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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


3. The rejection of the true king ch. 11

Chapters 9 and 10 picture blessing and prosperity, but chapter 11 paints a scene of sin and punishment.

"Preceding the fulfillment of the prophecies of blessing are the apostasy of Israel and their rejection of the Good Shepherd, their Messiah, with the consequent visitation of God upon them in dire punishment." [Note: Feinberg, God Remembers, p. 197.]

Several shepherds are in view in this chapter: the wailing shepherds (Zechariah 11:1-3), the true Shepherd (Zechariah 11:4-14), and the false shepherd (Zechariah 11:15-17).

Verse 1

The prophet announced in vigorous poetic language that Lebanon’s famous cedars would perish. The Israelites referred to the royal palace in Jerusalem as Lebanon because it contained so much cedar from Lebanon (Jeremiah 22:23; cf. 1 Kings 7:2). The Talmud spoke of the second temple as Lebanon for the same reason. [Note: Baron, pp. 378-79.] The "second temple" refers to the temple that Ezra rebuilt and that Herod the Great refurbished, which stood until A.D. 70. The cedar tree also became a symbol of the royal house of Judah (Ezekiel 17:3-4; Ezekiel 17:12-13).

Verses 1-3

The announcement of doom 11:1-3

Verse 2

Likewise the cypress (juniper, pine) and oaks of Bashan should wail because they too would perish in the coming devastation. Bashan was famous for its oak forests (cf. Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 27:6). Earlier Zechariah combined Lebanon and Bashan to indicate the whole land (Zechariah 10:10). All these trees suggest the people of the land as well as the land itself. A judgment that would affect the whole land of Palestine and all its people, including its rulers, is in view.

"Perhaps next in prominence to shepherd as metaphor for king is that of a plant, especially a tree [cf. Judges 9:7-15; Isaiah 10:33-34; Ezekiel 31:3-18; Daniel 4:10; Daniel 4:23]." [Note: Merrill, p. 285.]

The cedar tree, in particular, is a metaphor for a king (cf. 2 Kings 14:9; Isaiah 14:8; Ezekiel 17:3; Amos 2:9).

Verse 3

The shepherds and lions (the rulers and leaders of Israel, cf. Jeremiah 25:34-38) would wail because a coming destruction would leave no pasture for their flocks and no lairs or food for beasts.

"The pride of the Jordan is not the river itself; this expression personifies it, referring to that in which the Jordan may take pride: the topography through which it flows-its beautiful valleys and hills-hence the land itself." [Note: McComiskey, p. 1189.]

In view of what follows in Zechariah 11:4-14, Zechariah 11:1-3 seem to be a description of the devastation of Palestine due to the rejection of the Messiah. Another view is that it is a lament over the destruction of the nations’ power and arrogance described in chapter 10. This prediction had an initial fulfillment in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews in A.D. 70. Its complete fulfillment, however, lies in the future, specifically the destruction that will overtake the land and its people in the Tribulation.

Verse 4

Yahweh, Zechariah’s God, instructed the prophet to present himself as a shepherd assigned to care for a flock doomed to slaughter. This may mean that the prophet was to act out a parable for his audience. [Note: E. Cashdan, "Zechariah," in The Twelve Minor Prophets, p. 314; Unger, p. 191.] However it seems more likely, in view of what follows, that Zechariah spoke for God, and sometimes as Messiah, as though he were a shepherd. He seems to have been presenting an allegory that was the product of a visionary experience (cf. Jeremiah 1:10; Jeremiah 25:15-38). [Note: Leupold, p. 207; Feinberg, God Remembers, p. 201.]

Verses 4-14

The fate of the Good Shepherd 11:4-14

The reason for the devastation of the people and the land just described now becomes apparent. It is the people’s rejection of the messianic Shepherd-King (cf. Isaiah 42; Isaiah 49; Isaiah 50; Isaiah 53). The Lord would graciously give His people another good leader (Zechariah 11:4-6), but they would reject the good shepherd that He would provide for them (Zechariah 11:7-14).

