The Rod and the Staff
Psa 23:1-6. "A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
What a beautiful psalm! This psalm has comforted millions on fields of battle, beds of illness, and moments of passing from this life to the next. In pointing out what needs to be pointed out about the rod that the shepherd carried, by no means do I (we) intend to take away from the comfort of this beautiful and reassuring psalm.
But . . . friend . . . the rod and the staff were two separate instruments. It seems that almost every one who reads the 23rd Psalm gravitates to the staff instead of the rod. In most ways, that is only natural.
The staff was the wooden instrument with the crook on the end of it. With the staff the shepherd could grasp the hoof of a sheep that was getting a little too far away from the herd and gently pull the errant sheep back to where he belonged. All of us seek the Great Shepherd, hoping that we contact the staff and not the rod. It seems safe to say that many who have read the 23rd Psalm never even realized that (1) the rod was also part of the shepherd's authorized tools, and (2) that the rod was to be as desired as the staff.
The rod was not the same thing as the staff. The rod was wooden, long and straight, typically over six feet long, rounded or blunt on the ends, and about 1 to 2 inches thick. Strongs' says rod in Hebrew was shay'-bet -- "From an unused root probably meaning to branch off; a scion, that is, (literally) a stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, ruling, walking, etc" Whereas the staff was used on the flock, the rod was almost always used on outsiders. A skillful shepherd could make a wolf sorry that he ever thought about lamb chops for supper. The shepherd's rod could loosen or break a wolf's teeth, bloody the wolf's nose, blind him, crack his skull, and drub the wolf's ribs. The rod could be used on the would-be thief who came by night to steal from the flock. A well-trained shepherd could be more than a handful for a thief who came to do harm to the flock. The flock didn't have to fight because the shepherd had already done it for them. In this aspect, Jesus was truly the Great Shepherd (John 10). The flock took comfort (Psalms 23: 4) in the fact that the rod and its shepherd were strong and could defend them.
Today's flock should not be alarmed or distressed when the rod is used to scare off the wolves of doctrinal impurity and modernism. When elders decry false teaching, people should not feel like something is wrong or out of hand. It is the elders' job to use the rod. Occasionally it becomes the overseers' responsibility to quell the threat that rises from within the church also (Acts 20: 28-30).
Books that have been useful in preparing these lessons include:
Anderson, L. (1993). They smell like sheep. West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing.
Gangel, K. O. (1984). So you want to be a leader! Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications.
Grimsley, R. W. (1964). The Church and its elders. Abilene, Texas: Quality Printing Company.
Lewis, J. P. (1985). Leadership questions confronting the church. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
Lewis, J. P. (2008). The question of instrumental music in worship. Searcy, AR: Truth for Today World Mission School.
Sanders, J. O. (1989). Spiritual leadership. Chicago, Ill: Moody Press.
Strauch, A. (1991). A study guide to biblical eldership: An urgent call to restore Biblical church leadership. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers.
White, J., & Blue, K. (1985). Church discipline that heals: Putting costly love into action. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press.
Yeakley, F. R. jr. (1980). Church leadership and organization. Arvada, CO: Christian Communications.
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