Thy Rod and Thy Staff

Psalm 23:4 (ESV)
"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."

Like many of you, I love the 23rd Psalm. It brings such assurance and comfort when reading it that there is little mystery why it is one of the most well-known of all passages of Scripture.

As I re-read this Psalm the other day,  the phrase “thy rod and thy staff” stood out to me as never before, almost as if I was hearing it for the very first time.

The Hebrew word for rod, Sebet, harkens back to a stick that would be used by a shepherd in defense of predators, for discipline, and for counting. A staff, or Misenet, was a longer tool used for rounding up sheep and guiding them, often keeping them from dangerous situations. When we look at these two instruments together, we can get a sense of how a shepherd provided for his flock and helped them stay safe in their daily journey.

It’s easy to see, then, how David sees comfort in this. We don’t know exactly when David wrote this particular Psalm, but it was likely at a period in his adult life where he could have much to reflect upon as well as a realization that life would not go on much longer.

The comfort David described is readily available for us as well in the Psalm. Yes, it is quite often used when a person is facing the end of their life to bring them comfort as well as family and friends who surround this person. But it need not be simply for those times in our lives that we can glean some relevance.

We know the Good Shepherd is with us always and as His sheep, we wander and stray and get into all kinds of trouble along the way. But He is forever faithful to bring us back into His fold. When He uses His rod of correction on us, we should always see this as correction from a loving Father who only wants what is best for us.

Therefore, we should appreciate the times of correction (Proverbs 3:11-12; 13:24; Hebrews 12:6), for if we had an earthly father who did not bother to discipline us, would we not believe he simply did not care about us? Yes, we may enjoy the temporary freedom, but as children we need the discipline to keep us from wandering too far. Such is with our Creator. Be happy that you are among the chosen of His flock that you recognize His chastisement, for many are spiritually blind to understand such discipline. Only a loving God would bother correcting you when you stray. It is in this frame of mind that David certainly understood the comfort of chastisement from his Lord.

And what of the staff? We see the rod providing us necessary correction and discipline, but what comfort do we receive from His staff?

We too can find comfort in the staff of Christ for it is in Him we have our guidance in life. When we stray, when we experience doubt, or when we need the gentle guidance of our Shepherd because we are in a precarious situation, we only need to open His Word and pray to Him to feel his staff directing our path back to the one He wishes us to be on. We can take comfort in the numerous verses of Scripture that promise His presence in our lives, in both mountain tops and in the valleys like what is described in this Psalm.

For we know God will never forsake us or abandon us; but He will allow us to stray if we so choose. We should appreciate the correction of our Father as a symbol for the immeasurable love He has for each and every one of us.

Take comfort today for being a sheep subject to the rod and staff of our Good Shepherd.