bounty.  I can’t make God’s cornbread because I am bound, confined and constrained.  He’s not even going to ask me because He knows I can’t help; I am tied up with my enemies within.  So God invites me to watch Him work, then I feast at the King’s own table, prepared by His own hand, for me. Those at His table feast with Him, even while “enemies” look on. Clearly, love is His special ingredient.

What enemies do your children from hard places face, which makes it difficult for them to be satisfied with your table? What enemies are you facing, making it difficult at God’s table? Will you stop trying to season God’s bounty with your own preferences, will you take your hand off the spoon in the cornbread bowl and just let God prepare His table? I’m going to try, too.

Leave a Reply