Scribal Kingdom

Living in the light of the Kingdom of God

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Author: Joshua Nielsen (page 1 of 7)

Angels and Humans: Fellow Bondservants and Witnesses

If I didn’t tell you what book of the New Testament the following quote was from, or who said it, who would you initially guess that this sounds the most like?

“I am a fellow bondservant with you (σύνδουλός σού εἰμι) and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.”

For me, it immediately brought to mind Paul’s writings. Paul was all about the theological acknowledgement that he was formerly a slave (δοῦλος) to sin but now a slave (or bondservant) to Christ, and sometimes introduced himself as a slave/bondservant in his letters. He also referred to his fellow ministers as fellow bondservants (σύνδουλός; Colossians 1:7; 4:7).

Yet today I encountered the above quoted verse not in Paul’s letters but in Revelation 19:10. The one who was speaking was an angel! It called itself a bondservant —a slave— and a “fellow” one with a human! And while not identical, the circumstance in which it was spoken bears some similarity to aspects of another situation which Paul and Barnabas once found themselves in (as described in Acts 14) which can help us understand why the angel called itself a bondservant. While the words used by each party in the two accounts are not the same, the responses are essentially consistent with one another. We will examine that below.

A Comparison of Responses

We must ask: what is the importance of the angel’s confession, “I am a fellow bondservant with you”? What truth is it emphasizing? Let us compare the stories in Revelation 19 and Acts 14 briefly to see.

In the angel’s case, John had fallen down before it and began worshiping it (Revelation 19:10). Its response showed deference to God as the higher power and the rejection of the worship. In an instructive account to compare, Paul and Barnabas on one occasion were in Lystra, and after a man was miraculously healed the Lyconians began calling them both gods and started sacrificing to them (Acts 14:11-13). They faced a situation where they encountered an audience awed with the revealed power of God and they too were being worshiped.

Notice how each responded to this improper worship by repudiating it:

Do not do that!” [NASB] (Ὅρα μή – Literally “see that [you do] not” [NASB footnote]) — Rev. 19:10

Men, why are you doing these things?” [NASB] (Ἄνδρες, τί ταῦτα ποιεῖτε;) — Acts 14:15

They both also affirm equal status (as either fellow servant or fellow humans) with whom they are speaking to set themselves clearly below God:

I am a fellow bondservant (σύνδουλός) with you and your brothers.” [NASB] — Rev. 19:10

We are also men, of the same nature (ὁμοιοπαθεῖς) as you.” [NASB] — Acts 14:15

Then they point to testimony of who is truly worthy of worship and worthy of turning one’s life over to: God. They also associate the testimony/witness with revelatory evangelistic and prophetic proclamation:

…who hold the testimony (τὴν μαρτυρίαν) of Jesus; worship God! (τῷ θεῷ προσκύνησον) For the testimony (ἡ γὰρ μαρτυρία) of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (προφητείας)” [NASB] — Rev. 19:10

…preaching the gospel (εὐαγγελιζόμενοι) to you, to turn from these useless things to a living God (ἐπιστρέφειν ἐπὶ θεὸν ζῶντα)… He did not leave Himself without witness (οὐκ ἀμάρτυρον)” [NASB] — Acts 14:15, 17

How interesting that the angels as well as the apostles and their fellow workers sharing the Gospel are each represented as fellow bondservants whose task is to point to the revelatory witness of God. Such is their role as God’s creations, to act as ministers to Him (Romans 15:16; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 1:7) and to elevate Him rather than themselves. This is something in God’s divine plan that humans and angelic beings alike share in their purpose and designated roles within the cosmos in order to bring glory to Him.

The Crook of Shepherds, Kings, and Gods in the Ancient Near East

What is today an iconic symbol for shepherding has an interesting history when we look back at its origins in ancient history. A shepherd’s crook is a staff or rod with a hook at one end used for directing or separating herd animals such as sheep and cattle. The crook could conceivably be used to also hold an animal in place from stepping into danger or a place it should not go. Hence the crook was used for guiding and protecting a flock. Overall it was and still is a very useful tool for shepherds.

Yet, when we look back through historical relics, depiction of crooks is not always present with shepherds in the ancient world, and many are instead depicted simply with straight staves. Does that mean that the common assumption that shepherds had crooks in the ancient world three or four millenia ago is anachronistic? This article presents evidence that it is, in fact, not anachronistic. Furthermore, while the iconography for crooks in the ancient world is not abundant, it is yet sufficient to get an idea of its varieties across time and cultures. So then, it bears some special attention to trace the imagery of the crook in the Ancient Near East in particular to illustrate what the crooks looked like and how they were depicted. I will only briefly survey such imagery below to serve as a quick orientation. As will be seen, the crook was used not only by shepherds but also by hunters, and was even applied as a symbol of rulership and protection to kings and gods.

