Psalm 23:4—”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Let us see this scripture in three contexts:
1-Sheep and the Shepherd as known to the psalmist. In Palestine, a valley would be a deep ravine because it abounds in wild and gloomy valleys, and shepherd life, experiences the actual peril of them. The Psalmist means that though he (the sheep) walks through a dark valley full of terrors and dangers, his Shepherd (Jesus) is always with Him and therefore, the sheep fears nothing. The sheep has his Protector his strength who carries His rod to guide, defend, and protect His sheep from the evil one Satan, who is the wolf that comes to the flock to kill and to destroy, and the roaring lion that seeks whom he may devour of the valley. The Shepherd’s crook or rod is also used, under which the sheep passes, when they are accounted for at the end of each day.
Jehovah Jireh uses His staff to pull down leaves and provide his sheep food and also uses the crook of His staff to pull His sheep’s legs toward Him when they go astray. The staff also works as comfort to the sheep.
2-The second context is Christians (church) and Jesus (our Shepherd /Head). Though we, followers of Christ, go through trials and temptations, we are unperturbed. We will not give way to fears, but will confidently rely upon the Word and Promise of God, that His grace is sufficient. Our confidence is – God is with us, His presence is our comfort, hope, and joy; and gives us light in the darkness of the valley.
God’s Word (rod) and Spirit (staff) comfort us. The Gospel is the rod of God’s strength. The (rod) Word is used to correct and minister to us. The rod also signifies pastoral care, inspection, defense, and protection of the flock. Holy Spirit is the Comforter. Where He is, cannot lack support and comfort. We will not be afraid if we cannot proceed in our dark valleys, if we are lost, or if we have enemies because our Shepherd will be our safe and certain guide.
3-The third context is Believers and Jesus. Believers walk in faith and are unafraid of death. We know that God will make even death work for our good. We meet death head-on with a holy security and serenity of mind. We may defiantly bid, ‘O death where is thy sting?’ Jesus gives eternal life in earthly death.
The rod here, alludes to the rod of Moses, an emblem of power like a sceptre or a similar sign of authority. And staff, signifies what a person leans upon for support. It means we are comforted because the sceptre of God’s Kingdom or His power protects us and we are upheld in support by the Shepherd of our souls.
Between the flock on earth and that which is gone to Heaven, lies death like a dark valley. It is but the shadow of death: the shadow of a serpent cannot sting, nor can a shadow of a sword kill. Death is a king of terrors, but not to the sheep of Christ. When we come to die, God will rebuke the enemy; He will guide us with His rod, and sustain us with His staff. The Gospel contains enough comfort for dying saints that underneath them are the Everlasting Arms.
God is our Companion, Comforter, Protector, and Guide. Our Saviour God is with us in that valley, and will never leave us. On His arm we can lean, and by His presence we are comforted, until we emerge from gloom into the bright world beyond. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ; called the Rod of Christ’s Strength, and the Staff of the Promises and the Provisions of God’s House!