by Ted Kyle
While the Bible is chock-full of precious promises, sweet assurances, necessary commands, even stern warnings, there is one chapter that for me is more glorious and more full of joy than any other: the Twenty-third Psalm.
Every verse is rapturous, for one who knows himself a sheep—that is, helpless to save himself and always in need of firm but loving guidance from the Shepherd. But the verse that sings most often to my heart—and the more troubling my circumstances the sweeter its song—is verse 4: “Yea, 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.”
I will fear no evil! And of all the potential evils this world has to offer, the fear of death is Satan’s best effort to terrify the living. (I did not say, please note, that it is the worst of all evils. It is not. The dread of hell-fire is far more ominous and ought to inspire vastly greater fear in human hearts. Yet such is our old nature that the fear of death is ingrained, and only a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit within us can unseat this unreasoning fear.) So when with the Sweet Singer of Israel we can say, “I will fear no evil,” every lesser anxiety is included.
And why will we not be afraid? Because “Thou art with me.” Jehovah God, our Maker, our Father, our Well-Beloved, is never apart from every one of His true children. As David elsewhere asked, “Whither can I fly from Thy presence?” And the answer is Nowhere. He is always with us.
“Thy rod…” The rod (shibtecha) speaks not of correction but of comfort (Clarke). It is the shepherd’s crook—useful both for defense against predators and for extricating wandering sheep from thickets or bogs. It is also an emblem of office, even a scepter. This is not just any rod: it is the rod of our Savior—mighty to save, who will not lose even one whom His Father has committed to His care.
“And thy staff…” The staff (umishantecha) is broadly a support: a walking stick or even a camp stool, according to Clarke. It suggests the ever-ready help our Savior offers and the rest we find in Him.
“They comfort me”! Praise God, yes! It is Christ Jesus who wields them—Jesus the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), Jesus the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), Jesus the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20). But infinitely more important—at least to this sheep—is the fact that He is my Shepherd! Praise His Name!