Verse 5

Those who bought sheep slew them (Heb. feminine) and went unpunished. This was bad because these were female sheep, ewes, intended for breeding and not for butchering. The slayers represent the foreign rulers who took over the Israelites, persecuted them, and had not paid the full penalty for their abusive treatment of them (Genesis 12:3). Those who sold the sheep were Israel’s former rulers and leaders who, by their sins, had set the people up for divine judgment by foreigners.

Verse 6

The Lord’s displeasure was the real reason for the Israelites’ misery. He would no longer take pity on them. He would cause the men of Israel to become dependent on one another and on a human king, evidently a foreign despot. This king and his followers would strike the land, but Yahweh would not deliver His people from them.

"History demonstrates that these conditions did take place after Israel’s rejection of their Messiah." [Note: Ibid., p. 204.]

The ruler in view was Caesar, and the striking took place in A.D. 70.

Verse 7

Zechariah proceeded to carry out his assignment from the Lord (Zechariah 11:4). He spoke as a shepherd of the sheep doomed to slaughter, the afflicted sheep, and so represented Israel’s Shepherd, Messiah. The two shepherd’s staffs that he named "Favor" (Heb. no’am, pleasantness, graciousness) and "Union" (Heb. hobhelim, binders, unifiers) represented God’s blessing and the unity of the flock (Israel; cf. Ezekiel 37:15-28).

"The Eastern shepherd carried a rod or stout club hewed from a tree to beat away wild beasts attacking the sheep and a crooked staff for retrieving the sheep from difficult places [cf. Psalms 23:4]." [Note: Unger, p. 194.]

Verse 8

Zechariah, as God’s representative, did away with three shepherds that had been leading his flock within the first month that he took charge of the sheep. These appear to have been real shepherds and a real month. At least Zechariah’s action prefigured that of Messiah in taking over the leadership of His flock from other leaders of Israel who did not appreciate His leadership. Who these shepherds were or will be has been the subject of much debate. Some commentators identified specific kings, either Jewish or Gentile, who failed the Lord and were set aside before or during the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. [Note: E.g., Baron, p. 396, n. 1; Ellis, p. 1045; Mitchell, p. 307; and Merrill, p. 293.] History records little about the Jews between 350 and 200 B.C. The three initial fulfillment shepherds could have lived then, but we may have no record of their activities. Other interpreters, including myself, believe the three shepherds refer to three classes of leaders, probably Israel’s elders, chief priests, and scribes (cf. Luke 9:22). [Note: E.g., E. Henderson, The Minor Prophets, p. 442; Unger, p. 195; Feinberg, God Remembers, p. 206; idem, "Zechariah," p. 908; and Lindsey, p. 1565.] The Luke 9:22 reference is particularly significant since there Jesus named these three groups of leaders as those who would reject Him. Unger held that the one month was the time preceding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which sealed the fate of Israel. [Note: Unger, p. 195.] Another view is that the shepherds represent all of Israel’s unfaithful human leaders. [Note: Baldwin, p. 183.] Many commentators remarked on the difficulty of this verse, which Baldwin called "probably the most enigmatic in the whole Old Testament." [Note: Ibid., p. 181.] Over 40 different interpretations of it appear in the commentaries.

It is also difficult to identify the antecedent of "them." Did Zechariah (Messiah) grow weary of the sheep (cf. Isaiah 1:13-14), and did they detest him? Another interpretation sees the antecedent of "them" to be the three groups of leaders (kings). Perhaps "them" refers generally to both the leaders and the sheep.

Verse 9

Zechariah, as God’s representative, turned "them" over to their fate though that meant that some of them would die, suffer annihilation, and devour one another. The Jews did eat one another during the siege of Jerusalem in the first century A.D. [Note: Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 6:3:3-4.] And they will evidently do so again during the Tribulation.

"By withholding his leadership the shepherd abandoned the people to the consequences of their rejection of him: death, and mutual destruction. He simply let things take their course." [Note: Baldwin, p. 184.]

