Zechariah 11:14

Then I broke my second staff Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.(ESV)

The word Union here is "chabal" חָבַל which has varying meanings in Scripture from pledge to destroy.

This is the only place it is translated as Union, a meaning that doesn't quite fit with the other uses. Pledge is close in meaning, as a contract creates a union, but is there is a better understanding here that would better contribute to the understanding of the passage as a whole. I assume it was translated Union more because of the context of annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel, but maybe the meaning of that annulling can be better understood with a better understanding of Chabal?


The Staff called "chabal"

The word "chabal" (חָבַל) is actually the name given to the staff, see Zechariah 11:7 "So I fed the flock for slaughter, in particular the poor of the flock. I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bonds; and I fed the flock."[NKJV] as this is the name of the staff the punctuation of the ESV isn't helpful. Other Translations seem clearer

"Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel."[NKJV]

"Then I cut my second staff, Union, in pieces, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel."[NKJV]

"Then I broke my second staff—the one I had named "Union"—breaking the union between the house of Judah and the house of Israel."[ISV]

The Translation of "chabal" in Zech 11:14 from various English versions

Several versions translate "chabal" (חָבַל) as union, including the ISV, KJV(2000) & NASB. The KJV uses "bands" (as does Young's literal translations and the Darby Translation), NKJV uses "bonds", NET uses "Binders" and the Douay-Rheims uses 'cord'.

These words all seem to convey the same sense, i.e. of a close bond and unity. Judah and Israel are bound together, but the staff has been broken in two destroying that unity.

The translation of "chabal"

"Chabal" (חָבַל) has a wide range of meanings. In Zechariah 11:14 though we actually have the word חֹבְלִים ("chobelim") from the root "chabal". This term is used only twice in the Bible, both occasions in regards to this staff, and the lexicons suggest that 'union' is the best translation:

†חֹבְלִים S2256 TWOT592b GK2482 n.[m.]pl. union (lit. binders) name of Zec.’s second symbolic staff Zc 11:7 and c. art. v 14. See חָבַל 1.

Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (2000). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (electronic ed., p. 287). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.


2482 חֹבְלִים (ḥō·ḇelîm): n.[masc.]; ≡ Str 2256; TWOT 592b—LN 63.1–63.4 pl. Union, i.e., the concept of unity, oneness, and reunification as one to a socially and politically divided kingdom (Zec 11:7, 14+), note: this is the symbolic name of a staff in an allegory

Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

  • 1
    You did well to include verse 7, meant to reference that in my question originally. Your information on the exact form of the word used here is great. Any comment on the impact on the meaning of the passage as a result of your findings? I guess nothing I'd really changed and we've just confirmed that most translating got the meaning right, even if exact word differs, union or bonds. – Joshua Mar 10 '15 at 13:56

I am not a Hebrew scholar, but what may be helpful to understanding this passage better is the context. In verse 7 of the same chapter, Union (also called Bands or Unity in other translations), is the name of one of his two staffs. Also, in other translations, the word annulling is translated break or breaking.

The main point of the passage is that Zechariah is recounting from God's perspective how the breaking apart of Israel and Judah happened. This is recounted from a historical perspective in 1 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 10.

When he broke his staff Union (which he had previously used to shepherd a united Israel), he broke the bond of unity between the 10 tribes which aligned with the kingdom of Israel and the the two tribes which aligned with the kingdom of Judah.

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