Jesus, My Good Shepherd

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. - Psalm 23:4 NLT
 
In verse 4 of Psalm 23, there are three things mentioned that are characteristics of a shepherd. The verse reveals that a shepherd is close to his sheep, protects his sheep, and comforts his sheep. Protection and comfort are tied to the fact that the shepherd is physically and emotionally close to his sheep. In order for a shepherd to protect his sheep, he has to know them. He has to know who is present, who is running off, and who is close beside him. He must be aware of his flock at all times. A personal relationship with each sheep would imply that he knows which sheep has a tendency to run off and which one will stay close by his side. The shepherd doesn’t stop at simply knowing his sheep, though. He puts his knowledge to action by leading them and protecting them.

A shepherds staff has a curved handle - think a wooden candy cane. While this might be helpful for walking through mountain ranges, the main purpose of the crook is to enable the shepherd to be able to pull the sheep in if they start to drift away from the flock or walk to close to the edge of a mountain. The shepherd would extend the staff so that the crook could wrap around the waist of the sheep so that he could pull him to safety. If a sheep gets to close to a cliff, the shepherd must be close enough to reach out and grab the sheep. This means the shepherd isn’t necessarily behind or ahead of his sheep. Rather, he’s in the middle of the flock, looking around to see if everyone is present and safe.
 
In addition to the shepherd’s staff, a shepherd would also have a rod. This rod was a hybrid between a baseball bat and a walking stick. In the mountains, there are bears and lions. David knew this because he fought off both to protect his sheep. If any animal tried to attack the sheep, the shepherd could use his rod to beat the predator away. Something kind of funny about sheep is that they have amazing peripheral vision, but terrible depth perception. It’s like they have side-view mirrors. They can see what’s around them, but they don’t always know that objects may be closer than they appear. So if a sheep is running towards the edge of a cliff, it may know where the edge is, but not how much room it has till it falls off.

We may not be sheep, but it is so much easier for humans to look back than to look ahead. That’s why the shepherd’s staff is so important. When Jesus reels us in, it’s not because he’s controlling or cruel, but for our safety. God can see what is behind and before, so he knows when we’re close to the edge much better than we do. Knowing this makes the valley a lot less scary. There’s a reason David says he walks through the valley instead of runs or walks around or over. He knew that with God as his shepherd, he had nothing to fear. He knew that Jesus would pull him to safety, stay close to him, and protect him from anything that would try to consume him.
 
When we know Jesus as our shepherd, we don’t have to run through the hard things. We can walk in peace and confidence knowing that Jesus isn’t far off, but rather, he is walking right beside us. We can walk in peace knowing that even though there is darkness, it will not consume us. The valley will end. It is not the journey, it’s just a part of it. We don’t have to rely on our own strength to survive. We don’t have to avoid the hard things out of fear. We get to walk through them with peace because Jesus is offering comfort and protection along the way.

Take a moment to reflect on the truth that Jesus is your good shepherd, that he is close, and that he protects and comforts you. If you feel like you’re in a valley, ask God for his perspective, to have hope for what you can’t yet see. Meditate on his peace that surpasses all understanding, his peace that is not overcome by the darkness. Ask God to increase your trust in him and to reveal himself as your protector and comforter. If you have been believing that his rod and staff are cruel, ask God to right your understanding of his love and discipline. It is his kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Jesus is not a controlling or cruel shepherd. He is a good, kind, and faithful friend. Invite him to reveal himself to you as that.

Author | Emily Baker

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