“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil.” Psalm 23:5a
When David writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil,” he has a picture in mind of shepherd life in Palestine. Charles W. Shemming, who has written a lot about shepherds in the Middle East, says that when a shepherd comes to a new field in which to feed his flock, he inspects the field closely, looking for grass that could poison the sheep. He also inspects the field for poisonous snakes. These snakes live under the ground and have a way of popping up out of their small holes and biting the noses of the sheep. Their bite is poisonous and sometimes the inflammation from their bite will kill the sheep.
The shepherd leaves the sheep outside any such infested field. Then he walks up and down the field until he finds the holes of the snakes. He takes from his belt a bottle of thick oil. Then, raking over any long grass with his staff, he pours a circle of thick oil at the top of every snake’s hole he can find. As he leads the sheep into the field, he anoints the head of each sheep with the oil. When the snakes come out of their holes to do their deadly damage, the oil keeps them from getting out. Their smooth bodies cannot pass over the slippery oil. Moreover, the oil on the sheep’s head acts as a repellent. So if a snake gets near the nose of a sheep, the smell drives the snake away. Literally, then, the sheep are allowed to graze in plenty in the presence of their enemies.
What the shepherd did for his sheep, God does for His people. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has sent you to live in a dangerous place. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16a). Jesus was known as “a friend of sinners” because He spent a lot of time with those who were considered outcasts by the religious establishment (Matthew 11:19). The religious leaders of Israel crucified Christ because He loved needy people who saw their need for a Savior.
Jesus wants us to take His message of grace to the world (Mark 16:15; John 20:21). Anyone can minister in the confines of a church or a home, but it takes the power of God to live that life in a world opposed to Jesus Christ. One reason we do not cultivate friendships with non-Christians is because we are afraid. We fear that their values will become ours. “Wolves won’t become sheep, but sheep can become wolves,” we say to ourselves.
Yet Christ calls us to go (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15) and He gives us the power to do so through the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; I John 2:20, 27). Jesus gives us authority to be in the world and His presence protects us. Our Good Shepherd leads us to dangerous places and it is there that He feeds us. You and I are far safer in such a place with God than we could possibly be anywhere else without Him.
In the summer of 2013, the Lord led me to go with one other American and a few Filipino translators to a critical area in the southern Philippines to preach the gospel in public schools. We were warned ahead of time that Australian missionaries had been killed there by militant rebels the week before we went. But I still believed God was calling me to go to this area to share the love of Christ with these people.
During the week that we were there, I experienced an incredible peace from my Good Shepherd as we went from school to school to share the good news of Jesus’ love and grace. It was obvious that He had prepared the fields of harvest beforehand and His Holy Spirit gave us the boldness and clarity needed to preach Christ crucified. By God’s grace, thousands of people professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope of heaven!
During these difficult and uncertain times, it is important to see our Good Shepherd as the source of our protection. He is for us and not against us. And because He is with us and has us anointed us with His Holy Spirit, we can respond to dangerous situations with His boldness and love that can melt the hardest of hearts. Christ changes hateful and hurtful people into people of love who begin to help others heal. What a wonderful Savior and Shepherd we have!
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I needed to hear this message this morning. So much fear-based sensationalism is in our world today. People are afraid to go out of their homes because of all the terrible reports. Please give me the eyes of faith so I may see that it is You Who may lead me into a dangerous place to feed me there. You are the One who goes before me to prepare the way. You are able to teach me things there that I could never learn anywhere else. Thank You for the Holy Spirit Who comforts me and empowers me to carry out Your mission on planet earth. I pray He will prepare unsaved people in the world to hear and believe the saving message of Your death and resurrection (John 16:7-11; I Corinthians 15:1-8). Please give me creativity and wisdom to reach out to those You are preparing to be saved. Lead me, Good Shepherd, to those who need Your saving grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.