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. (Psalm 23:4 ESV)
There are occasions when I wonder what many of these children have endured. I don’t dwell on it much because their background stories are truly heartbreaking. You can almost feel their fear and pain if they choose to open up to you. I consider it a privilege that they find me safe enough to shake my hand or give me the biggest hug. If you imagine yourself to be 1 of 80 in a home like this, you may discover that you have a deep longing to be held and comforted by someone bigger than you, who will love and protect you and not take advantage of your innocence.
How precious are they in Jesus’s eyes! Trust me, he gets very angry when someone purposely harms a little child. He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). He gives fair warning that there will be a reckoning for those who commit evils against children.
It is interesting that God uses what was considered the least admirable vocation to describe how he cares for his people. Shepherds were simple, less educated, lower class citizens in Israel, and to think of God in that way was counterintuitive.
However, we must remember that David wrote these words through the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Lord wanted him to describe in human terms, the approachability of God as a caring and loving deity. As an all-powerful Creator, he takes on the role of a servant and is willing to intermingle with us in the closest proximity possible. It’s a curious thing to think about, that a majestic king is willing to step down from his throne to actively govern his people this way. Yes, he can delegate assignments and tasks, but when you think about his omnipresence, the Lord is actually involved with every action concerning the care of the saints.
A shepherd uses a staff as an extension of his arm to guide sheep and comfort them by keeping them close to him. The rod is a short wooden club used to count sheep and to prod them when they are not responding to his direction. He wants to protect the oppressed and defenseless. He pays attention to the poor and needy. He wards off his enemies so they may no longer harass his flock. And if they injure them in any way, the Good Shepherd is skilled in binding wounds and helping them heal. King David has surely experienced this kind of care from God, and it is truly a blessing that he was able to describe it in a way for all future generations to read and meditate on.