Verse 10

Zechariah then chopped his staff "Favor" into pieces picturing the end of the favorable pastoral care that he had provided. The covenant in view is none of the biblical covenants since God never breaks His promises. It must refer to the security that He had been providing and the restraint that He had been exercising in relation to Israel thus far.

"The term ’covenant’ is here used in a looser sense, not as descriptive of a formal agreement entered into by contracting parties, but to indicate that, when the peoples round about Israel did her no harm, this was due to the fact that God had put them under as strong a restraint as might be exerted upon a nation by a covenant solemnly sworn to." [Note: Leupold, p. 214.]

Verse 11

The faithful Israelites who were listening to Zechariah, the afflicted of God’s flock (cf. Zechariah 11:7), realized that what he had done in breaking the staff was in harmony with the word of the Lord. Another view is that the afflicted were a group within Zechariah’s society, not the whole postexilic community. [Note: McComiskey, p. 1194.] God had promised in the Mosaic Law that if His people apostatized He would cast them off, temporarily, and allow the nations to punish them (cf. Matthew 23:13; Matthew 23:23-24; Matthew 23:33-39).

"The ’poor of the flock’ i.e. the ’remnant according to the election of grace’ (Romans 11:5), are those Jews who did not wait for the manifestation of Christ in glory but believed on Him at His first coming and subsequently. Of them it is said that they ’waited upon me,’ and ’knew.’" [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 973.]

Verse 12

Since Zechariah was terminating his protection of the flock, he asked the sheep to pay him his wages or, if they refused, to keep what they owed him.

He is more concerned about making the flock feel that he is done with it than he is about money." [Note: Leupold, p. 216.]

The sheep weighed out 30 shekels of silver as his pay. This was the price of a gored slave in the ancient Near East (Exodus 21:32) and, though a substantial amount, was a pittance in view of all that the Shepherd had done for the sheep. [Note: See E. Reiner, "Thirty Pieces of Silver," Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (January-March 1968):186-90.] Their act was as shamelessly insulting as their general reaction to His ministry as a whole had been. To offer him this wage was far worse than simple outward rejection (cf. Matthew 26:15). It was the equivalent of telling the Shepherd that they could buy a dead slave who would be as useful to them as He had been. This response shows how unworthy the people were of His solicitude.

Verse 13

The Lord instructed Zechariah to throw the 30 shekels of silver to the potter since it was, ironically, such a handsome price. His service had been worth far more than that. So Zechariah threw the 30 shekels of silver to the potter in the temple. Evidently the setting of Zechariah’s visionary allegory was the temple courtyard. Throwing something to the potter was evidently a proverbial way of expressing disdain for it since potters were typically poor and lowly craftsmen. [Note: Unger, p. 200; Leupold, p. 217.]

"The fulfillment of this prophecy in Matthew 27:3-10 is proof enough that the money was flung down in the temple and immediately taken up by the priests to purchase a field of a potter for a burying ground for the poor." [Note: Unger, p. 200. ]

Matthew attributed this prophecy to Jeremiah (Matthew 27:9-10). Probably Matthew was referring to Jeremiah 32:6-9, which he condensed using mainly the phraseology of Zechariah 11:12-13 because of its similarity to Judas’ situation. Joining (conflating) two quotations from two Old Testament books and assigning them to one prophet follows the custom of mentioning only the more notable prophet. Compare Mark 1:2-3, in which Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 are quoted but are assigned to Isaiah. [Note: For further discussion, see Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, pp. 340-42.]

"Like the earlier prophecy of the King (ix. 9), the prophecy of the Shepherd is remarkable for its literal fulfillment. The ’thirty pieces of silver’ were literally the ’goodly price’ paid for Him, ’whom they of the children of Israel did value.’ ’The potter’ was literally the recipient of it, as the purchase money of his exhausted field for an unclean purpose (Matt. xxvii. 5-10)." [Note: Perowne, p. 127.]

