July 1, 2020by Reverend Dan on July 1, 2020
“Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
We left off yesterday talking about the comfort a shepherd provides to his sheep. Today we pick up with the actual use of the word “comfort”.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” David mentions two tools that every shepherd carried with them. A rod was a sturdy wooden stick the shepherd used to fight off any predator that tried to attack the flock. They would either use it to “strike” the wild animal (like David did in killing the bear), or because they were very adept in their aim, they’d throw the rod at attacking animals.
The staff was a slender pole, with a little crook on the end. (You see them at all the Nativity plays.) It could be hooked around the torso or leg of a sheep to pull him from harm, and it was also utilized to lift sheep out of crevices they had fallen into. And in Leviticus, it also states that the shepherd used the staff to keep count of the sheep.
So, the rod was used to comfort the sheep by offering protection against their stalkers, while the staff was used more as a tool of guidance and love directly on the sheep. The rod was used to discipline, while the staff protected.
The shepherd comforts with his presence . . . he comforts with his protection . . . next he comforts with the preparations he makes for the sheep.
David writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Ideally, the best place for the sheep to graze – the best “green pastures” - was on a flat mesa, or what was called a “tableland”. When the shepherd found such a place, before letting the sheep wander around he would inspect the area for poisonous plants and make sure there were no predators prowling around. This way the sheep could eat even though there were enemies nearby because the shepherd was protecting them. Hence the “table in the presence of my enemies”.
Every time I think about this, I think about the story of a young boy who was messing around during dinner one night, and after being warned several times, his parents finally told him he had to eat by himself at a tiny table in the corner. When he sat down, his dad reminded him to pray before he ate. He closed his eyes and prayed, “Bless this food that I eat in the presence of my enemies.”
What at first might seem like dissonant issues in this psalm – a shepherds tools and eating in the presence of enemies – actually work to help us realize the deeper meaning of how much a shepherd loves and cares about his sheep and the extent to which he will go to give them comfort. Whether for protection or safety, the shepherd works tirelessly to make sure the sheep can live without fear no matter what threatens them.
God’s good like that, comforting us by promising that he who watches over us “neither slumbers nor sleeps” and assuring us that “the sun will not harm us by day nor the moon by night”. That’s what a good shepherd does.
“Father, Prayer. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”