Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Psalm 23:4b The Security of Discipline

I can remember clearly when I was a child the times I got a spanking. It didn’t happen much but when it did I certainly learned not to do whatever I had done again. My parents didn’t spank me because they were mean or enjoyed hurting me. They knew, like all good parents do, that children who are allowed to misbehave become adults who misbehave. They loved me and wanted to teach me right from wrong. In the same way, our loving Shepherd disciplines His sheep because He loves us.

David writes in the last part of verse 4 that “Your rod…comfort[s] me”. David, of course was writing this from the perspective of a shepherd and he knew what the rod he spoke of was and what it was used for. A shepherd boy would choose a stick about the length of his forearm to create his rod from. He would carve the stick so that is was balanced, had a handle, and was comfortable in his grip. He would practice using that stick in target practice until he was as deadly accurate with it as Batman with a batarang.

Once he became comfortable with his rod, it became indispensible to him in the protection of his flock. If a predator came calling and threatened the flock, the shepherd would smack that critter with the business end of his rod. This rod helped him protect the flock from danger not only from predators. Sheep, as we have noted in our study of this psalm, are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. If given the choice between doing something safe and doing something stupid, they’ll choose the stupid 99 times our of a hundred. Therefore, when the shepherd saw one of his sheep about to go to close to the edge of a cliff or about to drink of of some polluted water, he would smack it with his rod so the sheep knew that he wasn’t supposed to do that.

Our Shepherd also has a rod that He uses to protect us as His sheep. God uses His word for discipline and protection. As we read His word, we see commands of what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do. In this way, we see the dangers that lie in wait as we are tempted to sin. Furthermore, when we do sin, God’s word is a tool He uses to convict us of that sin. When I have behaved unkindly to my wife (which happens way more often than I care to admit) and I read in God’s word that I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church, I am wounded by the smack upside of my head by the word of the Lord. However, God uses His word to warn us and discipline us in order to conform us to the image of His precious Son.

David notes not only that the rod of God is a comfort, but also that “Your staff…comfort[s] me”. When I think of a shepherd, the first image that pops into my head is a silhouette from a Christmas card of a shepherd. The picture shows the shepherd standing sideways and over the top of his head is his curved staff. That staff, as much as anything, is like the nametag of a shepherd. It identifies him. The sheep may not always be able to see the shepherd. He may be surrounded by other sheep and may not be close enough for some sheep to see him. However, they can always see his staff towering high above everything else. They know the shepherd is there and can take comfort in that. In like manner, we are not able to see our God. He is spirit and therefore invisible. However, we have the real indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that lets us know that He is with us. As we see our spiritual gifts develop and we see ourselves becoming more Christ-like, we recognize the presence of God. Just as David did, we can say to God “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. U

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