Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rod of Comfort

Rod of Comfort
April 25, 2016
Psalm 23:4  "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil; your rod and your staff they comfort me."

I've always been confused about the verse suggesting a rod and staff are comforting.  When I think of comfort I think of a soft bed, maybe a warm fire, possibly even the embrace of a mother, but never a wooden stick or two.  The psalmist clearly writes that a shepherd's rod and staff are comforting, specifically that they bring him comfort.  In trying to understand this verse it is important to understand what the difference was and is between a rod and a staff, and then how on earth they could bring comfort to the psalmist.  A shepherd's rod and a shepherd's staff are two different things, but equally important tools.  The Lord, as likened to our shepherd, utilizes both tools when dealing with us.

The shepherd's staff is easy to understand.  Think candy cane.  It was usually longer in length, similar in size to the specific shepherd.  The bigger the shepherd, the larger the staff.  It was used to guide the sheep, not drive the sheep.  It was meant to be a gentle tool first and then a weapon.  The hook of the staff could be used to pull a sheep out of a dangerous situation, either from terrain it could not cross, a thicket of thorns, or an impending predator.  The hook could also be used to draw the sheep close to the shepherd or draw a newborn sheep to it's mother's milk.  The length of the staff was used as a weapon, like a sword or club, to fight off even a lion.

The rod on the other hand was no where near the length of the staff.  It was possibly half the length and even half the diameter.  The rod was used just as you might think a rod would be used, to smack it against the animal to get its attention.  This could be to drive the animal quickly, turn one from being stubborn, or keep it from bullying other sheep.  The rod was meant to slice through the air quickly, in a stinging fashion against the target's body, discipline, if you will.  There was another purpose of the rod, too.  A sheep's coat of wool could get thick, a thin rod could slice through the sheep's wool to inspect the animal for disease or defects at the level of the skin.  In fact this was written about in Ezekiel, as the Lord uses the rod to inspect us for blemish.  When He finds a suitable sheep, He brings them into His flock with His rod.  He inspects the animal with His rod, then brings it into His flock, then again will use the rod to keep it in line and to constantly inspect its health.  Depending on the shepherd and the specific animal he was herding, these two tools might be different in size and shape, or any combination of the above.  Regardless, he was sure to have the exact right tools for himself and the animal in his care.

The Lord is a shepherd who utilizes His tools well.  He is a big God with a long staff of help the size of Himself.  Nowhere will you ever extend beyond His reach to pull you from danger.  He will guide you gently when the need arises and fight off any enemy that might come against you.  He will also be sure to use the rod when necessary.  He will sting your flesh to get your attention if He needs you to move quickly or turn your stubborn ways.  He will inspect you for blemish, too, being sure to take care of your disease or wound.  While most of the interaction with the shepherd was meant to be pleasant for the sheep, there were many instances when the situation was not comfortable.  But this is actually why the psalmist said the shepherd's tools brought him comfort (remember the psalmist suggested he was in a dark valley).  The psalmist knew the Lord was an overseer who took notice of each situation, knowing what was needed for the health and safety of the sheep regardless of the surroundings.  This is what brought comfort to the psalmist, knowing the Lord would do anything and everything to keep the sheep safely within His flock, even if it brought him discomfort.  And the psalmist submitted to this.  He welcomed the Lord's leading, protection, and discipleship.  The Lord is intent on keeping all His sheep safely within the flock and the psalmist was glad for it, even if it meant stinging flesh to keep him in line.  Maybe the psalmist was in a dark valley by choice and needed discipline or Maybe the psalmist was in a dark valley of danger and needed protection.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Lev 27:32, 2 Sam 7:14, Ps 89:32, Ezekiel 20:37, 1 Cor 4:21

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