“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

In 1975 Tim Leatherman was touring Europe & Asia with a broken-down Fiat. Its hoses leaked and the wiring failed constantly. He used his pocketknife for everything, from slicing bread to adjusting screws. He wished his pocketknife had pliers attached to it. He came home to design his idea. It took 8 years to turn his pocketknife into a Pocket Survival Tool. Today we know it as the Leatherman multi-tool.

The multi-tool for the shepherd was his Rod & Staff. Even today, many middle eastern shepherds carry only rod and staff. No shepherd can function effectively without the two.

The Rod is for Defense and Discipline.

The rod was a large sturdy club that had several uses. It was a weapon to fight off predators who would attack, kill and scatter the flock. Before David became king, he told King Saul how he, as a shepherd, would fight off animals like bears and lions to protect the sheep. If you recall it was Moses’ rod that was used to bring about the 10 plagues against Egypt. God used it to fight Pharaoh.

The rod was also sometimes used to correct sheep. I’ve heard people say they don’t like the idea of a God who punishes us when we are wrong. A good shepherd does not let his sheep wander into dangerous territory. Proverbs 13:24 tells us that if we spare the rod, we hate the child. This is true for every shepherd.

The rod has been likened to God’s Word in our lives. His Word serves to defend and discipline us. When Satan tempted Jesus, He took God’s Word as His defense. It is the only offensive armor in Ephesians 6. He calls it the “Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” The Bible is used to discipline us. It searches and knows our deepest weaknesses. Hebrews 4:12: “The Word of God quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

The Staff is for Guidance and Rescue.

The staff was the shepherd’s walking stick. The staff, more than any other personal equipment, identifies the shepherd as a shepherd. No one in any other profession carries a shepherd’s staff. It is uniquely an instrument used for the care and management of sheep – and only sheep.

The staff was longer than the rod and usually had a hook on its end. It was used to guide the sheep in the right direction. It was also used to rescue sheep from the dangerous places they might wander. Sometimes the shepherd would use his staff to pull a sheep closer to him so he could examine it. Like when a dog hides under the bed when he hears the word “bath”, the shepherd uses his staff to pull him close. If a sheep falls off the side of the mountain or into the water, the shepherd’s staff would pull the animal back to safety.

The staff is like the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a constant presence in our lives to lead, guide, and pull us closer to our Shepherd, especially in the shadows of the valley. His gentle nudging keeps us in the right path. He pulls us closer into an intimate relationship with the Shepherd.

The Rod and Staff Comfort.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of a rod and staff do not fill me with comfort. But to a sheep, these let them know that the shepherd was with the sheep at every step of the dangerous pathway through the cold, damp valley. His rod and staff kept them from stumbling, held the sheep to the path, and gave assurance that nothing would harm them. Whether the danger comes from outside (necessitating the rod) or its own foolishness (requiring the staff), there is a shepherd who is watching carefully and guarding constantly.

From the sheep’s point of view, the staff is comforting because he knows the shepherd will use it to help guide him and keep him with the flock. Our Shepherd sometimes gently pulls us back to the path through experiences through other people, who help nudge us back to safety when we start to wander. There are times He may rescue us when we stumble and fall and need a hand to get back up.

Since the rod is used against our enemies, we find comfort in knowing that we are safe when our Shepherd is near. However, there is even comfort knowing the Shepherd may use the rod against us. When I was a child, sometimes in church services when I was not behaving, my grandfather would plunk me on the head with his thumb. I would immediately stop doing whatever I had been doing and pay attention. Sometimes we are hardheaded and our Shepherd finds it necessary to discipline us to keep us on the path.

The rod pushes me where I may not want to go. The staff pulls me back from where I might wrongly want to go. One pushes. The other pulls. This is comforting. We don’t like it when people (or God) tell us what to do, where to go, and where not to go. But it is comforting to know that that the Lord will save us from our enemy, even if the enemy is ourselves.

So what can we do?

  1. Have you strayed? Get back close to Him. You may not know what path to take, but if you’re close to the Shepherd, that’s the right path.
  2. Do you need comfort in your pain? Go to the Shepherd. His Word and the Holy Spirit will bring you comfort.
  3. Trust Jesus as your Savior.

Think back to the Charlie Brown cartoon characters and Linus carrying around his blanket and him sucking his thumb. This is early childhood comfort. As we grow up the security blanket and thumb-sucking have to go, but not our need for comfort. Does more money in the bank, a better and more affordable health care plan what brings you comfort today? Perhaps it is a call from one of your children living out of town and telling you things are fine or the doctor giving you a clean bill of health report that has recently brought you comfort. Interestingly, David prayed: Thy rod and thy staff: they comfort me. The presence of Jesus is the best and only comfort we need.