A FEAST OF GRACE Part 3 of 4

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me
The “rod” and “staff” are the shepherd’s equipment to protect the sheep in dangerous situations. The rod was a heavy cudgel (possibly a straight stick tipped with a heavy ball of bitumen, hard as a rock) with which the shepherd could stun or kill an attacking beast, and the staff was the shepherd’s crook which he used to assist the individual sheep. At evening he would have the sheep pass under the crook one by one so he could count them and examine them (Lev. 27:32{16]). It gave the flock peace knowing the shepherd was there and equipped for any emergency. Jesus is not a hireling that runs away at the sight of danger; He is a true Shepherd who lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11-15{17]). God’s sheep have peace with God (Rom. 5:1{18]) and may enjoy the peace of God (Phil. 4:4-7{19]) as they trust Him. Through life, as we follow the shepherd, we will have many and varied experiences, some of which will be very trying, but none of them can take the Lord by surprise. We may trust Him and have peace. The closer we are to our shepherd, the safer we are and the more of His peace will fill our hearts (Isa. 40:9-11{20]).

Now that I am getting to be an old man, I look back on my life and I realize that indeed that rod is a comfort. He used it on me many times, and I thank him for it because it got me back into the fold—we all need that.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Some students believe there is a change of metaphor here from the shepherd and his sheep to the host and his guest, but this is not necessarily the case. “Table” doesn’t necessarily refer to a piece of furniture used by humans, for the word simply means “something spread out.” Flat places in the hilly country were called “tables” and sometimes the shepherd stopped the flock at these “tables” and allowed them to eat and rest as they headed for the fold (78:19{21]).

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:”
In this verse, the scene changes to a banquet hall where a gracious host provides lavish hospitality. Under this imagery, the psalmist rejoiced in the Lord’s provision. What was comforting to David was that this was “in the presence of” his “enemies.” Despite impending danger, the Lord spread out “a table” for him, that is, God provided for him.

But as we noted in the introduction to this verse a change of scene is not necessary, since verse 5 can also be applied to the shepherd and his sheep. After each difficult day’s work, the object of the shepherd was to bring the flock safely back to the fold where the weary sheep could safely rest for the night. Sometimes at the fold, the shepherd would spread out food in a trough, because sheep lie down and rest after they have eaten. As they slept they would be protected by a stone wall that surrounded them, and the shepherd himself would sleep across the opening and be the door (John 10:7-9{22]). During the night thieves and dangerous animals might approach the fold, but there was no way they could reach the sheep. The Lord doesn’t always remove the dangers from our lives, but He does help us overcome them and not be paralyzed by fear. This is what it means to be “more than conquerors,” and have peace in the midst of danger (See Rom. 8:31-39).

“Thou anointest my head with oil;”
“Thou anointest my head with oil;”is not an image that means much to us, but in the ancient Near East, it was a means of refreshment for weary travelers.It was refreshing and soothing, and harmonizes with the concept of a gracious host welcoming someone into his home. The point to emphasize is that the Shepherd of the soul goes the “second mile” in giving all that is required for renewing power and providing comfort.

The shepherd would examine the sheep as they entered the fold to assure none of them was bruised, injured or sick from eating a poisonous plant. To the hurts, he applied a soothing “oil.” He would also apply the oil to the heads and horns of the sheep to help keep the flies and other insects away.

In the Bible, “oil” is often used to represent the Holy Spirit. Every believer is anointed with the Holy Spirit the moment he receives the Savior. This anointing guarantees him the teaching ministry of God the Spirit. So we need that anointing today. We cannot face life alone.
When we think of all the riches of grace which we have in Christ Jesus, we break forth with the grateful acknowledgment, “My cup runs over.”

His love has no limit,
His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
--Annie Johnson Flint

“My cup runneth over.”
In view of the table and the oil, David knew that his lot in life (his “cup”) was abundant blessing from the Lord. The psalmist had had enemies, but their plans against him have been frustrated, because the Lord, in effect, has said, “This man is My friend.”

He observed every sheep as they entered the fold, and for those sheep who were thirsty, the shepherd had a large two-handled cup filled with water. The sheep knew they were safe and they could sleep without fear.

“My cup runneth over” is symbolic of joy. We need to be undergirded with Joy today. The Lord says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Lord wants our joy to be full. It reminds me of the little girl who said, “Lord, fill up my cup. I can’t hold very much, but I can run over a whole lot.” Oh, how this world needs Christians who are running over!

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

David realized that the Lord’s good loyal love would go with him everywhere through “all” his “life.” God’s blessings on his people remain with them no matter what their circumstances may be (for God’s “goodness”—27:13; 31:19; 69:16; 86:17; 109:21; 116:12; 142:7; 145:7). Our Shepherd brings us all the way from the green pastures and the still waters to the Father’s house. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”In John 14:2-3 the Lord says to us, “. . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” You know we are not pedigreed sheep, and sheep are not worth much anyway, but we do have a wonderful Shepherd. Can you say at this moment, “The Lord is my shepherd?” If you can, all the wonderful promises of this psalm are yours. If He is the Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep and He is your Savior, this psalm is for you.

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
“The house of the Lord” referred to the sanctuary (tabernacle). For the rest of his life (lit., “length of days”) he would enjoy full communion with the Lord. In fact, the Hebrew verb translated “I will dwell” conveys the idea of returning; the same verb is translated “He restores” in verse 3. Perhaps the psalmist was in some way separated from the sanctuary and full enjoyment of its spiritual benefits. His meditation on the Lord’s leading and provisions prompted him to recall his communion with the Lord in His presence, in the sanctuary. David knew what it was to be present continually in the sanctuary in Jerusalem (the temple had not yet been built), as did another psalmist (Ps. 63). Because of this he here refers to the “heavenly sanctuary,” the place of God in eternity, even as Jesus spoke of God’s “many mansions” (John 14:1-6).

“Forever,” suggests permanency (as long as I live—in this life and the next); that one was accepted as a member of the household of the divine host—a guest adopted into the family. His greatest delight will be to continue as a guest in the house of his divine host.

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