This line of the Psalm is possibly its most beautiful part. So far, we have considered all the ways in which a life lived in shalom requires a right understanding of who our shepherd is, a right balance of being, a right identity, right relationships, and a right attitude towards death and suffering.
But as we arrive at this line of the Psalm, our whole understanding of shalom ascends suddenly to a much higher level as we see just how much the shepherd values and honours each one of us.
What we are about to uncover is that the Lord who is my shepherd pours his gifts, love and grace on us with an extravagance that is truly breathtaking.
Glory hidden in plain sight
“What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than God
and crowned him with glory and honour.”
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image
of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called
he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
When we consider the day-to-day ordinariness of our lives it is easy to forget our true nature. In these two scriptures we are reminded that we have been made for glory. We bear the image of the living God. We are being transformed into the likeness of his son. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. This is a big deal. You are a big deal.
One of the most effective strategies our enemy has against us is to convince us we are nobodies. Sure, we’re special to somebody — everyone is, but that doesn’t make me ‘special’ special. But the scriptures tell a different story of our lives. Key to living in shalom is that we have a proper view of ourselves as we are seen by the Lord who is my shepherd. As we have stated repeatedly, shalom requires that everything is in the right place, and nothing is in the wrong place. That must include our own image.
If we tell ourselves what our true image is, it is unlikely we would speak truthfully. This is not because we would be untruthful if we were to point out our shortcomings, our weaknesses and our waywardness — we all know these things are true of us; the way we would not be speaking truthfully is that we would almost certainly fall short of describing the glory that the Lord sees in us, and often others can see in us.
Why do we struggle to see the glory within each one of us, when others can so easily? It’s as if our glory is hidden in plain sight.
The Psalm tells us that the Lord anoints my head with oil. In our culture we don’t tend to see many people anointed with oil. But David, who wrote our Psalm, was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel. Anointing with oil was a big deal in David’s day. In his mind, it meant you were to become a priest, a prophet or a king. David had been anointed to become king. The other contexts where someone might be anointed would be if they were an esteemed guest in someone’s home. To be anointed was a sign of conferring great honour on the person being anointed. For the people of God, their ultimate king was referred to as Messiah, or Christ in Greek: both mean ‘anointed one’.
Anointing required oils which were very expensive and therefore highly valued. To anoint someone with oil was to transfer this great value to that person — a gift which out-valued the monetary worth. When Jesus was anointed at Bethany by Mary, the gospel tells us that she anointed Jesus’ feet with a perfumed nard that was worth an entire year’s wages. Judas Iscariot immediately tried to put it in monetary terms by saying the nard could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But Jesus describes its true value and says, “She has done a beautiful thing for me” before adding,
“And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world,
what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
(Mark 14:9 & parallels)
Anointing with oil is a big deal and the one being anointed is also a big deal. The Psalm tells us, “You anoint my head with oil.” We are a big deal to the shepherd. We are his anointed ones. It is fitting that we are called Christians — little Christs; little anointed ones.
Sign and Sacrament
Anointing has a deeper purpose than just conveying honour and expressing value for the person being anointed. It also acts as an outward sign of an inner grace. The word we use to describe this is ‘sacrament’. When we receive the gifts of bread and wine at Communion, these too are sacraments as they are also an outward sign of an inner grace. When we receive the bread and wine, we believe by faith that we receive Jesus.
When we are anointed with oil, it aroma, its flowing texture, its warmth and its effect on our skin all create a sensation that points to an inner grace and a deeper beauty. The grace we receive releases the true image of God within us, free from the distortion of deception, and healed of the marring caused by our sin.
The Lord who is my shepherd wants us to see who we really are, just as he made us to be, therefore, “He anoints my head with oil.”
Grace upon grace
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
In John’s prologue to his gospel, he describes the word of God — the ‘logos’ — taking on human form and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we receive grace upon grace. When the Psalm says that the Lord who is my shepherd anoints my head with oil, we can hear it as another way of saying that we receive grace upon grace.
There is no greater gift the Lord can give us than his grace. Without his grace, we cannot receive his love, which is his very nature. Without his grace, we cannot love him with all of our hearts, minds and strength. We need access to his love to know who we really are and whose we really are — to know and be known — and without grace we have no way to access his love.
When I receive his grace; when the Lord anoints my head with oil, then I receive his love, and then I receive grace upon grace. As his love fills my heart it overflows. As his grace fills my life, it overflows. As the Lord anoints my head with oil, my cup overflows. The extravagant, ceaseless flow of grace upon grace leads to the extravagant flow of love to overflowing, and it is all because I am ‘special’ special. In the light of this truth, I can look upon my true image and know:
I am dearly loved.
I am intimately known.
I am valued beyond price.
I am precious.
May you live in Shalom, and may you know your true image as the Lord’s anointed ones.
May you know that you have received grace upon grace till your cup overflows.
May you know you are loved, known and valued beyond price because you are precious.