This iconography is particularly helpful to illustrate numerous ancient texts which speak generically of shepherds’ “rods”. Some such rods may have actually been crooks, while others were indeed straight. The distinction in iconography also helps us better understand the significance of distinct words which existed in certain languages which specially designated a crook rather than a staff (such as are found in the Egyptian and Hittite languages). Additionally, when reading we might conjure images to our mind of what those crooks looked like based on more modern forms, but while there are indeed some similarities there are also some interesting differences to be observed. What better source to gain clarity on such details than ancient peoples themselves showing us what these useful shepherding implements looked like?


The Egyptians have provides us some vivid examples from Egypt of curves staves or crooks. Henry Fischer in a survey of numerous kinds of staves depicted in Egyptian reliefs and iconography notes several different illustrations of curved staves.[1]Fischer, Henry G. “Notes on Sticks and Staves in Ancient Egypt.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 13 (1978). Among the figures he supplies [from plates by J.E. Quibell, Excavations at Saqqara 1907-1908 (Cairo, 1909)], one shows a man using a curved staff with the crook around the neck of one of the fowl. In another figure, two men are pictured with curved staves in hand, one of the men having a dog (likely a “Tesem” hunting dog) on a leash.

In another context in which a crook appears, it perhaps unexpectedly shows their use in an instance which does not show cattle:

“In other scenes at Beni Hasan the herdsmen who carry such staves are tending cranes… Three Theban examples of the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty show herdsmen with …crooks driving long-necked fowl — a crane in one case and, in two other cases, flocks of cranes, ducks, and geese.”[2]Ibid., Pgs. 8-9.

Fischer reproduces the following plates for those scenes [from Jean-Francois Champollion, Monuments de l’Égypte et de la Nubie, Planches, IV (Paris, 1845)]:

A third example, found among Egyptian paintings found at Beni Hassan of visiting Asiatic peoples.

A restoration and enhancement of the damaged original from Beni Hassan.

His staff might be simply a shepherd’s tool, but might also be a symbol reinforcing his princely status by reiterating his title.

A portion of the painting shows a man placing a rod of some sort which has a slight curve to it behind the neck of an ibex. While it is not clearly a crook it may yet be related to it in some way by serving a similar function. This man’s name is given as Abishai or Abisharie and he is depicted as the leader of the delegation and a ruler.

Susan Cohen in a discussion of the painting describes the object as simply a “curved implement”. She writes: “Abishai is shown using a curved implement to further control the ibex, while the man behind him grasps the gazelle’s horns with his right hand.”[3]Cohen, Susan. “Interpretative Uses and Abuses of the Beni Hasan Tomb Painting.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 74, no. 1 (2015): 19–38.

Another source notes two things about the depiction. First, it mentions the heiroglyphic symbol showing a crook that is written above the ibex:

“The title HqA xAswt (ruler of the hill-lands) is familiar in its Hellenized form, Hyksos, most often associated with the Levantine princes who conquered Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1650 B.C.)… HqA, written with a crook, is commonly translated as ‘ruler’…”[4]Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Cultures in Contact : From Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C., Edited by Joan Aruz, Sarah B Graff, and Yelena Rakic. … Continue reading

Secondly, it endeavors to describe the object in the man’s hand and its purpose (describing the latter as a staff that may have been used by shepherds):

“Abisharie extends his right hand with the palm flat and facing down, in a gesture of respect or submission, toward a large standing figure of Khnumhotep II. With the other, he uses a short staff to restrain a Nubian ibex. His staff might be simply a shepherd’s tool, but might also be a symbol reinforcing his princely status by reiterating his title (although it is significantly less curved than the hieroglyph for HqA).”[5]Ibid., Pg. 159.

These observations of the crook being used as royal symbol leads into the next iconographic category.


One of the earliest examples we have in Egyptian iconography of the royal use of a crook is shown in the following relief of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II (ca. 2100 BCE–ca. 2000 BCE), of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom.

Relief of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II (housed in the Louvre).

The quintessential and most bedazzling example though found among Egyptian artifacts is, of course, the instance of the innermost coffin and burial mask of Tutankhamun which was found inside his sarcophagus.

The famous coffin and burial mask of Tutankhamun.

Egyptian royalty were not the only ones known to use crooks in their iconography though. The Hittites were also known to employ them as a royal symbol. Citing examples of pastoralism in Hittite culture, Arbuckle and Hammer write:

“The shepherd’s crook, or litus, served as a Hittite royal symbol, and livestock were frequently listed as booty in military campaigns (Beckman 1988). Sheep, goat, and cattle pastoralism were highly integrated into local economies, with both settlement-based herding and transhumance attested in texts.”[6]Arbuckle, B. and E. Hammer. 2019. The Rise of Pastoralism in the Ancient Near East. Journal of Archaeological Research 27: 391449 Pg 34. (italics original)

One relief found at Hattusa depicts “the God Sharruma (son of the Thunder God Teshub) embracing King Tudhaliya IV, Yazılıkaya, the Hittite sanctuary of Hattusa, Turkey”[7]Wikipedia:,_capital_of_the_Hittite_Empire_38.jpg, showing Tudhaliya grasping an inverted crook in hand.

