The Bible is renowned for its imagery, and it helps illuminate the Scriptures if you comprehend it in a particular context. For example, the Bible often depicts Jesus Christ as the Shepherd, and His elect as sheep. To me, the most eloquent imagery of that scenario is the 23rd Psalm. If you understand the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep, it opens a panoramic view of the relationship between our Lord, and those who belong to Him.
Sheep are not intelligent creatures. They are easy prey, because when predators attack they do not run, or fight, but huddle together in a group, which makes them vulnerable. Sheep are followers and follow a leader anywhere, including off the proverbial cliff. In addition, when they graze, sheep do not look up they just move from one stand of grass to another. If the rest of the herd turns and grazes in another direction, and one of them doesn’t notice, it can get lost. Sheep need help.
A shepherd is help for sheep, and has a special love for his sheep, because they are dependent on him for survival. He directs them to fresh pastures, and leads them to still waters. He directs his flock from behind, thus he can encourage those that lag behind, and those that wander off he finds, and brings back. At night, he counts them to make sure all are accounted for. In time, the sheep learn the shepherd’s voice, and only respond to that voice.
The Rod and Staff
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and staff , they comfort me.” Psalm 23: 4 NASB
A rod or staff, also called a crook, refers to a single instrument. A shepherd uses it to comfort and protect his sheep. He uses it to nudge the leader when its time for the herd to move, and guide back to the flock those who wander away. If a sheep is caught in a thicket or in mud by a watering hole, he uses the crook on the end of the staff to grasp, and help free it. When necessary, the rod is used to drive off predators. Likewise, in the imagery of Psalm 23: 4, while we walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil, Jesus, the Shepherd of believers uses that instrument to comfort, and protect us.
The instrument He uses to comfort and protect us is His rod, the Bible, the Word of God. For those who believe, the Bible is the crook of His promises, and the rod of His forgiveness. With the fresh water of truth, it directs believers toward the green pastures of heaven. If we wander, or lag behind, God’s Word directs us back into His fold, and if we get stuck in a thicket, or the mud of sin, His Word frees us. It reveals the “armor of God” that protects us from the “flaming darts of the devil.” Through the Bible, believers learn they have the comfort and protection of knowing Jesus does not lose any the Father gives Him, and through His Word we learn to recognize His voice. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:11 NASB