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“A Rod and a Staff: How the Good Shepherd Comforts and Gives Confidence to Weary Sheep," Part Two

“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

In part one of our blog, we looked at the power and beauty of the “Shepherd’s Rod” to protect sheep from injury, wandering, and predators and how the image deeply parallels our journey with Jesus. Today, we examine the comfort of “the Shepherd’s Staff.” I am indebted to the scholarship of Phillip Keller in his magnificent book, “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm” for the following insights. Let’s go!

The Shepherd’s Staff:

The “staff” in Psalm 23:4 refers to a walking stick or shepherd’s cane, much like the ones you’ve seen depicted in every Nativity Set or children’s Christmas Production. It was a tall and slender branch perfectly smoothed with a hook or crook at the end, designed specifically with sheep in mind.

While the “rod” was a statement of bold authority to rescue the sheep from any threat, the “staff” embodied gentle care to show the sheep their shepherd’s compassion. The word translated “staff” actually means “support of every kind.” There were 4 incredible ways the staff supported the sheep.

4 Ways the Shepherd’s Staff Comforts His Sheep:

  1. The Staff brings sheep into intimate relationship with one another.

When newborn lambs were born, it was easy for them to get separated from their mothers. Knowing that the mother would need to detect the scent of herself on her offspring to not reject it as foreign, the shepherd would use the staff to gently restore the newborn back to the flock, so they would get the nurture and nutrition they required to grow up.

In the same way, God calls us sheep (Is. 53:6, Matt. 9:36, Jn. 10:11, etc.), and states, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). As His sheep, He calls us to belong to the flock (1 Pet. 5), and though we might wish to resist it, there are crucial parts of our spiritual nurture and nutrition required for our growing up that we will only get from being intimately connected to the flock.

Sometimes due to circumstance, schedule, offense, or just the weariness in putting ourselves out there, we get separated from the flock and find ourselves isolated. Sometimes it happens emotionally even when we’re physically surrounded by people we call our spiritual family. What could happen if we would refuse the lone ranger mentality of ‘just me and Jesus,’ responding to the Shepherd’s nudge to bring us back in the center of the family? We’d find the comfort of “belonging.”

Ask God: Am I truly connected in a spiritual family where I feel seen and celebrated, and where I am delighting in seeing and celebrating others? Am I making community the priority it needs to be?

2. The Staff draws timid sheep, young and old, near to trust the shepherd.

Regardless of how present and compassionate a shepherd was, there were still sheep who liked to gravitate toward the fringes, avoiding the vulnerability of getting too close. Sometimes, these sheep were simply young and hadn’t yet experienced the personal encounter of the shepherd’s delight and care. Other times, they had once walked closely to the shepherd, but due to wounds or injury, now preferred to hold their head down and keep a low profile. With both, the shepherd used his staff to slowly and gently draw them into his embrace, close enough to hear his heartbeat. Shepherds pursued every sheep in their flock, doing everything possible for all to trust and know they were seen and wanted.

In the same way, many of us try to hide in the crowd, simply getting by or blending in. Some have not yet tasted the sweetness of the Savior’s love. Others once knew intimacy with God and others, but something happened and now they hesitate to lift their head. If either is you, please know that your Shepherd sees you, and He’s approaching slowly and gently to draw you near to His heart. In time, you will come to see that He’s good and that you can trust Him. In His presence, you will find your eyes lifting from the dirt to meet the piercing adoration of His gaze. He pursues every sheep and longs for all to know they are wanted by Him. What could happen if we would drop our guards and let God come closer? We would know the comfort of being “beloved.”

Ask God: Do I trust that God sees me — really sees me — and delights in me as His ‘favorite’ child? (That’s what ‘beloved’ means). Invite Him to reveal His love on a deeper level today.

3. The Staff gently guides sheep on dangerous paths and through the right gates.

Shepherds and sheep do lots of walking. Sometimes, the path to lush pastures meant traveling a steep, narrow, or muddy path. In moments of new trails, unfamiliar territory, and dangerous paths, the shepherd would lead the sheep with his staff. When he found a sheep struggling to make it through, the shepherd would turn his staff sideways, placing the tip of his spear gently against their side. In this position, sheep were known to find great comfort, walking long periods, as if they and the shepherd were ‘hand-in-hand.’

You see where this is going. Often, our journey with God meets steep paths, uncertain terrain, and no shortage of trepidation of how to navigate the course before us. But we aren’t walking alone. Our God could never leave or forsake us. Even now, as you think about the uncertainties of your present season, would you hear the words the Lord spoke to Joshua over your soul:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

What could happen if we would not shrink back in fear or despair in the things that feel too big for us, but draw near to the Shepherd, letting His staff guide us to safety? We’d experience the comfort called “bravery.”

Ask God: Where am I navigating difficult roads, uncertain of where to go or how to walk? Even now, choose the bravery to keep going as you see God taking your hand and walking with you all the way to your destination.

4. The Staff rescues sheep who have fallen off the path or into waters too deep for them.

There is one final use for the shepherd’s staff, and it is the greatest reason for the staff’s design. Sheep are defenseless and awkward animals who often get themselves caught in precarious positions. Their thick fur easily gets tangled in thorns, brambles, and bushes. They lose their balance and fall off the course into rocks or down into a stream or river. Sometimes this happens innocently. Other times, it is by their foolishness of trying to consume one more patch of grass in an area the shepherd marked out of bounds. Regardless of the reason, the ever-present shepherd stood continually ready with his staff to rescue them. Gently placing the staff to support their neck, the shepherd could leverage and help the sheep reach safety. He did this every time, because they are his sheep. So it is with us:

“Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3

We stumble and we fall; sometimes, simply because we are human. Other times, it’s because we wandered off course. Whatever the cause, our shepherd waits with staff in hand if we’d only humble ourselves and receive His help to bring us back safely with the flock. What could happen if we’d get honest about the pits we fall into in our attitudes and our actions that we can’t seem to shake, letting Him bring us back to dry ground? We’d know the comfort called, “breakthrough.”

Ask God: Where am I stuck? Is there any place I need to repent or lesson to be learned? Thank God for His Shepherd’s staff and ask for His mercy to restore you back on solid ground.

The Lord is our Shepherd and He will never forsake us. His staff surrounds us with the never-ending comforts of belonging, being His beloved, growing in bravery, and experiencing breakthrough. Where do you need to draw near to the Shepherd today?

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