Zechariah Chapter Eleven
Messiah's Kingdom Will See the Loss of the Jews
This chapter marks the change spoken of earlier. The primary purpose of the prophet has changed; he now views Messiah's kingdom as the central theme of this and the rest of the chapters in this book. There is lamentation because of the reappearance of the self-seeking motivations in the leaders of the people, the "flock of slaughter." The "shepherds," the religious leaders of the nation, have adopted the attitudes again which were apparent before the Babylonian captivity. The Messianic promises become more vivid; the Messiah's appearance coincides with the conditions of a corrupt religious leadership. The Messiah is sold for thirty pieces of silver which is done at the time when God breaks his covenant. Then the bands that have welded Judah and Israel into one nation during the Golden Age are broken! Broken! They are separated, not one nation any more. Logically this prediction must reach beyond those of the earlier chapters which foretold the "glorious time" of the restoration joining physical Israel to Judah, so thrillingly outlined in them.
Zec. 11:1 Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars. 11:2 Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled; howl, O you oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down. 11:3 There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds; for their glory is spoiled; a voice of the roaring of young lions; for the pride of Jordan is spoiled.
Judah's period of glory that Zechariah saw stretching off into the future after the return of the "Skekinah" and which indeed lasted almost 300 years, is now seen as being over for a long time. The growth of religious parties who did not care for the flock followed and coincided with the Hasmonean period which started after the Macabbees. The period of these conditions precede and lead up to the judgments to come in the Messianic age.
Zec. 11:4 Thus says the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter; 11:5 Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not.
These passages and those at the end of the chapter describe the decline in righteousness of the nation but especially the priesthood just before and during the advent of the Messiah. The pastors of the flock of God had regressed to self interest. There is a clear picture of the reappearance of the self-seeking leaders of the people, who are the "flock of slaughter." The "shepherds," are the religious leaders of the nation, and they have adopted again the practices which characterized the priesthood which resulted in the punishment of the Babylonian captivity.
Zec. 11:6 For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, says the LORD: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbor's hand, and into the hand of his king; and they shall strike the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them.
This in such sharp contrast with the restoration prophecies of the first eight chapters. This has to describe events after the restoration and Golden Age which resulted when God withdraws his blessings from a religiously delinquent nation. When Messiah came they had abandoned internalized spiritual devotion enjoined on them by Zechariah and returned to self interest and external keeping of commandments. The resulting adverse conditions would not bring deliverance from God.
Zec. 11:7 And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock.
The innocent among God's people are here called "the flock of slaughter" because they are treated like sheep whose shepherds seek only their own profit and care not for the flock. This describes the nation's religious leaders at the time of Messiah's visit. God still has a plan for the remnant, here called the flock of slaughter, which is at once revolutionary, and violent, marking the end of his covenant.
Zec. 11:8 Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. 11:9 Then said I, I will not feed you; that that dies, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.
"The three shepherds." If they are not pictures of the rulers of the High Priests, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, then they are leaders, at the time indicated, of like stature. That is, they are the major recognized shepherds of the people. Of these shepherds Jesus of Nazareth leveled the most scathing rebukes and reserved epithets for them that no one calls any other man unless they are the most despicable enemies. "My soul loathed them." Of them Jesus said, "Let them alone, they are blind leaders, themselves heading for and leading others into the pit."
Zec. 11:10 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. 11:11 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 the LORD.
Verse 10 all the people: Hebrew "kal ha'ammiym," , means "all peoples" and may mean different states. The breaking of the covenant with all the people must refer to the change of covenants at the cross. "All the people" may mean all the tribes of Israel who, although not existing as separate bodies politic at the time this prophecy was uttered, did so exist when the covenant was made on Mt. Sinai. Thus it is the covenant that "I had made with all the peoples," not only with the house of Judah. It is that covenant which was broken when the betrayal and wounding of the Messiah took place, for that covenant was taken out of our way and was nailed to the cross. Both the wounding of the cross and the betrayal that led to it are foretold and are in the context and are dependant on the figure in this passage.
Zec. 11:12 And I said unto them, If you think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. 11:13 And the LORD said to me, Cast it to the potter; a goodly price that I was prized at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.
This is one of those amazing prophecies that cannot be explained away and which caused the apostle Paul to say that his beloved Jewish nation still wears a veil on their heart in the reading of the Old Testament. Judas contracted to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver which he afterward regretted. He threw down the money in the Temple. The priests determined that it could not be put in the Temple treasury since Jesus had been put to death and it was the price of blood. In the meantime Judas hanged himself in a clay pit belonging to a potter. This abandoned pit was purchased with the 30 pieces of silver and the location was made a community burial ground for indigent people. Judas had hanged long enough that his body disintegrated and he was buried where he fell. The money which had been used for Jesus' price ended up in the hand of the potter. It was the same 30 pieces of silver when Judas received them, cast them down, the priests bought the field with them, and the potter put them in his purse.
Zec. 11:14 Then I cut asunder my other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
It would be difficult to understand how the brotherhood between Judah and Israel could be thought of as broken in a Messianic context when all other Messianic passages are companion restoration passages where the restoration of the nation is complete and perfected. That is, the figures of the blessings of the kingdom are in a picture of a restored Judah and Israel. We would look for the Messiah to unite Israel and Judah rather than break the brotherhood.
But there is one way that we can see this result in a Messianic context which is consistent with the figure of breaking the bands that bind Judah and Israel together. That is, we see in the words a continuance of the actual historical nation after the coming of the Messiah. We mean that we must understand the literal Jewish nation which loses interest in his brother Israel, now composed of those brought back from the nations. Thus the Jewish nation, which did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, is contrasted with spiritual Israel who did. From the sacrifice of the cross onward, historically, Israel became identified in the eyes of God with the redeemed remnant. Spiritual Israel, the church, is made up of those lost in sin and called to be the Israel of God. Judah and Jerusalem "which is below," that is, earthly national Judah, lost the brotherhood with the continuing Israel. But until the cross Judah actually contained the Israel of God. Thus, in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth the bands were broken.
This passage can be understood this way in the light of the literal restored nation of Judah containing all of the tribes after its restoration. We refer the reader to the essay on Ezekiel's prophecy in this book (Chapter VII) where this very question is explained at length.
Although Israel no longer existed as a political entity, nor did the tribe of Joseph or Ephraim, Zechariah mentions them as being in existence. They were only actual entities as a part of the restoration of the Jewish nation. These tribes are mentioned by Zechariah in both spiritual and literal terms. That is, he prophetically refers spiritually to Israel after the coming of the Messiah and he refers to Israel as being part of the Jewish nation during the restoration up to the Messianic age. (See notes on 8:23 where a Jew also is spoken of as being part of the Messianic nation in prospect.) Judea contained the true remnant at the time of Zechariah which remnant would progress and at last become Messiah's kingdom into which the Gentiles would be called.
Zec. 11:15 And the LORD said unto me, Take unto you yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd.11:16 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 stands still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces.
This is further admonition to reject the self-seeking temptations that would come with religious office. The privilege of such a position would tempt one to accept the ironies of this passage as a part of their lifestyle. This is a warning that was heeded by men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea. They lived among but did not become such shepherds.
Zec. 11:17 Woe to the idle shepherd that leaves 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.
This makes plain that the preceding verse is spoken ironically. The warning and the punishment are stated in a straightforward way here rather than in the ironic way of verse 16.
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