Friday, September 14, 2007

Shepherd thoughts - Part Four

Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.

Everyone has 'valley' experiences. Those times when we feel trapped in a dark or depressing place or state of thought. Those problems just loom above us like threatening mountains. As the shepherd is bringing the flock back down to the village, he passes through such places. It is at this point in Psalm 23 that the personal pronouns I and Thou appear and it becomes a very intimate conversation. The good shepherd never takes his flock where he had not already gone himself to look things over with care. Nothing takes him by surprise. So those sheep do not have to feel uneasy or afraid. And neither do we. This verse shows up that we walk right through this phase. To walk through the valley is to take the gentler grade as one winds one's way back. We might find that these valley experiences are the ones we remember as times we were closest to God. The Shepherd was with us all the way.

The shepherd carries a minimum of equipment. In the Middle East he carries only a rod and staff. This has been carefully chosen, suited to his size and strength. It fits the owner's hand. It could be used like a javelin to drive away preditors or even as a club, an extension of the shepherd's arm. It stood for his power and authority. When necessary it could be used for discipline, herding the sheep to a safer place, controlling his flock in every situation. Moses used his rod to part the Red Sea, showing the intention of divine Love to lead His children to safety. In the Old Testament the rod was used to examine and count the sheep. This was referred to as passing 'under the rod', being subjected to firsthand examination. We'll get back to that later in the Psalm.

No one else carries a shepherd's staff, a long slender stick with a crook or hook on one end. On long trips up the mountainside the shepherd can lean on it himself as a support. The shepherd will use the staff to bring a newborn lamb to its mother if they become separated. He does not wish her to reject it if it has the scent of a human hand. He can use it reach out and draw a sheep to him, especially if it is caught in thick brambles. It is used for guidance but never for punishment. Both rod and staff bring comfort.

As an interesting side note, I did some research for a Bible talk I will be giving on the Ten Commandments and discovered that there was more stored in the Ark of the Covenant than those two tablets of stone. It is also supposed to contain a golden bowl of manna and Aaron's rod. That reminded me of a time when I was struggling with finances, worried about how work would appear, be completed and the amount paid in time to meet pressing bills. I worked with Numbers 17:8. This describes how Aaron's rod, placed within the tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept at that time, budded, blossomed and bore fruit in one night. Time is not an issue with God, who is the source of all good. Divine Love is able to meet every human need.

We can take comfort from the rod and staff when we find ourselves passing through a valley experience.

Go through it in peace.

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