. . . You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
Shepherds in Bible days carried a rod and a staff. The rod was a short club used to drive off predators or to direct the sheep without harming them. If a sheep wandered into an unsafe area, the shepherd tossed the rod ahead of it, startling the sheep and causing it to scurry back to the flock.
Those who walk with Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls, know this rod. It comes in many forms but is His instrument to direct us and keep us on the right path.
This rod of the Lord isn’t necessarily used when we are deliberately headed in the wrong direction. My hubby had an experience yesterday that illustrates the guiding power of God. He’d been asked to work on a new project that fits his skills. He prayed and was willing to do it. Everything seemed to say it was the right thing. However, he was talking with a peer at work about another topic and happened to mention this new challenge. The other person expressed interest and soon both realized that this new project was a better fit for him. As we talked about it last night, my hubby realized that God was directing him. It was almost like having that ‘rod’ tossed in his path to turn him around.
Sometimes God uses His rod because I get a selfish notion in my head and it needs to be thwarted. I’ve so many examples that picking one is easy. How about making plans to show off, or to put someone in their place, or to get my way . . . and nothing works out the way I planned? God’s rod is tossed in my path.
Another example is those wilderness experiences where it seems like I’m being tested over and over. Temptations come at me like fists and these constant assaults make me feel like the loser in a boxing match. But God has His reasons for these experiences . . .
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:2–5)
Temptation, particularly continual temptation is a humbling thing. Anyone who thinks they have ‘arrived’ in their walk with God knows that pride must also be put out of our hearts. God’s rod will do it. He will use it as temptation threatens. Will I scurry back? Or will I persist in going the wrong way? Will my hunger for whatever tempts me push me to go for it? Or will God’s rod convince me that manna is the right choice?
God’s Word also illustrates this purpose of His rod. He speaks of a scepter being given to the Levites (the priests) that was used to “keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel.” They were told to “guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil” serving God and the people and protecting them from enemies. (Numbers 18:5–7)
This is what God does for His people, me included. He does it through His mighty Shepherd, just as David the shepherd king says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psalm 110:1–2)
I doubt that sheep get to a place where they are glad to experience the ‘thunk’ of that rod landing in their path. They may not even connect the rod with their flight back to where they belong. But I am glad and also delighted that the Holy Spirit helps me see the connection. It might take me a minute (or longer) to realize that God is redirecting me, but once I do, I am thankful for His grace and for His loving and all-wise discipline.