The 23rd Psalm has always been a favorite of mine. It’s full of promise and joy. Hope and happiness should be what people take from it. But one thing I’ve noticed is that people misinterpret part of it and misuse it. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” People have linked the end of verse 4 with punishment and that’s incorrect. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me was understood by earlier generations because they understood the purpose of the rod and the staff.
“Spare the rod, spoil the child”
was a saying that people took to mean that not spanking your children would lead to them being spoiled. But if people knew the uses of the rod and the staff they’d know that the rod wasn’t at all what they thought.
Let’s go back to verse 1: The Lord is my shepherd. The shepherd guides and protects the flock. He makes sure they go where they need to go and defends them from predators. In the days when David was composing the Psalms he knew the real reason that shepherds carried a rod and a staff. And he meant what he said about the rod and staff being a comfort.
The staff was used to guide the flock.
The shepherd would direct his charges by gently (or more forcefully if necessary) using this long crooked staff to move the flock from one area to another. And the flock learned to follow the guidance of the staff. The smarter ones, that is. Because if they didn’t go where the shepherd directed there were dangers everywhere.
The staff kept the flock from wandering into ravines and kept them moving toward the best grazing where there was plenty of food and there was water. It kept individuals from becoming separated from the flock. And an individual sheep was easy prey.
The rod, however, was not a tool for guiding.
The rod was used to fight off wolves! The shepherd used this heavy weapon to beat the wolves away from his flock, keeping them from becoming a meal for the wolves. The shepherd’s desire was to provide the best possible circumstances for his flock. The wolves wanted to destroy the flock.
So when people used to say “Spare the rod, spoil the child” they didn’t mean that the rod was meant for the children. It meant that parents were to use the rod to keep ravenous wolves from the children. These were the predators that would lead children away from the Shepherd. And parents were to use very clear and strong methods to keep those human wolves away from their flocks.
The children could rest in the knowledge that their parents, their shepherds, would keep dangerous people away from them.
And, like sheep, sometimes the children don’t understand the danger and want to wander off. But the parents need to be right there to fend off the wolves and guide the children back to safety.
Our Shepherd guides and protects us and, as parents, we are to guide and protect our children so that they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23King James Version (KJV)
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.