Friday, March 20, 2020

23rd Psalms Christians: Going Places with God - Lesson 5

23rd Psalms Christians: Going Places with God

Lesson 5 Through the Valley, Psalms 23:4 

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.

In the last lesson David begins to look at the paths his shepherd will lead him on.  Now in verse 4 the shepherd and the sheep are walking those very paths.  It is time in the cycle of the sheep's year to begin the trek from the home fold to the mountain pastures.  In between lie the valleys as deep and shadowed as the mountains are high and bright.  The only way to reach the mountain heights will be with the shepherd through the valley of the shadow of death.

Through the valley

This verse begins the dangerous journey to the high mountain pastures. This trip is necessary because the summer heat has burned up the grass in the lower home fields.

Notice that David has switched from the third person to the second person in his speech.  In the first 3 verses he spoke of I and he, but now is saying I and you.  It is as if the sheep now begins to directly talk to the shepherd.  How does the change in person affect the verse?  How does it alter the relationship between shepherd and sheep at this point?

David stops talking about the shepherd and begins to talk with His shepherd, as he goes through the it brings him closer to the sheep.

Phillip Keller writes, "During this time the flock is entirely alone with the shepherd.  They are in intimate contact with him and under his most personal attention day and night. That is why these last verses are couched in such intimate first person language."

Stephen Haboush talks similarly, "Palestine has more mountains and hills for its size than any other country known to me.  The correlate of these multitudinous mountain heights is the presence of valleys equally numerous and as deep as the heights are towering.  I used to dread taking the sheep thorough one particular valley in Galilee.  This is called in the language of the Holy Land "Wadi el-naar," which means "the valley of fire."  Next to the Dead Sea, it is the hottest place in Palestine, being over five hundred feet below sea-level.  It is found at the lower end of the Sea of Galilee.  An ancient road runs through this valley.  In fact, it was the most popular road in the days of Jesus.  Situated on the eastern side of the River Jordan, it was the link of the Damascus-Jericho-Jerusalem highway.

Wadi el-naar was the rendezvous of thieves and robbers, also of the wild beast that harassed the shepherd and his flock.  I would dread leading the sheep through this valley, but it was necessary whenever new pasture ground must be sought on the other side.  My sheep would sense the danger and gather closely to my side.  My continual calling and the sense of my presence gave them confidence and allayed their fear."

David writes from the sheep's perspective and says, "I will fear no evil for thou art with me."  The valley is never enjoyable, but it is almost always necessary if I am to be drawn closer to my shepherd.  In the valley I realize my own weakness and Jesus' great strength.

Higher Ground

As Christians we often long for a mountain top experience in our walk with God.  What we do not like to consider is that the path to the peaks always leads through the valleys.

Think about the following Bible examples, think about the valleys in their lives which proceeded the peaks.

Denial of Christ,
Sermon on Pentecost
Paul & Silas
Beaten thrown in prison.
Phillipian Jailer Saved
Chased as a outlaw by Saul
Crowned as King of Israel
Blinded, bound and mocked by Philistines
Destruction of Temple of Dagon

To our shepherd, Jesus Christ every valley can serve as a conduit to a higher ground if I follow Him.  We may not be able with our limited sight to ever understand or see this, but the shepherd knows the way.  It is not necessary that He tell me every reason, it is enough that in the shadows He walks with me. 

When I find myself in the valley what should be my primary concern?"  In the valley my focus should be upon the shepherd and his leading me through, not upon the shadows but upon the brightness of Jesus.

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

David gives two ways that the shepherd uses to comfort the sheep; thy rod and thy staff.  These two tools represent the basic arsenal of the shepherd. 

Haboush writes, "My shepherd equipment was never complete without the rod and staff.  They were the most essential tools.  Without them the shepherd is helpless.  The safety of himself and of his sheep depends upon the use of these two instruments.  Let me describe them.  The rod, about twenty-eight inches long, made of oak, was carried in my pouch attached to my cloak, and used as a club.  It must be chosen carefully, a straight young tree often being torn up for this purpose, and the bulb at the beginning of the root being trimmed to make the head of the club.  The handle is shaved to the needed thickness, with a hole in the end by which it is tied to the belt or hung from the wrist like a riding whip.  Into the head are hammered nails and pieces of steel."

