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Saturday, August 18, 2012

“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

This thought is not comforting until you grow older and realize that God can be two completely opposite things without compromising or contradicting himself. 

I have traveled through seasons where I am drawn to the beauty and love and grace of God saying with the Psalmist “one thing I ask and that will I seek, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”.  These glorious attributes of God have served to heal me and bring a balance to my harsh perspective on God.
But we all know that God and his attributes aren’t about “one thing” though that single-minded vision is needed at times. 

We like boiling stuff down to one thing.  We really love boiling God down to one thing, too.
You talk to some people and they are about God’s love.  Others are about God’s Spirit.  Some are all about God’s wrath in war, while others tend to prefer God’s peaceful nature.  Some tune in when you start talking about God’s compassion, but tune out when you start talking about God’s commands.  Some would rather not read about the Old Testament God and are just fine concentrating on the New Testament God.  The polarities are endless.

But in this passage, both the rod and staff bring comfort even when it’s not comfortable.

The rod of the Shepherd was used to discipline the sheep in order to protect them from harm.  The shepherd never inflicts pain to harm, but to protect.  He knows that chastening is a loving act.  The rod would often have a blunt end and would be used to strike a sheep when it was wandering.  We’re use to the term “a stay sheep” when we’re talking of someone who has left the fold or the flock.  When a sheep left the flock (fold), it was in imminent danger, so the shepherd would train the sheep by occasionally striking it when it wasn’t heeding the guidance of the shepherd.  (some stories are told of shepherd actually breaking a lambs leg and then carrying it to teach it to listen) It was either experience a little pain now and live, or no pain now and die.  In the moment, it just looks cruel and heartless on the part of the shepherd, but it’s really a side of love we don’t honor so much in our cushy and mushy culture of ‘no spanking’ and ‘sitting on the naughty mat’ and ‘time outs’…anything to avoid the rod…that’s abuse.

But the rod is just as God-like as the staff.

The staff of the Shepherd is much more popular.  It’s in about every Jesus-picture where the sheep metaphor is being depicted.  The Shepherd’s crook is used to pull a lamb from danger, to nudge them and guide them on paths, and as I read today when I was studying this, to scratch that hard-to-reach itch that the sheep couldn’t get to on its own.  It was a walking stick for the shepherd, something to lean on for leverage.  It was an instrument of protection and peace, comfort and even caressing.  We love the staff of God because it signifies grace, compassion, protection, provision and affection. 

It takes quite a heart of maturity to speak of both of these objects as necessary and comfort-producing.  Another word for comfort is security, like a child who draws closer to a parent when he or she senses the love that accompanies both forms.  When you get older you realize that love is both discipline and tenderness.  Fear and friendship.  His voice comes in a whisper and a thunder.  He is still just as much God when you’re under his rod of wrath as when you are under his staff of peace.  He is the same Shepherd with the same heart for you.

I’m not going to lie; the rod is hard to handle sometimes.  Affliction doesn’t feel good.  Tension in a relationship rots.  Losing your job bites.  Getting that dreaded diagnosis isn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy.  Pain is something we try to avoid at all costs, but sometimes God wants us to feel pain in order to mature.  When you avoid pain, you are also avoiding growth.  You see, pain is the #1 teacher of “self-awareness”.  And there is no one who is in more peril than the chronically “self-aware”-impaired.  So what will it be?  Pain or Peril?

God is the God of the “Rod and Staff”.  If you want the God of one or the other, you don’t want the God of the Bible.


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