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I am under the impression that the "rod and staff" are actually one physical item. That is, that on one end was a kind of hook (staff) that was used to aid one's duty as a Shepard and on the other end more of a club (rod) used for protection. Is this correct? Also, what does David mean by this phrase in Psalm 23?

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migrated from Apr 30 '12 at 13:38

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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:

In the Middle East the shepherd carries only a rod and staff.

This photo shows the modern shepherd might add a gun to his equipment:

Palestine shepherd (ca. 1870-ca. 1900)

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:

  1. As a club or throwing stick to defend against predators.
  2. For disciplining wayward sheep.
  3. To assist in examining and counting individuals in the flock.

The staff serves different purposes:

  1. Rounding up sheep into a flock.
  2. Guiding sheep by applying pressure to an individual's flank.
  3. Extricating sheep from bad situations.

On the other hand, most of the photos I see of traditional shepherds do show just one tool:

A Palestinian from the herding community of Al Hadidya in the Jordan Valley herds livestock September 12, 2011.

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:

David replied to Saul, "Your servant has been tending his father’s sheep, and if a lion or a bear came and carried off an animal from the flock, I would go after it and fight it and rescue it from its mouth. And if it attacked me, I would seize it by the beard and strike it down and kill it."—1st Samuel 17:34-35 (NJPS)

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Thank you very much for the detailed explanation. Have you seen any imagery of the staff and rod being one in the same? – E1Suave May 1 '12 at 18:18
@E1Suave: That sounds like the Irish shillelagh. I also found pictures pictures of shepherd staffs (scroll down) that are much sturdier and would serve as a weapon. But I don't think that's what Psalm 23 has in mind. – Jon Ericson May 1 '12 at 18:51
I have goats. When they were young I carried a rod and a staff. The rod was to defend the goats against dogs. Though the curved staff was as long, it was not as strong having been bent into a curve. The curve would break easily if used as a weapon. I carried the staff so I could draw the goats to me. – Bob Jones Jun 30 '12 at 14:36
Now that the goats are older and can defend themselves against single dogs, and since they come to me when I want them, I carry a dog dazer, a pocket of shredded wheat and a .48 ;-) – Bob Jones Jun 30 '12 at 14:41
When I raised livestock I had both a rod and a staff... the staff is useful in guiding a well-trained animal (that it isn't giving you problems), but it is too light to train an animal that has not yet learned to submit, hence the rod. The rod is useful in training the animal to give in to the lighter touch of the staff. (Of course the rod is also useful for other things, such as defending the animals.) – Jas 3.1 Feb 20 '13 at 22:38

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.

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שׁבט ‘staff’ and שׁבת ‘sabbath’ are not "closely related" words. The last letter is different. – fdb Jul 26 '14 at 23:40
Likewise משׁענה and משׁנה are totally different and unrelated words. – fdb Jul 27 '14 at 0:37
Sensus plenior is based on the premise that puns and riddles are the genre of prophetic riddle. Literalists shy away from punning. – Bob Jones Nov 18 '14 at 23:29

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.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! We're a little different than other sites. Can you show some scriptural passages where staff and rod are used of mental and physical persuasion? That would help this answer greatly. – Frank Luke Jul 28 '14 at 13:22
@Dusky Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. – Paul Vargas Jul 29 '14 at 19:06

The rod and the staff are both objects used by Shepards to tend their sheep. This is my take since it is the rod I have researched for "spare the ROD and spoil the child." It is depicted as a long staff with a claw type hook on the end. Perhaps they are one tool having different ends. The rod being used to reach out and gently tap the sheep getting away from the flock, using only the claw and the other end strong enough to fight off any type of predator, including human predators.

Much liken to the scene from The Ten Commandments when Moses fought off the male predators at the well in Median.

If the staff the Shepard used in Zechariah 11 were only mental he would have been unable to illustrate with it by breaking it into 2 pieces.

Simply Susan

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