The Comforting Rod
by Thomas Watson
"Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4
Bernard calls this Psalm, a noble and illustrious Psalm.
The Jews used to repeat this Psalm when they sat down to eat. In it, David
sets forth two things—his experience and his confidence. His
confidence, in the first and last verses. In the first verse, "The Lord is
my Shepherd; (therefore) I shall not lack." In the last verse, "Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Here is David's
confidence. His faith was risen up into a great degree of confidence. But
that which I shall speak to, is David's experience in the words I
have read, "Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
What is meant here by staff? A staff is for
support, whether it is the staff one walks with to support the body, or
whether it is the staff of bread that supports the life of man. Staff is for
support, and so it is used here in the text, "Your staff comforts me." By
staff is meant, metaphorically, the staff of God's support, "Your staff
comforts me." God's providence is a wing to cover the saints. It is a breast
to feed them, and a staff to uphold them. In the most calamitous times, the
Church of God has the staff of God's support, and this is the reason that
the Church is preserved in spite of all malice and opposition. This bush
burns—yet it is not consumed. Though the lion roars—yet the lambs of
Christ's fold are in safety. Though the rulers take counsel against the
saints of the Most High—yet they are kept alive.
Here is the reason Your staff comforts me. The saints
always have the staff of divine protection. God secretly preserves them and
sets an invisible guard about them. We see the staff that smites the
godly—but we do not see the staff that upholds them. We see their danger—but
do not see their defense. God is their staff of support. God's continual
care of His Church is as a wall of brass against which the gates of hell
shall never prevail. The Church of God has God for her Guardian. "The
enemies must first overcome God—before they can overcome His Church," said
For the use of this briefly: This is no small comfort to
God's Church. She has a staff of support. God is her protection. The saints
of God have malignant enemies to conflict with. The powers of the earth are
against the godly. We read that the beast in Revelation had on his head
seven horns and ten crowns, Revelation 13:1, "And it was given him to make
war with the saints." You see, the people of God were then in an bad case.
They had the horns and the crowns against them. But the saints have the
Lion of the tribe of Judah on their side. And Christ has a staff to
protect them and teeth to devour all His enemies.
So much briefly for that expression, for I have only
glanced at it. "Your staff comforts me." Your staff of support and glorious
providence is always with me. It comforts me.
But that which I shall chiefly speak to, is the first of
these in the text, "Your ROD comforts me."
QUESTION. What is meant by rod?
ANSWER. This word rod, when it is ascribed to God, is
taken three ways in Scripture.
First, for God's destroying rod.
Second, for God's pastoral rod, as that of a
Third, for His disciplining rod, or rod of
1. God's DESTROYING rod. The rod, when it is
ascribed unto God, which He uses towards His enemies. Psalm 12:9, "You shall
break them with a rod of iron." This rod of God upon His enemies, comforts
the godly, Psalm 58:10. The righteous shall rejoice when they see the
vengeance. God's destroying rod upon sinners is a matter of rejoicing and
comfort unto the godly. We read of Deborah's triumphant song and the Jew's
festival after the destruction of Haman, Esther 9:22. The rod of God upon
the wicked, comforts the godly.
QUESTION. But some may say, "How far may the godly be
comforted in the destruction of wicked men? How far may they rejoice?"
First, The godly may be comforted in the destruction of
wicked men, so far as now there is a stop put to their sins, and they cannot
live any longer to dishonor God.
Second, God's destroying rod upon the wicked is a matter
of comfort to the godly, as hereby God's justice is declared to all the
world. Why did God smite Pharaoh? For his pride and tyranny. The saints
rejoice and triumph to see God's justice executed upon His enemies, Exodus
15:1. They are comforted to see God's justice in punishing the wicked of the
Third, it is comfort to the people of God, to see a
wicked man destroyed. God's ruining of sinners is a warning to others to
make them fear sin. This is clear from Deuteronomy 17:12-13. The man who
sins presumptuously shall die, and all the people shall hear and fear and
shall no more sin presumptuously. God's judgments upon wicked persecutors
may make others afraid and tremble to go on in their sin. Thus far God's
destroying rod is a comfort to the godly. They rejoice to think that this
may be a warning to sinners, and may be a means to reclaim many from their
Fourth, and last, God's destroying rod upon the wicked is
a comfort to the godly upon this account—as peace and deliverance arises to
the Church of God. When Pharaoh was destroyed, Israel had a writ of ease now
granted them. Nay, further, the destruction of the wicked, such as are
desperate sinners, not only causes liberty to arise in the Church of God—but
it causes the growth of religion. A clear instance: Herod being eaten up
with worms, the text says immediately that "the Word of God grew and
multiplied," Acts 12:23. Thus far God's destroying rod upon the wicked,
flagitious sinners is a comfort to the godly. "Your rod comforts me." Your
rod of iron which breaks the profane sinners of the world, comforts
2. As there is God's destroying rod which
comforts the godly, so there is God's PASTORAL rod
which He uses towards His sheep, conducting them to green
pastures and still waters. There is God's shepherding rod, by which He leads
His elect sheep to the green pastures and still waters. These green pastures
and still waters may be meant of the ordinances and that sweet comfort the
people of God find in the use of them. Why, this rod of God, this shepherd's
rod, this pastoral rod, comforts the godly.
