Protection . . . ever need it? Years ago, I sold college rings for Jostens and spent every other week at UC Berkeley in the student union. Those blocks around campus were often dicey, not to mention the secluded stone stairwell I navigated in the parking garage. sketch! And so, I frequently carried a weapon . . . just in case. It was a ring mandrel - a metal cylinder used to size rings. Oft a student would pull his own ring off his finger and say, ‘could you check what size this is? I would want my class ring to fit like this one.’ The ring would slide down the graduated cylinder to the marked number on the mandrel - ‘Ah, so you’re a size 10.’ That’s a ring mandrel.
Protection sometimes calls for a weapon.
We find ourselves starting the last half of beloved Psalm 23:
Yea, 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.
Experienced Middle Eastern and African shepherds who tend flocks out in the open land carry both rod and staff. While we kinda get the idea of the staff, we’ve read right over David’s mention of rod without understanding its distinct function and vital role.
Pictured are rod and staff. Both are suited to the size and strength of the individual shepherd. [Stick with me here because this is really interesting.] When David tended sheep as a young teen, he would have fashioned his own rod - usually a sapling dug from the ground, carved and whittled down. Picture him taking the enlarged base of the sapling where its trunk joined the roots and shaping the smooth round head of hard wood that would fit in his hand.1 Interestingly enough, it sort of resembles the ring mandrel, large on one end, narrow on the other.
As the psalmist noted, the presence of both rod and staff was a comfort to the sheep; they represented protection and guidance. To the skilled shepherd the rod was like an extension of his own arm. He could hurl that rod and drive back or even kill a wild animal posing a threat to his flock.
The good shepherd does whatever it takes to protect his flock. Consider this illustration: ‘Once in Kenya photographing elephants, I was being accompanied by a young Masai herder who carried a club (rod) in his hand. We came to the crest of a hill from which we could see a herd of elephants in the thick bush below us. To drive the elephants out into the open we decided to dislodge a boulder and roll it down the slope. As we heaved and pushed against the great rock, a cobra, coiled beneath it, suddenly came into view ready to strike.
In a split second the alert shepherd boy lashed out with his club, killing the snake on the spot. The weapon had never left his hand even while we worked on the rock.’2 Amazing.
Just like our Shepherd who defends against evil, rising up on our behalf, always ready to fight our battles.
No matter what you are up against today, you are not alone. You have a Good Shepherd who loves you and promises never to leave you. What’s more - he is fighting for you.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”3
For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you
to fight for you against your enemies
to give you victory."4
No wonder David was willing to take the role of sheep to the Shepherd, saying, 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. Psalm 23.1-4
Our Shepherd, always fighting for us . . . always seeking us out. He truly is what he said,
our Good Shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.5
Grant us mercy, Lord. Amen
Christine p.s. the 'Morning Briefings' button above accesses previous briefings.
1 - A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
2 - ibid
3 - Exodus 14.14
4 - Deuteronomy 20.4
5 - John 10.11
<-- this is a ring mandrel