by Al Maxey

Issue #194 ------- June 8, 2005
Divide and rule, the politician cries;
Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.

Goethe (1749-1832)

Broken Shepherd's Staffs
Fracturing "Favor," Splintering "Union"
A Reflective Study of Zechariah 11

The name Zechariah -- Hebrew: Zekar-yah -- literally means "Yahweh has remembered." This was a very common Hebrew name, and we find almost thirty different men with this same name mentioned in the Bible, "presumably," declares one commentator, "because the Lord had remembered the prayers of the parents for a baby boy." That, however, may be reading a lot more into the name Zechariah than is warranted! In Zech. 1:1 we are informed that this prophet was the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo. The latter was one of the priests who returned to Jerusalem in the group led by Zerubbabel (Neh. 12:4, 16; Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Zechariah was also one of the ones who returned under Zerubbabel, and it appears he was already a priest at the time of the return (Neh. 12:16). It is also quite possible he was still a fairly young man -- Hebrew: na'ar -- at this time (Zech. 2:4). Many scholars speculate he was born in Babylon, and became a priest just prior to the time of the return.

Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai, and the two worked hand in hand to help bring renewal and reform to the people of God who had recently returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity. The Septuagint credits these two prophets with being co-authors of several of the Psalms, and Jewish tradition declares them to be two of the founders of the Great Synagogue. In Matt. 23:35 and Luke 11:51 Jesus speaks of "Zechariah, the son of Berechiah" who was "murdered between the temple and the altar." It should be noted that another man named Zechariah (the son of Jehoiada) was also killed in the court of the temple (2 Chron. 24:20-22). Some scholars believe Jesus confused the two men, or some scribe making a copy of the NT text, confused the two men. Others maintain these were two separate men who simply experienced similar fates. Most likely Jesus was indeed speaking of the prophet Zechariah when He spoke of the death of this man.

According to Zech. 1:1, this prophet began to prophesy two months after his contemporary Haggai began his work (cf. Haggai 1:1). This would place the beginning of Zechariah's work as a prophet around the month of November, 520 B.C. From Zech. 7:1 we know that this man prophesied for at least two more years. Chapters 9-14 are undated, however, and due to various stylistic differences, and due to internal evidence, "it is likely that this message was given after the dedication of the Temple. Presumably this represents Zechariah's message during a later period in his prophetic career" (Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, p. 418). There are also scholars who do not believe Zechariah authored these chapters. The two major theories are:

  1. The Pre-Exilic Theory --- This view contends the section in question (chapters 9-14) was written prior to the exile, perhaps by Jeremiah. They believe there are too many things in this section that preclude a post-exilic authorship.

  2. The Post-Alexandrian Theory --- This view contends this section was written after the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) by an unknown author. This is viewed as being necessary by several scholars because of the reference to Greece in Zech. 9:13. The noted biblical scholar C.F. Keil, however, states that such conclusions against the "unity of authorship of the entire book are founded upon false interpretations and misunderstandings."

Historically speaking, the prophet Haggai "furnished the initial impetus for laying the foundation of the second Temple, whereas Zechariah helped materially toward the completion of the project by giving a larger spiritual dimension to the restored theocracy through his prophetic oracles. With his contemporary Haggai he was called to give that kind of spiritual leadership which would regenerate the theocracy, recall it to its true vocation, and guide it toward its ultimate destiny as the living witness of God in the world" (Zondervan's Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, p. 1043). Zechariah "began to prophecy at a time when zeal for the ideals of the theocracy had reached a very low ebb" (ibid). "As was the case with Haggai, the primary concern of the prophet Zechariah was the establishing of spiritual priorities in the life of the returned community" (ibid, p. 1045). This prophet saw the "dangers involved in cultic formalism." He further realized that "submission, penitence, and cleansing from sin must precede the outpouring of divine blessing," and also that "the prosperity of the theocracy depended upon a proper relationship between the covenant people and their God" (ibid).

