by Rich Freeman, D. Min.
In our last study, we saw that even through the darkest of times we should not be afraid. Why? Because Immanuel, God is with us: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4a). The Bible admonishes us not to be afraid more than 300 times, and it is often accompanied by the reminder that God is with us. As long as the sheep keep their eyes on the shepherd, they should not be afraid—no matter how dangerous the situation might be.
PSALM 23:4 (NASB)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Now we move to the next thought in verse 4, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” The shepherd’s tools of the trade, his rod and staff, give comfort to the sheep. The rod is a piece of wood that fits in the palm of the shepherd’s hand and extends out about two feet. It somewhat resembles a small baseball bat. It is the shepherd’s main line of defense for both himself and for his sheep. It stands as a symbol of the shepherd’s strength, power, and authority in any situation.
The Good Shepherd’s Rod
The Bible speaks of the fact that God will cause His sheep to pass under the rod. In David’s time, the sheep passed one at a time under the shepherd’s rod upon entering or leaving the fold so that they could be counted. In the evening, the shepherd would bring his sheep from the pastures into the sheepfold where the sheep could rest. The shepherd would lead his flock to the door of the corral, and then, one by one, name by name, he would tap each one of them with his rod and count them off as they entered the enclosure. If there was one sheep missing, the shepherd would become aware of it so that he might go out in search of the wayward sheep immediately.
In the morning, the shepherd would come down to the sheepfold, and the keeper of the pen would open the door for him. The shepherd would then call his sheep by name and tap each one with his rod as they came out to make certain that all of them left the fold. By taking an accurate count every evening and morning, the shepherd could determine when a sheep was missing. Verse 4 should then remind us that if we go astray, our Good Shepherd in heaven will soon be seeking after us. The Good Shepherd takes an individual interest in each of His sheep, and He knows and calls them by name.
The rod was also used by the shepherd for examining the sheep for pests and diseases. He would painstakingly use the rod to look under the heavy coat of wool to see if something was lurking under the surface that might give the sheep a problem.
The Good Shepherd takes an individual interest in each of His sheep, and He knows and calls them by name.
The Good Shepherd’s Staff
Now, the shepherd’s staff, on the other hand, is uniquely used for the sheep alone. The staff looks like a huge question mark and stands as high as the shepherd himself. While the rod conveys a sense of authority, power, discipline, and defense, the staff speaks of patience and kindness. In sheep management, the staff is used in three ways:
- It draws sheep together into an intimate relationship with one another as well as with the shepherd.
- It catches straying sheep by the crook at the end that pulls them back as they wander away.
- With gentle prodding, it guides the sheep onto a new path or safely along dangerous and difficult routes.
While the sheep feel free from fear when the shepherd is with them, the rod and the staff are what keep the sheep in the shepherd’s comforting presence. In this difficult and fearful time, I pray you would not only keep your eyes on our Good Shepherd and feel the comfort of His nearness, but also remember that He keeps you in His presence!