I am under the impression that the two are actually one physical item. That on one end was a kind of hook (staff) that was used to aid his duty as a Shepard and on the other end more of a club (rod) used for protection. Is this correct and what does David mean by this?
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The first two thirds of Psalm 23 (from verses 1 to 4) is an extended metaphor comparing God to a shepherd and the Psalmist to His sheep. (The final two verses shift to banquet imagery.) Since the Psalm is attributed to David, the intention is to remind us of David's upbringing and early adulthood as a shepherd.
According to Phillip Keller in A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23:
This photo shows the modern shepherd might add a gun to his equipment:
Even so, you can see this fellow is holding a heavy stick in the near hand and a thin stick in the other. Keller lists several purposes for the shorter, heavier rod:
The staff serves different purposes:
On the other hand, most of the photos I see of traditional shepherds do show just one tool:
My guess is that the dangers from predators and rival herders is less common these days so one tool can serve both purposes. David, however, would have needed more specialized tools of defense:
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Staff is of a mental persuasion. While the rod is of a physical one. It is the Lord's way sometimes to use a gentle prodding with his children when applying correction. On the other hand, it is the Lord's way of not spoiling his children when he wants to show great love towards those he love a stout rod will do because a father who loves his child corrects his child sternly. He is not willing that any should perish. When of favor and union (a coming together) they represent a covenant. A sweet promise. However, when broken it no longer stands. See Zachariah 11: the rejection of the good shepherd.
The shebat (rod) has the meaning of a 'tribe' or a 'sceptre'. The primary role of the king was to protect his people. The rod is symbolic of the power of God in discipline for his own and judgement for others. It is a protection from danger from within and without. A closely related word 'Shabbath' means 'rest', which is possible under the competent protection of the shepherd.
The mishenah or staff has the meaning of support. The Mishnah is a collection of early oral tradition of the Torah and is a support. It is used to draw sheep to the shepherd.
David knew well the meaning and the use of the rod and the staff, and he did not use the terms redundantly. Unfortunately, many translations mix them up calling a staff a rod and a rod a staff.
Addressing the idea that they are one tool, this is unlikely. An animal associates discomfort and pleasure with the object that causes it. If you use a rod to discipline an animal, it will shy from it, making the tool useless for comforting it. It is important that the two tools are visibly different.
It is more likely that modern shepherds who use only a single tool are often hirelings, and do not build individual trust with the sheep. So they care only for utility, (lengthening the arm) rather than the trust with the animal.