“. . . You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)
Sheep can be so irritated by buzzing flies that they beat their heads against trees or rocks trying to find relief. When alert shepherds see this happening, they bathe the sheep’s head with olive oil. The results are dramatic as the sheep becomes instantly calm.
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:15–16)
Because of God’s almighty power, He can thwart the flies before they even get to the sheep. Before Pharaoh finally decided to let God’s people leave their bondage in Egypt, God sent several plagues to convince him he should do it. One of those plagues was swarms of flies. The Lord said, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth. Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.” (Exodus 8:20–24) The flies came, but they did not bother the people of God, only the Egyptians.
The psalmist may have thought of this when he wrote about God’s help against his enemies. He said, “They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!” (Psalm 118:12)
An endless bombardment of difficulties can make me feel like I’m in a swarm of annoying flies. We all know what it feels like to want to beat our heads against the wall in frustration. Yet our Shepherd is watching over us. He wants to bathe us in the soothing oil of the Holy Spirit.
One example is the man with an unclean spirit who lived in the tombs of Gerasenes. He was so wild that he could not be restrained and in his torment, he cut himself with stones. When Jesus came to him and demanded that the unclean spirit leave him, he cried, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”
In this encounter, it became clear that the man was not being bothered by one unclean spirit but an entire legion of them. Jesus sent them into a herd of pigs which they then destroyed, but as for the man, he was transformed. As people came to see what had happened, they found him “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.” He wanted to stay with Jesus, but the Lord told him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
He did what he was told and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:1–20)
God can remove the flies, or He can nullify their power to pester. He can bring peace to a tormented soul in the midst of the torment, or He can remove the torment. Either way, the Good Shepherd knows how to calm a troubled sheep and bring peace to a tortured soul.