Jesus Brings Joy

By Phillip Kayser · Psalm 23:5b · 9/15/2013


Over the past few weeks we have been looking at Psalm 23, and for communion I want us to focus on the next phrase in verse 5, "You anoint my head with oil." Let me first of all explain what it does not mean. We often think of anointing as what happened to priests and kings in the Old Testament when they got ordained to office, but that was actually a totally different Hebrew word (מָשַׁח – mashach) from which we get Messiah, the anointed one. That's not used here. Nor is this medicinal anointing, as Phillip Keller claims. In fact, of the 33 commentaries that I consulted, none agreed with his claim that this was medicinal salve to keep the insects off.[1] That in itself is a nice thought, but this actually goes farther. This is far more precious.

Virtually every commentary that I have agrees that the metaphor has changed from sheep to people seated at a banquet table. And the word for anointed is דָּשֵׁן (dashen), which refers to fatness and prosperity. It could be translated either way. You could paraphrase it as "You make my head fat [or you make my head prosperous] with scented oil." This is the oil that Psalm 45:7 speaks of as the oil of gladness. It was perfumed oil that was poured on people's heads at banquets. Just as one example, Jesus complained to Simon the Pharisee after eating at his banquet that Simon had neither washed His feet nor anointed His head with oil. That would have been customary. And Jesus washed His disciples feet and in this Psalm anoints their heads with oil.

So I just wanted you to catch that concept — that this is the anointing and the oil that was done at parties, banquets, celebrations, and times of gladness. As one commentator said, [דָשַׁן"]{dir="rtl"} here describes an act of hospitality extended to guests and carries the nuance [of] 'refresh.' In Prov. 15:30 it stands parallel to 'make happy'."[2] In Isaiah 61 the oil of joy is contrasted with mourning just as the garment of praise is contrasted with the spirit of heaviness. Well, if this is true, then there are three amazing thoughts that I would like you to take to the Lord's Table with you.

Jesus is the host of this banquet

The first is that Jesus is the host of this banquet. What an incredible honor. The Lord's Table is not about Simon the Pharisee washing Jesus feet and anointing His head. This is a Psalm about His generosity, not ours. He spreads the table before us in the presence of our enemies. He anoints our heads at this banquet. He pours in more wine than our cup can hold. He guarantees that goodness and mercy hunt us down and follow us. We will see later on that we cannot escape from goodness and mercy. He welcomes us into His house so that we may dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Here's the point - all the blessings flow from heaven to earth. Marvel that the Creator of the Universe has invited you to His Table, and is willing to anoint your head with the oil of gladness.

Jesus intends to bring us joy and blessing

And that brings up the second thing we should marvel at - that He doesn't want you to be miserable at His table. His intention is to bring us joy and blessing. And we forget that sometimes. He pours fatness, prosperity, perfumed blessing upon our heads. This is not a funeral meal. The way some people celebrate the Lord's Table you would think they were grieving at a funeral and that Jesus was still dead. They have no faith in His victory. Funerals were not the places to place the oil of gladness on people's heads. Instead this phrase indicates that the table he spreads before us in the presence of our enemies is a kingdom celebration that the days of those enemies are numbered. He died yes, but He also rose, ascended to heaven above all principalities and powers, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He is advancing His kingdom through the church, and we celebrate His kingdom victory because greater is He who is with us, than those who are with the world. And so the oil of verse 5 shows that the table of verse 5 is a table filled with joy.

John Piper's theme is a twist on the first catechism - that God is most glorified when we most enjoy Him. In the Good Shepherd passage in John 10, Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10). If you don't have that life more abundant, ask Him for it at this table. Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full."

So first of all, be humbled that He is the host. Second, be encouraged that His goal for you is joy and fatness and prospering you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Those enemies that surround you are doomed.

Jesus brings us joy by the power of the Holy Spirit

But the third amazing thought is that the Holy Spirit Himself is a part of the gift that God gives us in the covenant. He doesn't just give us protection, and joy, and things — as wonderful as those are. He gives us the Holy Spirit. Commentators agree that oil here is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. It was Jesus who poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and gave the fragrance of heaven to the church. And this Psalm says that whenever Jesus spreads His table before us in the presence of our enemies, He once again pours out the oil of the Holy Spirit upon our heads. Again, and again, He gives us the Spirit. What a marvelous gift! And what a necessary gift! It is only by the Holy Spirit that anything supernatural can be accomplished. It is only by the Holy Spirit that those demonic enemies that we looked at last week can be dealt with. The Father planned our redemption, the Son accomplished our redemption, and the Spirit applies that redemption. And so you have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit conspiring together to bless us this morning. It is no wonder that 1 Corinthians 10 calls the cup of this meal the cup of blessing which we bless. And I hope you bless it and glory in it this morning.


So as you come to the Lord's Table, come with humility before your host. Come with encouragement that He desires to bless you and to bring you joy. And come with faith in the Holy Spirit's empowering. If God is for you, who can be against you? Amen. Let's pray.

  1. Although, one informal study claimed, "He checks their heads for sunburn and treats their wounds with soothing oil." (A. Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 237-238).

  2. Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes. Biblical Studies Press.