Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Today’s article is inspired by chapter 8 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.
Two essential pieces of equipment for the shepherd were the rod and the staff. We also know that David and many other shepherds carried a sling as well. Shepherds in the field traveled light, but the rod and the staff were always with the shepherd. And in this Psalm by David, those two pieces of wood were somehow a comfort to the sheep. But why?
Why is the sheep comforted by the rod and staff of his shepherd?
The rod was a shorter, club like device that the shepherd used for multiple purposes. Protection – A shepherd became deadly accurate in throwing this rod and used it effectively to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators. Discipline – sometimes a wayward sheep would wander away into danger and the shepherd whizzed this by the sheep to scare her back to the fold. Counting/Inspection – The Old Testament spoke of those who “passed under the rod,” and that referred to when a shepherd would have each sheep pass under his eye to inspect it and count it. He was not only making sure all sheep were present, but he was checking for any problems or diseases with His sheep.
Under the shepherd’s rod, you were his. You belonged to him. He looked over you and made sure you were healthy. Your loving shepherd uses the rod not only to keep you in line, but to keep you safe. It is no wonder that the rod is a comfort to the sheep.
A shepherd’s staff is a long, slender piece of wood, usually with a crook or hook in one end. There are many images, both today and in the Scripture of a shepherd leaning on his staff (Hebrews 11:21). Keller points out three ways he would use the shepherd’s staff. Drawing the sheep close to him – This is a picture of intimacy. The shepherd is pulling that lamb or ewe close to his side for inspection or to get a baby lamb by its mama. Guiding sheep – Not by beating it, but by pressing the staff against the side of the sheep. Rescue – Sometimes a sheep is caught and needs rescued and pulled from danger. The loving shepherd would use his staff with the crook on one end and help pull the sheep to safety.
It is no doubt why David looked at those two pieces of shepherd’s equipment as a huge comfort to the sheep. But of course, he was talking about himself as a sheep with God. God’s rod and God’s staff were a comfort to David. It is a comfort to know that God knows we are His. We are comforted by God’s inspection and discipline, even though for a season it might be uncomfortable. It is a peace of mind to us to know that our Shepherd is protecting us from predators sent by Satan himself. And I love that the Shepherd draws me close to Him with His staff, just as the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father’s side.
Intimacy. Protection. Relationship. Training. Rescue. Jesus’ rod and staff are truly comforting.