“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me…”
That sounds so nice, so comforting.
First and foremost, the shepherd’s rod and staff were used to protect the shepherd and the sheep from predators.
Sometimes in the Bible, rod and staff are interchangeable for the same Hebrew word – shebet, pronounced shevet. The most common use for the rod and staff for the shepherd was as a walking stick. However, when the shepherd or his sheep were in danger from predators, it was used by shepherds as a weapon against predators
The Jews had another word – mishenah – that specifically meant staff. This refers to the shepherd’s staff that has a crook at one end, looking like a candy cane. The end with the crook was used by shepherds to draw to the herd sheep that were wandering off. And, of course, the staff was used as a weapon to ward off predators.
Our passage uses both these terms. Therefore, “Your rod and staff…”
The shepherd’s rod and staff are comforting to the sheep because the shepherd used them to protect the sheep from predators, and from wandering off and getting lost. That’s the most obvious understanding of the rod and staff being a source of comfort.
But, there’s another way the shepherd used the rod and staff that may be surprising. We already discussed previously that the sheep are by nature followers. When a particular sheep wanders from the flock, other sheep follow the wanderer. When the shepherd had a sheep that was a constant wanderer, that wandering sheep threatened the entire flock because other sheep would follow the wanderer. In such extreme cases, the shepherd would use his rod and staff to break the leg of the wandering sheep.
Ouch! How is that comforting?
That doesn’t sound at all comforting. But, you’d be wrong. A lost sheep would die from starvation, thirst, or from predators. A lost sheep on its own was as good as dead. The well-being of any sheep is completely dependent upon its shepherd. It was essential to the well-being of the sheep that it stayed in the herd. The act of breaking the leg of a wanderer is an act of mercy for the wandering sheep, and for the herd.
The shepherd loves his sheep so much that he will go to the extremes to protect the wellness of his sheep and his herd. He is, after all, the good shepherd.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Our shepherd’s rod and staff are a source of comfort because he will protect us from predators, from getting lost, AND loves us enough to discipline us to ensure we stay in his fold.
Thank you, LORD, our Good Shepherd.