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
I’ve read and heard that verse countless times in my life… but this morning I had an odd realization: I don’t really know what that final phrase means. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me”—but what exactly does the author of the psalm find reassuring in those two objects?
I’ve always assumed the phrase referred to God using a “rod and staff” as weapons, protecting His children and driving away evil. But according to the latest Wonder of Creation devotional, that’s just one part of the imagery this phrase is meant to evoke:
When all the biblical references are considered, the following meaning comes from the rod and staff: as with a shepherd (figurative of Jesus) they are used to protect against enemies, to discipline, to guide, and to rescue. Itâ€™s also fitting that a royal scepter is called a rod. And a rod is frequently mentioned as a weapon. A staff is indicated as a rulerâ€™s symbol of authority that stands between his feet—indicating that a staff is likely the longer of the two….
What a beautiful representation these instruments are of our Shepherd and Savior. He cares for us, protects us, and guides us as with His staff. He disciplines us with His rod. Not only that, He is our Lord, the King of kings and has the sole right to carry the ruling scepter as the monarch of the coming Kingdom. Jesus is our loving Shepherd who will become our eternal ruling Lord.
(Interestingly, the devotional notes that the “shepherd’s crook” commonly seen at Christmas pageants weren’t in common use in the Bible.)
Read the rest of the devotional at Wonder of Creation. This psalm is often referenced at Easter, since there’s no darker time in the Christian story than the days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. But understanding the signicance of God’s “rod and staff”—tools of protection, guidance, discipline, and royalty—can comfort us even in this “valley of the shadow of death.”