Shepherd and author Phillip Killer gives us insight into the basic tools of the shepherd in the Middle East. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, he shares how he used to watch the African herdsmen tending their sheep with only a "long slender stick and a rough knob-kerrie." (A short stick with a knob at the top) Shepherds in the making take immense pride in selecting their first rod and staff. A young sapling is selected to be carved and whittled down. The enlarged base of the sapling is shaped to fit perfectly in its owner's hand.
Phillip Keller says about the rod: "It is an extension of the owner's own right arm. It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation. The rod was what he relied on to safeguard both himself and his flock in danger. And it is, furthermore, the instrument he used to discipline and correct any wayward sheep that insisted on wandering away." Remember how Moses was called out of shepherding sheep by God to confront Pharaoh? He used his shepherd's rod to demonstrate the power of God. Miracles were manifest not only to convince Pharaoh of God's purpose for His people but also as a tool of reassurance for them. Ultimately, Moses shepherded God's flock out of Egypt.
Psalm 23:4 explains that our Good Shepherd uses His rod and staff to comfort us. Comfort comes as we realize that the rod of God is an extension of the Shepherd. Jesus, our Messiah, the Word of God, is God's rod. Messiah came as the Word of God. This is explained in John 1:1-2 and 14. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us..." As the Rod of God, Jesus is an extension of who God is. This was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. "A shoot (rod) will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him..." (Isaiah 11:1-2)
Based on John 1, Scriptures are God's rod, "an extension of His mind and will and intentions to mortal man," according to Phillip Keller. We are kept in the comfort of the flock of the Lord through the Shepherd's rod. We are disciplined with this same tool. The Word of God should come swiftly to correct us and keep us walking in the right direction. Another interesting use of the Word is referred to in Ezekiel 20:37. "I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant." As Keller explains, "A sheep that passed under the rod was one which had been counted and looked over with great care to make sure all was well with it." Every evening and morning a shepherd counts his sheep, calls them by name, and checks to see that his body is healthy and free from pests. Since the rod is an extension of the Lord, it is always ready to be used as an instrument of protection.
Just as Jesus used the rod of the Word against Satan in the wilderness, we who believe in Jesus Christ have the Word as an extension of our being, ready to use when attacks come from the realm of darkness. The Word is powerful to shape us so that we fit into the hand of the Lord to be used as an instrument of direction and authority. Here is another aspect of the Lord, God's Son, we need to consider. Father God shaped His son to be a rod in His hand. It was necessary for Jesus to become a sacrifice in God's hand so that He could make a way for us. God's Son became the sacrificial Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.
Is it any wonder that God included shepherds in the story of the birth of Messiah? Like their sheep, they passed under the rod of God. They were recognized and called to participate in the story of the birth of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for us all. With His rod, He watches over us, cares for and directs us, and will ultimately bring us safely into our heavenly home. We must remember that we play a part in the story of the Lord as an extension of His hand. Here is a question for us: "What do we have in our hands?" Like the shepherds when they told the story of the birth of Jesus, let us hold onto the Word and make it a priority in our lives so that we can amaze those around us with the truth of the Rod of God.
Joan E. Mathias