When God created sheep he must have had in mind the metaphorical use the Bible would make of them. In one way or another sheep are referred to over 600 times in scripture. In Psalm 23 King David thinks of himself as one of God’s sheep with the Lord himself as his shepherd.
One way the Lord cares for his sheep is by the comfort and security he provides. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” David writes. “Comfort” means to care, to strengthen, to ease, or to encourage. David needed this and so do you and I.
The ancient shepherd would care for his sheep with the use of two tools of his trade. Armed with the rod and the staff, he provided protection, direction, and correction for the sheep. The rod was something like a club, or cudgel with which the shepherd could fight off predators that might threaten the sheep. The staff was like a walking stick which could be used to round up wayward sheep and guide them to pasture.
According to Phillip Keller, the shepherd would fashion the rod from a young tree. The enlarged base of the tree would be carved and shaped into a rounded head of hard wood. The handle would be fitted to the hand of the shepherd. The rod would become his main weapon of defense.
The staff was a long, slender pole with a shepherd’s crook on one end. With it the shepherd could guide the sheep, reach out to rescue them, and draw them close to himself. The shepherd used the staff to apply gentle pressure as they walked along. This comforting presence of the shepherd was reassuring to the sheep.
The application is obvious. The Lord wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He cares too much for us to let us go our own way. “We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). In his death, Jesus bore the judgment for our sin so that we could be rescued, redeemed, and forgiven.
The Lord wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He corrects us when we go astray. He pursues the wanderer, disciplines the willful, helps the weak, anoints the wounded, rests the weary. He uses the discipline of the rod and the staff to prove his love for those who are his own sheep. C. S. Lewis famously put it this way: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. (Pain) is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He is protecting his sheep even when they are not aware of it. I can think of situations in my life when the Lord has intervened to keep me from harm. Perhaps you can, too. His comforting presence has also directed me in times of decision-making and in unsettling seasons of change.
Regular readers will know that I have been diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease. Whatever is ahead for me, I am secure in the knowledge that I have a Good Shepherd. The prayer of the prophet Micah has proven true in my life: “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance” (Micah 7:14).
Just as the Lord has been my faithful shepherd in the past, I can be confident that he will be my faithful shepherd now and in the future.
Pastor Randy Faulkner