The god Sharruma and King Tudhaliya IV. (Image provided by Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

“The shepherd’s crook, or litus, served as a Hittite royal symbol, and livestock were frequently listed as booty in military campaigns…”

Hittite relief depicting a crook.

Hence we see evidence of the crook in ordinary pastoralism in the Hittite Empire, but also the heightened use of the common shepherding implement as a symbol of kings as well.


The Hittite Dictionary published by the University of Chicago mentions a Hittite text which it translates (with the publisher’s editorial and parenthetical notes): “But who will cull them (the calves mentioned two lines before) out (of the herd)? The Stormgod [will cull] them [with] a rod, both with a rod and a crook.”[8]The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Pg. 176. The text source it cites is … Continue reading

This characterizes a deity in a shepherding role who notably is using two different shepherding implements: a rod and a crook. This description is especially interesting given the description of a divine shepherd with two implements in Psalm 23:4 (“your rod and your staff“) applied to the true God of Israel, Yahweh, and may help us visualize and distinguish the two. A rod was simply straight, and may have been short to be used as a club or smite dangerous animals or other attackers, whereas the crook had the curved end for the purposes mentioned before (directing herd animals). It is not unlikely that the crook was also occasionally used as a weapon (refer to the hunting example below), but that was not its primary purpose.

The Israelite religion was aniconic, meaning they were forbidden to depict Yahweh as it clearly stated in the opening lines of the Ten Commandments. Hence there is no iconography to be found of Yahweh shepherding, even though speaking of Yahweh as a shepherd is a common description used in the Old Testament to signify his authority, care, and protection over Israel. However, other Ancient Near Eastern peoples did create imagery depicting their gods with a shepherd’s crook to symbolize to their role as guiding and protecting deities.

“But who will cull them (the calves …) out (of the herd)? The Stormgod [will cull] them [with] a rod, both with a rod and a crook.”


Following are a few instances of such iconography of deities using the shepherd’s crook.

Mesopotamian gods: Amurru / Martu

The deity Amurru (also known as Martu) was commonly depicted with a crook in iconography. The name Amurru is Akkadian while Martu is the deity’s Sumerian counterpart name. Joshua J. Mark writes on Amurru:

“The Akkadian and Sumerian name for the storm/sky god of the Amorite people (also known as the Amurru) who migrated to the Mesopotamian region c. 2100 BCE. The god Amurru is associated with Adad but is a gentler version always depicted with a gazelle and a shepherd’s crook or staff and watched over nomads. He was also known as Martu. His consort is Beletseri, scribe of the dead.”[9]Mark, Joshua J. The Mesopotamian Pantheon. World History Encyclopedia.

The god Martu with a crook in hand.

Amurru grasping a crook.

Egyptian deities

It is no surprise to see Egyptian deities shown bearing a crook as well, as its Pharaohs did.

Ra-Horakhty with the crook and flail.
Egyptian Moon god Khonsu with crook and flail.

Greek deities and creatures

The Greek god Pan as well as satyrs were sometimes depicted with a crook as well, as shown in the following images.

A satyr with a basket of berries and a crook on a silver amphora (Image by the Seuso Research Project).

Pan depicted with crook in hand on a Roman sarcophagus.
Statue of Pan with a goat.



The Crook Used in Hunting

The last example, however, is perhaps the most lively and vivid illustration of them all, provided to us from ancient Thrace. In the year 2000, a Thracian burial mound dating to the 4th century BC was accidentally discovered in Aleksandrovo, Bulgaria. Inside the burial chamber was found a domed ceiling along which a circular fresco was painted. It depicts an elaborate hunting scene. In one portion of the painting, a man is depicted wielding a curved wooden stick in one hand and a spear in the other. He is standing behind another hunter on horseback who is attacking an antlered animal (possibly a deer or moose). Thrace was for a long time independent of Greece and Macedonia until Phillip of Macedon conquered it in the mid-4th century BC, so this painting was made shortly before or concurrent with the Macedonian occupation of Thrace and thus likely shows native Thracian use of the crook.

The iconography more closely parallels the example we find in Psalm 23 of “dual wielding” a shepherd’s crook along with another implement, although in this case it is a spear rather than an unpointed staff.

