For some people, it's enough to know that God is with them. There is comfort in simply knowing that He is there. For others, that never seems to be enough. They need to have a tangible reminder that He is there.
When a sheep is left alone it will inevitably wander off by itself, totally oblivious to the fact that there is a shepherd, a flock and a pasture. All of those things help to protect it and yet it still is prone to wandering off.
This is where the rod and staff come into the picture. They are the physical reminders of the shepherd who is keeping his sheep focused and safe. The rod protects the flock from predators and unseen dangers. The staff, on the other hand, is there to pull the wanderers back into safety when they drift away.
Hopefully, you see the analogy to our own lives. When we take our eyes off of God we forget about all the things He offers us that help to guide and protect us: the fellowship of other believers, the guidance and discipline of godly leaders, the wisdom and knowledge of His word, the power and love of the Holy Spirit, the comfort of prayer … all of these things are given by God to equip His people with everything we need to be good sheep.
We were not meant to make our way through life alone. Sheep belong in a flock with a Shepherd. That’s how God guides and protects us. It’s when we stray from the pack, when we leave our pasture and all of its protections, that our daily problems become so hard to cope with and begin to overwhelm us.
So how does God get us back into the fold when that happens? Have I mentioned the staff? A staff is a big stick with a hook at the end that is used to drag sheep back to where they should be. With the staff, the Shepherd can lead and guide His sheep. That guidance might be a gentle nudge or a not-so-gentle swipe along our backside to keep us focused and in line.
Here is what this Psalm is getting at: keep your eyes on Him and you will be just fine. He wants to guide and protect you. Wander off, and you risk walking right out of His pasture and into the arms of the wolves. They are all around us, just waiting for us to stray away.
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.”