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Last Updated on :
Friday, August 15, 2014

 

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psalm 23 part:   || 1 || 2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6 || 7 || 8 || 9 || 10 ||

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Excerpts from:
A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23
By Phillip Keller

Part 9

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"THOU ANOINTEST MY HEAD WITH OIL"

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As one meditates on this magnificent poem it is helpful to keep in mind that the poet is recounting the salient events of the full year in a sheep's life. He takes us with him from the home ranch where every need is so carefully supplied by the owner, out into the green pastures, along the still waters, up through the mountain valleys to the high tablelands of summer.

Here, now, where it would appear the sheep are in a sublime setting on the high meadows; where there are clear running springs; where the forage is fresh and tender; where there is the intimate close contact with the shepherd; suddenly we find "a fly in the ointment," so to speak.

For in the terminology of the sheepman, "summer time is fly time." By this, reference is made to the hordes of insects that emerge with the advent of warm weather. Only those people who have kept livestock or studied wildlife habits are aware of the serious problems for animals presented by insects in the summer.

Sheep are especially troubled by the nose fly, or nasal fly, as it is sometimes called. These little flies buzz about the sheep's head, attempting to deposit their eggs on the damp, mucous membranes of the sheep's nose. If they are successful, the eggs will hatch in a few days to form small, slender, worm-like larvae. They work their way up the nasal passages into the sheep's head; they burrow into the flesh and there set up an intense irritation accompanied by severe inflammation.

For relief from this agonizing annoyance, sheep will deliberately beat their heads against trees, rocks, posts, or brush. They will rub them in the soil and thrash around against woody growth. In extreme cases of intense infestation, a sheep may even kill itself.

Often advanced stages of infection from these flies will lead to blindness.

Because of all this, when the nose flies hover around the flock, some of the sheep become frantic with fear and panic in their attempt to escape their tormentors.

They will stamp their feet erratically and race from place to place in the pasture trying desperately to elude the flies. Some may run so much they will drop from sheer exhaustion. Others may toss their heads up and down for hours.

All this excitement and distraction has a devastating effect on the entire flock. Only the strictest attention to the behavior of the sheep by the shepherd can forestall the difficulties of "fly time." At the very first sign of flies among the flock, he will apply an antidote to their heads. I always preferred to use a homemade remedy composed of linseed oil, sulphur and tar which was smeared over the sheep's nose and head as a protection against nose flies.

What an incredible transformation this would make. Once the oil had been applied to the sheep's head, there was an immediate change in behavior. The sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment.

But summertime for the sheep is more than just fly-time. It is also "scab-time." Scab is an irritating and highly contagious disease common among sheep the world over. Caused by a minute, microscopic parasite that proliferates in warm weather, "scab" spreads throughout a flock by direct contact between infected and non-infected animals.

Sheep love to rub heads in an affectionate and friendly manner. Scab is often found most commonly around the head. When two sheep rub together, the infection spreads readily from one to the other.

In the Old Testament when it was declared that the sacrificial lambs should be without blemish, the thought uppermost in the writer's mind was that the animal should be free of scab.

Again, as with flies, the only effective antidote is to apply linseed oil, sulphur and other chemicals that can control this disease. In many sheep-rearing countries dips are built and the entire flock is put through the dip. Each animal is completely submerged in the solution until its entire body is soaked. The most difficult part to do is the head. The head has to be plunged under repeatedly to insure that scab there will be controlled. Some sheepmen take great care to treat the head by hand.

So I know precisely what David meant when he wrote, "Thou anointest my head with oil." Again, it was the only antidote for scab ... in Palestine the old remedy for this disease was olive oil mixed with sulphur and spices.

Now as summer, in the high country, moves gradually into autumn, subtle changes occur both in the countryside and in the sheep. In the flock there are subtle changes. This is the season of the rut, or mating, of great battles between the rams for possession of the ewes. The necks of the monarchs swell and grow strong. They strut proudly across the pastures and fight furiously for the favors of the ewes. The crash of heads and thud of colliding bodies can be heard through the hours of day and night.

The shepherd knows all about this. He knows that some of the sheep will and can actually kill, injure and maim each other in these deadly combats. So he decides on a very simple remedy. At this season of the year he will catch his rams and smear their heads with grease. I used to apply generous quantities of axle grease to the head and nose of each ram. Then when they collide in their great crashing battles the lubricant would make them glance off each other in such a ludicrous way they stood there feeling rather stupid and frustrated. In this way, much of the heat and tension was dissipated and little damage done.

Summer moves into autumn. Storms of sleet and hail and early snow begin to sweep over the high country. Soon the flocks will be driven from the alplands and tablelands. They will turn again toward the home ranch for the long, quiet winter season.

The sheep have respite now from flies, insects and scab. No other season finds them so fit and well and strong. No wonder David wrote, "My cup runneth over."

But at the same time, unexpected blizzards can blow up or sleet storms suddenly shroud the hills. The flock and their owner can pass through appalling suffering together.

It is here that I grasp another aspect ... the meaning of a cup that overflows. In tending my sheep, I carried a bottle in my pocket containing a mixture of brandy and water. Whenever a ewe or lamb was chilled from undue exposure to wet, cold weather, I would pour a few spoonfuls down its throat. In a matter of minutes the chilled creature would be on its feet and full of renewed energy. It was especially cute the way the lambs would wiggle their tails with joyous excitement as the warmth from the brandy spread through their bodies.

The important thing was for me to be there on time, to find the frozen, chilled sheep before it was too late. I had to be in the storm with them, alert to every one that was in distress.

My Shepherd is alert to every approaching disaster that threatens His people. He has been through the storms of suffering before. He bore our sorrows and was acquainted with our grief.

And now no matter what storms I face, His very life and strength and vitality is poured into mine. It overflows so the cup of my life runs over with His life.

SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME

 


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