Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Psalm 23
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Psalm 23:4

Most frequently, the staff is used in three ways. The first is drawing sheep together into an intimate relationship. This is of special interest during lambing season, because in a large flock there are often dozens or scores of lambs being born at the same time. It is easy for the ewe to lose her lamb in all of the confusion. The shepherd has to make sure the right lamb gets with the right ewe.

For those who have just a few sheep, that would be no problem, but when there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of ewes in one flock, the staff becomes very important. As much as he is able, the shepherd watches the lambs being born. Then, if there is any confusion at all between the lamb and the ewe, he uses his staff to hook the lamb around the neck through the body (a very deft maneuver), picks the lamb up by his staff, and carries it to the proper ewe. He cannot touch the lamb. If he touches the lamb, the ewe will not suckle it because there is a wrong odor—the smell of the man—and the ewe fears it too much. It will not feed it. These are the lambs one may see people feeding with a bottle. The staff, then, is used to bring the lamb into an intimate relationship with its ewe.

Secondly, the staff is used to reach out and grab a lamb for close inspection. In this way, it frequently precedes the passing under the rod. The shepherd hooks it by the neck or leg and leads it to where he will examine it.

Thirdly, the staff is used in guiding the sheep as they are moving along, because sheep tend to wander off. They always think the pasture is greener somewhere else, and they start to wander away. The whole flock will be going one way, but there will be one that heads in her own direction. The shepherd will frequently use the blunt end to jab the sheep in the ribs and nudge it back in the direction of the flock.

The staff represents God's Spirit. It indicates gentle guidance, whereas the rod suggests sterner measures such as offense or defense—protection. God leads, guides, by His Spirit. Recall John 16:13, where Jesus told His disciples that He would not leave them to fend for themselves, but He would provide another guide: "However, when it, the Spirit of truth, has come, it will guide you into all truth; for it will not speak on its own authority, but whatever it hears it will speak; and it will tell you things to come."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 3)

Psalm 23:5-6

In the closing verses of this psalm, we see Christ's present work. We can meditate on the fact that He is already at the right hand of God the Father in His Kingdom. What is He doing now for us? He is working out salvation for us in the presence of His and our enemies.

What does He have now? Everything—all of the universe has been put under His feet—His cup runs over! Only God the Father is not under His authority.

Notice the last phrase, "And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." He won! He was victorious! He has eternal life in the presence of the Father! And that is what we have to look forward to!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Christ's Death, Resurrection, and Ascension

Ezekiel 20:37-38

Notice that the sheep pass under the rod. Besides being an instrument of both offense and defense—the rod was, in effect, a two-foot club—it also functioned as a tool, under which the sheep passed. What does this picture? First of all, it pictures counting. The shepherd would count the sheep in his flock to make sure they were all present and accounted for.

It pictures something else too. As the sheep passed under the rod—a symbol of the Word of God—they would undergo a close scrutiny. The shepherd would run his rod backward or across the grain, as it were, of the wool. The rod separated the wool, allowing the shepherd to look down onto the sheep's skin. He was then able to see both the quality of the skin and of the wool.

God is illustrating that by means of His rod, He is giving us careful, close scrutiny for two reasons: One, it gives Him the opportunity to evaluate the quality of His sheep. Two, it provides a means of separation. Quality and separation are the two reasons for His scrutiny of us.

Recall Matthew 25 and the separation of the sheep and the goats. The rod aids in identifying or making sure of possession. Sheep's ears were often bored through or distinctively notched as a mark of identification. Sometimes, since the shepherds could not always see that identifying mark due to several flocks being mixed together in the pasture, they would make the sheep pass under the rod. When they did, the shepherd would flip back the ear to see the mark of possession. Again, it also gave them a chance to evaluate and determine the relative health and quality of that sheep.

We are all under the rod right now. Now is the time of our judgment (I Peter 4:17), and we are under evaluation to determine to whom we really belong: God or Satan. Who is our shepherd? The rod is a vitally important instrument for a shepherd. No good shepherd would be without one.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part 3)


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