Zechariah’s Two-Staff Prophecy

Zechariah’s Two-Staff Prophecy

Most Christians who love Israel know about Ezekiel’s “two-stick” prophecy. But not many are as aware of Zechariah’s “two-staff” prophecy, which is found in chapter eleven of his text.

Both “branch” prophecies refer to Judah and Ephraim, the two divided kingdoms of Israel. But whereas Ezekiel’s two sticks are prophesying a glorious future reunification of the two nations, Zechariah’s two staffs are speaking about a contentious separation. What makes Zechariah’s two-staff prophecy so perplexing, though, is that when he gave it, the two kingdoms had already been separated for about 400 years! Surely the prophet knew that. So, what was he saying? Let’s see.

The prophecy begins with God commanding Zechariah to “pasture [shepherd] the flock doomed for slaughter” (Zech. 11:4). The doomed flock we understand is the people of Israel whose corrupt spiritual shepherds have led them astray. And as we know from history, the shepherd he’s portraying is our coming Messiah.

We know he is “Yeshua” because the wages Zechariah receives for his labor as the good shepherd come to thirty pieces of silver, which he is then instructed “to throw to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued” (vs. 12,13). Those words are the very ones quoted in Matt. 27:9,10 to show how Judas’ sell-out of the Messiah had been prophesied long before.*

Knowing the good shepherd is Yeshua is a huge clue. Because it tells us the first century is the time when this prophecy would be fulfilled.

                                        He breaks the first staff
As Zechariah sets out in his role as the good shepherd, he takes with him two staffs. One he calls “Favor” and the other “Union” (11:7 NASB). It doesn’t take long before he sees why God called the flock “doomed.” Both the sheep and the shepherds are completely lawless. In disgust, he breaks in pieces the staff called “Favor.” And the people of that day immediately grasp “this was the word of the Lord” (vs. 11). And the message is clear: God’s covenant favor and protection of Israel would be withdrawn unless they repent.

Fast forward five centuries to Yeshua’s day when this prophecy would come to pass. Not much has changed. The people’s hearts are still far from God. Yet in Yeshua, God is giving them one last chance to repent and retain God’s favor. All they had to do was believe he is the good shepherd that Zechariah had portrayed. If they couldn’t figure it out by observing his miraculous ministry, they just had to listen to his words. He had told them, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). And sadly, even after he confirmed his words by giving up his life for the sheep, the majority still did not believe. And only a remnant was saved.

Forty years later the nation learned what the removal of God’s favor meant when Rome stormed the city and slaughtered the “sheep.” But that would be the last time He’d have to exile Israel for breaking their covenant. Because Israel now had a new eternal  covenant. One not based on laws that could be broken. But based on a word of promise He’d sworn to Abraham long before concerning an inheritance that could now be received through faith in Yeshua. It was an unbreakable covenant promise because it depended on Him, and Him alone, to keep  it. And He always would.

                             Zechariah breaks the second staff
But what about Zechariah’s second staff, “Union?” Well, this is the puzzling part of the prophecy. Because right after Zechariah tosses the thirty pieces of silver to the potter, he says:

“Then I cut in pieces my second staff Union, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel” (vs. 14).

Now, as I noted earlier, the brotherhood between Israel and Judah was already broken. It happened around 920 BC when the northern kingdom split from the House of David. But Zechariah is prophesying the breakup around 520 BC – 400 years later. What’s more, when this prophecy would be fulfilled in the first century, 900 years would have passed since the brotherhood had been shattered! So, what’s going on here?

The only way to say that the brotherhood would be broken in the first century, and it makes sense, is to realize God must have somehow reunited them in Yeshua. But the only joining together we see in the New Testament is a bunch of goyim being united to a remnant of Judah in Yeshua … “so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph. 2:13-15).

Well, it shouldn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce, since the Jews are Judah, then all those non-Jewish believers coming forth from the nations must have been a remnant of Ephraim. Ezekiel’s two-stick prophecy truly was finally coming to pass at that time! But if the brotherhood was being reunited then, why was Zechariah smashing his staff called “Union?”

                                        Jews vs. Christians
Well, what does history tell us? Although the first century witnessed a historic reunion of the two kingdoms in Yeshua, nevertheless a huge rift occurred afterwards between Jewish Israel and the followers of Messiah. First, the Jews began to persecute and harass the followers of Messiah. Then, after the Jews were exiled, and Ephraim (who soon became the dominant membership in what came to be called the “Christian Church”) had gained the upper hand, they began to persecute and harass Judah.

I believe it was this centuries-long battle between Jews and Christians, Judah and Ephraim, that was symbolized in Zechariah’s breaking of his staff called Union. It was a FYI to Israel that a second separation of God’s people would take place at the beginning of the “church age.” This time it would last until the Jewish exile ended and their state restored in 1948. That’s when the Holy Spirit would begin to knit us together again. This “knitting” process, I believe, began with a stirring in the heart of Ephraim to reach out in love towards Judah in support of their new state. And although Judah was at first suspicious, and understandably so given the centuries of persecution, they have finally begun to receive that love.

