Thy Rod and Thy Staff

Staff and rodIf you trail hike much, you have likely used a hiking or walking stick to lean on for balance or help support a sore knee joint.  This simple tool goes back a long way, and was used for more than just walking. The Bible refers to them as a rod or a staff, and both have strong symbolic meanings. 


When you get to looking at the difference between a rod and a staff, it gets murky.  The Hebrew word “mattheh” is sometimes translated as rod and other times as staff.  But they are two different tools according to the most familiar reference to them in the Bible, the 23rd Psalm: “for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”  Distinction is also shown in Isaiah 10-24: “he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee…”.


After some research, here is my best shot at the difference between the two.  The rod was a short club-like stick maybe two or three feet long. It often had a knob on the end of it, and was used by the shepherd to encourage stubborn herd animals, and as a defensive weapon.  A staff was longer, probably five or six feet in length, and often had a crook on the end of it (but not always). It was useful for walking over rough terrain, manipulating the sheep, and was also a protective weapon. The crook on the end is called a leg cleek, and is used to grab the leg of a sheep or goat just above the hoof to capture it or to rescue it when trapped in a pit or mud.


Symbolically the rod and the staff were used differently as well.  The staff usually symbolizes God’s protection, while the rod symbolizes correction. We are all in favor of the staff, and can attest to His helping hand in times of trouble.  We’re not so crazy about the rod with its trials and discipline.  But Psalm 23 says to take comfort in both the protection and correction of God.


One other stick mentioned in the Bible is the “goad”, which was a long pointed stick, sort of like a spear.  The stick could simply be sharpened at the end, or may have been tipped with a bronze piece shaped to a point.  It was used to prod a tough skinned animal like an ox to move along, but apparently could be a formidable weapon.  Judges 3 tells of Shamgar, “which slew of the Philistines 600 men with and ox goad, and he delivered Israel”.

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