24 September 2011

A Table Before My Enemies

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 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.

We have finally made it to the last two verses of this psalm. We have been talking about the sheep/shepherd relationship and trying to gain a better understanding of it. Remember, Jesus said in John 10:27 "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." He calls us his sheep, not an eagle or some other majestic/ferocious animal, but a sheep. Let me remind you of some sheep facts in case you forgot from our opening blog on this subject.

1. Sheep are considered the dumbest animal on the planet.
2. They have no upper teeth.
3. They will stay in one spot and eat everything around them until nothing but dirt is left.
4. They have no sense of direction. No matter how long they are there, they can't find their way home without help.
5. If they fall over they can’t get back up without the shepherd.
6. They are sheared for health, comfort and coolness.
7. Their tales are docked for cleanliness. Yep for that very reason, poo will get matted in their tales and cause infections and other nasty stuff.

Yep, he called us His sheep and then said "follow me." We will talk about those life changing two words later, but right now lets dive right in and finish learning about the sheep/shepherd relationship from the "Shepherd of Israel" King David.

David starts verse 5 by saying "you prepare a table before my enemies." I used to think this passage had something to do with food, but when you really look at it, it doesn’t make much sense in a psalm about sheep and shepherds to talk about a table of food. That was until the day I discovered David is not talking about food, but he is really writing about snakes.

In mountainous regions, a “table” describes a flat section of land. And before entering a new “table,” a good shepherd inspects the ground for holes, the holes are potential hiding places for poisonous brown snakes. When the shepherd finds the holes, the first thing he will do is to collapse the holes with his rod, filling them in with dirt. After he fills the hole with dirt, the shepherd then pours thick oil in each snake hole. The purpose of the oil is a just-in-case measure. If the snake happens to work his way out, the snake will be coated by the oil and unable to attack the sheep with a poisonous bite. The snakes are not very large, but as the sheep puts its nose down in the grass as it grazes, the snakes bite the soft fleshy parts of the nose and mouth causing severe illness and the potential death. Any good shepherd doesn't want the reputation of his sheep dying because he didn't properly prepare the table.

When preparing the table, a good shepherd also locates and removes other things, such as weeds, that will cause the sheep to get sick and die. An interesting thing to note about this whole process is while the shepherd is preparing the table, the sheep haven't even entered yet. They are waiting outside the table area for the shepherd. What are they waiting for? They are waiting for the shepherd to anoint them. The oil the shepherd poured into the snake holes is used to “anoint” the sheep's nose and mouth making the surface too slippery to bite.

Here, now, where it would appear the sheep are in a sublime setting on the high meadows; where there are clear running springs; where the forage is fresh and tender; where there is the intimate close contact with the shepherd; suddenly we find a ‘fly in the ointment,’ so to speak".

The fly is literal. Because it is summertime, insects are plentiful both in number and kind. Some of the insects, such as the "nasal fly" are so bad that they can cause the death of the sheep. The flies enter the sheep’s nasal passage and lay eggs.

The result is severe respiratory inflammation and infection. The sheep become inconsolable, kicking wildly, butting their heads against rocks and trees, and running into the heavy brush. The effects can be devastating.

Other insects also bother the sheep and cause them to stop eating. Thus they lose weight and energy. Ewes stop giving milk and the lambs die of starvation. Insect infestation is a terrible torment for the sheep; but, it’s a fact of life.

However, there is relief to be had.

The good shepherd quickly recognizes the symptoms and does something about it. In Bible times, the shepherd would pour a mixture of olive oil, sulphur, and tar on the sheep’s head. In more modern times linseed oil, sulphur, and tar have been used. Apparently, the odor of this anointing oil doesn’t bother the sheep but it does keep the insects away. It doesn’t take long for the sheep to appreciate the anointing and be grateful for it.

Insect infestation in sheep is representative of uninvited devilish torments, persecutions, and afflictions in humans.

The anointing is the continued presence and filling of the Holy Spirit Who comforts and consoles us. It is important to note that when a person receives the gift of God’s salvation, by grace through faith, he or she also receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

But, the "anointing" of the Holy Spirit is continuing, based on need. When Satan torments a Christian, the anointing of the Holy Spirit is available. However, the Christian must "hold still" and let the anointing take place.

If a sheep in torment runs wildly, stomping, kicking, and butting his head against the rocks the shepherd can’t do much for him. But, if the sheep will stop and let the shepherd do the anointing, then relief will come. It’s the same with Christians. We must yield to the Good Shepherd and let Him anoint us with the "Balm of Gilead." He will pour out the Holy Spirit on us and we will be comforted..

There were other reasons for the anointing with oil. A disease called "scabies" was also treated with the oil-sulphur-tar mixture. Scabies affected sheep’s heads. It was (or is) transmitted from sheep to sheep as they affectionately rub heads together. Scabies, to me, represents the harm that can come to us because of our associations.

"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." ( 2 Cor. 6:17).

When we try to have one foot in the "Kingdom" of Heaven and one foot in the world, we will be afflicted by the diseases and maladies of the world (physical, spiritual, and emotional).

Here again, it is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that protects us from wrong associations. "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" ( Galatians 5:16).

Still another cause for "anointing" sheep’s heads with oil (or in this case grease) is to reduce the damage of rams butting heads during mating season. The grease literally causes the sheep to glance off each others’ head and avoid the shock of a head-on collision. To his amusement, the sheep would glance off each other’s head and look bewildered and confused then stroll off in peace.

In our lives, as believers, this anointing is the calming and convicting work of the Holy Spirit. When we become strong willed and self sufficient, butting our heads against each other and against "brick walls," the Holy Spirit can intercede to help us see the futility of our own self-willed attitudes and actions.

No wonder, the sheep concludes, "My cup of blessings runs over."

Next we are going to examine those two words that have been life altering for so many "follow me."

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