3. Third, and last, there is
God's DISCIPLINING rod, or His rod of affliction. This also is a
comfort to the people of God. 2 Samuel 7:14, "I will chasten him with a rod
of Mine." And in Micah 6:9, "Hear the rod, and He who has appointed it." And
in this sense I understand this text of Scripture, "Your rod comforts me."
So, then, the observation is this:
DOCTRINE: God's rod, His afflicting rod upon His people,
yields matter of comfort to us.
"Your rod comforts me." This, I confess, seems strange to
flesh and blood; it is a paradox. What, that the rod of correction should
give comfort! If David had said, "Your promises, Lord, they comfort
me," it would have been no wonder. But that he should say, "Your rod
comforts me," how can this be? Is it usual for a person to call pain,
comfort? How, then, does David say, "Your rod comforts me"? Who can of such
thistles, gather figs? Or of such thorns, gather grapes? How can there be
comfort, from the rod?
I shall show you that there is much consolation gathered
out of correction. "Your rod comforts me." The rod of God is not like Moses'
rod when turned into a serpent—but it is like Jonathan's rod, which had
honey at the end of it. The rod of God is like Aaron's rod which brought
forth buds, blossoms, and almonds, Numbers 17:8.
Then the question is this: How
does this afflicting rod give comfort? In six particulars.
1. God's afflicting rod comforts us—as it gives us
instruction. Where it teaches, it comforts. Micah 7:14, "Teach
Your people with Your rod." How does the rod teach? Why, it teaches with
instruction, so it teaches with comfort. Luther said there were many Psalms
in the Bible he never rightly understood until he was in affliction. The rod
teaches to know God aright—and is that not matter of comfort? In 2
Chronicles 33:11, when Manasseh was afflicted—then he knew the Lord was God.
And the rod teaches a man to know himself. He sees that corruption
working in his heart that he could never discern before. The eyes which sin
shuts—affliction opens. The rod gives wisdom; it is a teaching rod, and thus
God comforts. What if it makes us weaker—so long as it makes us wiser?
2. God's afflicting rod has comfort in it—as it is a
token of special favor He bears towards us. "As many as I love, I
rebuke and chasten." Revelation 3:19. We think God cannot favor us unless He
has us in His lap. Yet He loves and favors us—when He gives us the bitter
drink of affliction. God's rod and God's love both stand together. Thus the
rod comforts; it brings us a token of God's love. It is no love in God, to
let men go on in sin and never smite; this is not love. Is it any love to
your child to let him run into the water and drown? To be without the rod of
God's discipline, is a sign of a bastard child, a mark of reprobation, "But
if you are without chastisement, then you are bastards, and not sons."
Hebrews 12:8. If God will let any fall upon the rock of ruin, then He will
allow them to go on in sin and not correct them. Hosea 4:14, "I will not
punish your daughters when they commit whoredom." Take notice, God
spares the rod—in anger! God's hand is heaviest—when it is lightest. God
punishes most—when He does not punish!
But God smites His people—that He may save them, and is
that not love? And the love of God allays and takes off the smarting power
of the rod and gives the soul comfort. Let me feel God's smiting hand—so
that I may have His loving heart.
3. God's rod comforts—as it makes way for comfort.
Medicine, though bitter—yet has comfort in it—as it makes way for
health. The rod is to make way for comfort. The rod of God is to beat out
the dust and make us purer. The launderer dips his cloth in water—to
whiten the cloth. The water of afflictions is to make God's people white.
Daniel 12:10, "Many shall be tried—and made white."
Nay, farther, God's rod upon His children not only makes
way for comfort but, what is more, this rod distills comfort into the soul.
