They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Thou Preparest a Table Before Me in the Presence of Mine Enemies

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.
— Psalm 23

sulahIn our last post, we looked at the hospitality of the Middle East and the fellowship meal. For centuries, Bedouins have taken pride in sitting down at the family table with strangers and enjoying their company. There is also another ceremonial table meal that has been occurring in the Middle East since Bible times that has fascinating implications on the words we read in our English translations of the Text. This meal is called, “Sulha”, and is an Arabic word for a covenantal meal of reconciliation. The word,”sulh”, means ”peace”, or a literal act of settlement. Sulha is still practiced today in all the Middle Eastern countries and is considered an extension of the legal systems. In fact, it is still the main and official conflict resolution tool of all the Bedouin Tribes located in the Middle East. What is “Sulha”, how is it done, and what is it used for?

Sulha is a meal where you sit down at a table with you enemies and reconcile your differences. By using the cultural ideals of honor and shame, two parties with animosity between them eat together at a ceremonial meal to transition from revenge to forgiveness and reconciliation. Because of the strong family ties in this part of the country, disputes between individuals automatically become disputes between families and clans – often escalating to engulf an entire village. If you offend or harm the individual, you have done the same to the entire family and the problem festers and expands if not dealt with. Therefore, a Sulha is often called for to try and diffuse the situation. Are there some examples of a Sulha in scripture? One that is a good example is the story of Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban in Genesis 31. Jacob was tricked and lied to by his father-in-law, so Jacob took his two wives and flocks and left his father-in-law’s tents and went on his own. Laban was upset and went after Jacob and caught up to him ten days later. At first, it looked like violence might break out, but the two settled their differences by sitting down to a meal together. By eating together, Jacob and Laban were stating that their relationship had been restored. During the meal, they made a sacrifice to God which effectively stated God himself was a witness to the vows that they had made to each other. They were now at peace with God and each other. You can read the story of the meal in Genesis 31:51-55.

How does Sulha work? What are the steps that you take from revenge to forgiveness? The first step in the process has to be initiated by the offender and his family. The offender contacts a mediator from the area, usually a holy man (mukthar) or a pastor, and asks him to approach the victim’s family and offer restitution and seek a path to reconciliation. The mediator then goes to the victim’s house and invites them to take part in Sulha. The victim’s family, of course, has the right to say no, but it is considered very disrespectful to wait too long to respond. If the offer is accepted, then the Sulha meal takes place at the victim’s house with both the mediator and the offender in attendance. The offender, through the mediator has offered to pay some sort of restitution, called blood money. Both families wait for the patriarch of the victim’s family to make the decision of whether or not to accept the offer to reconcile. Cups of coffee are on the table, but no one makes a move until the patriarch decides. If he drinks from the cup of coffee, then he would be saying that he accepts the offer to of reconciliation. Then the patriarch would make a comment to the victim about forgiving him for the transgressions against his family and both families would shake hands. This agreement to “bury the hatchet” is binding on both families and is also considered a contract with God. From now on, “we will not speak of this again. We will acts as if we remember it no more”, would be the gist of the acceptance of the apology. There is lots of leverage for both families to abide by the patriarch’s decision. Honor and respect are very important in the tribal cultures and respect and social standing would be lost if anyone in the family went back on their word.

Think of this story in light of the 23rd Psalm. Preparing a table before me has got to be a Sulha! God invites our enemies in, we break bread together, and we are not enemies anymore. What about Revelations 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man will let me in, I will come in and eat with him and he with me”. That also sounds like a Sulha. Probably the greatest example is the Lord’s Supper. We are the offending party. God’s Son has died because of our sin. We have come to a meal with God to ask him to forgive us. He makes the first move by taking the bread and the cup and saying, “In the blood of Christ, your sins are forgiven and I’ll remember them no more. Then He invites us into His family, to be part of his house. In the Sulha meal there has to be a mediator between the offender and the victim and that mediator was Christ. What is the proof that Jesus requires to forgive our debts to Him? We are to forgive others (have Sulha with them), just as He did for us.

This is an amazing cultural story that makes the pages of the Bible come alive with imagery!

P.S. For an amazing story of a modern-day sullha, please read this story in its entirety.

Why Do We Bless Our Food?

As Western thinking Christians today, it is a common practice for us when praying before a meal to say, “Lord bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our bodies to your service.” Where did this practice of blessing the food before the meal come from and can we find a biblical base for doing it? Some research into the history of this subject provided some interesting answers.

First of all, in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus would have grown up on, there is not a single instance in which there is a command to bless the food before a meal. The only passage that would come close to indicating this would be Deuteronomy 8:10, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless (praise) the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.” In this verse however, it says to bless, “after the meal” and not before the meal. Also, this verse says to direct the blessing towards God and not the meal itself. Marvin Wilson says, “Unlike the practice of most Western Christians today, in Bible times, the Hebrew people did not see the need to bless food, drink, or other material things. In prayer, they focused only on blessing God, the Creator and Giver.” Why was this the case? Wilson continues, “The ancient Hebrews would have never thought of blessing what they ate. The idea would have been totally foreign to them; it would have been an insult of sorts, to God! If everything that God created was very good (Genesis 1:29-31, and Genesis 9:3-4), why should someone imply that it was unholy and profane and needed to be blessed again by God? The idea that you had to sanctify, cleanse, or purify what God had already said was good would have been foreign to the early Jewish people. To do this would have suggested that food and drink were unacceptable until they were blessed and made holy through prayer.” How then did our practice of blessing the food originate? In all likelihood, this practice has its origins in Greek thought. The Greeks and Gnostics shared the belief that material (physical) things were, by nature, unholy and unclean. Therefore, according to this belief, it was necessary to “make holy” the things that were of this world.

You could point out that there are several examples in the new Testament of Jesus giving a blessing at meal time. For example, in Matthew 14:19 it says, “He gave thanks and broke the loaves.” Also, in Matthew 26:26 it says, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it.” Almost every Bible scholar agrees that the “thanks” or “blessing” that Jesus would have given at these meals would have been the b’rakhah (blessing, benediction) that Jews have said for over two thousand years before meals. Jesus would have said, “Barukh attah, Adonai Eloheynu, melekh-ha’olam, haMotzi lecheem, minha’aretz”, or in English, “Blessed are you O lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” In this age-old prayer that Jesus would have recited, again God is the one being blessed and not the food.

What does this short study tell us? Let’s not bless the food since food is already one of God’s blessings to us. Instead, let us bless God for providing our daily bread for us! We should express our gratitude and thanks to God who provides all our needs, including our need for food. By blessing God and thanking Him for our food, it will help us to focus on God and to thank Him in every area of our life. As Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Note: I gleaned this lesson from the following sources that you may want to look at further. They are: