The Hebrew words sheʹvet and mat·theʹ are the words most frequently translated “rod” and “staff.” Sheʹvet has the meaning of a staff, stick or rod (for support) and is also rendered “shaft” and “crook” (as a shepherd’s crook or staff). (Lev. 27:32) Possibly because tribal chieftains carried a staff or scepter, sheʹvet is translated “tribe” when the context indicates that meaning.—Deut. 18:1; 29:18.
Mat·tehʹ means a branch, bough, shoot, as well as a rod or staff. From its meaning of branch, it is also translated “tribe” when referring to the tribes of Israel. (Ex. 31:2) Another term, maq·qelʹ, is rendered “rod” and “staff,” and mish·ʽeʹneth more often “staff” (related to a word meaning a stay or support of any kind).
The Greek word for “rod” is hraʹbdos, sometimes translated “staff.” Another word, xyʹlon, is rendered “staff” in some translations. It literally means “wood” or something made of wood. This word may refer to “clubs” at Matthew 26:47, 55 and parallel passages.
Rods or staffs were used for support (Ex. 12:11; Zech. 8:4; Heb. 11:21), for defense or protection (2 Sam. 23:21; Matt. 10:10); to punish children, slaves or others (Ex. 21:20 [“stick,” (NW)]; Prov. 10:13; 23:13, 14; Acts 16:22); in threshing (Isa. 28:27 [both mat·tehʹ and sheʹvet appear in this verse, translated “rod” and “staff,” respectively (NW)]; compare Judges 6:11; Ruth 2:17), and for reaping olives. (Deut. 24:20; Isa. 24:13) Also, shepherds used the crook in leading the flock, managing and helping them. As to selecting animals to be given to the sanctuary as a tithe, the Law said, “As for every tenth part of the herd and flock, everything that passes under the crook [whatever falls under the shepherd’s care], the tenth head should become something holy to Jehovah. He should not examine whether it is good or bad, neither should he exchange it.” (Lev. 27:32, 33) It is said that the shepherd stood at the gate of the sheepfold as the sheep were coming out; on the end of his staff he had fastened a piece of cloth soaked in dye; this he touched to every tenth sheep and set aside the ones thus marked as the tithe. (Compare Jeremiah 33:13.) The shaft of a spear or like weapon was designated by the Hebrew words sheʹvet or ʽets.—2 Sam. 18:14; 21:19.
AS A SYMBOL OF AUTHORITY
One’s staff was considered a valuable personal possession, and some staffs were doubtless identifiable as belonging to the individual. Judah gave Tamar his staff and his signet ring as security until he should send her a kid of the goats in payment for his relations with her. (Gen. 38:18, 25) Chieftains carried a rod as a symbol of authority. Therefore the Bible often uses the rod in this way, to symbolize the authority one has or the authority vested in him by another. Moses’ rod became a symbol of his authority and commission from God when he appeared before the older men of Israel, also when he appeared before Pharaoh and the magic-practicing priests of Egypt. (Ex. 4:29-31; 7:9-12) In the latter case the rod is said to be Aaron’s, but it was evidently Moses’ rod used by Aaron as Moses’ spokesman, as a comparison of Exodus 7:15, 17 indicates.
After this, Moses’ rod was used many times as a symbol that he was appointed and backed up by Jehovah with authority as the nation’s leader. (Ex. 8:5; 9:23; 10:13; Num. 20:11) When the authority of Moses and Aaron was challenged, God caused the rod of Aaron, representing the house of Levi, out of all the rods for the leaders of the twelve tribes, to bud and produce ripe almonds. This thoroughly proved that Levi was the tribe designated by God to hold the office and authority of the priesthood. This rod was thereafter kept for some time in the ark of the covenant.—Num. 17:1-11; Heb. 9:4.
The psalmist wrote: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is: ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’ The rod of your strength Jehovah will send out of Zion, saying: ‘Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.’” (Ps. 110:1, 2) The apostle Paul applies this text to Jesus Christ, who has, as it were, the ‘rod of Jehovah’s strength,’ going forth as Jehovah’s representative with full authority to execute judgment on his enemies. (Heb. 10:12, 13) Jesus Christ, the “twig out of the stump of Jesse,” “must strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the spirit of his lips he will put the wicked one to death.” (Isa. 11:1, 4) He speaks with the authority and exercises the power that Jehovah has given him to punish the wicked. Of the nations, it is said that he will rule them, not as a shepherd peacefully leading the flock with his staff, but with an iron rod.—Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15.