"Zechariah is the longest and most obscure of all the twelve minor prophets" (Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 4, p. 766). "It is the most difficult of any of the OT books to interpret" (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 318). "Zechariah predicted more about the Messiah than any other prophet except Isaiah" (Ryrie Study Bible). There is no question that the book of Zechariah is the most apocalyptic and eschatological of all the Old Covenant writings. He gives emphasis to visions as a means of divine communication, and the wealth of apocalyptic symbolism is evident. Indeed, it is one of the outstanding characteristics of this prophet's writings. The reader of the book of Revelation will also find many of the antecedents of the visions in Revelation in the prophecy of Zechariah. For example: The four horsemen (Zech 6:1-8; Rev. 6:1-8), the two olive trees (Zech. 4:3f; Rev. 11:4), and the lampstands and the seven eyes (Zech 4:2-10; Rev. 1:12f). Also, in the book of Zechariah Satan appears as the accuser to bring men's failings to the attention of God -- Zech. 3:1f; cf. 1 Chron. 21:1; Job 1:6f; 2:1f.

Rejection and Consequences

One of the great burdens of the prophet Zechariah was over the fact that his people had largely rejected the Lord as their Shepherd. They, by their own choice, had become a scattered, afflicted flock fed upon by worthless shepherds. God was willing to bless His people with abundance in all areas of life, but they were not willing to turn to Him as their Great Shepherd. In Zechariah 11 we perceive the consequences of that choice; consequences dramatically conveyed in a series of compelling figures. This chapter is highly symbolic in its literary presentation, however the message couldn't be clearer -- when a people reject the leadership of the Good Shepherd, they are doomed to suffer under the tyranny of worthless shepherds. When the people of God shun Him, He turns them over to the consequences of their choice.

The worthless owners and shepherds, to whom God had given over His rebellious flock, are not described in very flattering terms. These "owners slaughter them and feel no guilt ... and their shepherds do not pity them" (Zech. 11:5). This is quite similar to the horrid attitudes and actions of false shepherds enumerated in Ezekiel 34, who had been feeding themselves rather than the sheep, growing fat off the flock, "dominating them with force and severity" (vs. 2-4). Such, sadly, is the fate of a flock who rejects the Good Shepherd --- they are doomed to suffer under a series of severe shepherds. These false shepherds are so callous of heart and "so blinded by self-interest that they see no sin in thus treating the flock" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 14). Indeed, "so little compunction do they feel that they actually thank God for their ill-gotten gains" (ibid). After feeding off the flock, they say, "Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich!" (Zech. 11:5). These little lords actually praise God for blessing them with a flock to fleece!! Such despots have truly sunk to the very depths of depravity!

In the midst of this afflicted flock, God calls Zechariah to "stand in" as the Good Shepherd, and, in that symbolic capacity, to convey a dramatic object lesson to His people. "Thus says the Lord my God, 'Pasture the flock doomed for slaughter'" (Zech. 11:4). "So I pastured the flock doomed to slaughter" (vs. 7). In one final, gracious act of loving-kindness, God, through the prophet Zechariah, brings about the removal of those who are afflicting the flock. The sheep of His pasture are shown His mercy and grace, and given a chance to return to His benevolent care. "I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me" (vs. 8). To symbolize the gracious bringing together of His scattered sheep, we see Zechariah taking two shepherd's staffs and naming them -- "The one I called Favor, and the other I called Union; and so I pastured the flock" (vs. 7). God had favored His flock, He had united them once again, and He had removed the tyrants who afflicted them. He pastured and shepherded them with His favor, resulting in their union.

One would think that having God's favor bestowed upon His flock, bringing them back into joyous union with Him and with their fellow sheep, would thrill the people. Sadly, however, it did not. In fact, when they were asked what this was all worth in their sight, "they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver" (Zech. 11:12), the price of a gored slave (Ex. 21:32). Time and again, throughout God's historical dealings with His people, they shun His favor and seek out union with the world about them. Thus, time and again God is forced to turn them over to the consequences of their rebellion. These will result from the breaking of the two shepherd's staffs previously mentioned. If the people would allow the Lord to be their Shepherd, as David did ("The Lord is my shepherd" -- Psalm 23:1), then they too would experience the blessings of God's divine care. "I shall not want ... Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:1, 4). However, when the people reject the shepherding of the Lord, He breaks His two staffs, which results in untold horror for the rebellious flock.

