Let’s begin by looking at what the Bible says about the Shepherd, the sheep, the rod, and the staff.
We know from Psalm 23 that God [Jesus] is the Shepherd:
Psa 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
We know that Israel was likened unto sheep that belonged to God:
Psa 79:13 So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will show forth thy praise to all generations.
Psa 95:7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
Psa 100:3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
We know that a shepherd carries both a rod and staff:
Psa 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
We know that God’s sheep strayed:
Jer 50:6 My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place.
We know that Jesus came to be the Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd who would seek and save the lost sheep
Mat 15:24 [Jesus] answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The Sheep and the Shepherd
Sheep are not as dumb as some suggest. The accusation “dumb as sheep” might have originated in the 1700s, when George Washington declared: “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led—like sheep to the slaughter.”
Perhaps “dumb” is not a fair attribute of sheep, but “dependent” certainly is. Sheep are dependent on their shepherd for direction and protection. They are not independent creatures, They are not strong, nor are they survivors. They quickly wander away and can easily be led astray. Without their shepherd’s care, sheep are in great peril because they are not hunters that can find food, and they are small and defenseless, making them easy prey for predators. That’s why the shepherd must keep close watch over his flock to protect and preserve the flock. So when a sheep stray, the shepherd will prod them back into the sheepfold and put wandering sheep back on the right path.
The same is true for God’s sheep. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14) will prod His wandering sheep back into His fold, to keep them in His protective care—and He will use a “rod” and a “staff” to direct them to ever abide with Him and to walk in the right direction on the right path.
The Shepherd’s Rod and Staff
In biblical times, a shepherd consistently used both a rod and a staff to tend the flock. Both were used to protect the sheep, each in a very specific way.
The rod was used to fight off wild animals and to count the sheep and direct them. The rod prodded them during the day in the fields and at night into the sheepfold. A willing sheep would respond to the prodding, but a stubborn, strong-willed sheep would not.
While sheep might not be as dumb as often suggested, they do have characteristics that give some merit to that claim. They’ll indiscriminately eat just about anything, regardless whether it is something that could harm or kill them. They endlessly wander, seemingly without direction. And many sheep stubbornly resist the shepherd’s prodding. That’s why the staff, with a crook at the end, is needed. The shepherd uses the staff to more strongly exert his authority and to gently, but firmly, pull the sheep back to the fold and keep the sheep moving in the right direction. He can also use the crook of the staff to pull the sheep from harm.
Jesus’ Rod and Staff
So what is the rod and staff that our Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd uses? I would suggest, figuratively, it is His Word. The Holy Scriptures move us, direct us, guide us, and even correct us, to put us back on the right path and keep us in the sheepfold under the care of our Shepherd.
Therefore, ask yourself, does the Lord need to use His rod to direct you with gentle prodding? Do you respond? Or does He need to use His staff to firmly move you against your will? Do you surrender to His leading or do you stubbornly, and willfully, follow your own desires?
Whichever one is needed, we must always remember in whose hand the rod and staff are held. They are held in the hand of our Lord Jesus Christ and He uses both according to His good will to keep us ever close and guide us on the path to our eternal “sheepfold.” For that, we should be eternally grateful.
Hebrews 13:20-21 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.