Have you ever wondered?
What are the rod and staff in Psalm 23?
Psalm 23 is a beautiful poem that uses the image of God as shepherd. David, who penned this psalm, had been a shepherd himself and understood the parallel between the task of a shepherd caring for his sheep and of God caring for His people. The rod mentioned in Psalm 23 is a symbol of the Lord’s strength and protection. The rod was a sturdy wooden stick used as a weapon to fight off wild animals who might have hoped to make an easy meal out of an otherwise defenseless flock of sheep. The shepherd also used the rod to help him keep count of the sheep within the flock. The staff mentioned in Psalm 23 is a symbol of the Lord’s guidance and lovingkindness. The staff was a long, slender stick, often hooked at the tip, used primarily to direct the flock. Sheep are notorious wanderers, and once away from the shepherd’s watchful eye, they get into all sorts of trouble. The shepherd used his staff to keep his sheep out of danger and close to himself. If a sheep became trapped in a precarious position, the shepherd would loop the curved end of the staff around the neck of the sheep and retrieve it back to safety. W. Philip Keller, in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, comments on the uniqueness of the shepherd’s staff: “In a sense, the staff, more than any other item of his personal equipment, identifies the shepherd as a shepherd. No one in any other profession carries a shepherd’s staff. It is uniquely an instrument used for the care and management of sheep—and only sheep. It will not do for cattle, horses or hogs. It is designed, shaped and adapted especially to the needs of sheep” (from chapter 8).Together, the rod and staff of Psalm 23 paint a picture of the divine Shepherd who wields them. He is strong, competent, and trustworthy; He is present with His sheep, able to defend them and watching over them through all the dangers they face. Knowing that we have such a Shepherd who is ready to protect us from danger, keep us close, and rescue us when we go astray truly is a great comfort to us, the sheep.