Have you any ever been anywhere you realized that you might not be welcomed? Probably so. Take a moment and reflect. You likely recall those feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and rejection… Not a very pleasant experience! I remember walking unexpectedly into a meeting of some folks plotting against me… It was eerie and very uncomfortable – for everyone.
On the other hand, have you ever felt really welcomed? Immediately, you feel relaxed, comfortable, secure. You know you “belong” there. It’s like coming home. You feel welcomed.
Psalm 23 is comprised of 2 vivid word pictures describing the LORD’s grace. The first image is that of a shepherd, who protects, guides and cares for his sheep (V.1 – 4). The second is that of a gracious host, attending to the needs of his guests (V.5, 6). Verse 5 began with the declaration of a feast or meal. The thought is continued: you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Anointing in the OT was commonly understood to be the official action of God, through his priest or prophet, which signaled the particular call of God for a specific purpose in service to God. So, Kings, Prophets and Priests were anointed by pouring a sacred oil on the head.
This, however, is not what Psalm 23 has in view. Anointing was an ancient custom performed by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and other nations. Olive oil, either in its purest form or mixed with fragrant and expensive and exotic spices was used. Although often a part of a coronation celebration, anointing was also practiced as an active courtesy and hospitality extended to a special guest.
In our verse (Psalm 23. 5), David portrays himself as an honored guest of the LORD, who not only prepares a table for him but also hospitably honors him by pouring fragrant oil on his head. He pours it with such abundance that it fills and then overflows his cup.
The New Manners and Customs of the Bible, (James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick) cites a source written in the early 1800s entitled Oriental Customs. The author, Captain Williams, reports a personal experience in many ways similar to that of David: “I once had the ceremony performed on me in the house of a great and rich Indian, in the presence of a large company. The gentleman of the house poured upon my hands and arms, a delightful odiferous perfume, put a golden cup in my hands and poured wine into it until it ran over. Assuring me at the same time, that it was a great pleasure to him to receive me and that I should find a resupply of my needs in his house.”
Obviously, the extravagance of anointing demonstrates not only the generosity of the Lord but also the delight of God in providing such exuberant blessing to his guest. Thus, we are to be assured of God’s extended kindness and compassion.
Between my junior and senior years of college (seems like yesterday to me, but to others, like the middle ages). One of my friends had applied for a teaching position at the local high school. Before the interview, he came to my home with all sorts of questions about the community and school. He was apprehensive as he went but promised to report what happened. After about three hours, my friend returned. The car door flung open and out he jumped crying, “They want me! They want me!” It’s great to be wanted.
There many times throughout life when we feel unwanted. At such times, we feel alone and despondent. We may even think that God has turned his back on us. Things seem they are going from bad to worse and we lose all hope…
This would be a good time to remember the words of Jesus to his disciples. In John 14.1 – 3 Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Sounds to me like Jesus really desires to have his disciples with him. He makes a promise, “I will come again and I will take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.” Do you know what Jesus was about to do? He was about to go to the cross, where he would die. He would fulfill the prophecy made by his cousin John: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
It was necessary for Jesus to go away in order that he might accomplish what he came to do. That is, he came to provide life for everyone who believes in him. As John quotes Jesus, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Please notice that the disciples had it wrong. Jesus was not about to desert them; he was in the process of providing them with the greatest blessing imaginable. So, when we feel, abandoned and alone, it is good to remember that we have it wrong. It only seems like things are out of control. We are not alone and we are not forgotten. Jesus promised to be with us always. And better yet, he really wants us to be with him.