What Exactly Are The Rod And Staff Of The 23rd Psalm And Why Do They Comfort?

Most of the psalm is straightforward. ‘G-d will love and guide me and I shall have abundance and blessings’. But I could never figure out “Thy rod and staff they comfort me.” I’ve tried searching for a good translation from the original language (I assume Hebrew). But, I cannot find one. Thanks in advance for your help.
NOTE- This is GQ and not GD. This is not the thread for witnessing. I am only asking for what the original text says, and what the author likely intended by it.

The psalm is equating the lord with a shepherd, so the rod and staff are referring to the implements carried by shepherds. If you mean what qualities of god are meant to be represented by the rod and the staff, I think that’s a question left between the believer and their lord. Some have argued a similarity between the shepherd’s rod and a royal scepter, but I think it’s simply, just as the shepherd carries implements to guide and protect his flock, so too are we guided and protected by the love and the law of the lord.

The words are, I believe, šebeṭ and mišʿenet for rod and staff, respectively.

Looking for a picture to show the difference between the rod and the staff, I found this cartoon that makes the point.

I agree with Inner Stickler – they’re tools used to guide the flock, just as we are comforted by God’s guidance.

I had understood that the “staff” is for guidance – you would hook or nudge a sheep to point it in the right direction – but the “rod” was for punishment – you would smack a sheep that was totally going in the wrong direction.

But that may have been a fanciful interpretation by an elementary school religion teacher.

Inner Stickler is pretty much correct. The Psalmist is saying “it is comforting to know that You are there to guide and protect me”.

If you want to study anything in Scripture and you don’t read Hebrew or Greek, Strong’s Concordance is a valuable tool to look up and cross-reference words in the Bible.


If you really want to dive into it, I recommend this fascinating book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. The author was a sheepherder in South Africa and gives meaning to many of the expressions in the psalm that a city-dweller might not know.

Quote from an amazon reviewer:

So if the staff is the hooked device (and I always thought that the idea was that the shepherd could use the hook around the sheep’s neck to guide or move it, much as it’s used in vaudeville for the same purpose), why is a separate rod needed? Can’t the shepherd whack the sheep with the staff?

If anyone is interested, the Psalm isn’t really talking about literal death in the “Yea though I walk through the valley…etc.” (quoting it that way, because it’s what most people know.

It actually means something like “Even if I have to walk through a bad neighborhood at night, I won’t be scared, because I know you have my back.”

I had formed the thought that the rod was for smacking opportunistic predators across the nose.

As mentioned above the staff was a long stick with a crook on one end used to guide the sheep or, using the crook, pull a sheep out of harms way. The rod was a separate instrument used more like a club to fend off predators.

By the way… Why is it G-d???.. What’s wrong with just saying God??

The Jewish tradition is that anything with the Name of God written on it must be treated with respect: You don’t just throw away a paper with the Name written on it. So to avoid being eventually overwhelmed with bits of paper, traditional Jews will avoid writing the Name on anything without a very good reason.

Now, this restriction originally just applied to the Name, the four-letter Tetragrammaton that God told Moses from the burning bush, when Moses asked what he should be called. But there’s also a Jewish tradition of “building a fence around the Torah”, or instituting man-made rules that are more strict than the rules God gave, so as to make it harder to accidentally break the God-given rules. And so traditional Jews will also avoid writing down God’s titles, in addition to his Name.

And of course, the usage online is yet a further generalization. An electronic document may or may not be equivalent to a piece of paper, as far as the Law is concerned, and allowing a cache to expire or the like may or may not be equivalent to destruction of a paper, and so on, so many Jews will carry over the traditions governing writing, just in case.

Gotcha. Actually that is very good to know. Thanks for the lesson.

The Ancient Near & Middle East have a rich literary tradition going back thousands of years, long before the biblical text was composed. The early mythology and wisdom literature in the biblical Old Testament bears many similarities to the regional literary tradition, a tradition stretching from present-day Iraq to Egypt. For example, people have long noted similarities between the earlier parts of Genesis and Sumerian literature as well as between Psalm 104 and the Great Hymn to the Aten found in Amarna of 18th Dynasty Egypt. Whether there is a direct connection is really anybody’s guess because it’s not like it’s an exact copy. But the similarity is there. As for Psalm 23, I can see a possible association with the Egyptian God Osiris because he was associated with everything in the passage: shepherd’s crook & flail (i.e. rod); agriculture and, in particular, embodied as a ceremonial bed of vegetation (indeed, extant examples have been found in tombs); strong association with water; ruler of the underworld (e.g. symbolically, the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Shadow of Death?); the dead being honored in death; resurrection, everlasting life, etc. It’s just like Psalm 104 & the Great Hymn, though. It’s not like there’s some smoking gun evidence that proves it.

The idea of the the Lord is my Sheperd is so essential to Christianity it is chosen to be represented as arguably the most striking visual display of the transmitters of the religion, and certainly the most recognizable to vast numbers of people:

It is carried by Bishops (a happy Episcolian, I’m told, here): http://www.dioceserg.org/app/webroot/files/uploaded/files/Bishop%208x10%20tightc.jpg

And by the Pope himself, where it has become combined with the sacred cross itself, in the crosier, the image of the crucified Lord–you can’t get any more crucial (heh) to the symbols with this. Wiki: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crosier

Q: Which commandment did Bill Clinton break?
A: Thy rod shall not comfort thy staff.

Sorry. Carry on.

First, thank you Chronos for your explanation of the dash.

And thank you to everybody else for answering my question so well and thoroughly.

I’ve apparently been misreading the psalm since childhood. I took the meaning to be ‘Here take My staff and lean on in when you are weary. Also, take this rod because reasons.’ This left me wondering what the rod was and why I would need it. The explanation given in this thread makes a whole lot more sense. It’s ‘Thank You for gently guiding me when I need it and for whacking me when I really get out of line.’

Again, thank you.

The Rod and the Staff is, actually, a case of parallellism: mentioning the same thing twice, just to make a point of it. It occurs frequently in Biblical texts, as well as in, say, Kalevala.

Since you are contradicting what others have said earlier in this thread, that the rod and the staff are two different tools used by shepherds, perhaps you might amplify n this assertion that they are “the same thing”.

Have you ever herded sheep? I have. And there are the two business ends of the same ol’ staff: one to hook up lambs on a cliff shelf and draw them up to yours; one to poke the critters to make them move your way…

And in many other textual genres. Or so I’ve been assured by good old boys drinking whisky and rye.