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Thy Rod And Thy Staff

Peter L. Meney | Added: Jul 04, 2024 | Category: Theology


The Lord’s people have long cherished Psalm 23 for its spiritual value and poetic beauty. It is a psalm of David, a man beloved of God. David’s spiritual journey led him to experience much of the breadth of human emotion and fallen man’s condition in dealing with his Maker. David walked on the mountain tops of spiritual joy yet he plunged, too, into the depths of human weakness and wickedness. Under the Holy Spirit’s guidance David recorded his experiences and Psalm 23 is an example for the ages.

A much loved psalm

Though a mighty king, David drew his inspiration of God’s care and goodness from his early role as a shepherd boy and protector of his father’s sheep. In doing so his purpose was to glorify God and express confidence in Christ his Lord. The beauty of David’s language, the simplicity of his vocabulary and Psalm twenty-three’s short length of merely six verses put it amongst the best loved passages in the whole Bible.

The prospect of death

Verse 4 speaks of the Lord’s rod and staff that comforted David as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. As a fugitive and a warrior David faced the prospect of death many times. Goliath would have slain the boy. Saul tried to spear the man. His own son, Absalom, sought to end his aging father’s life and usurp the throne. The prospect of death hung over David repeatedly and he often walked beneath its shadow.

A darkening shadow

The Lord’s people now, as David then, must also walk in the valley of the shadow of death. We walk in it when confronted with the demise of our bodies. We walk in it when the Lord takes someone we love dearly and we are left alone. When we are young we barely notice the faint shadow of death. When we are in good health we do not notice its growing shade. But as our bodies age and our health diminishes the reality of mortality looms larger and the time we spend under its shadow increases. Sometimes the valley seems long and lonely.

God’s rod and staff

David speaks of two helps to comfort God’s people in the valley of the shadow of death. The first is the Lord’s rod. This may be likened to the shepherd’s crook of divine guidance and care. Sometimes it is represented as a sceptre. It points to the exercise of the Lord’s power. The second is the Lord’s staff. This may be likened to the staves with which the ark of the covenant was carried in the wilderness. It suggests comfort, support and help for a weary traveller. Figuratively, it may also signify gospel provision as in the staff of bread that feeds and nourishes the Lord’s people.

Freedom from fear of death

The purpose of these helps, David tells us, is to dispel fear, especially the fear of evil. Evil, with its effects such as guilt, condemnation and judgment, lurk in the shadow of death. The rod and staff typify the Lord Jesus Christ who has come to remove fear by destroying the works of Satan. Christ came into the world and as a man tasted death for us. He was ‘made … for the suffering of death … that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.’

The Lord is my Shepherd

The death of the Lord Jesus and His passage through death to resurrection guard and comfort the little flock of believers who delight to confess, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’. If this is your profession you need have no fear of death. You have been redeemed from the horror of physical death, you are ransomed from the captivity of Satan, you are eternally saved from spiritual judgment. 

Good hope and joy

The Lord our Shepherd is wise and kind. He is the Good Shepherd of John 10 who, ‘giveth his life for the sheep’. He says, ‘I … know my sheep, and am known of mine’. When the Lord is our Shepherd He directs our path and orders our time. Our times are in His hand. When the Lord is our Shepherd His rod is powerful to save and His staff supplies all our need in life and death. He brings His gospel to minister to our souls, to refresh us with mercy, to feed us with goodness and to fill our hearts with hope and joy.

The comfort of grace

God’s elect are known to Him and the blessings and comfort of sovereign grace which He gives cannot be overstated. We each travel through the valley of the shadow of death. In doing so there is much to afflict us mind and body. Yet faith in our crucified and risen Saviour leans upon the promise that as He died and rose again so shall we. Even these very same bodies that are laid in the grave and turn to dust shall rise in newness of life. In glory we shall echo Him who says, ‘I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen’.