“for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4b
We frequently pray for God to be with us, especially in times of distress. In reality, believers have the assurance of His continual presence (Hebrews 13:5-6). So, why do we ask for something the Lord has already promised? Usually, it’s because we’re seeking the comfort of God’s presence as we “walk through the valley” (v4a). But David is talking about more than simply knowing that God is there. David took comfort in the Good Shepherd’s protection and His correction.
The Shepherd’s Protection
The rod is primarily a defensive weapon. Shepherds protect their flock by hurling this short, thick stick at an attacking beast or thief. David knew how to be the protector, but he also knew what it’s like to be the one in distress. Throughout the Psalms we see his dependence on the Lord for both physical and spiritual protection. He found comfort and preservation in God’s promises. “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Word has revived me [preserved me alive]” (Psalm 119:50).
We also see Jesus use Scripture as a defensive weapon when tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). Today, we have the same enemy (1 Peter 5:8), and the same weapon, “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). It alone has the power and authority to fortify our hearts and minds, protecting us from the enemy’s temptations and schemes. Whatever our need, we can find the comfort of God’s presence in His Word.
The Shepherd’s Correction
The staff is a long stick with a crook on one end. Although it has multiple uses, it’s mostly a tool for correction. If a sheep starts to go astray, the staff gently directs him back to the path, pulling him closer to the shepherd and to other sheep. And when sheep are in distress on the edge of a cliff, the shepherd lifts them to safety in the comfort of his staff.
In seeking the comfort of God’s presence, we tend to miss the comfort of His correction through the Holy Spirit. The promised Comforter is also the One who convicts us when we sin (John 16:7-8). He doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves, even in predicaments of our own making. He gently draws us near, directing us back to the path. How comforting that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Do you need the comfort of God’s presence today? David reminds us that our Defender is with us continually. Just remember that His presence includes not only His protection, but also His correction. As we walk by faith, we discover that the rod and the staff are both for our comfort in the hands of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.