Shepherds of old carried a rod and a staff, two important tools of their trade. For the shepherd, a rod was a stick or club that could be used offensively or defensively against a threat to himself or his flock. It was also used for discipline and counting, especially to determine the tithe of the increase of a flock (Leviticus 27:32). The shepherd’s staff was a longer and thinner stick with a hook on one end, used for guiding the flock and for capturing or saving sheep.
Kings and emperors are often pictured holding an ornamental scepter—a rod symbolizing their power and sovereignty. Priests of many religions have carried staves showing their power and authority. Likewise, a shepherd’s rod and staff symbolize rulership.
There are a few notable shepherds mentioned in the Bible. One is Moses. Most think of Moses as the famous individual who was found as a baby, floating in the Nile river in an ark made of reeds, by Pharaoh’s daughter, who brought him into her father’s house to be raised as a prince. However, many are less familiar with the account of how he fled Egypt as an adult to spend about 40 years shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro, in the land of Midian (Exodus 3:1).
In the biblical account, as Moses is shepherding, he sees a strange fire on Mt. Horeb and goes to investigate. The Lord speaks to him out of a burning bush (vv. 3–4) and gives Moses his commission to lead Israel out of Egypt. Moses protests that the Israelites won’t listen to him, so God asks what is in his hand, and Moses answers, “A rod” (Exodus 4:1–2), which all shepherds carried. God transforms the rod into a snake and then back into a rod (vv. 3–4). That rod is thereafter referred to as the “rod of God” (Exodus 4:20; 17:9, etc.), used in performing God’s miracles in Egypt and in the wilderness.
Perhaps David is a better-known shepherd. He has been called the “Shepherd King.” He was also very acquainted with the rod and staff (1 Samuel 17:34–35, 40), and referred to them as being in the hand of the Lord in Psalm 23, in which David calls the Lord his Shepherd.
Jesus Christ was a descendent of David, called the “Rod from the stem of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1). Christ will shepherd His people with His staff (Micah 7:14). Jesus said that He is “the good shepherd” (John 10:11), the “great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20–21), and the “Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). Christ will rule with “a rod of iron” when He establishes the Kingdom of God on earth (Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
In Psalm 23, David declares that the Lord is his Shepherd and that His rod and staff comfort him—he does not fear any evil, because He knows His Shepherd will guide and protect him. That will be true when Jesus Christ reigns over the whole world in His kingdom of peace.
Jesus told His disciples that He is the good shepherd who gives His life for the sheep. They knew the story of David, who had tended sheep and delivered them from lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34–35). They could readily understand Jesus being a loving shepherd who will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20).
Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, which most do not understand as Jesus being King over a literal kingdom on the earth. Christ will shepherd all nations with His rod and staff. For more on this wonderful time that is just ahead, you can read The World Ahead: What Will It Be Like? and Do You Believe the True Gospel?