Attack by the blow fly is a real concern to a shepherd. It is a cause of weakness and death in affected animals. The fly lays its eggs on the sheep, and within twenty-four hours, the larvae penetrate the skin and multiply, and soon the sheep is poisoned. Working with our own flock, I would see a sheep distressed by this affliction, but, thankfully, there is a treatment: backlining. An appropriate ointment is poured on the animal’s head and along its back.
We often think of David the shepherd in relation to Psalm 23’s green pastures. However, David needed to treat disease in his flock. He would also have seen how larvae or maggots were like his own sin—leading to death.
David needed the divine remedy; so do we. How wonderful that Jesus tells us in John 10 that the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. He has provided the remedy at an incalculable cost. Acts 20:28 tells us that the church is “purchased with his own blood.”
How wonderful that Jesus tells us in John 10 that the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
It is not just disease that a shepherd struggles with—there are also the sheep themselves. In Psalm 51, David pleads with the Lord, “Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” As a Jewish shepherd walking ahead of his flock, David would have noticed when a lamb strayed. At first, he would have thrown a little stick to bring it back, but if the lamb wandered away again, David would have broken its leg. He would then bind up the leg and carry the lamb in his arms, eventually placing the lamb at his feet, where it would stay close to its shepherd. This hard experience was done for the good of the lamb. What a beautiful picture of chastisement. When God admonishes us, His children, we must recognize that He is good in all that He does.
Anointing oil also signifies gladness. We are reminded of this in Isaiah 61:1–3. Who brings good news to the poor? Who binds up the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty to the captives, giving “the oil of gladness instead of mourning”? Surely this is the Anointed One, the Lord Jesus. It is as we consider Him that we have joy and gladness. If not, we are weary and faint in our minds.
Psalm 133 likens unity to a precious oil that is poured over the head of Aaron the priest. Unity is precious. We need to love and wish well for “all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). How can we exclude from our love and prayers anyone whom Christ includes in His? Oil can smooth troubled water. Oil nourishes.
I remember an African pastor presenting the picture of God holding a cup of cursing and a cup of blessing. Surely the blessing would be for the Son for whom He had eternal affection and the cup of cursing would be for His creatures who had sinned against Him. But no, the Son took the curse so that sinners would have the blessing. We need to drink from that cup over and over again, and as our Lord delights in mercy, we love to meet Him there.
The psalmist asks an important question in Psalm 116:12: “What shall I render to the Lord for all his gifts to me?” The implied answer is sweet: “I will have more of the same.” Our need for satisfaction will never be met by this world’s goods or recognition. Stephen Charnock, the Puritan, expressed it well when he said, “Nothing less than Christ can satisfy and when you find him nothing more could be desired.”
My wife and I met with a recently retired pastor who spoke of his frailty and inability to travel on holiday or to church events, but he repeated to us, with joy in his heart, the verse from John Newton:
From Pole to Pole let others roam
And search in vain for bliss
My soul is satisfied at home
The Lord my portion is.
Margaret was the quietest member of Alec Motyer’s Bible study. When asked, “How can we make an impact on the world around us?” Margaret simply said, “Peace.” Someone responded, “Tell us more.” She replied: “There are eleven flats in this block. They are all facing the difficulties, challenges, and trials of life. What my neighbors need to see is that we are facing the same issues but enjoying an unshaken peace.” Margaret’s cup was overflowing. This distinctiveness would make our testimony magnetic to a troubled society.
On the cross, Jesus Christ suffered untold agony and rejection. This was not because of anything wrong that He had done but rather out of love for His Father and for those whose sin He was bearing. Yet His cup was overflowing; He had unshaken peace. The centurion saw this and exclaimed, “Truly this was the son of God” (Matt. 27:54). May that be our profession today as we recognize the anointing of our head with oil and the overflowing of our cup.
William MacKenzie is cofounder and managing director of Christian Focus Publications in Fearn, Scotland.