Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me...
Psalm 23 - Written February 6, 2010 By Joe Cunningham
None of us are immune to temptation.  We all struggle with it, and occasionally, we give in.  We go down the wrong path.  We say that we made
a mistake, but it was no mistake at all.  We knew what we were doing.  We chose this path.  We sinned against God, we sinned against
ourselves, and sometimes we sinned against someone else.  But, the fact is that we sinned, and now we face the consequences.  

Sin is nothing more than rebellion.  It is our way of saying, “I know what is right, but I’m choosing to do wrong, and this is my reason why.”

Psalm 23 is a psalm of King David.  As we read through the psalms that David wrote, we catch a glimpse of David’s walk with the Lord.  David
was no different than we are today.  He was a shepherd boy.  His family wasn’t particularly wealthy.  He struggled with the influence and
temptations of this world, just as we do.  He did his best to live in a way that was pleasing to the Lord, but it was not easy.  He gave into
temptation more times than he would wish to remember.  

David’s life was a story of peaks and valleys.  He experienced the highest highs, and the lowest lows.  He was the shepherd boy who became
King of Israel.  And, not just one of the kings – the greatest of all the kings…aside from Jesus Christ Himself.

I imagine that David wrote psalm 23 later in his life.  Looking back at his life, he could see God guiding him, providing for him, protecting him,
and comforting him.  He saw God as a good shepherd.  

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he renews my soul.  He
guides me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  (Psalm 23: 1-3)

Most people think of sheep as frightened, passive animals, which lack the intelligence and common sense to care for themselves.  But, that’s
not true at all.  Sheep are very intelligent, confident animals that have a propensity to rebel.  Sheep are much more like humans than we care to
acknowledge.  And like rebellious sheep, most of us need to follow the example of a good leader that will lead us to the right places and in the
right ways.  

Psalm 23 is about the qualities of a good disciple.  It is about trusting in God, and allowing Him to lead us down the path that He knows is right
for us.  

“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)

Sheep have no built-in defense systems like other animals.  They don’t have claws or sharp teeth that could be used for protection.  Their only
defense is to run.  And, if the enemy they are running from is faster, they will lose.  The shepherd was their defense system.  When a predator
approached, the shepherd would gather the sheep together and fight off the attack using the tools of his trade – his rod and his staff.  The
sheep knew that as long as the shepherd was with them, they didn’t need to run.  They were safe.

But, this same rod and staff that was used to protect them, was also used to discipline them.  The staff, or the “Shepherds crook” was specially
designed with a hook on the end, and was used to bring the sheep back into the fold when they started wandering away.  Sometimes in their
rebellion, the sheep would get themselves into a thorny patch, and would need to be rescued.  The shepherd would reach in with the hooked
end of his staff and gently pull the sheep out.  

And as with the sheep, the Good Shepherd knows that although we are rebelling against Him, we are truly rebelling against what He knows is
best for us.  This Good Shepherd wants to keep us out of the thorny patches.  He wants to show us the smooth and easy path.  He wants to
bring us to the lush pastures, and clean streams where we can eat and drink in peace and safety.  He may need to bring us through some dark
and scary valleys in order to get there, but we need to learn to trust in Him.  

And still we rebel.  We don’t like the path that He is leading us on.  It’s not fun, it’s not popular, it’s not exciting – or so we think.  We see others
around us having fun, and we want to be a part of that fun.  We want to fit in with the crowd.  So, we do things that we know are wrong.  We think
that He doesn’t see us, but the Good Shepherd is always watching over His flock.  We stray away and He pulls us back with His staff.  We stray
away, He pulls us back.  We stray away, He pulls us back.  He knows what is best for us, and yet we continue to do what we know is wrong.  We
stray away, so, He uses the rod.

The rod was nothing more than a wooden club.  I imagine that it looked a lot like a modern day baseball bat.  Just as we see major league ball
players hit a ball out of the park, you can imagine what a rod could do to a would-be attacker.

The Good Shepherd couldn’t let the sheep continue to wander off.  The sheep knew the dangers, but wanted to do things his way.  The
shepherd was left with no choice but to discipline the sheep in a way that he would remember.  The shepherd would take the rod and use it to
break the sheep’s leg.

