Beauty and Bands

In describing the tranquil and unobtrusive manner in which the Lord Jesus Christ would go about his ministry, Isaiah foretold “he shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth” (Isa 42:2-3).

The fulfillment of this is seen in all its force when we examine the attitude of Christ during his ministry. He did not head a party or start a sedition. He gave no suggestion about revolting against the authorities. Instead, he quietly went about from place to place doing good, healing disease, announcing the purpose of God, explaining what was acceptable to God and what was not, comforting the poor, and encouraging the lovers of righteousness.

He counseled not to resort to violence; on the contrary, he preached submission. He abstained from the artifices of strife; on the contrary, he retired before personal opposition. His occasional critical thrusts were all employed in the enforcement of truth, and never in the promotion of political or personal aims. The simple testimony of the Scriptures concerning him was that he “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa 40:7-8).

This meek and quiet spirit (“the Spirit of Christ” 1 Pet 1:11) was portrayed in Zechariah the prophet. We have previously considered how closely aligned were the missions of Zechariah and the Lord Jesus Christ. They came on the scene as the final shepherds sent into a fold of lost sheep destined for slaughter (Zech 11:4; Matt 21:37). Both were despised and rejected when their teachings from Scripture were questioned and their motives condemned.

But despite the fierce opposition encountered, they resolutely pressed forward, laboring diligently to save the flock (Zech 11:7), driven by a deep and abiding love for the sheep to whom they were sent (Matt 9:36; 10:6). Through it all there emerged a very small remnant, styled the “poor of the flock” (Zech 11:11); a despised group which embraced the saving work that was performed. It therefore should come as little surprise that on the same night in which he was betrayed, the words and experience of the young man Zechariah figured prominently in the Lord’s mind (Matt 26:15,31).

Beauty and Bands

The closeness between these two men is perhaps best exhibited in the enacted parable of Zechariah 11:7-14 in which Zechariah as the anti-typical Good Shepherd went about bearing two staves before the people. Normally a shepherd utilizes two instruments in the care of his flock: a rod or a club used for defence against foes (1 Sam 17:34-35) and a staff or crook for guidance and rescue. At the time of the Lord’s first advent he used the staff to guide. At his second he will use the rod (Psa 2:9).

Here was a double emphasis upon the Lord’s guidance and direction in seeking to bind the lost sheep of the house of Israel in unity with each other and with God. The Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save (Luke 9:56). In order to demonstrate this principle, Zechariah, as Yahweh’s ‘man of sign,’ bore two staves each having a name: the one he called Beauty and the other Bands (Zech 11:7).

The Hebrew word for Beauty is from no’am meaning graciousness or delightfulness. It is used seven times and always in connection with the righteous or God Himself. The root of this word is used to describe David the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam 23:1) and his “pleasant” friendship with Jonathan (2 Sam 1:26). How apposite is this word in respect to the character and deportment of our Lord! As Brother John Carter put it, “Jesus was full of grace in every way, we are told that his hearers ‘wondered at the gracious words that proceeded from his mouth.’ In this respect he was like the Father that sent him, for God is the God of all grace, the gracious God” (Prophets After the Exile, p 172).

The word Bands signifies to bind or unify (RV margin) and is used of strands of rope which are twisted tightly together to form an unbreakable bond. It represents Jesus as the one in whom Israel would be united “as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34).

Rotherham collectively styles them “Grace and Union.”

In short, Beauty spoke of the relationship that Israel shared with their God being in covenant relationship with Him (Zech 11:10); whilst Bands represented the relationship they shared with each other (Zech 11:14) as a brotherhood within that covenant.

When Zechariah was to break Beauty, it signaled that the nation was out of fellowship with God and unprotected. When he broke Bands, it meant the nation would be scattered amongst the four winds of heaven and the unity they once enjoyed amongst the brotherhood of Israel was severed.

Connection with Ezekiel

Ezekiel’s vision of the two sticks, though opposite in meaning, is illustrative of the same point. Ezekiel, as the symbolic Son of Man, was told to take two sticks which were joined together in his hand. The sticks represented the two houses of Israel and Judah which would be united (Bands) to form one nation after their political resurrection at the end of the times of the Gentiles, when one Shepherd would be King to them all (Ezek 37:22,24).

Here was Ezekiel’s demonstration of the healing of Bands. The nation’s relationship with each other which had been broken by the Lord at his first advent (as typified by Zechariah in 11:14) will soon be joined together in the latter days.

Furthermore, Ezekiel describes the reinstatement of Beauty, for as the prophecy proceeds to outline, Judah and Israel will come under the new covenant: “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them…my tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezek 37:26-27). The relationship of the nation with their God as seen in Beauty will likewise be restored.

We can picture the prophet going out into the streets of Jerusalem bearing these two staves; offering comfort and hope, providing helpful words in season, and offering cups of cold water to a dejected flock. He would constantly encourage and reassure his brethren that despite the difficulties during the day of small things, the race is well worth enduring unto the end, or as the Lord himself declared, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Our responsibilities towards the poor of the flock in our times are certainly no different. Paul charged the Thessalonians to “comfort the feebleminded [and] support (Gk to be closely attached to) the weak” (1 Thess 5:14). Those who are timid and fearful amongst us must be provided with sound reasons to be strong in the faith; such reasons come from the Word of God and the living examples of brothers and sisters.

