“Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, CSB)
Psalm 23 is probably one of the first longer Bible passages you memorized as a child. Its words feel familiar and comforting. Yet this morning as my Bible opened to this psalm, I realized that I miss much of its meaning with just a casual reading. Few of us really relate to the pastoral scene of green pastures, still waters, shadowy valleys, and oil for anointing.
I paused while reading verse 4 and asked myself what the rod and staff really meant. The rod sounded like punishment (“spare the rod, spoil the child”), not comfort. And the staff brought an image of a tall walking stick with a curve at the top. Just what do the rod and the staff do, I wondered? And how do they bring comfort? When studying Psalm 23, we must remember that David, who wrote this psalm, was a shepherd before he was a king. The imagery he uses came from his personal experiences.
Sheep are silly creatures that can easily wander into difficult situations. The shepherd uses the rod to get the straying sheep’s attention and bring it back to the flock. The rod is not only used for discipline or correction but is also used for protection. The shepherd uses his rod to defend the flock from wild animals or human thieves. In I Samuel 17:34-36 David tells of his own experience in fighting off a lion and a bear to protect his flock. He would have used his rod to fight off these attackers. This gives us a beautiful picture of the Lord driving away our enemy, Satan, and keeping us safe.
The staff is not a weapon but a means of drawing the sheep close to the shepherd or using it to guide them. The crook at the top can lift one that has fallen off the pathway or is entangled in a bush. It can rescue from a precipice or gently guide the sheep into a new path. The shepherd can also use the hook to pull a sheep close to check its wellbeing.
Verse 4 of this psalm says that when we go through dark valleys—and we all will at some point—we do not need to fear danger. The Lord, our Shepherd, is there with His rod and staff to pull us back from danger, to fight off our enemies, and to draw us close to His side. He goes with us at all times. The shepherd does not leave his flock alone to fend for themselves.
It is comforting to know Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He willingly died to protect us from our enemy and to give us the promise of abundant life.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep . . . I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10:11, 14, CSB).
Thank You, Lord, for the comfort I feel because of Your love and care. You protect me, guide me, and draw me close to Your side. I am secure because You walk with me through the dark valleys, and I will not fear.