Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your
rod and your staff, they comfort me (PSALM 23:4 Esv).
In the Middle East a shepherd carried only two tools—a rod and a staff. The rod became an exten sion of the shepherd’s right arm as he guarded his sheep. He would drive pieces of metal into the knob, and he could use that rod as a club to kill bears and snakes and to drive off wolves. Whenever the sheep saw the rod in the shepherd’s hand, they knew he was guarding them.
The shepherd also had a staff bent on one end to form a hook. That hook would be just perfect for reaching around the chest of a lamb or around the neck of a larger sheep. The staff was used to guide sheep as they walked along a dangerous path. The shepherd could gently press the staff to a sheep’s side or he could reach out with the crook and pull him back into the fold. If a sheep slipped over a steep ravine or stumbled into a rocky creek bed, the shepherd could lift it up and restore it to the flock.
The rod guarded the sheep, the staff guided them.
One protected the sheep; the other directed the sheep. Nothing was more comforting to the sheep than the sight of the rod and the staff. The shepherd would make sure his sheep got safely through the valley and all the way to the top of the mountain.
52 Weeks Through the Psalms
Fear is universal. We all fear something. Perhaps it’s loss, sickness, financial ruin, terrorism…or perhaps the most common fear of all: public speaking. Death is also a common fear—and death is, of course, also universal. One day we will pass from this earth. We will go through the valley of the shadow of death and emerge on the mountaintop that is heaven.
While we are assured of heaven, we still shrink in fear at the idea of losing this earthly life. It’s ironic that we should fear death at all, knowing that in passing away from this life we enter into the presence of our shepherd. Though we have experienced his goodness in this life, and though we have been kept safe by his rod and staff, we have yet to meet him face to face. Death, however, is the gateway into this ultimate experience of living in God’s presence for eternity. It’s the one fear that we should most easily discard. If we can trust him with our life, we can also trust him with our death.
James Merritt. 52 Weeks Through The Psalms Devotional. Harvest House Publishers. Eugene, Oregon, 2018.