Psalm 23 teaches us to trust the Shepherd during times of anxiety. As we have been walking through the passage, we found we can trust him to provide for us and to guide us. Now we will consider how the Shepherd protects his sheep (v. 4).
In David’s time, a shepherd would often have to herd his sheep through deep, dark ravines where danger from cliffs or lurking animals loomed. In life, we also have to travel through dark and dangerous circumstances. Have you ever been through “the valley of the shadow of death”--to be literally in the midst of “death shadows, distress, or deep shadows”? Eyes that have experienced heavy weeping display these shadows. Though we never desire the valley of the shadow and even shudder to meditate on our past valleys, we do recognize that valleys have their purpose – in green pastures we can get satisfied with grass and forget the Shepherd, but not in the valleys. No, there in the valley, we need the Shepherd, we remember him, and we know his protection.
In the midst of the valleys have you ever asked, “How did I get here?” In this passage of Scripture, the sheep got there not because they wandered, but because the shepherd led them. Shepherds have to lead the flock away from one pasture to get them to another one. The pastures are separated by trials and sometimes treachery. Life as God’s sheep doesn’t mean we will never face difficulty, but it does mean that we don’t have to face it alone. He is present: “for Thou art with me.”
Through danger, the Shepherd is with us and acts on our behalf. He uses his rod and staff to keep us on track and to keep danger away. The rod speaks of a club that often hung on the shepherd’s belt and was used to defend against attack. How can a rod and staff “comfort” us? The word for comfort literally means "breathe deeply." Because God is present and will protect, we can breathe deeply, easily, even in the midst of the valleys.
So, when you find yourself in a dark place, when human hope is dim, when all you want to do is give in to despair—breathe deeply. When you wonder if you will find your way out, be able to survive, make sense of the trial—breathe deeply. When you feel like you cannot wait any longer, like you cannot escape, like life will never be the same—breathe deeply. His rod and his staff, they protect you, they comfort you, and you can breathe…deeply.
Nothing can separate us from the Shepherd, and he will never leave us nor forsake us. He is our protector, so we can trust him.
Next time we will consider that when we feel anxious, God wants us to rejoice in Him as the Gracious Host (v. 5-6).