The Lord Is My Shepherd – Psalm 23:1-6
“your rod and your staff, they comfort me.“
Most of the other images in this psalm make sense to us. While we might not anoint someone’s head with oil, we can understand a banquet table or dwelling in God’s house forever. We understand what it means to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or to lie down in green pastures.
But we might not find the idea of a rod and a staff to be quite so comforting. Even if we know that shepherds sometimes used these tools to defend the sheep against wild animals, we also know they could be used a tools of correction and discipline–keeping a wayward sheep in line. Certainly we know all the logical reasons why God’s correction and discipline are good for us, but it still seems counter-intuitive to suggest that God’s rod and staff provide us with comfort.
A while back all of this came together for me when I was reminded that Pharaoh was typically pictured with a rod and a staff in his hands:
Attached to the rod is a flail, and to the ancient Egyptians, these were tools of domination and oppression. For Pharaoh, the rod and the staff symbolized his power over his people… and at one time symbolized his power over the Hebrew slaves.
Obviously, I don’t know that David was thinking about Pharaoh when he wrote Psalm 23. But perhaps he was. And perhaps he thought about the differences between God and Pharaoh… and while Pharaoh used those tools to oppress and subjugate people, God used those tools to free people. Even God’s correction is done with grace and the option of restoration. And so, unlike the rod and staff of Pharaoh, we are able to find comfort in the rod and staff of the Good Shepherd.
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me,
And Thy rod and staff me comfort still.