For a great article about sheep that opened up Psalm 23 for me, go to Sheep Sense by Shepherder Mike Neary
The rod and the staff, two basic but necessary tools of the shepherd. The rod was to beat off the wolves, the bears, and any creature that would try to harm the sheep. The staff was used to guide the sheep, pull their heads to the intended direction (see article–sheep follow their head), and to rescue them when they slid down a cliff.
Jesus is serious about protecting the sheep and guiding them. He does it because he loves them. He calls them by name and He will lay down his life for the sheep. He is the Good Shepherd and He has this good name to protect.
This kind of care is spoken of elsewhere in Scripture. He will allow nothing to separate the sheep/Shepherd relationship. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35, 38). Not only this but when we go through the above hardships, the Lord provides a way for us not just to survive, but to thrive! “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). As many have discovered, joy and sorrow walk hand in hand. But the root reality here is that God protects us. He really protects us.
And just like the staff that guides us and corrects us, He will also be faithful to lead us home to the end. He is able to keep us from falling away as well as to present us to the Father without fault and with great joy (Jude 24). Imagine that! But think of it. If a sheep begins to stray or rebel, the Shepherd doesn’t just say “let him learn.” No! The Shepherd goes after the sheep. He will even leave the 99 to do so. He takes responsibility for every single sheep and he does what he needs to do to bring them back. If they’re drifting, he nudges them back. If they take off in a different direction, he goes after them.
By seeing what bad shepherding looks like, it gives us a glimpse of the nature of a good shepherd. From the book of Ezekiel:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take of themselves! Should not shepherd take care of the flock? you eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally…As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock…I am against the shepherds and will them accountable for my flock…” (Eze 34: 1-10; or for more read Jer 23:1-4).
This is the nature and character of the Shepherd. HE is the one who protects us (the rod). HE is the one who guides us (the staff). And that truly is a comfort. Because again, this is a place of rest. “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone” (Ps 62:5).