A Blacksmith is known by his fire, a sailor is known by his maps, a warrior is known by his sword, so also a shepherd is recognized by his rod.
One of the popular ethnicity in my village is the Nomadic Fulani herdsmen – I referred to these people earlier on as the Shepherds of Africa in part 1 of my series on the ‘narrative of a sheep’. Everything I know about the shepherd in real life I will trace back to the times spent watching this intriguing tribe lead out their herd day in day out.
I reminisce the days I climbed ‘a thousand hills’ alongside other kids to gain a full view of people of people trooping down the one and only route out of my small village into its vast country side. We often sit back and play a game that identified people by their tools as people’s gadget tells of their ethnicity because certain occupations are intrinsic to people are intrinsic to people of certain culture. When we see a man with hoe and cutlass, we know they are a farmer and most likely Southerner. When we see a man with the traditional rifle we know they are a hunter and are predominantly from the east. But when we see a man with a rod we all run and head for cover! It is not because we have come to attribute the rod with a cane; a miniature form of the rod used in our schools to discipline the notorious kids! We have simply come to attribute the rod to the Fulani shepherd. We have seen firsthand how ferocious this shepherd can be when he leads out his herd from the front in a role reminiscent of a pilot car leading out an oversized truck. With only one thing on his mind – to clear all obstructions, road blocks and potential threats to the safety of his sheep, like a blaring siren he barks out orders to the other commuters, and with a single wield of his rod he would take out any threat in whatever form it comes!
In the midst of the pandemonium that made people like me cower and go into hiding, you see the sheep stride in one after the other and then in numbers, the sheep don’t panic as if from knowing the shepherd has created the ongoing chaos on their behalf, they simply follow and fat from being well fed they bounce magnificently conscious only of the rod and the staff (a symbol of the shepherd’s authority and presence) ahead.
It is very comforting to the sheep to know that it is secured and safe no matter what lies ahead – be it the quite pasture or valley dark and deep. This is what our narrator, the sheep in psalm 23 meant when he said “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. The rod and the staff is a symbol of the shepherd’s leadership and this leadership is comforting to the sheep because the shepherd becomes a terror to any form of menace to the sheep insomuch that the sheep eats comfortably in the presence of its enemy on the platform provided by the shepherd’s leadership.
This echoes God’s promise to us as sheep in His fold – “I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight …” – Isaiah 45 vs 2. In a manner similar to the Fulani Shepherd, the Lord the Good shepherd led the Israelites’ exodus (Ex 13: 21-22) from Egypt, and 40 years through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, this scripture emphasized that neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. And while the good shepherd created chaos in the camp of the enemy, the Israelites simply walked through the red sea!
Most times we do not understand the source or the reason for the chaos or anarchy we see or feel around us, even the very length, curves, forks, junctions, exit, high, and low in the road we plod makes absolutely no sense to our tiring feet, but in spite of it all we will always find comfort in the fact that the shepherd of our soul runs this show entirely for us. He never retires from his position leading His sheep from ahead. The rod and the staff – an instrument of destruction to all threats on our path, are the very tool with which He will prepare a platform for us even in the presence of our enemy! It doesn’t matter how treacherous or how dangerous, unstable or unpredictable the road that lies ahead is, this shepherd has never failed and He will never fail. He will fashion a table before in the presence of our enemies, our cups will run and overflow even in the wilderness of scarcity, He will anoint us as king over the terror that plods our route, and in the valley of evil goodness shall follow us!
When God is at the fore front of our life, it doesn’t matter how uncertain the times are neither does it matter if we are surrounded by friends or foes, we will be comforted in the fact the good shepherd goes ahead of us we will not want anything good, He will fashion tables of greatness, safety, comfort and salvation before us even in the presence of our enemies!