What is a Reed in the Bible?

A reed refers to a kind of thick grass, but the Bible uses the picture of a reed to illustrate weakness, instability, or a believer weak in grace. 

A reed is first and foremost a stalk of grass that grows in marshy places, similar to “cane” and a popular substance used for paper. But the Bible uses reeds in a few different ways throughout the scriptures. Let’s take a look.

Mentions of Reeds in the Bible

The Bible mentions reeds in a few different places:

Reeds in the Old Testament

Reeds are seen throughout the Old Testament referring specifically to the cane:

  • “And the LORD will strike Israel, so that it will be like a reed swaying in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land that he gave to their ancestors and scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they aroused the LORD’s anger by making Asherah poles.” (1 Kings 14:15)
  • “… also the plants along the Nile, at the mouth of the river. Every sown field along the Nile will become parched, will blow away and be no more.” (Isaiah 19:7)
  • “Under the lotus plants it lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh.” (Job 40:21)

But we also see some the use of reeds in the Old Testament to refer to weakness or fickleness:

  • “Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him.” (2 Kings 18:21)
  • “Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the LORD. “ ‘You have been a staff of reed for the people of Israel.” (Ezekiel 29:6)
  • “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)

Reeds in the New Testament

  • “As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” (Matthew 11:7)
  • “…and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. (Matthew 27:29) – many believe the staff was a reed.

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

Though a standard herb or cane used for paper and occasionally as a staff, there’s a deeper meaning of the use of reed in the Bible, most notably seen in Isaiah 42. 

Here, the bruised reed might refer to a believer weak in grace, unstable in their ways, fickle, or wavering.

The message is this: Jesus, the all-powerful king, was also a suffering servant, familiar with the grave and the darkness of this world. And unlike many people, He was attracted to hopeless cases. He loves the downtrodden and downcasts. 

But He doesn’t approach these people and situations in domineering fashion, but in gentle, lowly grace. He’s the slain lamb, come to bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the broke, and justice to the oppressed. 

If you want to read more on this, check out The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes.

Other Biblical Word Studies

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