Protection & Correction
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23.4)
The twenty-third Psalm is considered to be one of the most comforting passages in all of scripture. But this line, right smack in the middle, adds a little savory to the otherwise sweet refrain.
Verses two and three discuss the places where the Good Shepherd leads His little lambs: green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness. But this silly sheep has stepped somewhere solo: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. David is discussing times of departure from the destinations determined by the Shepherd- David is discussing sin.
Why doesn’t David fear death when he is not walking in paths of righteousness? The part not sung is repentance, but I would argue that it is implied (see the staff paragraph below).
David’s comfort comes from two of the Shepherds tools. The first is the “rod”. Shepherds carry rods for a very specific purpose- to defend the flock. As a Shepherd, David has killed lions and bears (1 Samuel 17.34-37), possibly with the help of just such a rod. Since 1 Peter 5.8 tells us to guard against the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, we should make the application. If we “resist him” (1 Peter 5.9) we will be successful. Not because we are strong enough, but because God has a rod! Our God is a “dread warrior”, the commander of the Hosts of Angelic armies! His protection of His children is far superior to the powers of any enemy.
But, what about that staff? The Shepherds staff is a stick with a curved end (like a blunted fishing hook). The purpose of the staff is to go around the sheep and pull them out of places that are perilous to them. So often I think of the Looney Toons episode where Daffy is snatched off the stage. That’s me. That’s what I need. When I’m out there, acting a-fool: God has to snatch me back. I sometimes wonder if He looks at me and says, “come on, dummy, you don’t belong over there”. The Word of God is this tool; powerful enough to convict, merciful enough to correct.