Where you go to find comfort? This is an important issue. People attempt to find comfort in a great variety of places. Some try alcohol or drugs. Others try sex or pornography. More respectable sources of comfort might include, family, spouse, or perhaps money, power, physical appearance or skill. The list goes on but by now you get the point. The thing is – we all need and want comfort.
We want comfort because we live in a hostile environment. “Life is tough and then you die,” as the saying goes. Christians take comfort in knowing that when one dies trusting in Christ, he or she goes directly to be with him while waiting for the final restoration of all things. We know that a wonderful future awaits us.
The problem is that in the meantime, we live in a broken world, which is fraught with frustration, anger, dissatisfaction, and evil. The promise of a wonderful future fades when we are faced with difficulties and disappointments. Again, an old saying sums it up: “it’s hard to remember that your objective is to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ears in alligators.” (No political pun intended!)
Take for instance a young family who is trying to get established. Expenses easily outgrow income. Advancement is slow, if at all. Family financial needs escalate with expectations, unexpected expenses brought on by choices or illness. Life gets harder and the future seems bleak. Potential disaster looms. Uncertainty, doubt and fatigue produce pessimism. The optimism and enthusiasm of youth dissipate. The future seems more threatening than hopeful.
Consider a shepherd boy. Alone, he treks over the rough countryside, defending and tending his sheep. To provide them with much-needed water, he follows a path which winds its way through a dark and threatening gorge. Not knowing what is around the next bend, he senses the unseen danger. His enemies are real – wild animals like a lion or a bear, or worse yet – wild men!
David, the author of Psalm 23, knows well what it is to face the threatening uncertainty of the future. Indeed, he has walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He has experienced the peace of God which passes all understanding. He knows what it’s like to find comfort in the presence of God. Further, he informs us how!
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
These words give us crucial insight as we face the intimidations of the unknown. Let’s consider the words in the order written.
Your rod – the Hebrew term is used to indicate a slender rod used to beat cumin or a weapon or of a shepherd’s implement, used to count his sheep. The word was also used to describe the corrective or punitive activity of God. God corrects his own people but punishes his enemies. In this verse (Psalm 23.4), the term is used symbolically to indicate God’s protection of his servant, who is walking in “passive righteousness” which also lead through the valley of threatening doom and darkness.
Your staff – this Hebrew word derives from a verb meaning “to lean on.” It depicts the familiar shepherd’s crook bending at the end of the long “walking stick.” The staff supports the one using it. That is, it is used to supplement the work of the shepherd as he cares for, defends, protects, and guides his sheep. The staff is something used to accomplish the work the shepherd is doing.
Rather than trying to identify specific tools which the Lord is using to protect and guide his people (David and all believers), it is best to think of them symbolically. God uses all kinds of circumstances, including people, to shepherd his people; they are his implements to carry out his purpose for his people, both individually and collectively.
It is no wonder that this encourages David. “Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Notice that this thought goes beyond the fact that God is with David. He is saying that the things that God brings into his life are, in reality, God’s tools. They are implements God uses to work out his purpose.
Comfort – a primary meaning of this word is to console or to show compassion. It comes from a root which means “to breathe deeply.” In other words, to comfort someone is to help them “take a deep breath.” Our English verb comfort means to ease the grief or distress; to console. It depicts David (or you or me), pausing to consider that God is with him (and us!). We have another English word which describes this experience. A comforter is a heavy quilt–like blanket, which one might drape around her/his shoulders to ward off the cold.
So, here is a “comforter” which comes from the Heidelberg Catechism, a historic Creed of the 16th century, which should encourage you today.
QUESTION 1. What is thy only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.
Life is hard. Your future is not better – it will be the best with Jesus. As you walk with Jesus and trek through the dark experiences, remember that you are not alone. Jesus is with you and is preparing you for a future which is much too wonderful for us to comprehend. In the meantime, find your comfort in his promises.