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.Psalm 23:4
This again is a very picturesque scene. The shepherd is leading the sheep back home at evening. As they go down through a narrow gorge, the long shadows lie across the trail. In the Hebrew this is a
valley of deep shadows. The sheep, because they are so timid and defenseless, are frightened by their experience. But they trust the shepherd, and therefore they are comforted. They will fear no evil because the shepherd is with them. We are reminded of the Lord's words quoted in the book of Hebrews:
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Hence we can confidently say,
The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6). I do not know what your experience has been, but whenever I'm in a situation like this, when there is a great deal of pressure, I begin to wonder if the Lord hasn't abandoned me. But He says He never leaves us, never forsakes us. He is always there. Therefore, we have no reason to fear. That is a great comfort.
And then David writes,
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The rod was a club that was used to drive off wild animals. It was never used on the sheep but was a heavy instrument used to protect the sheep from marauding predators. The staff was a slender pole with a little crook on the end that was used to aid the sheep. The crook could be hooked around the leg of a sheep to pull it from harm. Or it could be used as an instrument to direct, and occasionally to discipline, the sheep with taps on the side of the body.
Understanding how shepherds tend their sheep has helped me so much in understanding the character of God. When I go wandering away He doesn't say,
There goes that stupid sheep, and--WHAP!--down comes that big club! No, His attitude is,
How can I help My sheep? How can I move in to bring him back into line? How can I comfort him and supply what he needs? God may have to discipline, but He always does it in love. He reproves, corrects, encourages, and instructs in righteousness, dealing with us firmly and gently.
The rod and staff are also used against the two greatest enemies we have to face. The rod is for the enemy without, Satan, who is working through the world system to destroy us. Jesus said,
He is a liar and a murderer. He's out to devour us, and so the Lord uses the club on him. But I am the other enemy, the enemy within. In the immortal words,
We have met the enemy, and he is us. I know that. The shepherd's staff is used to chasten and subdue the enemy within. But the confidence He gives is that I have nothing to fear, neither from the enemy without or from the enemy within.
Lord, thank You for leading me through the dark valley, keeping me from harm as I go. Thank You even for Your reproof and correction, which is another expression of Your great love.
The Good Shepherd surrounds His sheep with His constant presence. What are two evidences of His protecting love and His firm and gentle care for the sheep?