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?


7 Answers 7


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)

  • 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, 2012 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. May 1, 2012 at 18:51
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    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, 2012 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, 2012 at 14:41
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    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, 2013 at 22:38

In Sensus Plenior, the assumption is that the genre of prophetic riddle includes puns and word-play. This assumption is considered nonsense to literalists. It is used in this answer:

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, 2014 at 23:40
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    Likewise משׁענה and משׁנה are totally different and unrelated words.
    – fdb
    Jul 27, 2014 at 0:37
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    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, 2014 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.

  • 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, 2014 at 13:22
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    @Dusky Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. Jul 29, 2014 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



How was David comforted by the rod and staff of the Good Shepherd? Wasn’t the Lord’s presence sufficient for David as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death?

Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

It’s a beautiful scripture and as I continued to ponder it, I had another question: “Lord, why would You even need a rod and staff to comfort, protect and care for David? Does the Lord God Almighty need weapons or implements?”

Then, He began to show me something I had never seen before. I began to see that David was not comforted because he saw or imagined Jesus beside him holding a rod and staff, ready to whack his adversaries. (That's what a lot of us try to do today and does it work?) No, I saw for the first time that DAVID WAS THE ONE HOLDING THE ROD AND STAFF (he was a shepherd when he wrote Ps 23), and what the rod and staff of the Lord represented was what comforted David.

Let me explain. When Moses was afraid and had no confidence to deliver God’s people, what did God do? He gave Moses a ROD—“And you shall TAKE THIS ROD IN YOUR HAND, with which you shall do the signs” (Exodus 4:1–17)! When Jesus sent His disciples out to minister, what did He tell them? “TAKE nothing for the journey except a STAFF” (Mark 6:8, NIV). His people held the rod and staff, not Him!

If you study the Hebrew words for “rod” and “staff” in the Bible, while sometimes used interchangeably, the rod speaks of AUTHORITY and POWER, while the staff (basically a walking stick), speaks of SUPPORT.

Can you see it now? What comforts us today when we go through dark valleys and trials are not two sticks in the Lord’s hands, but His authority, power and support placed in our hands!

Friend, know that He has given you His authority and power to use. And know that He is backing you up 100 percent. That's how you are comforted!


From all the research I have done, the rod and staff are two separate, but equally important pieces of equipment. The rod was typically made for the specific shepherd and had a weighted "head" of a shape similar to a light bulb. If necessary, the shepherd could throw it with great accuracy toward a predator to warn it away, or he might even use it as a weapon against the predator. The shepherd might also use rod, gently pressed into the sheep's side, to guide the animal along the right path.

The staff is the one with the crook or hook on it and was used to guide especially stubborn sheep in a way that was firm but still gentle. The hook could also be used to lift sheep from precarious situations they got themselves into and back into safety. Or could be used to lift a lamb very gently back to its mother without putting the shepherd's scent on it, which might cause it to be rejected. The staff was also used to guide the animals into some sort of sheepfold where they were examined very carefully for injuries and so on.

In summary, the rod was used to firmly guide and protect the flock and the staff was used to gently guide the flock and rescue sheep that had gone astray and put themselves in danger.

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    It's important to cite your resources on this site(how about that for homonyms) to make your answer credible. "Show Your Work" is an integral part of any answer. Can you specify what resources you've used and quote any relevant portions in your response? Thank you!
    – Tau
    Feb 23, 2016 at 14:26

Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.

"Your rod" and "Your staff"....these words seemed to speak to me that they should be together always. It is the knowing that they BELONG to the Shepherd that brings comfort. The Lord gave Moses a rod...I look at this as a source of protection even a source of communication between the Father and Moses. The staff (from my research) had sort of a crook in it used to rescue lambs without leaving a scent...but to me this spoke of how we draw near to God and He reaches out and with the hook of the staff draws us to Him...we are drawn into his heart to know the beauty of his heart and the thoughts of his heart.

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