How many times in our lives do we find ourselves on the wrong path, and then seemingly out of nowhere, SLAM, we are in huge trouble?  We
thought we were getting away with something, and maybe we had for a while.  We never thought that we would find ourselves in this position –
standing with divorce papers in our hands, or sitting in a jail cell.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that it truly came as no surprise.  Sure, the Good Shepherd had used His rod, but not without
warning.  In my experience, whenever I go down the wrong path, and my sin has been revealed, I can look back and see each time that the
shepherd pulled me back with his staff.  It might have been a friend that asked an incriminating question, a loved one that found out and
confronted you with your sin, or maybe just a sign on the road that reminded you to turn to God.  

The Good Shepherd would only use the rod as a last resort.  Not, because He is tired of dealing with this rebellious creature, but because He
loves this creature so much that He did it for its own good.  And, to show the sheep that he did it out of love, he would set the sheep’s broken
leg, lift the sheep up onto his shoulders, and carry the sheep for the next six weeks until the leg had healed.  

Our Good Shepherd does the same for us.  David experienced, first hand, this gracious blessing that God bestows on His children.  And,
throughout his life, he saw God use the rod and the staff.  Just as the shepherd would discipline and care for his sheep, our Lord and Savior is
there to carry us through our darkest times.

Justice is getting what we deserve.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve.  Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.  God is the giver of grace.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will
follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  (Psalm 23:5-6)

Being the guest of honor at a banquet is a very special honor indeed.  As David looked back over his life, he saw how God not only kept His
promise to provide for and protect, but after David repented of his sin, God lifted him up to a level that he didn’t deserve.  He will do the same
for us.  

What an awesome promise that God has given us!  Sometimes, we mistakenly think that these promises will only come to pass when we are in
the presence of God in heaven.  But, no, God’s promises are for this life as well as our eternal life.  

Like these rebellious sheep, we will continue to wander.  What we need to do is start taking note of the times that our Good Shepherd is pulling
us back with His staff.  Recognize His leading, turn from our sins before they go too far, ask for His forgiveness, and watch Him pour out His
gracious blessings.  

I wish it was always that easy, but more often than not, we won’t come to terms with our sin until we have been stopped in our tracks.  If you are
in that position, thank God that He has given you a way to be free of your sins, and stand in His presence.  It is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will never perish, but having everlasting life.”  (John 3:16)

“…We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood, sacrificing His life for us.  (Romans 3:25)

“For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and by Him God reconciled everything to Himself.  He made peace with everything in
heaven and on earth by means of His blood on the cross.  This includes you who were once so far away from God.  You were His enemies,
separated from Him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now He has brought you back as His friends.  He has done this through His death on
the cross in His human body.  
As a result, He has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand
before Him without a single fault.
 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand in it firmly.  Don’t drift away from the assurance you
received when you heard the Good News….”  (Colossians 1:19-23 NLT)

We can stand blameless in the presence of God, right now.  Not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Christ did for us.  His blood
paid the price for every sin that ever was and that ever will be, and forgiveness is ours through Him.

The Apostle Paul continues,
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to walk in Him.  Let your roots grow
down into Him and draw up nourishment from Him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught.  Let your lives
overflow with thanksgiving for all He has done.” (Colossians 2:6-7 NLT)

We are sinners by nature, and yes, we deserve to be separated from God because of our rebellion.  But that is not His desire.  He wants all of
us to live in His presence now and for eternity.  Christ’s death on the cross has given us the way.  But this is a growing process.  Just as a plant
takes time to grow, we also take time to grow in faith and understanding.  

We live in an evil world, and sin is all around us.  Avoiding temptation is a constant battle that we will continue to fight as long as we are on this
earth.  And once again, Paul offers this comfort;

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?  Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are
hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us.”
(Romans 8:35 & 37 NLT)

We are not just winners in this battle against sin, OVERWHELMING VICTORY is ours when we put or faith in Christ.  And, just like the sheep in
the fold, we can stand confidently and without fear, knowing that our Good Shepherd is with us.

So think about this picture image of a shepherd and is flock.  And, when you feel the pull of His staff, picture the shepherd smiling down at you
with love and forgiveness in His eyes, as He draws you back to Himself.  Turn from that sin, and focus on His leading.

But, on those occasions when the shepherd uses the rod, know that it was used out of love, and rest in the fact that He will carry you until you
are fully healed.

God Bless you,

Joe