“A rod and a staff—they feel like strange comforts. You think of a sheep in a dark valley with predators all around, and the push of a rod or a wrench of a staff are the only encouragements. They can be a comfort ultimately, but at the time they don’t feel like it.” A friend and I were discussing Psalm 23, highlighting an often overlooked part of it. How, I wondered, can we find consolation in these images of correction? (Psalm 23:4).
King David, having grown up a shepherd boy, knew well the tools of the trade. In the ancient Near East, shepherds would carry a rod—a short, heavy stick—to keep the sheep safe from predators and to discipline them when they went astray. The staff, easily recognizable with its distinctive hook, was a gentler tool. It could be used to place a newborn into its mother’s lap without transferring the shepherd’s scent onto the lamb, to lift a sheep up to higher ground, or to guide a sheep in a new direction through careful placement on the sheep’s side.
As I considered these instruments, I thought about how God might use them in my life. For instance, when I feel anxious, I might not sense His presence. Yet I may experience some sort of rescue, like the Shepherd’s crook that pulls the sheep up to high ground, reminding me that God is with me (Psalm 23:2-4). Other times when I act out in irritation or selfishness, I can sense the loving discipline of the Shepherd. This helps me to repent and be free of sin’s shame. I find myself not ostracized, but nestled among His flock.
That Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep should bring us confidence and comfort (see Psalm 23:1; John 10:1-18). He laid down His life for us, so we can trust Him when He uses His staff and rod.
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Acts 16:1-15
Read Hebrews 12:7-13 and consider what it says about God’s discipline and the harvest of righteousness it produces.
Do you sense the Lord using His rod and staff in your life? How do you react to loving correction?