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).
As Christians, we’re not given a pass on suffering. God promises to provide his comfort, but we need it because the valleys of shadow are real. Believers are not promised the absence of valleys but the presence of God. What difference does that make?
The Psalm writer says he will not fear the darkness of the valleys because God is present with his rod and staff.
What are a shepherd’s rod and staff all about? The specifics can get a little murky, but what is clear is that a good shepherd has the tools both to protect and to guide his sheep – a rod and staff. Each is needed to care for sheep a shepherd loves.
Sheep need to be protected from predators, from aggressors (yes, even among sheep), and from their own folly. So, a good rod fends off threats and dispenses correction.
Sheep also need to be guided on safe paths, to green pastures and good waters, and reclaimed from ditches and mires. A shepherd’s staff, maybe with a crook in it, rescues and keeps safe the sheep.
You may now be walking through darkness: a medical problem, loss of a job, or family tragedy. God does not promise you an absence of valleys, but to be with you in their midst or shadows. Trust the heart and path of the Good Shepherd who gave his life for you. His rod and staff will still shepherd your soul.
Lord, thank you for being my Shepherd! As I walk through this world’s dark valleys, help me to trust that you are with me and wield your rod and staff for me.