The rod could be used as a club or it could be thrown with great accuracy at a predator or if need be at a disobedient sheep.  The rod gave the shepherd power and control over his flock, it was his symbol of  authority.

The staff was usually a much longer more slender pole and its purpose was complementary to the rod both were necessary to the work of the shepherd.

Haboush writes of the staff, "The staff is made of the same wood, but it is five or six feet long, very plain.   I used the staff to help me clamber over rocks and to lean on while watching the sheep.  But the most important use of the rod and the staff would come when I led my sheep through dangerous territory.  Let me again remind you that the sheep in Palestine must be led and not driven.  For if we drove the sheep from behind it would have been a tragedy and a crime.  Why? you ask.  Simply for the reason that here and there serpents would be found; and when the shepherd drove his sheep the reptiles would rise and strike their venomous fangs into them.  Accordingly, the shepherd had to go ahead of his sheep."

Keller also write, "The staff is also used for guiding sheep.  Again and again I have seen a shepherd use his staff to guide his sheep gently into a new path or through some gate or along dangerous, difficult routes.  He does not use it actually to beat the best.  Rather, the tip of the long slender stick is laid gently against the animal's side and the pressure applied guides the sheep in the way the owner wants it to go.  Thus the sheep is reassured of its proper path."

Comfort in Tools of the Shepherd

Many applications could be made from the twin tools of the shepherd, let me make these.

The Rod

The rod was a weapon it represents authority, protection and sometimes punishment. The rod shows that the shepherd is in control and the shepherd will decide what must be protected and what must be punished.  It speaks of the justice and judgment of Jesus Christ, our shepherd.

Psalms 45:6 says, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of justice."  Here God as ruler is holding a different kind of rod, a scepter but it also is a symbol of his authority and his judgment.

Isaiah 9:7 tells us that these two qualities are characteristics of the coming shepherd of Israel.  "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this."

The rod represents the Lord's justice and judgment. That justice and judgment should bring comfort to us as His sheep. We know our shepherd is righteous.  We know He will protect the us as his flock. He will also deal with those within the flock who are rebellious. Like a child who longs for the surety of a  disciplined hand, the sheep find comfort in the surety of the shepherd's unfaltering justice.

Another use of the rod by the shepherd also speaks of judgment.  Both or our shepherd authors write of "passing under the rod."
Keller describes it this way, "In caring for his sheep, the good shepherd, the careful manager, will from time to time make a careful examination of each individual sheep.  The picture is a very poignant one.  As each animal comes out of the corral and through the gate, it is stopped by the shepherd's outstretched rod. He opens the  fleece with the rod; he runs his skillful hands over the body; he feels for any sign of trouble; he examines the sheep with care to see that all is well. This is a most searching process entailing every intimate detail. It is, too, a  comfort to the sheep for only in this way can its hidden problems be laid bare before the shepherd.

This is what was meant in Psalm 139:23,24 when the psalmist wrote, ''Search me, O God, and know my  heart: try me, and know my  thoughts : and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlastlng."

In submitting myself fully to the authority of Jesus Christ I ask Him to also examine my life and to cleanse me from sin, only then can I meet my shepherd’s measure of righteousness. 

The Staff

Yet justice without compassion is an unbearable burden, so Psalms 23 also looks to the staff.  The staff was a tool of guidance, of support and love. With it the shepherd would draw the sheep to himself rather than drive it into compliance. The staff speaks to me of the Lord's love and mercy. The rod comforts by establishing the boundaries of my life while the staff comforts by bringing me back to the center of my life, which is my shepherd Jesus Christ. 

We see the same thought expressed by Paul for fathers in bringing up their children

Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  

The word nurture means training usually in a negative fashion such as a spanking or chastening, the word admonition means to exhort, to encourage. This presents the balance a father must use or risk provoking his children to wrath.  The same is true of the sheep's treatment by the shepherd.


In my present relationship with the shepherd right now, is He having to use the rod or the staff? Am I being obedient in following and submitting myself to Jesus Christ or am I having to be chastized back into the flock.

All of us all the sheep of His pasture, He has a claim on all of us.  We may think that we are running wild in the mountains but we are still under His watchful eyes.  It is my choice how I will be found, listening for the Master's voice or running away and vainly trying to hide.

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