Let's complete our look at what has to be the most familiar passage of Scripture - the 23 Psalm.
It may seem strange to us that David would jump from a picture of sheep to a picture of a feast being set in the presence of our enemies. But David has not changed illustrations in verse 5.
The table as it is used here most likely refers to the high summer pastures which were known as "the table lands." In these pastures grew all sorts of lush vegetation - some good, some harmful to the sheep. The shepherd would prepare these pastures by walking through them and carefully picking those plants which would be detrimental to the sheep. Similarly the Good Shepherd knows what is good for you, and he is preparing your lot for you.
Anointing with oil speaks of the Shepherd's provision for the health and comfort of his sheep. The lush table-lands of summer were not without danger. Some dangers were big like mountain-lions, bears and wolves. Others were small like flies, gnats and ticks. It was these small irritations which would drive the sheep to utter distraction. So the Good Shepherd would anticipate those needs and meet them by regularly applying an ointment, with the main ingredient olive oil, upon the sheep.
In like manner, the Good Shepherd cares for every need of his own - big and small. He knows and sees those things which are troubling to you, and he draws you close by his side and anoints you with the balm of Gilead to meet that need.
"Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." This verse contains two separate, but equally important thoughts.
First is the knowledge that the sheep who are lucky enough to be in the care of a conscientious shepherd know their lot in life is one marked by his kind graces. No matter what comes their way, they can always be sure that goodness and mercy are in the picture.
You too can have that confidence if you know the Lord Jesus Christ and are under his care. No matter what happens you can be sure the care you are receiving is motivated by goodness and mercy and tender love.
I wonder how many of us feel that way about Christ. It's easy when things are going well, but what about those times when my world is falling apart, and my castles are crumbling, and my dreams are dying - can we say then, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life?"
I believe the answer to that question to be a resounding "yes."
But there is another aspect to this picture. Notice it says, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me."
Phillip Keller in his book, points out that sheep can be the most beneficial of all livestock or the most destructive - it depends upon how they are handled.
If they are managed poorly, they will devastate the land-- almost beyond recovery. But if they are managed properly, they are a tremendous benefit to the land. Keller talks about how on various occasions he was allowed to graze his sheep on land that was virtually desolate. Through proper management, the land was restored to places of beauty and productivity because the sheep had been there.
I wonder what people say about us. Will they say that we leave in our paths destruction and turmoil, or will they say wherever we go, goodness and mercy marks our path?
Keller writes: "Do I leave behind peace in lives or turmoil? Do I leave behind forgiveness or bitterness? Do I leave behind contentment or conflict? Do I leave behind flowers of joy or frustration? Do I leave behind love or rancor?"
Good questions. What are you leaving behind? What am I leaving behind? Goodness and mercy or griping and misery?
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA 30016. Or e-mail him at email@example.com For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org