The oppressive rod or staff of rule or authority that the enemies of Israel wielded over her is referred to at Isaiah 9:4; 14:5. God used the nations around Israel, such as Assyria, to execute punishment on Israel for her sins, and in this action those nations were as a rod of punishment or chastisement, under God’s authority or allowance. Yet these nations acted, not out of love for Jehovah or hate for the sins of Israel, but out of enmity to both God and Israel, and they went beyond their commission and enjoyed heaping additional afflictions upon Israel. Besides that, these powers, especially Assyria and Babylon, lifted themselves up in haughtiness against Jehovah God himself. God said of Assyria by means of his prophet Isaiah: “Aha, the Assyrian, the rod for my anger,” but he also described Assyria’s haughtiness, saying: “Will the ax enhance itself over the one chopping with it, or the saw magnify itself over the one moving it back and forth, as though the staff moved back and forth the ones raising it on high, as though the rod raised on high the one who is not wood?” Then he foretold punishment to come upon the nation of Assyria for thus thinking that it was greater than the One using it and for lifting itself up against him.—Isa. 10:5, 15.
When Jehovah made a covenant for the kingdom with David, he said of the line of kings of David’s dynasty: “I myself shall become his father, and he himself will become my son. When he does wrong, I will also reprove him with the rod of men and with the strokes of the sons of Adam.” (2 Sam. 7:14) Here the rod of discipline that Jehovah as a Father would use was the authority of the governments of the world, such as Babylon. This nation was used to overturn the kingdom of God in the hands of the kings of David’s line, until ‘he should come whose legal right it is.’ (Ezek. 21:27) In 70 C.E., the Roman armies under General Titus were a “rod” to execute punishment on unfaithful Jerusalem.—Dan. 9:26, 27.
Wrong use of the rod
The governments and judges of earthly nations often used their rod of authority in an unrighteous way, even fighting against God and his people. When Jesus Christ was brought before the Jewish high court and before Pilate the Roman governor, he was afflicted, mocked, spit upon, beaten and finally killed. The Jewish leaders first used their authority against Jesus, and then made the “rod” heavier by turning him over to the Roman government for execution. The prophet Micah foretold such affliction in these words: “With the rod they will strike upon the cheek the judge of Israel.” (Mic. 5:1) After Jesus’ death and resurrection the Jewish rulers used their authority to persecute Jesus’ followers, and in many instances Rome and the other governments of earth likewise used their rod of authority in a wrong way. For this they would be brought to account by God.—John 19:8-11; 2 Thess. 1:6-9.
“Rod” is used also to symbolize the authority of parents over their children. The book of Proverbs makes many references to this authority, the term symbolizing all forms of discipline used, including the literal rod used for chastisement. The parent is actually responsible before God to exercise this rod, controlling the child. If the parent fails in this he will bring ruination and death to his child and disgrace and God’s disapproval to himself also. (Prov. 10:1; 15:20; 17:25; 19:13) “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.” “Do not hold back discipline from the mere boy. In case you beat him with the rod, he will not die. With the rod you yourself should beat him, that you may deliver his very soul from Sheol itself.” (Prov. 22:15; 23:13, 14) In fact, “the one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.”—Prov. 13:24; 19:18; 29:15; 1 Sam. 2:27-36.
Jehovah God, as the ‘Father of the spiritual lives’ of Christians, does not spare the “rod” toward his children. The inspired Christian writer of the letter to the Hebrews said: “God is dealing with you as with sons. For what son is he that a father does not discipline? . . . but he does so for our profit that we may partake of his holiness.” (Heb. 12:7, 9, 10) In administering discipline to the Christian congregation Jehovah placed authority in the hands of faithful men, particularly the apostles. This authority was to ‘build up the brothers and not to tear them down.’ (2 Cor. 10:1-11; see OVERSEER [Relative authority].) It included the right to exercise discipline toward wrongdoers. When the congregation at Corinth deviated from righteousness and began to look to men rather than to Christ, Paul wrote correcting them and said: “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and mildness of spirit?”—1 Cor. 4:21.
The staff of leadership, shepherding
The shepherd used his staff or crook in directing, defending and helping his flock. Jehovah and his Son Jesus Christ provide similar shepherding for God’s flock of people. Jehovah often spoke of Israel, in covenant relationship with him, as his flock. David wrote: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. . . . He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad. For you are with me; your rod and your staff are the things that comfort me.” (Ps. 23:1-4) Micah prayed: “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance.”—Mic. 7:14; compare John 10:11, 14; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4.