A few days ago, YHWH, our heavenly Father, quoted the fourth verse from the well-known Psalm 23. At first I was shocked, because after all this verse is about walking through the valley of death, but then I knew that He wanted to give me comfort and confidence.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid. You are with me. Your shepherd's rod and staff comfort me.” (Psalm 23,4, NIRV)
The Israelites then (as now) regularly set out to celebrate the feasts of God in Jerusalem. We too will do so in the near future when Jesus reigns here on earth. To get there, they had to hike through a valley between high mountain walls. Whether it was Mount Zion or the mountains of Judea, I can't say for sure now, but the mountain walls towered high and dangerously above the hiker. The dangers loomed around every bend, be it from animals or from poachers. Psalm 121 was also written during such a pilgrimage. “I lift my eyes to the mountains: where does my help come from?” asks the hiker.
Next month we will celebrate three of God's high feasts: Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets / Head of the Year, i.e. the beginning of the civil Hebrew year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and this is followed by Sukkot, or in English the week-long Feast of Tabernacles. Yom Kippur is the most important festival given by God and we as followers of Jesus can thankfully celebrate because Jesus, as our saviour and redeemer, has redeemed us from all guilt through his sacrifice.
What was the purpose of the Lord in giving the psalm verse just before the feast days? Did He want to warn me of a sad time or did He want to speak to me for comfort and confidence?
"Your staff and staff protect me," what does David, the writer of the Psalm mean? At that time David was not a king, but a simple shepherd. The stick was his weapon. A stick is a club that is slightly thicker at the top. The word stick, Hebrew שִׁבְטְךָ֥ sheebeth, is derived from a root that means “to strike” and thus designates a “stick, stick, club” or “rod”. It can also mean ruler's staff or sceptre, but in Psalm 23 it will more likely have the meaning of “spit, throwing spear” as in 2 Samuel 18:14.
The shepherds in Israel and the Middle East had such a stick-like short “stick” that was thickened at the top and resembled a club. The shepherd knew how to throw this club at attackers, but he also used it to punish unruly animals in his herd and to bring them back to the herd. The stick was also used to hit bushes and shrubs to keep insects or snakes away from his herd. The Holy Scriptures in Leviticus 27:32, Jeremiah 33:13 and Ezekiel 20:37 indicate a special use of the stick: The stick was also used to count the sheep. The shepherd stopped the sheep with this, was able to count them and check the animals for diseases and injuries. It is therefore also a picture of the care of a good shepherd.
The stick, in Hebrew מִשְׁעַנְתֶּ֗ mix, is derived from the root of the verb “to support, lean”. The upper, curved end of the shepherd's staff is used by the shepherd so that he can lean on it after a long and arduous hike, but still keep an eye on his flock. He notices every irregularity, every unrest among his sheep and takes immediate remedial action. He also uses his long, thin staff for this; because he doesn't always have to throw the stick. Sometimes he leads a sheep with the staff to the place where it is supposed to be found or leads the lamb to its mother with the staff.
The stick expresses authority, discipline, and defence, while the staff reminds of care, education, and direction.
YHWH informed me with the verse that we will soon be going through difficult times. There will be a lot of grief and fear, but we can know that our Shepherd Yeshua is by our side, that he protects and guards us, that he will lead and lead us through the valley. At that time, during the great exodus from Egypt, the LORD went before the Israelites with the pillar of fire and cloud.
Jesus, our shepherd, will guide and protect us as well. We should keep the goal in mind and look upwards, because our “help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not shake our feet, and he who protects us does not sleep. The LORD keeps us; He guards us from all evils. He protects our soul; He guards our exit and entrance (into His kingdom) from now on until forever. (Psalm 121)
Jesus says: “I am that, your good shepherd. Even if your path leads through the dark valley of death: do not be afraid, for I will accompany and protect you! ”(Ps23: 1 + 4)
We want to prepare ourselves for the coming festivals because Jesus is coming soon. We are in a troubled time, but let us courageously look forward to our Shepherd.