by Sandy Kirby Quandt
Like many folks when I was young, I memorized Psalm 23; the oft quoted psalm written by the Shepherd-King, David, that we use to compare to Jesus our Good Shepherd. I knew the words by heart, but didn’t fully understand their meaning until I recently began reading Chuck Swindoll’s Living the Psalms. Encouragement for the Daily Grind.
As with many Old Testament words and images, I find our modern understanding of them doesn’t always translate the true intent of Old Testament words clearly without a further explanation.
In his chapter on the psalm which Chuck Swindoll titled, “The Woeful Song of Frightened Sheep” he says:
- Sheep lack a sense of direction. They get lost easily, even in the familiar environment of their own territory.
- Sheep are virtually defenseless, awkward, weak, and ignorant.
- Sheep are by nature unclean.
- Sheep cannot find food or water. If left to themselves, sheep will eat poisonous weeds and die.
- The sheep’s wool belongs to the shepherd, not the sheep.
Of course, as he lists the sheep’s qualities he compares them to humans, pointing out how like sheep we truly are.
Although I found Swindoll’s explanation of each of the psalm’s verses very interesting and helpful, the clarity I most discovered came from his explanation of verse 5: He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
The meaning of that verse never quite came into focus for me until now.
He explained how when the shepherd takes the sheep to a new field to graze, he rakes down the grass with his staff and looks for viper holes. When he finds the holes the adders live in, he pours a circle of oil at the top of each hole.
He also spreads oil on the sheep’s heads; anoints them in a way.
When the adders sense the sheep’s presence and attempt to attack, they can’t pass over the slippery oil.
Should they manage to climb out of their hole, the smell of the oil on the sheep’s head drives them away.
The sheep are now free to eat at the table full of fresh grass the shepherd prepared in the presence of the enemy snakes.
What about you? Does that make Psalm 23:5 clearer, or did you already understand its meaning?
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You spread out a table before me, provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies; You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil, filling my cup again and again with Your grace. Psalm 23:5 (VOICE)
I wish you well.
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