“In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world.” JOHN 16:33 ESV.
The shepherd takes great pride in selecting both his rod and his staff. Each is carefully carved and shaped exclusively for its architect. Sheepherders during the Psalmist’s lifetime carried both the rod and staff, each having distinct, crucial functions.
The rod is the principal weapon of defense for both himself and the sheep. Sometimes known as a knob-kerrie, it is a short wooden club with a knob at one end, used as a missile or in close contact. The shepherd’s rod is an extension of the owner’s right arm, representing authority, power, and discipline. The rod served as a weapon against attackers for both the shepherd and the sheep. Undoubtedly, David was skilled in handling this weapon, and with it, defeated a lion and a bear. The shepherd also uses this knob-kerrie to warn the sheep of impending danger or to discipline ornery lambs. He would send it whistling by the ears of wayward sheep, sending them scurrying back to the fold.
An interesting use of the rod in the Shepherd’s hand was to examine and count the sheep. He separates the long wool and inspects the skin underneath for disease, wounds, or defects. Old Testament terminology referred to this as “passing under the rod”. It represents coming under full control and authority of the shepherd, being also subject to His most “careful, intimate and firsthand examination.” (Keller 1970, 115). Shepherd’s rod speaks of the Word of God. It is a weapon used to subdue and defeat our enemies. By it, we are corrected and warned of impending danger. Our Lord has intimate knowledge of our innermost being. We cannot pull the wool over His eyes. Our imperfections are laid bare before Him and He provides tender care, discipline, and guidance. In this, we are comforted.
The Shepherd’s staff is shaped and designed to fit the needs of the shepherd and the sheep. No one can mistake this tool to be fit for any other occupation than the sheepherder. It is a long, slender stick with a crook on one end. On it, the shepherd may lean for support, a comfort to himself. With it, he may lift a newborn lamb, placing it closer to the mother without the smell of hands, which would cause rejection by the parent. He may also lift a lamb up out of harm’s way, whilst He could not reach it without the staff. The shepherd also uses it as a guide.
By leaning it against the side of the sheep, he can lead them where they should go. That gentle pressure is a comforting presence, knowing the Good Shepherd is there with them. He is walking side by side, drawing them close. The Shepherd’s staff is emblematic of the Spirit of God. We certainly need the Holy Spirit’s guidance into all truth in our present world. He reminds us He is there and that the blood of the Lamb has already overcome the world! By this, we are comforted.
Keller, W. Phillip. A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970, 2007