Image provided by World History Encyclopedia under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. From:

Overall, we can see that the imagery of the shepherd’s crook was widespread across cultures and time periods. The instrument was popular with shepherds for tending their animals. If one came into a violent confrontation with a wild animal, the crook could even be utilized to restrain, strike, or even catch an animal. In the case of kings and gods, it also came to symbolize a ruler with power to guide the people under them. Thus, the crook found a versatile and enduring use in the Ancient Near East; illustration of which has been preserved for us in ancient iconography beyond the references found in ancient texts, thereby bringing alive before our eyes how they were utilized.


1 Fischer, Henry G. “Notes on Sticks and Staves in Ancient Egypt.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 13 (1978).
2 Ibid., Pgs. 8-9.
3 Cohen, Susan. “Interpretative Uses and Abuses of the Beni Hasan Tomb Painting.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 74, no. 1 (2015): 19–38.
4 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Cultures in Contact : From Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C., Edited by Joan Aruz, Sarah B Graff, and Yelena Rakic. Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Pg. 159.
5 Ibid., Pg. 159.
6 Arbuckle, B. and E. Hammer. 2019. The Rise of Pastoralism in the Ancient Near East. Journal of Archaeological Research 27: 391449 Pg 34.
7 Wikipedia:,_capital_of_the_Hittite_Empire_38.jpg
8 The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Pg. 176. The text source it cites is from a 60 volume collection of cuneiform tablets from Boghazköi titled Keilschrifturkunden aus Boghazköi (28.9).
9 Mark, Joshua J. The Mesopotamian Pantheon. World History Encyclopedia.

Some Observations on Psalm 23

As I was thinking over Psalm 23 today, I noticed two things which I never had before pertaining to its form, flow, and characteristics that I think are worth sharing. Before commenting, I will share the ESV’s translation here for reference:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23 (ESV)

First observation: While there is not necessarily a chiasmus of content, there is one of indirect address and direct address:

A – Verses 1–3 — Indirect address / confession
   B – Verse 4 — Direct address / confession
   B’ – Verse 5 — Direct address / confession
A’ – Verse 6 — Indirect address / confession

The reason I separated verses 4 and 5 instead of lumping them together as a single segment of direct address is explained by and leads into my second observation.

Second observation: During the brief two verse span in which David turns to address Yahweh directly (“you”, “your”) he switches from images of dwelling outdoors (using animal imagery for himself) to images of dwelling indoors (using human imagery for himself).

I will briefly expand on the significance of these observations with a few notes here.

Even though David turns from indirect confession in verse 3 (“he leads me”) to the first instance of direct confession in verse 4 (“you are with me”), the theme and imagery has not changed. Verse 4 continues the thought of verse 3 of walking in paths (cf. “paths of righteousness”) by describing more path-walking (yet through a very dark valley) in God’s presence.

When we come to verse 5 we see the theme of God’s presence and provision persist, but the imagery noticeably switches to that of tables, cups, and anointing (more human and often indoor imagery). I think that these images proleptically look forward (in verse 6) to a new setting for dwelling: inside Yahweh’s house. What do you do inside a house? Eat, drink, and cleanse/anoint the body. The direct address then drops off again after verse 5, and in verse 6 reverts to the kind of indirect confession that the Psalm began with.

While in verse 2 the sheep dwells outdoors in green pastures, the psalmist in verse 6 now dwells inside a house. The mention of dwelling in verse 6 I believe mirrors a similar picture of “dwelling” (lying down and being beside) used earlier, where it is the psalmist in pastures (with still waters) that was in view there. Even if the terminology in verse 2 is more descriptive (as poetry is wont to do) of “dwelling” rather than actually using the word, I believe it still describes the same essential reality of abiding in God’s presence wherever it may be (in pastures or in a sacred house) and the blessings that attend that abiding.

There is possibly another kind of parallelism between the ideas of being beside still waters (if this signifies a source of quenching thirst) and the indoor imagery of the cup overflowing, although that association is less certain and structurally linked.

One of the most interesting parts of the above observations though is the function of the “bridge” verses of 4–5 in that they turn directly to Yahweh and also serve as the transition point of the metaphors employed. I think if we notice that convergence point through direct confession it helps us conceptually and thematically tie the whole Psalm together, even though the imagery changes.

Bonus observation:

If you remove the English word “will” (signifying future action) from most common translations of Psalm 23 in two places then you can see the more immediate effect of the indirect confessions:

  • I lack nothing (currently) — Hebrew Professor Dr. Bill Barrick of The Master’s Seminary drew my attention to translating it this way.
  • Goodness and lovingkindness follow me all the days of my life (currently)
    (Note: Indeed “all the days of my life” gives the sense a forward look into the future as well, but we must not override the present sense which is there.)
  • For the third statement though the verb’s aspect is different and signifies the future: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

So much to meditate on in Psalm 23!