"Then I said, 'I will not pasture you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be annihilated, let it be annihilated; and let those who are left eat one another's flesh.' And I took my staff, Favor, and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples" (Zech. 11:9-10). Most translations render this word as "Favor" (New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New English Bible, New American Bible, St. Joseph edition, Easy-to-Read Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible), although there are a few translations that favor a different rendering --- "Beauty" (King James Version and New King James Version) .... "Mercy" (Contemporary English Version) .... "Grace" (Revised Standard Version, Living Bible -- a footnote in the NKJV also has the alternative reading "Grace").

Following the fracturing of Favor, the second shepherd's staff was also taken and broken into pieces. "Then I cut my second staff, Union, in pieces, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel" (Zech. 11:14). Most translations render this word "Union" (NASB, E-to-R Version, HCSB, NWT, RSV, LB, NIV, NEB), although a few have chosen the following instead --- "Bonds" (NKJV, NAB) ..... "Bands" (KJV) ..... "Unity" (CEV, and a footnote in the NKJV). The "bonds" or "bands" would be those "cords" which tied together the people into one nation. These "bands" or "bonds" would be broken, thus causing them to scatter. The idea of "unity" and "union," however, is really intended here. That unity and union, oneness and harmony, was going to be shattered.

When God's abundant FAVOR is withdrawn from a people, the UNITY of that people quickly disintegrates. NOTE: Here is a major message of this chapter --- When people refuse to live under God's grace, they will fuss, fight and fragment, rather than enjoy the peace and harmony that comes from brotherly union with one another. As Zech. 11:14 clearly declares, when the second staff was broken into pieces, brotherhood was broken. Brethren, look about you!! If you see brother fighting brother in the family of God, then you may be sure that our UNION is broken, and this is a sure sign that we are NOT living under GRACE, but rather have shunned the Good Shepherd in favor of worthless shepherds and watchdogs who merely feed off the flock. "Let those who are left eat one another's flesh" (Zech. 11:9). Not a pleasant thought, is it? Brethren devouring brethren!! But, it does happen when we do not live in grace and reject union with one another.


"For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another" (Gal. 5:14-15). Whether the advice comes from the writings of the Old Covenant or the New, the wisdom for the people of God remains constant -- It is better to live under the umbrella of God's GRACE, than to fall from it! When we lose our union with Christ, we also have lost our tie with His favor (Gal. 5:4).

Brethren, we are the One Flock of the Good Shepherd. Let's act like it!! As His sheep, it matters not whether our folds are exactly the same, what matters is that we are part of the One Flock under the leadership of the One Shepherd. Our Lord has many folds, but only one flock (John 10:16), and the sooner His sheep grasp this concept of grace the sooner we'll begin behaving as a single flock, not as feuding folds. A sure sign that those who profess to be the sheep of His flock are NOT is when they shun grace in favor of law, and break union with their brethren. When lambs in the flock are killing other lambs in the flock, we know for a certainty that the Good Shepherd has been replaced with worthless shepherds who could care less .... and, indeed, who probably applaud such carnage, as it gives them more meat for the table and more fleece for their garments.

Where grace abounds, so does love and union! And where all of these are in evidence, the Good Shepherd is visibly leading the flock, and His many folds accept one another as fellow sheep in the One Flock of God. Zechariah 11 is a message of warning for Christendom today! Our Lord seeks to be the Shepherd of His sheep. That is a truth never in doubt. The question is: do we desire to be His sheep? If so, the worthless little lords who would tyrannize the flock, and their mangy watchdogs, must be driven out ... and quickly. The folds must tear down their barriers of exclusion and isolation, and they must begin acknowledging and accepting their fellow sheep. We must learn to love, glory in our freedom, appreciate His grace, and unite with one another. When we do so, He will dwell among us; when we won't, He will deliver us over to the consequences of our choice. And, frankly, brethren, we have been suffering under those horrid consequences long enough. Fellow sheep, beloved lambs, come to the One Shepherd, and let us enjoy together the blessings of Favor and Union. Those two shepherd's staffs have been broken long enough. It's time to put the pieces back together!

