Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
This is an artist’s depiction of what those might have looked like; the tools of the shepherd’s trade. At least the ones that the sheep would have been concerned about. I imagine a shepherd also having water skins, a knife for whittling, skinning, food prep, and we’ve heard about slingshots too. But the rod and the staff are the tools of comfort apparently. This idea of comfort, or sometimes lack of comfort, from these tools will be the focus of this week’s devotionals. Today is a bit of explanation about the tools.
The rod and staff could have been one item that was poetically described by its uses of protection and guidance. Or a shepherd could have had a longer staff used for walking and steering, prodding, or pulling sheep, as well as a smaller club or rod normally attached at the waist that would be easier to swing for protection against predators.
The Hebrew roots sheʹvet and mat·tehʹ used in Psalm 23:4 are both translated in other Old Testament passages as staff, stick, rod, branch or support. Both are also translated tribe, as in a tribal family that branches off the original patriarch, i.e. the tribe of Judah. She’vet is sometimes translated as scepter indicating the staff of a ruler. The words are closely related and always indicate something from a tree or branch.
In Psalm 23, King David gladly accepts the skills and guidance given through the tools of the shepherding trade; “your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Our goal is to embrace this part of Psalm 23 to make the same claim. Many of us struggle with or feel afraid of, the Lord’s guidance, correction, and discipline. Or we make the mistake of believing that God’s tools/leading are what have led us into the “valley of the shadow of death,” instead of the larger perspective that sees them leading us through it to a destination that will conclude the Psalm and our lives with the Lord at home forever. A proper perspective finds comfort in them because of the shepherd’s skill, presence, and understanding the ultimate destination. Prayerfully consider the comfort available through the correction and protection God’s principles provide.