“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4b
It’s interesting that as David thought of his God as a shepherd that he included the shepherd’s staff in his Psalm. Why include the long shaft of rugged old wood carried and used by a common shepherd and place it in the hands of the LORD and then, to say in effect ‘thank you’ for it ‘comforts’ him? What was his purpose here? Did he just remember his days of shepherding and thought of the staff that he once carried? Maybe, he had a lesson for us today.
What was the purpose of this staff?
1. The shepherd used his staff to point the way.
First, its use was to point the way. The good shepherd took his sheep to green pastures and to quiet waters where they grazed, gained strength, and rested. He knew where he was going and where the sheep needed to be. The sheep, in their own way, trusted the shepherd’s judgement in direction. They knew that he meant them no harm.
2. The shepherd used his staff to protect his flock.
Second, the staff’s use was to protect the sheep from danger. There were many beasts seeking to devour the sheep of the fields. It was up to the shepherd to anticipate and defend the vulnerable sheep. The staff itself had to be strong as life itself may depend upon its force. The shepherd’s staff kept the danger at a distance.
3. The shepherd used his staffs to prod his sheep.
The third and final use was sometimes to prod the sheep. What does it mean to prod? Another word might be to goad the sheep. Occasionally, sheep might need a little push in a direction other than the one in which it was headed. So, the shepherd, knowing what was best for the sheep, would nudge the sheep with his staff in the better direction. The more stubborn sheep may have needed more than a little push for its own good.
What lessons can we learn from this shepherd’s staff so important to David’s life?
First, God our Shepherd, points the way for us, His own sheep, with His Word. How grateful we should be that God has provided direction for us in the Bible. Second, by trusting and obeying His Word, we find protection from our own sinful or corrupted perspectives that lead us into regretful situations. Third, and the one that I want to explore a little further, God can and does have to prod or goad us on occasion. Whether through sermon or circumstance God does chastise those He loves. We can push back against the leading of the Holy Spirit but this only intensifies or increases our troubles. Jesus told Saul on the road to Damascus, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14b) Saul had been sincerely wrong in his persecution of the early church and Jesus cornered him for his actions. Saul, now Paul would push back no longer. Jesus so changed Saul’s perspective that not only did He change his name to Paul, He changed Paul’s very mission in life. Paul would no longer persecute the church, he would advance it
Has the Good Shepherd been pointing you in a different direction? Has he through his Word protected you from making a poor choice? Has he been after you to change a direction? David was right to be thankful for the comfort of the rod and staff of his Good Shepherd.
Dr. Motes is Associate Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University and has brought over 20 years experience in Church related ministry from service in Churches in Virginia, North and South Carolina. He has worked in Associational Missions, has taught and continues to teach a variety of subjects in church settings, and is published in Sunday School Leadership magazine. As an “Army brat” his upbringing has enriched his multi-cultural perspective for ministry.