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March 4 – Snakes and Shepherds

Psalm 23

I discovered a large black snake in our dog pen and reluctantly killed it. Several days later, I was called home by my wife to kill another black snake, this time inside our basement. The next day, while cleaning the basement another snake came slithering down the wall. That afternoon I saw yet another snake crawling down from the ceiling of the same room. I grabbed my shovel, but this time I missed, and the snake escaped back into the ceiling. 

I didn’t know whether to call an exterminator or put up a “For Sale” sign. That night we slept with the lights on imagining snakes everywhere. We called in a wildlife expert and with his help sealed several entrances and never saw snakes again. But the next few weeks were filled with tension. We were getting little sleep. We were impatient and moody, all because of a few snakes.

We all face snake-like obstacles. The phone call from the doctor’s office asking to see you. A distracted driver runs through a stop sign in front of you. The unplanned bill in the mail. The boss who chastises you. The friend who won’t speak to you and out comes slithering snakes of unplanned difficulties.

Do you remember this portion of Psalm 23? “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil.” The passage seems to be talking about food but that doesn’t make much sense in a Psalm about sheep and shepherds. Then I discovered David could actually be writing about snakes. Did you say snakes? Yes, snakes!

In mountainous regions, a “table” describes a flat section of land within slopes. Before entering a new “table,” a shepherd inspects the ground for holes which are potential hiding places for poisonous brown snakes. Then the shepherd “prepares the table” by pouring thick oil in each hole. Next, he “anoints” the sheep’s nose and mouth with the same oil making the surface too slippery to bite. 

Good shepherds who lovingly care for their sheep do that! In the midst of snakes, God, our loving shepherd, inspects “tables” before us, providing safety but when an occasional snake does appear we are anointed with God’s oil of comfort and grace protecting us from the poisonous bite.

Are there snakes slithering down the walls of your life? Have they soured your disposition and challenged your faith? Read Psalm 23 again. Read the words slowly and think about what it means for you to personally receive the Good Shepherd’s anointing oil of protection. “Wow! I feel safer already. Do you?

Prayer Challenge: How does God provide comfort when facing life’s snakes?