Verse 14

Zechariah then symbolically broke his second staff, "Union," indicating the end of the unity that bound the Jews together. Just before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 the Jews broke up into parties that were very hostile to one another. This condition accelerated their destruction by the Romans. [Note: Chambers, p. 86, in Lange’s commentary.] Evidently fighting among the Jews will also be common in the Tribulation. The order of events is significant, and it was historical: the breaking of God’s favor on His people, their rejection of the Shepherd, and the breaking of their unity. [Note: See Feinberg, God Remembers, p. 211.] We know that this destruction would not be permanent, however, because of other promises that God would reunite and restore His people and that He would not cast them off permanently (e.g., Romans 11; et al.).

"Responsibility for human chaos lies squarely on human shoulders. God has offered men His shepherd, but they have rejected Him, to their own irreparable loss." [Note: Baldwin, p. 187.]

Verse 15

The Lord next directed Zechariah to present himself as a foolish (worthless, Zechariah 11:17, i.e., morally deficient, cf. Proverbs 1:7) shepherd since His flock had rejected the Good Shepherd (cf. Ezekiel 34:3-4).

Verses 15-17

The appearance of the bad shepherd 11:15-17

"The full fate of Israel is not recounted in the rejection of the good Shepherd God raised up to tend them. The complete tale of woe centers in their acceptance of the bad shepherd God will raise up to destroy them. The one dark episode centers in the events of Messiah’s first advent and death, followed by the dissolution of the Jewish state (Zechariah 11:1-14). The other tragic experience will occur in the events connected with Messiah’s second advent and glory, and deals with the nation’s final time of unparalleled trouble (Zechariah 11* [sic] 15-17) previous to her entrance into kingdom blessing." [Note: Unger, p. 202.]

Verse 16

In his new role Zechariah represented one who would fail to do for the sheep all that a good shepherd would do. Instead he would be self-serving. Israel’s preference for Barabbas over Jesus showed her willingness in the past to accept a bad individual in place of a good one.

"When one removes ’not’ from the sentence, he has an enlightening description of a truly effective pastoral ministry in the church today. (1) ’care for the lost . . .’ or . . . ’care for those in the process of being ruined or destroyed’; (2) ’seek the young . . . [or] ’the scattered’; (3) ’heal the injured,’ and (4) ’feed the healthy.’" [Note: Barker, p. 679.]

Tearing off the hoofs of the sheep probably represents the avaricious shepherd searching for the last edible morsel that he can extract from his charges whom he has consumed. [Note: Unger, p. 204.]

Verse 17

God pronounced judgment on the worthless shepherd for abandoning the flock (cf. Jeremiah 50:35-37). This condemnation applies to all the evil kings of Israel and Judah who had let their people down, but one particular individual is in view primarily. Yahweh would paralyze this man’s power (arm) and nullify his intelligence (eye) rendering him incapable of hurting others or defending himself.

Who is this bad shepherd? Some students of history have seen Bar Kokhba as at least a partial fulfillment. He led the ineffective Jewish revolt against the Romans in A.D. 132-135, and some in his day hailed him as the Messiah. Others see the fulfillment in "all those leaders of Israel, who, under the guise of shepherds, misled and harmed the poor flock . . . ever since Zechariah’s day, especially since the time that the nation has rejected the Christ." [Note: Leupold, p. 219.] However the ultimate fulfillment must be the Antichrist who will make a covenant with Israel but then break it and proceed to persecute the Jews (Ezekiel 34:2-4; Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:36-39; John 5:43; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10; Revelation 13:1-8). Perhaps the whole collective leadership of Israel from Zechariah’s time forward culminating in Antichrist is in view. [Note: Merrill, p. 303.]

"The judgment here (Zechariah 11:17) brings to a close the cycle of prophecy which began with judgment (Zechariah 9:1). Judgment has gone from the circumference (the nations) to the center (Israel); Zechariah will yet reveal that in blessing the direction will be from the center (Israel) to the circumference (the nations) as in chapter 14." [Note: Feinberg, God Remembers, pp. 213-14.]

"With this climactic scene the first prophetic burden describing the first advent and rejection of Messiah, the Shepherd-King (chapters 9-11) comes to a close. The way is thus opened for the second burden and the second advent and acceptance of Messiah, the King (chapters 12-14)." [Note: Unger, p. 205.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/zechariah-11.html. 2012.
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