During my morning Bible study yesterday, I wound up in Judges, chapter six (The story of Gideon). But that led me to the twenty-third Psalm.
Most of you know or are at least aware of this most famous Psalm. Many of you have pondered the meaning of the last part of verse four, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Some have probably even made the connection back to verse one and the fact that the Lord, being the Shepherd, would obviously have a rod and/or a staff in His hand. I’ve heard it said that the idea of the rod is for beating off predators and the idea of the staff (crook) is for keeping the sheep out of danger. [Personally, I think these are references to the same item, not two different items, as if God had one in each hand.] But what I am betting almost none of you know… is that the Lord actually does have a literal staff in His hand.
First you need to understand something I’ve explained many times in sermons over the years, that is, that in the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord was often spoken of also as the Lord, Himself. This is not to say all angels were a manifestation of God. Certainly not Michael or Gabriel, who are distinct angelic beings, not God in any way. But when we see the phrase, “The Angel of the Lord,” we are usually talking about a manifestation of God on earth. We can see this in many places, not the least of which is the book of Judges, chapter six, where Gideon meets the Angel of the Lord, and if you read that chapter you’ll see that this angel is actually referred to as “The Lord” on more than one occasion (i.e. vv. 14 and 23). Jacob had a similar experience (one minute he’s wrestling with an angel and the next minute we are told he actually wrestled with God) as did Abraham, Moses… and others. Most theologians (myself included) consider these and similar instances to be visitations of the pre-incarnate Christ (called a Christophony by the scholars). Remember, Christ (the Word) was always with God and He always was God (John 1). Christ was always The Lord, second person of the Trinity (God in Three Persons). We should understand that the pre-flesh Christ (before the incarnation… before He took on flesh and was born) was the God who would visit man face to face. Christ was always the one manifestation of God, visible to man. Christ has always been God, accessible. But that is sort of a whole other blog (or book). So, assuming that you understand this idea already, let me get back to the rod or the staff of God, which I believe is more than a literary or allegorical reference.
Look at Judges 6:21.
“Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock…” (NASB).
Notice that the Angel of the Lord had a literal staff in His hand and notice that He used it to do a miracle in order to help Gideon believe that God was with Him. [One might also note that the rod of Moses became the rod of God at the burning bush and was henceforth used to perform miracles in the name of God. Could this have been the same rod in some sense?] So this angel… this messenger or representative of God who is also apparently to be thought of AS God (i.e. the preincarnate Christ) has in His hand an ACTUAL staff and He uses it to calm the fears of Gideon, who was being asked to follow God into dangerous battle.
So, what if the rod and staff mentioned in Psalm 23 are real? What if Christ, our Shepherd, actually has a literal staff in His hand and what if He uses it to reach into our lives and do REAL stuff… like miraculous stuff? What if the Lord, Christ always did have a staff in His hand, as He did when He met Gideon more than 3,000 years ago? What if Christ our Shepherd has been using that same staff to care for His sheep… for those who trust in Him… throughout history? What if His comfort is just as real as the staff? What if the whole thing is as real as wood in His hand? Well, if so, maybe I can take courage. Maybe I can some day even hear the Lord say to me what He said to Gideon: “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior” (v. 12). If the staff of the Shepherd, who is Christ, is being used in my favor, BY HIM, what have I to fear? Nothing.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.