In this next to last lesson from our sheep, we’re looking at Psalm 23:5—Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Theologians often use this verse when they speak of the Lord as the host of a great banquet. And while the idea of the Lord presiding over a banquet table is biblically valid, we miss a lot of the deeper meaning of verse 5 unless we continue interpreting Psalm 23 from the perspective of the poem’s speaker, a sheep. For example, from the sheep’s perspective the “table” is tableland suitable for grazing. Sometimes the shepherd has to prepare the land by clearing out rocks and poisonous plants before bringing his sheep to graze. My favorite part of this verse, however, is the second part: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Author and shepherd, Phillip Keller, explains that anointing the head of sheep brings healing and relief from pests that can drive sheep crazy. Whenever gnats, mosquitoes and flies attack a flock, the sheep respond by trying to get away from the pests. Some stamp their feet erratically while others race around the pasture in an effort to outrun their tormentors. Some even beat their heads against rocks or trees, desperate for relief.
Does this scene describe your life sometimes? It does mine! The stresses of life make me run around, trying to keep up/avoid/juggle/survive. And simply glancing at the day’s headlines makes me want to bash my head against the nearest wall.
There is only one remedy for the sheep’s pathetic condition: oil. When the shepherd applies oil to the sheep’s head, the result is immediate relief. The sheep become calm and content. This is not a one-time application, though. It’s a process that continues as long as the pests are present.
The key to the process of anointing lies in two words of verse 5: thou anointest. The shepherd does the anointing, not the sheep. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, let me just say that it is impossible for the sheep to anoint themselves with oil. Even if they knew which oil to use, which they don’t, they do not have the skill or physical dexterity to apply the oil where it’s needed. They just aren’t very bright.
And neither am I. For the past week I’ve been trying to deal with countless pests and I’ve failed miserably. Just as sheep are completely incapable of dealing with the pests that annoy them, I am incapable of creating the peace and calm that I so desperately need and want. Only Jesus my Shepherd can do that. Only He knows what I need (even though I often think I know). Only He knows what will bring relief from the pests of life. And just as a shepherd’s anointing of his flock is a process that continues as long as the pests are present, so our Shepherd’s anointing is an ongoing process. Let’s face it. Our lives will never be free of pests this side of heaven.
One final thing to note about verse 5. The sheep says that the shepherd anoints him with oil to the point that my cup runneth over. The image is one of abundant, lavish care by his shepherd who has an endless supply of soothing oil.
What a beautiful picture of our Shepherd. He doesn’t care for us half-heartedly. He lavishes us with everything we need.
- Because of our Shepherd, we have abundant life (John 10:10).
- Because of our Shepherd, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life (2 Peter 1:3).
- Through our Shepherd, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ (Eph. 1:3).
- Because of our Shepherd, God supplies all of our needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19).
- Because of our Shepherd, we serve a God who gives generously to all who call on him (Rom. 10:12).
- Because of our Shepherd, we can experience peace that is completely beyond our understanding (Phil. 4:7).
Clearly, when the Shepherd anoints His sheep, He does so lavishly.
What about you? Do you need relief from the pests of life? Take a cue from the sheep and sit in the presence of the Shepherd. Allow Him to care for you and soon you’ll be declaring with the sheep, my cup runneth over.