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faded out photo of caregiver with spouse, smiling. foreground: Bible verse from Psalm 23:1-3

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even 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.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

This well-known, often memorized chapter of only 6 verses has brought comfort to many. I still remember standing at the bedside of a dear saint who was 100, just days before her death. She was barely speaking or eating anymore. But she repeated these words with my pastor husband. She had walked with God since she was a child. She had walked through the death of children, a spouse and numerous changes in our society including the Depression and two World Wars. By this time, most of her sisters had passed as well.

What a comforting reminder from David, a shepherd himself for many years. He knew how to care for sheep, not the smartest of animals.

To think that the Lord is our Shepherd, leaving us without anything to want, making us lie down in green pastures, near still water where we can eat and drink to our heart’s content, is guiding each of us through our lives in the ways described in this  chapter. This is particularly true if we belong to Him. This Psalm is described as a Psalm of Confidence in the Lord’s care. As we get into old age and often into caregiving, is there anything we need more?

He is able to restore our souls as He leads us along righteous paths. It is for His name’s glory and honor that we walk in righteousness.

Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we have nothing to fear, because our Shepherd is with us. His rod and staff are a comfort. Why? I did a little digging. Interestingly, there is a bit of disagreement, but this is what I landed on. We find comfort in the rod and staff because of the safety and security they provide for us, even though they may also bring pain. But that is true of some of God’s guidance isn’t it? Some of it may go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  It may be actual death, or it may be dark times. The promise, however, is this. He will be with us.

What is the staff for?

The staff is the stick that has a curve at the top. These are some of the things it is for:

  • Giving support or rest to the Shepherd when he is in a place where the ground is wet or uneven, he can lean on his staff.
  • To rescue a lost lamb. If one of them wanders away, It is often used to reach down to grab a lamb from a distant spot.
  • To guide the sheep. The staff keeps the herd together, keeps the straggling sheep from wandering off, and guides the flock in the direction they need to go if they are moving somewhere.

What is the rod for?

Evidently, the rod is the straight part of this same stick. It is all one tool for the shepherd. The rod is used for:

  • Protection for the sheep. The rod is heavy and can be used to either scare away or hit the enemy (often animals that want to harm the sheep.)
  • Safety. As part of protection, the rod is used for that lamb that is constantly getting away from the group and having to get found. The rod is used by the shepherd to break his leg. It is a clean break. Then the shepherd must splint the leg and carry the lamb over his shoulders. In the process, the lamb gets to know his scent and his voice well. When he is able to walk again, he stays close to the shepherd.
  • Symbol of love. Often used in counting the sheep. The shepherd needs to know he has all the sheep with him. He needs to know none are lost and the rod is used in this process. What does this have to do with being a symbol of love? It is a symbol of love in the sense that each sheep is numbered and counted individually.

We are familiar with the image of the Shepherd in this psalm, but the other image found here is that of host.

It is a very important one in that culture that carries with it a lot of responsibility. They didn’t have potlucks or informal sharing of hosting then. The host of the home carried the full responsibility for doing a good job of hosting and making everyone happy at the meal. If they weren’t happy, it was a source of shame to the host, particularly if the food or drink was not up to par! Everything had to be good quality for the guests.

Even in the presence of our enemies, the host prepares a table before me, one of provision. It isn’t just a snack. It is a good meal. He is a good host. He cares well for HIs guests.
He anoints my head with oil to care for my skin in the dry desert. The oil was also used for its medicinal properties.
My cup overflows with plenty to drink.

Goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.
And when this life is over, since I am one of HIs sheep,
I will live with Him forever in HIs house…a place where there will be no tears,
no darkness, no evil of any kind, no injustice.
Only God and all of HIs attributes will be there forever in that special place.

There isn’t any one thing here that is profound. It is just a beautiful picture of our Shepherd and Host who is caring for us now and who will continue to care for us forever. It is a delightful thing to meditate on.