In an earlier blog entitled Thou Preparest A Table Before Me I wrote about the first portion of Psalm 23:5. Now I am going to focus on the second part of this passage:
Most of us are familiar with the practice of anointing with oil. In Israel, one who was designated by God for a specific task might be anointed with oil. This act showed that they were called by God and that His blessing was upon them. It gave them the authority to fulfill their calling....thou anointest my head with oil;- Psalm 23:5b (KJV)
In some sects of Christianity, it is a common practice to anoint someone with oil when you are praying for their healing. Sometimes, if there is a great need an individual might be anointed with oil by a minister or someone else who is praying for them. Other times, if someone is being "sent forth" or commissioned to go start a mission, pastor a church, become an evangelist, go into foreign missions and so forth, they might be anointed before they are prayed for and sent forth from the local church.
David had been anointed by Samuel to become the next king of Israel but as a shepherd, David was also familiar with another type of anointing by oil. David would have anointed the heads of his sheep.
One of the pests that plague sheep is quite small. One of these pests is known as Oestrus ovis or what is commonly known as a sheep bot fly. This tiny critter will deposit it's eggs in the nostril of the unsuspecting animal. The eggs hatch and the larvae move deeper into the nasal passage until it becomes more mature.
You can imagine that this is not a pleasant experienced for the sheep. In addition to the aggravation, swelling occurs and breathing can become very difficult. The sheep also may become extremely uncomfortable, distracted and may even stop eating. The condition can lead to malnutrition and even death.
The shepherd knew that he needed to take steps to prevent the sheep bot fly from getting into the nostrils of his sheep. Inspecting the pasture for evidence of the sheep bot fly was one method but in addition to that, during the "active season" for these flies, the shepherd would prepare a mixture of olive oil, sulfur and tar. This preparation would be applied to the noses of the sheep as a means to prevent the sheep bot flies from entering the nose of an unsuspecting sheep in the first place.
I don't know about you but I think I would probably put up quite a fuss if someone attempted to apply a concoction of olive oil, sulfur and tar to my nose! My guess is David's sheep were not big fans of having it done to them either. Sometimes the Shepherd must do unpleasant things to us in order to keep us healthy and safe. The sheep had no understanding of why they had to experience this... unpleasantness but the shepherd did and he was going to do what needed to be done whether the sheep liked it or not. That's his job and he cared about the well-being of his sheep.
In the Bible, oil is a representation of The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit acts as a deterrent to prevent those pesky "sheep bot flies" from infiltrating and taking up residence in our hearts. Sometimes the process is not pleasant. We don't like it when we hear Him call our names and ask where we are and what we are doing when we know full well that we are not where we belong. We are not doing what we ought to be doing or we are doing something we definitely don't want Him to know about. That sort of sounds a bit like Adam and Eve doesn't it.
May we always remember that though we might find it unpleasant at times, God always does what He must do to keep His sheep healthy and safe.