Home > Book of Zechariah, New covenant > Beauty and Bands in Zechariah 11

Beauty and Bands in Zechariah 11

October 4, 2011

Zechariah chapter 11 tells how the prophet took two staves, and named one of them Beauty, and the other Bands. Beauty represented God’s covenant; Bands represented the unity of Israel and Judah. Then the prophet cut each of them up into pieces. He said: “And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock. … And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. … Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.” [Zechariah 11:7, 10, 14]

Most commentators apply this prophecy to the Jews. They became cut off from the covenant, when they rejected Christ. God no longer protected them; their city was destroyed in 70 A.D.

Calvin’s comments on verse 10 refer to the Jews, but might easily apply to the history of the church: [1]

By degrees the purity of doctrine was corrupted, and a flood of errors crept in; superstition gained great strength. When things were in this state of confusion, the pastoral staff was broken, which is called, Beauty. This verse then contains no more than an explanation of the last: and hence also he says, That broken might be the covenant which I had made, that is, that it might be now quite evident that this people are not ruled by my hand and authority.

Calvin thought Beauty represented the theocratic government that existed in ancient Israel, and which he sought to establish with himself as leader. He wrote: [2]

The meaning of the Prophet then is, that God had so performed his office of a shepherd towards his people, as to rule them in the best manner; this I understand by the word “no’am”, beauty, for nothing could have been more perfect in beauty than the government which God had exercised over the Israelites; and hence he compares here his pastoral staff to beauty, as though he had said, “The order of things was so arranged that nothing could be imagined better.” He then mentions unity or concord, and it was the highest favour that God gathered again the scattered Israelites so as to make them one body. It is indeed true, that few of the kingdom of Israel had returned to their own country, but it is yet evident that the remnant was not only from the tribe of Judah, from the half tribe of Benjamin, and from the Levites, but that there were others mingled with them. It was therefore a most appropriate representation, that not only a most beautiful order was established by God, but that was also added a brotherly concord, so that the children of Abraham were joined together in one spirit and in one soul. Since then they had so good a shepherd, the baser and less excusable was their ingratitude in shaking off his yoke, and in not suffering themselves to be ruled by his staff.

If the staff named Beauty actually represents the covenant that Jesus Christ confirms with his church, during the present age, by the staff being cut into pieces, the rejection of the covenant in the churches, as apostasy increased, was prophesied.

Zechariah’s prophecy regarding Bands could hardly apply to the Jews, because the ten tribes of Israel, following Jeroboam, split from the Kingdom of Judah and Rehoboam centuries before Zechariah’s time. How could cutting up a staff named Bands portray Israel and Judah becoming separated some time in the future, when they were never reunited?

Woven into the prophecy, there is an account of the rejection of the prophet by three shepherds, his valuation at thirty pieces of silver, which was cast to the potter, a prophecy that applies to the events connected with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. [Matthew 27:9-10] In Matthew’s interpretation, the prophet Zechariah is symbolic of Jesus, the shepherd of the church.

Zechariah was told to emulate a foolish shepherd.

Zechariah 11:15-17
And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd.
For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces.
Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.

Commentators consider the foolish shepherd to represent either the Jewish leaders, or the Romans. William Lindsay Alexander wrote: [3]

That by the shepherd here is intended not a succession of native rulers of the Jewish nation (as Hengstenberg supposes), but some one dominant power by which the nation was to be subdued and oppressed, appears evident from the contrast of this evil shepherd with the good shepherd, who was Jehovah Himself, the King and Shepherd of Israel. It is doubtless, as Keil remarks, “the possessor of the imperial power into whose hand the nation was given up after the rejection of the good shepherd sent to it in Christ, i.e., the Roman empire which destroyed the Jewish state,” that is here represented.

In the history of the church, there have been many men who might fulfill the prophecy. While most commentators apply the prophecy to Jews, some have supposed that it applies to the church. For example, according to Cocceius, Judah represents the Christians under Presbyterian government; Israel depicts Christians adhering to Episcopal rule. Vitringa thought it referred to the great chism between Eastern and Western Churches. Bishop Wordsworth considered the “idol shepherd” to be the Pope of Rome being adored in the R.C. Church by cardinals. Pusey, and Jerome identified the “idol shepherd” as the Antichrist who would appear in the future. [4]

The phrase “idol shepherd” means a vain, useless, foolish shepherd. What are the instruments of a foolish shepherd? If by shepherds, church officials are meant, these instruments may include literalism, dogma, creeds, denominations, sects, persecution, and the like.

The prophecy of the prophet’s staff Bands being not just broken, but cut into pieces has an obvious application to the church. By the staff being cut up, the destruction of the unity of the church is portrayed. Like the prophet’s staff, the church has been cut up into tens of thousands of sects and denominations.


1. John Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Lecture 158
2. Ibid.
3. William Lindsay Alexander. Zechariah: his visions and warnings. 1885. p. 242.
4. Charles Henry H. Wright. Zechariah and his prophecies. 1879. p. 346.

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