A friend of mine asked me about one of my favorite Psalms recently, Psalm 23. She asked why would a rod and staff comfort? Don’t they represent rules and discipline? It started a study on shepherding that so blessed me I wanted to share it with you. David was a shepherd so he would have fully understood the significance of these two tools as he spoke this Psalm. These two tools were pretty much all shepherds took out with them to protect and care for their flock.
Let’s look first at the verse: Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil (distress, injury, calamity), for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
After researching I discovered that the rod in biblical times was generally a 2 to 4 foot club that was used to defend the flock from predators and thieves. It was worn in the belt of the shepherd and could resemble a walking stick but was actually a pretty powerful weapon to provide safety for the flock.
The staff was used to hold the sheep during shearing and for gentle correction and re-direction. The hook at the top was fit around the neck or head of the sheep to lovingly re-route them. At the bottom end of the staff was a spoon-shaped “shovel.” It was used if the sheep started to wander away from the safety of the herd. The shepherd would scoop up a little bit of mud or dirt and flick it at the sheep that had left the safety of the flock. It would catch its attention to draw him back to the flock.
In numbers 17:1-6 it also represents the head of a household and the leader or family representative.
Shepherds needed and wanted to provide good pasture for their flock so that they could grow and thrive. Something interesting I discovered is when a sheep gets lost it will lie down helplessly and refuse to budge, it will go nowhere. It needs the shepherd to come and find him, it is too stubborn and lost to be able to act on it’s own account or to even realize how much trouble and danger it is in.
At the end of each day the sheep pass through the shepherds legs so that he can run his hands over them and check them for ticks, wounds or any other harmful conditions. The Lord is our good shepherd. We are his main concern, care and our safety and protection is in his hands alone.
The word comfort in Psalms 23:4 means comfort self, ease one’s self, repent.
Repent means to change our thinking, a change of mind. His discipline (teaching) of us and care and protection of us brings us to a change of mind that brings us back to the truth of who we are in him and who he is to us. His protection and care for us eases our fears, allows us to rest in his protection and aligns our thinking with his about who we are and who he is. What joy is found in the arms of our loving shepherd who cares for us and saves us and protects us all the days of our life.