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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






20 September 2005

Rod and Staff


Q: My dad is trying to find info concerning the staff and rod: What was the use of each or are they the same thing? Where can I find Scripture concerning this topic also what is your take?

Cross StaffA: The Twenty-third Psalm pairs these two: “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Since the Psalm is spoken from the perspective of one of God’s flock, it’s good that we understand rod and staff, especially why they bring us “comfort.”

The general consensus of scholars is that the rod refers to a type of club with which to defend the flock. The staff is a longer rod or pole, like a walking stick, upon which the shepherd could lean or with which he could guide the flock. Passing the flock under a rod or staff was a shepherd’s way of counting his sheep (see Leviticus 27:32; cf. Ezekiel 20:37). Some translations of Revelation 11:1 also mention a rod or a staff being used by John to measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there.

So what comfort is there in the shepherd’s rod and staff? They are visible signs of his care for the flock. The sheep know where to go because the staff guides and turns them. The shepherd defends them against wild beasts with his rod. He can reach out to pull them out of trouble, lead them where he would have them go, and bring them to safe pastures and guarded enclosures without losing a single lamb. He numbers and knows each sheep individually and inspects them carefully as they pass beneath his staff.

Such a picture shows the attention and love lavished on us by the Lord, our Good Shepherd (see also John 10:1-18). Christ became God’s visible, incarnate presence on earth. After His ascension, He continues to dwell among His people as their Shepherd. His tangible presence in Word and Sacraments comforts us. Through them — and through the work of His “undershepherds,” His faithful pastors — He leads, guards, rescues, and heals us, leading us to green pastures and still waters where we gain refreshment as we are shepherded through this life and into the life to come.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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