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Tuesday, 26 January 2010 18:59

Thy Rod and Staff

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WHEN you read or recite something over and over, the repetition and consequent familiarity tends to ensure that the words lose their meaning and impact. 

Psalm 23 falls into this category! We read it so often. We sing it so often. Most know it off by heart. And so it has been taken for granted, almost rendered meaningless.

Then the Holy Spirit, that great protector and promoter of God’s Word, opportunely prompted me to take time out and have a good solid re-look at this averred psalm. And guess what? It blew my mind!
Indeed, that is what makes the Bible so different from anything else in the world. It never ceases to be alive and overflowing with God’s great wisdom and awesome presence!
Volumes have been written about Psalm 23 and I am not going to try re-inventing the wheel, but it was verse 4 that drew my undivided and overwhelming attention.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff comfort me. Those were the two sentences that really grabbed me!
Like it or not, life is about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Thanks to Adam and Eve it is the tragic truth. When God originally made Adam and Eve, the Bible tells us that He was pleased with what he had created.
Made in His image, man consisted of mind, body and spirit. The mind was the soul, the body/flesh, was the container, the earthen vessel that we inhabit and the spirit, of course, was the image of God in us.
The Bible tells us that God is Spirit and therefore it was through the spirit that God had a relationship with Adam and Eve. And it was this spiritual aspect that made man superior to all the other creations on earth. Like it or not, only man has the spiritual aspect, and animals do not!
God also ordained that man should have his own will. Having given him dominion of all, God did not want man just to be a worshipping robot but rather to be able to decide even about God Himself! Man’s own will and self-determination would have been meaningless had God not provided the opportunity to test it.
So He told Adam that there was one major issue. He was not to eat of the fruit of the tree of life. If he did that, God promised Adam he would surely die. And we all know what happened! The devil tempted Eve and they both succumbed and died. But it was not death of the mind or body, but much more importantly, of the spirit.
Underlined obviously is the fact that the only death of any consequence is spiritual death -- because if God truly is sovereign creator of all, and He is Spirit, then it certainly does make sense that if we are separated from Him spiritually we are truly dead.
Therefore from the eternal perspective, it matters not that we can breathe and think, walk and talk, when we are dead spiritually.
Separation from God, therefore, makes death such a huge issue. To die “separated” ensures an eternity in hell and damnation and that is not something to be taken lightly.
The Bible tells us that Jesus conquered death. That simply means that by re-opening the spiritual link with God for all us, He has enabled men and women to restore their spiritual link with God while we are still living here on earth and then be assured that at our physical death our spirit/soul will go straight to heaven!
That is what happens when we get “born again”. When we repent of our sin, turn from our wicked ways and die to self, it’s then that Jesus truly becomes Lord of our lives and this opens the way for eternity with Him.
It was the act of rebellion/disobedience on the part of Adam and Eve that turned the wonderful Garden of Eden into the valley of the shadow of death. Yes, death now became a huge problem. Worse still, the devil was now in charge of the world!
Simply, what happened when man succumbed to the devil’s temptations was that Adam and Eve, in dying spiritually, immediately lost the wisdom and protection of God and opened themselves up to the only other influence around -- the devil.
The devil was then able to manipulate and control man. And that tragically ensured that the devil could control the world, because God had put man in charge. So, whoever controls man does in fact control the world!
You just have to open your newspapers each day and watch the TV news channels to see who is in charge. Outside God, death does have a sting! And, like it or not, the devil has an incredibly powerful influence.
Yes, and that is why we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. To all intents and purposes life is, in fact, a funeral march! We are born dead spiritually thanks to Adam and unless we make a decision for Jesus while we are living, we die dead spiritually.
Someone once asked me how you get to hell. The answer? Very simple! Just keep walking!
Indeed, life here on earth is not a “cake-walk.” Evil and godlessness abound and man’s inhumanity to man daily sinks to new depths.
