“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
There are two details in this verse that immediately jump out at me. The first is the notion that rough patterns in life may come alongside me for a time, but such circumstances do not change the nature of my good Shepherd. The second is the reference made to the Lord’s rod and staff comforting me, His lamb.
Hebrew scholar Bruce Waltke points out an important reminder for this verse, the poet is writing that even if the lamb ends up in the darkness…. What is striking is that such darkness is not the full reality of the lamb when under the Shepherd’s watchful eyes. This verse is specifically addressing the protection of the Shepherd both from the evil lurking in the shadows but also from our daily inclinations to go toward those shadows. “Even if I wind up over there,” that is the way to read this. My position on earth, as unclear as it may be sometimes, is always before the Shepherd. I am in the presence of the Lord; remember that Word, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)? Evil has no say over my position before God if I am made pure through Christ’s blood. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:1, “there is now no condemnation” for those sheep who heard their Shepherd calling, “come under my staff, come under my name!” The adversary may greet us in the dark paths, but we will not fear the darkness because we are in the Shepherd’s care and He is sovereign.
Notice that this verse, in particular within the poem, is not simply recording what is to be said of the Shepherd, but is actually directed at the Shepherd. The lamb is freely and face-to-face praising the wonders of the Shepherd. We acknowledge that God is everywhere from what we read elsewhere in the Psalms (139:7-12), but this verse articulates so poetically that the Shepherd is everywhere intervening in the life of the sheep; God is everywhere on purpose, for His purpose. That is why His rod and staff are comforting to the sheep.
The term for rod in this verse is the same term used throughout the Old Testament for the special rod raised up over a certain people. For instance, the term is used of tribes in Deuteronomy 33:5. This term shows up in many instances where the rod of a household is the identifying marker for that people. I cannot help but think that the sheep are looking to the staff of the Shepherd as the sign of their identity. We are those under the name of that Shepherd. The work of Christ in the wood of the cross is a sign to us (and so much more) that we are now under His name. Is this not a consolation to us, His sheep? What is there to fear if my tribe is now made His, my name now newly assigned in Christ, my fear and punishment now taken by Him? The same power, capable of all wrath and grace, power that brought forth water from the rock when struck and power that resurrected Jesus from the grave is now a comfort and protection over the flock. Truly we are safest when we abide in Your care, Lord Jesus! Your work is done and Your name is given!
This week praise God directly, in the name of Jesus, that you are under His protection. Wrath was on Christ that His rod may be over you. Rest in the knowledge of His love toward His flock. Even though we face rough times, we are not stricken from the care of the Shepherd.
Pastor Chris Osterbrock
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
Bruce K. Waltke, The Psalms as Christian Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 441.
Allen Ross. A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41). (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 565.