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 (ESV)
Ancient shepherds were always equipped with two vital instruments when attending to the sheep in their care; one was known as a rod and the other a staff.
The rod was a short stout piece of wood with a nob on the end of it. It was fastened to a belt and was primarily used for protecting the sheep against wild beasts and thieves. The staff was a longer piece of wood with a hooked end. The shepherd would walk with the staff in his hand and use it to direct the sheep. When a sheep would wander off from the flock, the shepherd would gently hook the sheep with the staff and draw it back into the flock.
God uses the valley of the shadow of death (valley of deep darkness) as loving discipline toward his children (Hebrews 12:5-9). He is with us, actually leading us, through the valley of the shadow of death, i.e., seasons of discipline, to get us to a better place. He is leading us to a place of holiness without which we will not see him (Hebrews 12:10, 14). He is also producing in us the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). In Psalms 23:4 David paints a beautiful picture of how God comforts us when we are experiencing our valley of deep darkness.
The rod is symbolic of God’s protection. While we are going through the painful valley, though it feels like our adversary the devil might have the day, God is protecting us and is using what the enemy means for evil to actually work for our good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). God is for us (Psalm 56:9) and no weapon formed against us will prosper (Isaiah 54:17). God protects those who are his from the evil one (1 John 5:18). He even surrounds us with shouts of deliverance (Psalm 32:7).
The staff is symbolic of God’s faithfulness. During our time of darkness, God keeps the enemy from destroying our faith and making shipwreck of our soul. Paul wrote to Timothy, But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV) God is faithful to keep us blameless until the coming of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). He will keep us from wandering into perdition. God will never permit the righteous to be moved (Psalm 55:22).
Jesus told his disciples that when he ascended the Father would send them a helper (intercessor, consoler, advocate, comforter); the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). And he gave this promise to those who believe in him. He said, I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:28-30 ESV)
Do you find comfort in God’s protective power and faithfulness?
Scriptures for meditation:
Psalm 50:14-15; 91:3
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17