But the psalmist tells us that though all around we see great distress and suffering, we will fear no evil. Certainly it does not mean that evil will not abound and confront us. Here on earth it is a battleground. It’s a war zone! It is a spiritual spider web! The Kingdom of darkness is very real.
We are, as believers, foreigners and aliens. God’s Kingdom is not of this world as we note in John 17 where Jesus “prayed not for this world” but for his church, its influence, its unity and its fruit. Psalm 91 also confirms that thousands will fall around you but that you should not be intimidated. Most assuredly believers will get taken out or suffer physically and materially, but they will not fear. In other words they will not submit. They will not give up.
The Bible tells us that we are overcomers and that suggests most definitely that there is something to overcome! More than conquerors indicates a bit more than the physical as we refuse to compromise and follow up on the inheritance of the early disciples, the huge majority of whom were martyred.
And what does God offer for comfort? Thy rod and thy staff! That hit me like a thunderbolt A “rhema” word. Revelation! Most definitely a sermon, a word in season, right there.
And so to a walk through Hebrew definitions and we emerge with the rod being God’s Word and the staff, His spirit. I shall not want and God comforts me with his rod and staff.
Some might immediately respond to the rod and staff suggesting beating the sheep into submission. But the rod and staff represent God’s provision and protection for us, and most importantly, these two symbolically represent His complete nurturing process.
Just as God is love, mercy, forgiveness, discipline and judgment all at the same time, so is His rod and staff the complete process for His sheep.
We are so inclined, as we teach and analyse God’s Word, to break everything up into facets and concentrate on these one at a time. But we need to understand that in God’s truth it is all the facets operating all the time!
The rod and the staff were ALL the shepherd HAD to care for his flock. More important, it was ALL he NEEDED to look after His flock God’s way.
The rod is God’s Word! It is His anointed Word and here it’s key to understand that there is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit. In other words there is a huge disparity between the Word just written in black and white on a sheet of paper and the anointed Word!
In Isaiah we are told that God’s Word from His mouth never returns void. All too often we forget “from His mouth.” Anointing ensures great strength, power, authority and completeness, stressing that it is all we need.
Phillip Keller writes: “The rod is a weapon of power, authority and defence. It can retain effective control of the flock in every situation.” Keller further states that “the rod is the spoken word. As with Moses it carried the authority of divinity, the convicting power and irrefutable impact of thus says the Lord.”
It provides God’s absolute truth. As such it inspires, encourages, motivates and is also used to discipline and correct wayward sheep. It is used to draw sheep back into the fold and its constant correction provides constant comfort. It is above all, a tool of discipline and yet never represents tyrannical authority.
The rod is used to examine and prune, to count and number the sheep and it provides protection from danger.
Its frontline purpose is to be used as a weapon. The Word is a weapon. We are in a battle! We are up against a foe, an enemy and without protection we are sitting ducks, lambs to the proverbial slaughter. In the end times, and we are most definitely right there, without God’s word we are suckers for deception. The devil is like a roaring lion, says the Bible. And shepherds did deal with roaring lions. Believe it!
Keller adds: “Seeing the rod was a great assurance for the sheep. What a comfort to have a clear authoritative voice.”
The staff is equally yoked with the rod. The staff works along with the rod. It’s the Spirit! It is the comforter. Keller: “The Staff draws together an intimate relationship. It lifts the newborn cub to her mother and as such the staff ensures that there is no odour of human hands.” How interesting! Human hands bring a stench. It is always the human factor that undermines and disrupts God’s flock. Lay off God’s sheep!
God’s sheep do need prodding and guiding but His sheep hear His voice, and in fact know the hook and love the hook. They know it is for their protection and comfort and this is most reassuring. The hook also reaches out and draws individual sheep closer to the shepherd and pulls in the shy and timid ones!
God’s rod and staff do comfort. Without them we would be without direction and easy prey. The rod and staff enables us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil for absolutely nothing can stand against the power of God’s Word and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Amen and amen!

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