Even as the fire causes sweet water to drop from the still—so out of
affliction, God distills the sweet water of consolation. A clear
instance is in 2 Corinthians 1:4, "Who comforts us in all our
tribulations." Here is the rod of God comforting. When the saints'
trials have been sharpest, their comforts have been sweetest. Behold here
honey at the end of the rod. John 16:22, "Your sorrows shall be
turned into joy." Here is the saints' water—turned into wine. That
holy martyr who was in prison dates his letter thus, "From the pleasant
garden of prison." God candies His wormwood with sugar. The saints never
tasted so much of God's compassion, as in their deepest affliction.
And in this sense David might truly say, "Your rod comforts me." So said the
Apostle, "God comforts us in all our tribulations."
4. God's afflicting rod has comfort in it—as it brings
the good news to the soul that this is the worst which shall ever befall
him. The Lord comes down with a murdering axe to hew down
wicked men—but He has only a rattling rod for His children. This is
all the hell they ever shall feel. Is this not comfort? 1 Corinthians 11:32,
"We are judged and disciplined by the Lord—that we should not be condemned
with this world." Is this not comfort to know, that this is the worst
we shall have? God lays upon us a light affliction—and saves us from wrath
to come! Here is the rod full of comfort. What the drop of sorrow
which the godly taste--compared to the bottomless sea of wrath, which
the damned endure forever?
5. Yet farther, the rod is full of comfort—as it makes us
happy. And for this consult Job 5:17, "Blessed is the man whom
God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty."
Some place their happiness in riches, some in wisdom,
some in pleasure and the like—but who ever placed happiness in affliction?
The worldlings cry, "If this is happiness, Lord, deliver
me from it!" But Job said, "Happy is that man whom God corrects." How is he
happy? He is happy—who is made better by affliction. Though the affliction
makes the outward condition worse—yet it makes the heart better.
Again, he is happy—who has God to visit him. Don't we
account him a happy person—who has a king to visit him? How much more to
have a God to visit him? Persecution is a rod, yes—but for all that it is a
blessed rod, it is a healing rod. Though the rod smarts—yet it saves the
soul. Well, then, may a Christian say, "Lord, Your rod comforts me. This
makes me happy." Happy is that man whom God corrects.
6. Last, God's rod has comfort in it—as a means to bring
us to glory. God's rod whips us to heaven! 2 Corinthians 4:17,
"These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more
exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Affliction is like throwing a bag of
money at another person; it may bruise him—but it enriches him. So
affliction may bruise us but it enriches us, and this works for us a far
more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
In short, the black rod prepares for the white rod. O
Christian! You who are now humbled by some sharp affliction—shall shortly
wear a garland made of the flowers of paradise. You shall have your soul set
thicker with the jewels of heaven—than the sky is with the stars.
Thus you see this truth is verified, "Your rod comforts
Use 1. INFERENCE. I will name but four:
1. See then from hence, the difference between the wicked
and the godly. God makes the worst things tend to the
consolation of the godly—and the best things tend to the condemnation
of the wicked. Let the people of God meet with affliction—it is for the
better. God's rod comforts. "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Let
the wicked have prosperity, it is for the worse. Cordials kill them.
To the godly—evil things have good in them. To the wicked—good
things have hurt in them. This is clear Scripture, "Their table is a snare."
I say, the wicked man's table is a snare, Psalm 69:22. Wicked men have mercy
out of God's hand as Israel had quails. They were sauced with the wrath of
God. Ecclesiastes 5:13 is a clear Scripture, "I have seen an evil under the
sun, riches kept for owners to their hurt." Riches are like Haman's
banquet—which was a prologue to his execution. To wicked men, even spiritual
mercies are turned into judgments. The Word preached is a savor of
death to the wicked, 2 Corinthians 2:16. Nay, farther, Jesus Christ
Himself is a rock of offense to the wicked, 1 Peter 2:7. Christ is equally
for the falling—as the rising of many, Luke 2:34. In short,
sinners stumble at a Savior and pluck death from the tree of life. As for
the godly—God's rod comforts them. As for the wicked—God's mercy ruins them.
2. See then from hence, that true religion is not to be
looked on as a melancholy thing. Some people discourage religion
and draw it with a sour countenance, and in a frightful dress. But we see
the worst of religion, has much comfort in it. The very rod of God comforts
the godly. See the Scripture in James 1:2, "Consider it pure joy, my
brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." Take the part of religion
that is sourest to the soul, repentance; and that which is
sour to the body, affliction—and there is comfort in both.
There is comfort in that which is sour to the soul—repentance.