                                     The worthless shepherd
But there’s one more part to Zechariah’s prophesy. After shattering his second staff Union, he is told by God to portray a worthless shepherd. One “who will not care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hooves” (Zech. 11:16). In short, this loser would have no regard for the spiritual or physical welfare of God’s flock.

This was clearly a prophetic warning that a deceitful shepherd would show up one day to wreak havoc on God’s unsuspecting flock. Like all hired hands, he’ll be one who leaves the flock in times of trouble. He will be a false messiah, the Antichrist. One who we are told in the New Testament will become the fullest expression of evil in human form ever seen on this planet. He will be Satan incarnate. And Zechariah indicates he’ll be marked by “a sword on his arm and on his right eye. His arm will be withered and his right eye will be blind” (Zech. 11:17).

Although we know he won’t be revealed until the great Day of the Lord,  history has shown he’s been preceded by a series of leaders possessed by his evil  spirit. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Hellenistic Greek king who desecrated the Jewish temple some 200 years before Yeshua, is considered the ultimate prototype of the arch villain. And as history also shows, others have arisen within the very Israel of God, the body of Messiah, now called the “Christian church.”

                                              Son of Jeroboam
After the last of the apostles died, a succession of false shepherds arose who declared themselves the head of Christ’s body of believers. The first in this line of Pharaohs “who knew not Joseph” was the most deceptive of all – the Emperor Constantine. He was the man all Christendom had hailed as its savior for stopping the persecutions. But the truth is he introduced the most corruption of all. True to form, he followed in the evil footsteps of the first Ephraimite king, Jeroboam, who led Israel into idolatry following their historic split from Judah.

Like Jeroboam, Constantine used his royal position to officially sever God’s people from the Hebraic roots of their faith. He convened the First Ecumenical Church Council in 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea, creating a bogus religion parallel to Judaism. One that approved a pagan philosophic concept of God, built false temples of worship, sanctioned an unbiblical priesthood and hierarchy, allowed unbelievers into the fellowship of believers and invented new feast days such as Easter, Christmas and the Sunday Sabbath. And in the process, yoked the church to the authority of a pagan state for centuries.

Constantine’s influence was so pervasive he accomplished what Antiochus IV Epiphanes had failed to do. He imposed a pagan Hellenistic mindset upon God’s people. It was the classic inside job epitomized in the Trojan Horse. With the help of theologians known as the Church Fathers who were steeped more in the writings of Plato and Aristotle than Paul and the apostles, Constantine thoroughly corrupted the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What Satan cannot do from the outside, he’ll do from the inside. There’s always a Judas waiting in the wings.

After Constantine moved his throne from Rome to Constantinople, kingly authority over the western church was rivaled by a succession of Roman bishops known as the Popes. For centuries, there was a wrestling back and forth between the Empire’s monarchs and the Popes about who had the final say over Western Christendom. Later to be known as the Holy Roman Empire.

                                          But this is a new day.
Over 2500 years have now come and gone since Zechariah did his false shepherd impersonation. We realize the man who will finally fill those evil sandals will be the satanic Man of Lawlessness. And when he appears he will assume full control of the Empire, even doing away with his religious rival described in the Bible as the great whore of Babylon.

“For the Beast…will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire” (Rev. 17:16).

As those false shepherds gorged on the flesh of God’s sheep, so it will be done to them.

We also know from Scripture this deceiver, who Daniel described as the “boastful horn” (Dan. 7:20), will be given three-and-a-half-years to vent his evil. He will assume both the office of king and high priest, just as Constantine had. He will fool a sleeping church and an unbelieving world. But not us. Because we are not his sheep. And he is not our shepherd. And we will not respond to his voice. Instead, we will be looking and listening for the voice of our shepherd, the good shepherd, the one who will open the gate and lead us forth. For he has not forgotten us. And he will not forsake us. He will come to bring us home. Just as he informed his Jewish sheep in the day of his flesh, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16).

“Therefore, he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of his brethren will return to the sons of Israel, and he will arise and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God…This one will be our peace” (Micah 5:3,4).

“Since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:8,9)

                                                A quick recap
Because the story of Israel with its ever-changing identities can get very confusing, I will recap my understanding of the breaking of Zechariah’s two staffs. I believe his first staff, Favor, signaled the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish religion in 70 AD. The breaking of his second staff, Union, signaled that history was about to repeat itself. A historic reunion of Judah and Ephraim had just taken place in Yeshua, which had been acknowledged and preserved by the wisdom of God at the Jerusalem Council (see my article, “Restoring the Tabernacle of David”). But now the “nation” would be split apart again. The gospel had to go out to the world to bring in the fullness of Ephraim, and that would take time. Meanwhile, the larger communities of God’s people, the Jews and Christians, would find themselves as opponents until the last days. Then the Davidic nation would finally be restored by a second coming of Yeshua to become the ruling centerpiece in the kingdom of God. And then all evil in the world would be trodden under foot.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.


*Although Matthew is quoting Zechariah’s prophecy about the thirty pieces of silver he says it was spoken by Jeremiah. One explanation is that Jeremiah was considered by the Jews to be the head of the prophets and was often  referenced for the utterances of all the prophets, including Zechariah.

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