“Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
The rod symbolises Christ’s power and authority. During their wanderings in the wilderness, the Israelites were attacked by a band of Amalekites, who specially targeted the weaker ones and those straggling behind. Moses sent Joshua to fight this enemy, while he himself stood on top of a hill with the staff of God in his hands. “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed…”. Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ weary arms until the sun set, and Joshua defeated their enemy. Moses then made an altar to the Lord calling it “Jehovah Nissi” or “The Lord is my banner” (Exodus 17).
Abraham and his descendants kept flocks of sheep for their livelihood. A shepherd leading his flock far and wide seeking for pasturelands and watering places, would carry with him a rod. A seemingly useless weapon in our modern age, it had a special importance for people of that time. No one travelling any distance from home would venture out without this useful equipment. On foggy days, in the early hours of the morning or once the sun had set, and light was dim, the rod was necessary to guide one’s steps over uncertain terrain, and to defend oneself against wild animals, poisonous snakes and highway thieves.
No shepherd expects his sheep to find their own way. Fully aware of their natural limitations – for sheep are by nature foolish and defenceless creatures – he undertakes to supply their deficiencies with his own strength and resources. The sheep wandering over previously unknown hills and valleys have nothing to worry about if they have a shepherd adequately armed and determined to defend them.
If a snake or viper crosses their path, his rod is a handy weapon to crush its head. Any wolf lurking around to snatch one of lambs has to contend with the shepherd’s watchful eye and stout rod. If a little lamb were to stray away and fall into a thorny pit, the shepherd would go searching and carry it out of the pit with the crook of his staff.
We read of other rods in the Bible. There was, of course the rod of Moses. When he raised it, the Red Sea parted to make a pathway for the Israelites to cross through; when he struck the rock in the wilderness, water flowed. There was also Aaron’s rod. When the Israelites contested the choice of Aaron for priesthood, Moses asked the elders of other tribes to present their rods before the Lord in the tent of Testimony. Aaron’s rod alone blossomed and bore ripe almonds testifying to God’s divine favour over his life for this purpose (Numbers 17).
What does all this mean for us in a practical sense? To understand this more fully, we need to briefly examine: 1. The role of our Shepherd in defending us, 2. The nature of our enemy and his present capabilities, and 3. Our responsibility as sheep.
The Shepherd has the duty to fight against the snakes and wolves that would devour us. The prophets Jeremiah (23:1), Zechariah (11:17) and Ezekiel (34:2) wrote strong words of condemnation and judgment against unrighteous shepherds, who deserted their flock or led them astray. These words are an indication of how seriously Jesus takes the responsibility of defending us.
The Shepherd also has the power and authority to defend us against the enemy of our souls. After His resurrection, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Paul clarifies the nature of Christ’s authority – He is seated at the Father’s right hand “far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:20-22 HCSB). With such an all powerful Shepherd in charge of our destiny, we have every reason to be confident of victory against the enemy’s tactics.
The victory of Christ on the cross accomplished two things for us. First, He cancelled all our debts, those inherited from Adam as well as personal debts incurred by our own sinful behaviour. Second, He “disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15 NIV). This victory will come to full fruition at the end of the age, when all creation is freed from the curse of sin. But even now, in the present age, Christ’s victory is ours as we remain in Him.
Coming to Satan, the enemy of our souls. “He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The Bible describes at some length the nature and the strategies of the devil. He works to make us doubt the love of God, to divert our attentions to the pleasures of this world, and to lead us astray from the course our Shepherd has determined for us. The devil may seem dangerous and cunning, but he has been defeated. On the cross, he was fully disarmed and stripped of his power over our lives. He is still capable of wrecking havoc through fear and deception, but Christ is more than equal to the task of defending us.
What is our role? All that is expected of sheep is that they follow the shepherd – their safety lies in their absolute fidelity in doing just this one thing. A wayward sheep, who strays away from the fold is open to enemy attack; but even then, it is the shepherd’s job to follow and rescue it. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 NIV).
Much of our defence, indeed much of our resistance consists in simply obeying our Shepherd. An obedient life is, therefore, a powerful life. 1 Peter 5:8 exhorts us to ‘remain alert and of sober mind’, so that we do not stray away from following our Master, despite the enemy’s attempts to scare, confuse and scatter our thoughts.This is not always easy. Everything within our flesh rebels against consistent and continuous obedience. Yet, the more we mature, the more we see the wisdom in following Christ above all else; and we realise that the paths He chooses for us are the best for our security and flourishing.
Father, thank You for the amazing power of Christ to defend us from our enemies. We are secure in His keeping, and none can pluck us from His hand. Forgive our waywardness and change our hearts. Grant us wisdom to realise that Your ways are the best for us, and help us to meekly follow. Help us not to fall for the devil’s tactics to ensnare us. In Jesus’ name.