For whom is the oil of joy prepared but for God's mourners? Isaiah 61:3. A
gracious soul is never more enlarged and comforted, than when he can melt
kindly for sin. Christ Jesus made the best wine from water. The best
wine of joy is made of the water of true repentance. The Hebrew word
for repentance signifies to take comfort. None have such ground of comfort
as a true penitent. When God makes him weep for sin—he goes away weeping for
joy! Thus you see, that the sourest part of religion has comfort in it.
Take that which is sour to the body—affliction,
and it has comfort in it. A parallel Scripture for this is worth observing.
2 Corinthians 6:20, "As sorrowful—yet always rejoicing." There is comfort in
the rod. A Christian is like a bird that can sing in the winter season. He
can pick comfort out of the rod and, with Samson, fetch honey
out of the lion. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, "Having received the Word with much
affliction, with joy." Here is God's rod comforting that Christian,
who knows affliction tends to better him—making his grace purer and his
crown brighter! He can rejoice in affliction and say as David, "O Lord, Your
rod comforts me." Thus, you see, true religion is no uncheerful thing.
3. If God's rod comforts, then it shows us what good
reason we have to choose affliction rather than sin. There is
something in affliction to comfort us—but there is nothing in sin to comfort
us. Sin is evil—and nothing but evil. It defiles the mind and disturbs the
peace. It puts a worm into conscience, a sting into death, and a fire into
hell. This is, in Scripture, called "the abominable thing," Jeremiah 44:4,
"Do not do this abominable thing which I hate." Sin binds the soul over unto
God's wrath forever. Oh, then, what wisdom is it to choose affliction rather
than sin! A Christian can say, "There is comfort in the rod," but he cannot
say, "There is comfort in sin." Sin puts the soul into an agony and makes it
the very suburb of hell. Moses chose affliction rather than sin for a
season, Hebrews 11:25.
4. Last, if God's rod comforts—then what does God's love
do? If there is any comfort, as you have heard, while God is
afflicting us—what comfort is there while He is embracing us! If
there is any comfort in the valley of tears—what is there then in paradise!
There is the bed of spices and the river of pleasures. If God can make a
prison sweet—what then is heaven! If afflicting mercy is so
great—what is crowning mercy! If God made one of the martyr's flames a bed
of roses, why then, how sweet is it to lie in Christ's bosom, the bed of
Use 2. EXHORTATION.
If God's rod has so much comfort in it to the godly, then
be not too much dejected and cast down in affliction. If you meet with
losses, if you meet with pirates at sea and hornets on land—you see God can
turn all these to good. "Your rod comforts me." Therefore, be not too much
cast down. Though we are not to pray for affliction, for it is in
itself penal, neither must we despond under affliction.
"Oh," said one, "if God loved me, He would not have dealt
this severely with me. He has bereaved me of such and such a dear comfort,
which is like plucking a limb from the body."
But Christian, consider that which you call a dear
comfort, which God has taken away. Perhaps it was an idol! It may be, you
loved it more than you loved God; and if you had not lost this comfort,
you might have lost your soul and heaven too! Why then—has God
done you any wrong in taking away this comfort? There is mercy in all this!
You have much cause to say at last, "Your rod comforts me."
Use 3. TRIAL.
Let us examine whether we have had any honey out of the
lion, any comfort out of affliction. Has the rod of God upon us blossomed
and brought forth almonds? It's certain we have met with affliction in one
kind or another—but what benefit have we got by affliction? What advantage
for our souls? Can we say indeed as David, "Lord, Your rod comforts me"? Can
we say that we have met with such and such a sore trial, and it has brought
us nearer to God and weaned us from the world? that it has conquered our
pride and tamed our covetousness? When God's rod upon us fetches water of
tears and makes us weep bitterly for our sin, then it is a good rod.
In short, if God's rod has made us better, it has made us
reform and break off iniquity. This is when we can say with Ephraim, Hosea
14:8, "What have I to do with idols?"
To conclude all, let it be our daily prayer to God that
we may find some comfort in affliction, some honey mingled with our gall.
David speaks of comfort in affliction, Psalm 119:50, "This is my comfort in
affliction." Affliction is not joyous but grievous. Oh—but when the Lord
blesses and sanctifies it to us, then it brings comfort with it.
Let us pray that we may hear the voice of the rod and
kiss the rod and bless the hand that holds it. Let us pray unto God that we
may see His hand in every affliction and wherefore God contends with us that
we may turn to him who smites and say, as David does here in the text, "Oh,
Lord, Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me!"