To Prod and Protect: God's Rod and Staff

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…your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4)

The wooden spoon, the belt, the ruler, the “board of education applied to the seat of learning;” whatever it was that was once a symbol of a just reward for bad behaviour, never seems comforting at the time. I didn’t get spanked often, but I had a healthy respect for that piece of belt that my father used on us when all else failed.

Today it is not “politically correct” to use these kinds of methods. It’s a shame. While abuse is never acceptable, there is a world of truth behind Solomon’s statement: “spare the rod, spoil the child.” In fact, he goes so far as to say that lack of discipline is a sign of lack of love (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13, 14).

We often liken the rod and staff mentioned in Psalm 23 to instruments of punishment. Sometimes they are instruments of discipline, but more often than not, they are weapons of protection and means of guidance. That is why they are described as being of “comfort."

A good shepherd knows the value of the rod and the staff.

The traditional crook in the shepherd’s staff was useful for grabbing the leg of a wandering sheep and pulling it back into line. It was helpful when rescuing a sheep that had fallen into the water or over an embankment, and was unable to get back. It worked well as a prod when sheep were reluctant to move in the direction the shepherd had chosen.

Isaiah reminds us of just how much we need a rod and staff in the hands of our Shepherd when he writes: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

The rod was necessary to defend the flock against thieves or wild animals. A shepherd was never without the means to kill a snake, or fend off a predator.

But discipline does come into the picture. Don Baker comments: “There are mean, vengeful, gluttonous sheep…They establish their own networks or ‘sheep societies.’…They form themselves into tight little groups and push and shove while the flock is grazing. They force themselves ahead of the others at watering holes. They are greedy and hostile and dangerous…An uncastrated ram will rape every sheep in sight, if not controlled…All these the staff corrects and controls” (The Way of the Shepherd).

Today, many liken this rod and staff to the Word of God which, as Paul writes to Timothy is, “…God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

The rod and staff of the shepherd indicated the boundaries for the sheep, just as the Word of God tells us what our boundaries are. The rod and staff of the shepherd protect, just as obedience to the Word protects us from falling into places we shouldn't be and sins we shouldn't commit, and gives us resources with which to identify and defend ourselves against our enemies. The rod and the staff of the Word indicate when and how discipline needs to be applied.

No matter in what way they were used, the presence of the rod and staff assured the sheep of their well-being at the hands of the shepherd. Paul told Timothy to be one "...who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). This is a good reminder to those of us who teach and preach the Word of God. Our Great Shepherd is never without His "rod and staff" and He knows how to use them well. That should also be our goal, to be constantly in the Word and using it well, so that, as the apostle told his son in the ministry, we will be able to appear before God " one approved" (2 Timothy 3:15).


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