340 – Psalm 23 – Rod and Staff
I don’t know what your encounters with the word of God are like. I wonder if they are like mine. Maybe not every time, but often when I read or study a familiar passage I am surprised to notice something I’ve never noticed before. Is it like that for you? That very thing has been happening to me as I’ve studied Psalm twenty-three this time. I suppose it could be because I plan to write about it my focus is a little sharper. Even though you may have seen them right off, I want to share a couple of my new observations with you today.
But first, broken record time. Please, read all six verses of Psalm twenty-three to make sure you keep the verses we are considering today in context. Now, let’s look at verses three and four.
Psalm 23:3-4 (NKJV)
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, 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.
In these two verses, David refers to an individual using the pronouns “He” and “His”. We have only to look back to verse one to discover that individual to be YHWH. YHWH leads “me”, David, in paths of righteousness, why? For YHWH’s name’s sake. Look at the next very familiar verse that starts, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”, to make an observation I’ve always missed. Remember that verses three and four are connected. It isn’t two separate thoughts that YHWH “leads in the paths of righteousness” and “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.
Keeping the verses together in context we see David walking through the valley of the shadow of death because YHWH led him there! In David’s case, he went through the valley of the shadow of death because it was on one of the paths of Righteousness that YHWH led him in. Right here we need to be careful to not jump to conclusions. We sometimes want to read conclusions into the text that the text itself is not communicating to us. For example, I have always assumed the “valley of the shadow of death” to be referring to the end-of-life process that we will all inevitably face. That “assumption” is incorrect. How do I know? Well, because in verse five David talks about YHWH “preparing a table in the presence of his enemies”. David is talking about a potentially deadly encounter, not the natural dying process.
Also in verse four, we notice David will “fear no evil”, why? Because YHWH is with David in this path of righteousness, the very one that YHWH put him on, that has taken him so close to death’s door. Not only is David expressing complete confidence in YHWH’s ability to lead, but in His ability to preserve life.
Notice the next thing David says, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”. This is an easy phrase to read over, especially if we know nothing about the relationship between an actual shepherd and his sheep. Consider the following excerpt from reasonsforhopejesus.com.
The rod was used to fight off wild animals and to count the sheep and direct them. The rod prodded them during the day in the fields and at night into the sheepfold. A willing sheep would respond to the prodding, but a stubborn, strong-willed sheep would not.
While sheep might not be as dumb as often suggested, they do have characteristics that give some merit to that claim. They’ll indiscriminately eat just about anything, regardless whether it is something that could harm or kill them. They endlessly wander, seemingly without direction. And many sheep stubbornly resist the shepherd’s prodding. That’s why the staff, with a crook at the end, is needed. The shepherd uses the staff to more strongly exert his authority and to gently, but firmly, pull the sheep back to the fold and keep the sheep moving in the right direction. He can also use the crook of the staff to pull the sheep from harm.
David is not expressing blind faith in an unseen God. He knew YHWH through His word, he knew Him in prayer. David had walked with YHWH and had learned of His faithfulness. David’s conclusion?
Psalm 23:5-6 (NKJV)
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of [YHWH]
YHWH in His goodness provides abundantly for David both food and drink even among his enemies. “You anoint my head with oil” speaks of being both selected by YHWH and in this context, refreshed by Him.
I wonder, do you share David’s conclusion as stated in verse six? Are you confident that at YHWH’s hand “goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life”? Are you confident that you will “dwell in the house of YHWH forever”? If not, could it be that you have not made the conscious decision to place your confidence in YHWH? Is it possible you don’t allow Him to lead and direct you in the paths of righteousness?
I know, and I hope you know, that YHWH is truly worthy of all Praise, Worship, Adoration, Obedience, and Service.