“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
“When I am scared, God will help me,” says Joseph, age 7. “And if a burglar is coming into my house, God will protect us.”
This world is full of dangerous places and situations. Sheep, like people, are especially vulnerable to fear. Their greatest comfort is seeing the shepherd, but sometimes it’s difficult to rest in his protection, says Juliet, 11: “This means to me that he is with you always. I know that he is there, but sometimes I fear, and I know I shouldn’t.”
Isn’t that the truth? The shepherd is there with rod and staff in hand ready to defend his sheep against all danger, yet the sheep panic. Often, it’s the unexpected that sends sheep and people into a tizzy.
Former shepherd and author Phillip Keller writes about the time a friend came to visit. As she opened the car door, a tiny Pekingese pup jumped out. More than 200 sheep grazing nearby leaped up in terror and rushed across the pasture.
You won’t find Jordan, 11, running from a Pekingese. “It means that you don’t have to be scared anymore! Just pray to God, and He will be there quicker than the speed of light. (Even though He’s already there!)”
The stark contrast between living by fear and living by faith in the shepherd is portrayed in Proverbs 28:1: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” The only way vulnerable sheep can live with a lion’s confidence is to keep close to the shepherd.
Although Psalm 23:4 is often read at funerals, there is no mention of death in the original Hebrew text. It should be translated: “Though I walk in a gloomy ravine, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
David drew from his firsthand experience as a shepherd in the Judean desert when he wrote Psalm 23. The contrast between darkness and light is intensified in the desert. Walking after sundown can be deadly. Dark, narrow ravines are ideal hiding places for predators. Shepherds lead their sheep through them to get to better grazing pastures.
Yes, death is the ultimate shadow through which we all must walk; however, the Lord’s comforting presence can sustain us through any dark time or place.
“My rod and staff is God protecting me,” says Jeremy, 11. “I will fear no evil with God around.”
“His rod and staff pull us away from sin,” adds Blair, 9.
The shepherd’s rod and staff work together. Where the staff is used more for gentle functions, such as extending a shepherd’s reach to rescue a lamb on the edge of a cliff, the rod is used more for protection against predators.
“Knobkerrie” is the word for rod among certain African herdsmen. Each rod has a rounded head of hard wood. Herdsmen compete to see who can throw his rod the farthest with the greatest accuracy.
“God will pull me on the right path with his strong hands,” says Jackie, 10, who knows the comfort of the shepherd’s rod and staff.
Think About This: Trust the Good Shepherd and live boldly, or trust yourself and live in fear.
Memorize this truth: Psalm 23:4 quoted in the first line of this lesson.
Ask this question: Will you let the Good Shepherd guide you through the dark shadows of your fears?
By Carey Kinsolving