Three shepherds cut off

But as Zechariah was performing his role in strengthening the flock, he entered into conflict with those false shepherds who desired to maintain the status quo (Zech 11:9). Throughout his ministry the Lord sought to avoid conflict with those who opposed him (John 4:1-3). “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind,” he instructed his disciples (Matt 15:14). He chose instead to focus on the poor of the flock and nurture his disciples. But as his ministry came to a climax, he was soon to clash with three individual shepherds of Judah in one month (Zech 11:8), cutting them off (Heb dismiss) in three major conflicts. Each time Zechariah defeated them the constant opposition wearied him, until the shepherds grew to hate him.

Many ideas have been advanced as to the identity of the three shepherds and it may be coincidental that the Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes were the three influential religious parties in Israel’s affairs. It is quite fitting, when we turn to the final days of the Lord’s work, that we find him being tested by these three groups of false shepherds.

Matt 22:15-22 Pharisees Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
Matt 22:23-33 Sadducees Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?
Matt 22:34-40 Lawyer What is the greatest commandment in the law?

In the face of each question, the Lord resoundingly overcame the challenge issued to him. Following his unanswered question regarding the sonship of Messiah, Matthew records, “no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions” (Matt 22:41-46) or in the words of Zechariah, they had been “cut off” (Heb dismissed).

Breaking of Beauty and Bands

Eventually their time of opportunity had elapsed, and with the rejection of the Son of God, the fate of the nation was sealed: “I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder” (Zech 11:10). The effect of the Shepherd’s conflict with the “three shepherds” was the abandonment of the nation to death, and to the horrors of the siege warfare in which the words of the prophet were, in measure, literally fulfilled: “let the rest eat everyone the flesh of another” (Zech 11:9, cf Deut 28:53). This public action by the prophet dramatically portrayed the removal from fellowship with God which the nation enjoyed.

“The breaking of the staff ‘Beauty’ was to be done in such a way that everyone’s attention was focused upon it. The work of God in Jesus was not performed in an out of the way place in some obscure manner, but in the capital city of the nation, and with the rulers as the principal agents in the work. ‘God set forth Jesus’, as Paul declared; he was placarded before the gaze of all” (Prophets After the Exile, p 177).

The crucifixion of Christ was the cutting off foretold in Daniel 9:26. It marked the end of the covenant styled “old” and ratified the “new” covenant by the blood of Jesus (Heb 8:13; 10:16-20; Rom 15:8), the very covenant foretold in this context by Zechariah when he wrote “by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth the prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zech 9:11-12).

With their covenant with God now annulled by the Romans taking away their place and nation, the Jewish people would now be scattered and without national organization, unable to share true unity with each other. In order to graphically portray this judgment, Zechariah, in one final action took the staff Bands and broke it over his knee (Zech 11:14).

Two staves and two emblems

Paradoxically, the Shepherd’s cutting off by the nation as displayed in the breaking of Beauty and Bands was also the very means whereby the “poor of the flock” were united with him: “And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of Yahweh” (Zech 11:11). A small group of sheep had obviously been listening keenly to Zechariah’s words and received his instruction, knowing the significance of his actions.

These were the Annas and the Simeons, who “waited” all their lives to see the consolation of Israel and redemption in Jerusalem (Isa 52:9; Luke 2:25,38) as revealed in Christ. The flock included the faithful women that followed him to the foot of the cross (Luke 23:49; John 19:25). They were joined by a Joseph of Arimathea, a Nicodemus, a Bartimaeus and many others who were stirred by the Lord’s gracious example. Added to them were a band of the Lord’s disciples who, although poor and despised in the estimation of many, came to know the significance of all the law and prophets foretold concerning Messiah’s work (Luke 24:44-48).

For this special group, the Lord performed one final act on their behalf prior to his death. Instead of breaking Beauty and Bands for them, he broke bread. With the context of Zechariah firmly in mind (Matt 26:15,31) our Lord sat down with the poor of the flock, and through the blood of the covenant provided a means by which he could be remembered by his sheep.

Whilst we are not suggesting this is the primary significance of the memorials, it is noteworthy that two emblems (not one) were chosen by the Lord to memorialise the meaning of his death (1 Cor 11:26); each one finding a correspondence to the two staves borne by the prophet. The first being expressive of the unity we share with each other as part of his body, “for we being many are one bread, and…all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). The second conveying the relationship of grace we enjoy with the Father through him: “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new covenant [Zech 9:11], which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:27-28).

Captured in these symbols is the essence of Beauty and Bands. One emblem to convey the relationship we share with God (wine) having been forgiven of Him by means of the new covenant ratified by his Son’s blood, whilst the other speaks of our relationship as his brethren, the body of Christ (bread) within that covenant.

Through our Lord’s offering, the ecclesia, as his chosen flock, has been banded and united in him, “fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth” (Eph 4:16). Poor in this world’s goods, but rich in faith (Zech 11:11; James 2:5) we must “grow up into Him which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:15), thereby forming an unbreakable bond of unity.

As part of the poor of the flock, we recall their single identifying feature: they “waited on me” (Zech 11:11). It was because of this that they knew the importance of the times in which they stood, and used their opportunities wisely.

To wait on God is not to be inactive. As Isaiah wrote, “I will wait upon Yahweh, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him” (Isa 8:17). According to Gesenius, the Hebrew word for “look” is qavah which is appropriately used for binding and twisting rope and signifies to look with expectation. Hence, the stronger the expectation and love for our Lord’s appearing, the stronger our ties with him grow. He can provide the strength which will allow us to hold fast to the profession of our faith without wavering (Heb 10:23).

Paul summarises it in this way: “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look (wait, RV) for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb 9:28).