In the Bible God's people are called sheep. And that's no compliment: sheep are noted for their stupidity.

Rightly shepherded, of course, with regular dipping and a spot of help at lambing time, sheep can be healthy and fruitful. Their wool is wonderful stuff and you can't beat a nice lamb chop. But still they're stupid. Given half a chance they wander off. One unwittingly leads and the others bleat and follow.

It's the same with God's people. All it takes is one of them to come up with some new gimmick and the rest trot along behind, an inane grin on their faces, heading for the precipice of tomfoolery.

A friend of mine described a typical case. He'd attended a Christian convention and wrote to me in Africa to share the experience.

'I felt,’ he wrote, 'that there was a lot of learned behaviour going on in the name of "refreshing". For example, last year a lady on the platform shared that God had told her to carry a stick with her everywhere she went. As a tool in spiritual warfare I suppose. This year it was interesting to see how many others were walking about with sticks and staffs in their hands—waving them about in worship and banging them on the ground and on the platform in times of prayer.

'The speaker at the last meeting had a second-hand bishop's staff with him. He said God had told him to take this staff with him everywhere he went, including on planes and buses and when preaching. It was to remind him of his dependency upon God.

'Well, my observation, worthless as it may be, is that if men of that calibre need to hump a great religious artefact around with them to remind them of their dependence upon God, then what price the rest of us?'

Good question.

Is being a radical Christian today really all about stick-carrying, stick-waving and stick-banging? While the world rushes on to spiritual ruin, surely God's people ought to have a higher focus?

Not that there's anything wrong with sticks, staffs and rods. Some biblical characters used them to powerful effect. Moses threw his down and saw it turn into a snake and back again.[1]  This was 'the staff of God',[2] an instrument of miracle-power in Moses' hand. It brought down the plagues on Egypt and, in the desert, drew water from a rock.[3]  Aaron had a rod that budded, blossomed and produced almonds overnight.[4]  Elisha threw a stick into the Jordan and made a lost axe-head float.[5]  David carried a staff as he approached Goliath.[6]  The aged Jacob leaned on one as he worshipped the Lord.[7]

But all these mighty men of God carried rods for a good reason. Moses and David were shepherds, and the rod was a tool of the trade, used for prodding, counting and climbing in search of strays.[8]  Jacob had a staff because he was a doddery old man and would have fallen over without its support. Elisha had one because he was an itinerant prophet and the roads weren't too good. For this reason, in fact, just about everyone carried a stick in Bible days. It was also handy, no doubt, for fending off angry dogs and wayside bandits.

But who needs a stick today? Certainly not the ordinary citizens of the developed nations, who ride about in cars, trains and buses, take cable-cars up mountains and fend off threatening dogs with ultrasonic devices.

Not that every stick needs to have a practical use. It can be symbolic, and in this respect little has changed since Bible times. The 'commander's staff'[9] lives on in the modern major's swagger stick. The royal sceptre is still around. But few are the Christians with an excuse to carry a stick because they are in high military command or royal families. Someone will argue that we're all soldiers of the Lord and 'kings' in Christ, but that's pushing it a bit, I'd say.

Is there any other good reason why the church should suffer a plague of sticks? Perhaps. Some would say the stick can be an aid to faith, a tangible object that triggers spiritual action. Just as one blind man needed Jesus to spit into his eyes in order to find healing, maybe the presence of a stick in the hand stirs faith for this or that today.

Fair enough. But as far as we know, only one man had Jesus spit in his eyes and got healed. It didn’t seem to spark a rush of ‘spit in my eyes’ requests among the locals.

With sticks, however, it seems to be different. No-one can argue with the claim of the woman who apparently started the stick craze. Maybe God did tell her to carry one. But it's hard to put down the rush of rod-carrying to anything more than sheep behaviour.

Some physical actions, of course, are faith-triggers of a permanent kind, like baptism and the laying-on of hands, which are foundational doctrines.[10]  The Lord's Supper is another, where the taking of bread and wine act as reminders of the covenant and the need to keep coming in faith to Jesus. These are for every generation of the church and are the command of Scripture.

But in my view stick-banging is of another order. Maybe I'm just a sceptical old sheep but, personally, I plan to give it a miss.

Copyright © David Matthew 1998

1. Exodus 4:1-4

2. Exodus 4:17

5. 2 Kings 6:1-7

The Rod That Thudded

Christian fads

This is one essay in the Shades of Grey series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.

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3. Numbers 20:11

4. Numbers 17:8

6. 1 Samuel 17:40

7. Genesis 47:31

8. Micah 7:14


9. Judges 5:14

10. Hebrews 6:1-3

The Rod That Thudded

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