Psalm 23:5b

You anoint my head with oil;

Does this conjure up for you scenes from the teenage years when we needed to wash our hair twice a day to get rid of the flat greasy look?  We seemed to have had our heads anointed with oil!  Somehow I don't think that's what the psalmist meant...

He is referencing something positive and desirable here so let's find out what he means.

A little background - sheep are often plagued by little flies called nasal flies.  These creatures buzz around the sheep's nose and try to deposit their eggs in the moist membranes there.  Once deposited, the eggs hatch in a few days into wormy larvae that wiggle up into the sheep's head and burrow in. This is obviously intensely agonizing to the sheep. Infestations can even lead to blindess in extreme cases, but even in the least cases, it is extremely painful and the sheep wants relief. In an attempt to get rid of these internal pests, the poor sheep will rub its head in the soil, beat it against trees or rocks, throw itself on the grown in desperation.  Such frantic behavior disrupts the entire flockand can send them all into a frenzy.  Apparently, sheep are smart enough to recognize that these flies are potentially hazardous; whenever they detect some anywhere near the flock, they become exceedingly agitated, running, bleating, disrupting even the sheep not infected.

Oil is the medicinal remedy the shepherd chooses.  When he first spots flies among the flock, he smears oil over the head and nose of each sheep.  The sources I consulted said that this produces an immediate change for the flock; the sheep would quiet down, graze quietly, and even lie down to sleep in peace. Somehow they sense the ability of the oil to protect them from the dreaded flies.

In addition to the flies, there is another unwelcome parasite that shepherds have to guard against.  A microscopic critter can create a condition called "scab" on its host.  This is an irritating and highly contagious disease common to sheep, particularly in warm weather.  It is most often found around the head area and spreads by contact.  Since sheep love to rub heads with other flock-fellows, this infection spreads easily and quickly.  As with the flies, oil is an effective antidote to scab.  Sometimes, the sheep's head is doused with oil and other times, the entire animal is plunged into a vat of oil so as to ensure the scab will be eradicated. 

One last interesting use of oil on sheep - in mating season, rams vie for the favors of the ewes.  They will butt and crash and collide with one another, often causing serious injury.  In anticipation of such rowdy contests, a shepherd will spread thick oil or grease on the heads of his rams. Then, when they slam into one another, their heads are so slick that they slide against one another instead of doing damage.

So, what does this verse mean for us?  How and why does God anoint our heads with oil? I am not sure I have it all figured out but here are some thoughts to ponder:

1.  Oil is used in Scripture often times to refer to the Holy Spirit.  Remember that his phrase follows "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies".  Perhaps the truth conveyed here is that God abundantly supplies us with His Holy Spirit so that we are equipped for what He allows into our lives.  His Holy Spirit is our strength for the battle; and the fruit of His Spirit in our lives comes forth as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

2.  Oil is also used specifically in conjunction with JOY.  Again,  fruit of His Holy Spirit in us.  When we are filled with His Joy, we are not tempted to fill ourselves up with lesser things....things which can often become an enemy to our soul.

3.  Oil was used in Bible times to anoint priests and kings.  To "anoint" something is to make it sacred, to set it apart for God's use.  This phrase of Psalm 23 could be reminding us that we are holy, set apart for God's plans and purposes.  Jesus is called both High Priest and King of Kings - Scritpure also refers to our position in Him as the "priesthood of the believer" and our role as reigning with Him. 

4. In Scripture, oil is seen to have medicinal uses as well as for burial preparation of the dead.  We can infer that God's Holy Spirit has healing powers - sometimes physically but especially spiritually.  And, the use of oil for the dead can also refer to us who have died to our selves but live in Christ.

5.  When I think about the shepherd's use of oil to reduce the sting of the head-butting, I can't help but think about how the Holy Spirit often softens the blows we inflict on one another.  Sometimes our interactions with fellow believers leaves much to be desired.  We need to be "greased with the Holy Spirit" so as to slide past the bang and not return "head butt for head butt". 

6.  Jesus anoints our heads with oil.  I pray that we are running to Him regularly for the oil bath!

In summary,  Christ anoints us with oil. Sets us apart for God's purpose and our blessing.  Oil of gladness, oil of power, oil of healing and reconciliation.  Wow.  Powerful..