Reflections from Readers

From a Minister in Florida:

Brother Al, You became a blessing to my wife and me back in 1979-1983 while we were stationed in Germany, and while you were serving as the Minister of the Kaiserslautern Church of Christ where we were members. Upon our return to the United States I began to take course work in preparation for full-time work in the ministry. Over the years I began putting my own material together to help me deal with the examination of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. Recently, I was home-bound following a stay in the hospital with pneumonia. During this time, I reviewed several (eight total, I think) articles from your Reflections Archive, either directly and indirectly addressing the materials I have been working on for publication in a book or workbook. I would like to include material from several of your articles in my work, with your permission and with full credit given. Thank you for your years of service, and for the insight your Reflections offer to us all. I feel that they have been the motivation for me to complete this project.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Brother, One word -- Amen! Well-written and right on target. The true message of Revelation, despite all the theories about any hidden meaning, is summed up with the simple words you closed with, "We Win." I can't wait to see more of your articles on this book in the future. I have taught it several times in adult classes and would like to add your thoughts to my notes for the future.

From a Reader in Nevada:

Thank you for this article on Revelation 12. I look forward to your other reflections on the book of Revelation. This coming Sunday we begin a new assembly here in Las Vegas, and I am discussing Matthew 16:18, including "the gates of hell." This article on Revelation 12 from you will give me additional info to use in my remarks. Thank you for this, and for all that you do. God bless you.

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, I just finished reading your latest Reflections about the Lady and the Dragon, found in Revelation 12. You have put much effort and thought into this lesson for us, and your eloquence in presenting it in such a way that is so easily understood is such a wonderful talent on your part! I agree that the Lady is a triune, as is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

From a Baptist Pastor in Texas:

Al, You recently posted an excerpt from a minister in Mississippi that meets with other clergy. I also meet with clergy of other faith traditions -- both as a weekly coffee (where we openly discuss religion and politics) and then a larger monthly meeting. Though I am actively involved and support inter-faith events such as community Thanksgiving services, etc. -- we pastorally tell our congregation(s) that we are different and that we don't encourage "official" fellowship outside these venues. However, as clergy we all share similar struggles and trials -- our children experience different social interaction, our spouses are exposed to different forms of criticism and personal struggles, we struggle with "success" and "failure" in our ministry of the gospel. We have very similar personal struggles.

To be honest, however, we do see differences in ourselves; that is why we wear the labels -- Churches of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Assemblies of God. I do not spend time preaching about these other traditions. Rather, I preach Christ and Him crucified. However, I do preach it with my understanding and interpretation -- and, in doing that, my preaching does denote a difference. I don't like labels really, I just wish everyone would be saved and become a Southern Baptist -- tongue planted squarely in cheek!! If you feel led, and if it fits within the purview of this forum, I wonder if you would speak to this specific idea of clergy fellowship with other Christian traditions/faiths/denominations.

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Al, I would like to respond to the Southern Baptist pastor who wondered if he would be welcome in a Church of Christ. I am an elder at Quail Springs Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. We have developed a history in the last 5 or 6 years of cooperating with the Quail Springs Baptist Church right next door to us. We have had several joint 4th of July celebrations that we call "Faith and Freedom Celebrations" that have attracted several thousand people. We jointly built a road from the back of our properties out to a road behind us. About a year ago we joined together to buy a large cross that the Oklahoma State Fair was getting rid of, and we installed it on our property near their property line. That even made the newspapers. So, would a Southern Baptist pastor be welcome at our congregation? I would have to say he would ... without question! And, if he mentioned to us that he was a visiting pastor, I think he might even be recognized from the pulpit. We recognize Baptists as fellow followers of Christ. How can we not, if they like we are following Him imperfectly, but as best they can?!

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, I notice that you have the knack of picking unique titles for your articles. When I was holding revivals, I enjoyed using sermons that I could give a unique title to, and then either put it in an advertisement, or announce it a couple of nights before it was used. I had one that was titled "The Metal Monster of the Bible," based on Daniel's interpretation of a vision. I even used a hand-painted chart on that one. Your article on Revelation 12 was an excellent treatise indeed. It is telling the redeemed, just as most of the symbolism in Revelation does, that, in the final analysis of all things, the redeemed will win and be victorious along with Jesus in His victory over Satan, his lies, and his wiles. Keep up the good work!

From a New Reader in Texas:

Dear Al, My son in Michigan told me about your Reflections. I have read some of them and agree with you completely. Please add me to your mailing list, and God bless!

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