We are continuing our study of Psalm 23. Our focus today is to complete our thought from verse 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."
As the shepherd led his sheep through these dangerous valleys, his rod and staff came into play.
The rod was a stick with a large knot on one end. Keller describes its development.
"Each shepherd . . . from the first time he starts to tend his . . . flock, takes special pride in the selection of the rod and staff exactly suited to his own size and strength" (Keller: A Shepherd Looks at the 23 Psalm).
The rod was used for three purposes: protection, correction and inspection. For protection purposes the rod was not only used as a club, but shepherds practiced throwing it and were skilled at propelling it with great speed and accuracy. The rod is the shepherd's main weapon of defense.
Not only was the rod used in protection of the sheep from predators, it was used to correct the sheep from error. If the shepherd observed one of his sheep wandering away on its own or approaching any form of possible danger (such as poisonous weeds, snakes, etc.), then the shepherd would throw his rod. The rod, landing in front of the sheep would startle it and send it scurrying back to the flock for safety.
At night, as the sheep would enter the enclosed pen, the shepherd would stand at the gate of the pen and use the rod to count and inspect his sheep. The sheep would pass under the rod which parted their thick wool so the shepherd could determine their cleanness, the condition of their skin and inspect the sheep for biting insects.
The second major tool of the shepherd - and the one which we are most familiar with - is the shepherd's staff, which was a long, slender stick with a crook or hook on one end. Often we see pictures of shepherds leaning on their staffs as they watch their flock. The staff was an instrument of intimacy, guidance and rescue.
One of the primary uses of this staff is to gently lift a newborn lamb and bring it to its mother if it becomes separated from her. The shepherd uses the staff because if he lifted the lamb with his hands, his scent might cause the mother to reject the lamb which would then die.
That staff was also used to draw sheep close to the shepherd that he might more carefully inspect it by rubbing it so that he could get a good feel for the sheep's real condition.
Second, the staff was used to guide the sheep. As the shepherd walked his sheep through these dangerous valleys, he might have to guide them through a particularly narrow passage. He would do so by reaching out and gently touching the sheep with the tip of the staff. Then, putting pressure on the side of the sheep, the sheep would turn along the right path. That staff's pressure on the sheep's side was a great comfort to these skittish animals. It assured them that the path they took was in fact the right one.
"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." With such a picture it is easy to see why the sheep found comfort in these tools of the shepherd.
Finally, the staff was used to rescue sheep. Sheep are not only skittish creatures but they are stubborn creatures as well. That stubbornness sometimes leads them into the most preposterous situations. A sheep, intent on getting to a certain blade of grass that looks particularly delicious to them might fall into a gully or into a body of water from which they cannot escape. In such circumstances the shepherd's long staff is used to extricate the erring sheep from the danger it has put itself in.
Our lord is the Good Shepherd. He too uses these instruments on us, the sheep of his pasture. Find comfort in these thoughts. He loves you enough that he longs to be near you. The Good Shepherd will protect you, correct you, inspect you, draw you close, safely guide you along the right paths and rescue you when you wander off the path. He loves you. Trust him.