Perhaps the 23rd Psalm is the most universally beloved passage in all the Bible.  And well it should be loved.  However, it should also be understood.  Why does the Lord anoint His sheep’s heads with oil?  This practice is not something familiar to most of us today, though it would have been in ancient times. 

In the warmer days of summer, there are pesky little flies that like to torment sheep by laying eggs in their nostrils which turn into worms and drive the sheep to beat their head against a rock, sometimes to death. Their ears and eyes are also vulnerable to distressing insects. So, the shepherd anoints their whole head with oil. Then there is peace. The oil forms a barrier of protection against the evil that tries to destroy the sheep.

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.

In the Old Testament when it was declared that the sacrificial lambs should be without blemish (Ex. 12:5; Lev. 22:20-25; Deut. 15:21, etc.), a primary concern was that the animal should be free of scab.

“As with flies, the only effective antidote is to apply linseed oil, sulphur and other chemicals that can control this disease. 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 ensure that scab there will be controlled. Some shepherds take great care to treat the head by hand.  So, I know precisely what David meant when he wrote, ‘You anoint 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.  (from A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller)

Nearly two hundred references speak of oil to heal, oil to light lamps, oil to soothe dry skin, oil to honor guests, oil to mark a sacred place, oil to solemnize a commitment, oil to entice, oil to comfort, oil to consecrate, oil to anoint priests, prophets, and kings, oil to prepare a body for burial.  The Biblical use of oil is more than just a passing illustration.

Do you have times of mental torment? Do the worrisome thoughts invade your mind over and over? Do you beat your head against a wall trying to stop them? Have you ever asked God to anoint your head with oil? He has an endless supply! His oil protects and makes it possible for you to fix your heart, mind, and eyes on Him today and always!