“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 NIV)
We are still keeping in view the metaphor of the shepherd as David describes his relationship with God, and thereby teaching us about our own. The connection to God as our shepherd in this verse is seen most clearly through the phrase at the end: “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
What were the “rod and staff”? We could let our imaginations fill in our picture. But to be sure that we get in our mind what David had in his mind, let’s take a closer look.
The rod was a club worn at the belt, while the staff was a walking implement that doubled as a weapon in time of need (1 Sam 17:35) and guided and controlled the sheep. (IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament)
So the rod and staff were tools that protected and guided the sheep. The shepherd would defend and direct the sheep with them.
What tools might protect and guide, defend and direct us today? There are two things that God has used for millennia to accomplish these very goals. They are part of the bedrock of Christian Formation: Scripture and Community. The Word of God and the People of God.
Consider this with me. When Jesus battled the devil in the wilderness, he did so out of his deep grounding in scripture. He went beyond simply quoting individual pithy verses. He brought scriptures to bear on the situation that cut to the heart of the issue, getting at the truth about God taught and witnessed to in the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament). When Paul faced trials of all kinds, he drew strength from facing them with friends and coworkers in the gospel or by writing them letters, recalling them and their relationships, giving thanks for them, staying connected to them every way he could find.
To defend and direct us today, we need to be grounded in the Word of God and gathered with the People of God. It can be as simple as reading a chapter of the bible a day and calling up a Christian friend to say, “I’m in a tough spot. I don’t need answers from you, but I could use company.”
This need not be grandiose. But make no mistake. It is a grand thing to know the comfort of Almighty God because we are connected to him through Scripture and Community.
Exercise: If you do not have a regular bible-reading habit, try reading through Paul’s letter to the Philippians this weekend. At only four chapters, you can do it in 2 chapters per day or one chapter each on Friday and Saturday and the final two chapters on Sunday. After that, browse reading plans on Bible.com or on the YouVersion Bible app. Pick a relatively short plan–nothing more than two weeks to thirty days–and begin on Monday. If you continue to journey with me, I’ll move slowly through scripture, bringing in other passages from the bible alongside the verse of phrase we’re studying each week.
Prayer: God, thank you that your presence may be known in the tangible ways of the bible and Christian friends. Help me to avail myself of each regularly in order to know the comfort of your presence. Amen.