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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 11

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verses 1-3


(1-3) Here, as in Zechariah 9:1-8, we have intimation of an invasion of the land of Israel from the north, only, whereas in the former case Philistia, as well as Syria and Phœnicia, was to be the sufferer, here it is “the pride of Jordan that is to be spoiled.” Some have considered the first three verses of this chapter to be a distinct prophecy by themselves. To this supposition no valid objection can be made. But the terms of the prophecy are so vague that it is impossible to decide with any degree of satisfaction to what particular invasion it refers. It might be descriptive of any invasion which took place from the north, whether Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, or Roman. Others take these verses as introductory to the prophecy that follows, and consider them to be descriptive either of a storm breaking over the country (comp. Psalms 29:0 and, with some, Isaiah 2:10-22) from the north, or else of some terrible visitation which would come upon the land, similar to the invasions which had taken place in the days of old. In any case, these verses have so little necessary connection with what follows, that it will make little difference to our interpretation of the remainder of the chapter which of the above theories we adopt. (Compare for similar expressions, Isaiah 37:24; Isaiah 14:8; Jeremiah 25:34-36.)

Verse 4

(4) Of the slaughteri.e., which is being slaughtered. (Comp. Zechariah 11:5.)

Verses 4-17

(4-17) The great difficulty of this passage, which is metaphorical and symbolical throughout, consists in the fact that hardly any clue to the interpretation is given to us. Thus commentators are quite unable to agree as to whether the shepherds spoken of are heathen or native rulers. And on this point the whole nature of the interpretation turns. Guided by the language of Zechariah 11:6; Zechariah 11:10, we conclude that the shepherds represent foreign oppressors. Our prophet seems to have had Ezekiel 37:16-22 in his mind when he, probably in a vision, performed the symbolical acts of the two shepherds; but he had also Ezekiel 34:0 in view. In feeding the flock, he actually, though, no doubt, unconsciously, represents not only God, who Himself would feed the flock (Ezekiel 34:11-12; Ezekiel 34:15-16), but also that ideal shepherd, “my servant David,” whom He would set up as “one shepherd over them” (Ezekiel 34:23-24). At the same time, he retains his old imagery of Zechariah 10:3, and speaks of the foreign oppressors as shepherds. The prophet’s historical starting-point seems to be the same here as in Zechariah 9:10, though his goal is more distant.

Verse 5

(5) And hold . . . not guilty.—Comp. Jeremiah 1:7. Own is a gloss of the English version.

Verse 6

(6) Of the land.—Better, of the world.

The men.—Better, mankind. God would punish the nations for their cruelty to His people (comp. Zechariah 1:15). He would cause the world to be smitten or broken up with wars and civil tumults.

Verse 7

(7) Will feed.—Correctly, fed. The prophet, acting as God’s representative, performs a symbolical action, figuring thereby God’s treatment of His people.

Beauty.—Or, rather, favour.

Bands.—Or, as in margin, binders. The first staff denotes the return of God’s favour to His people; the second (comp. Ezekiel 37:16-22) the binding together of Judah and Ephraim in “brotherhood,” which latter took place, for the first time since the separation, on the return from Babylon. When He took His flock into favour once more, “He made with them a covenant of peace . . . so that they should no more be a prey to the heathen.” (See Ezekiel 34:25-28.)

Verse 8

(8) The effect of the prophet’s (i.e., God’s) feeding the flock is that He “cut off three shepherds in one month.” As in Ezekiel and Daniel (Ezekiel 4:4-6; Daniel 9:24-27, &c.), the space of time mentioned here seems to be symbolical; and taking a day for a year, one month will mean about thirty years. Some take “one month” to mean “a short time.” This interpretation will also agree with our view of the case. Some, again, take each day to represent seven years—so that thirty days would be two hundred and ten years—and explain the three shepherds as the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Macedonian Empires, which lasted two hundred and fifteen years, from the captivity to Babylon up to the death of Alexander the Great. But no instance can be cited in which a prophetic day is equivalent to seven years. “The three shepherds” may be, then (according to the view which we have adopted with regard to the expression “one month”), the Syro-Grecian kings (B.C. 172-141)—Antiochus Epiphanes (who died miserably in Persia), Antiochus Eupator (put to death by Demetrius I.), and Demetrius I. (overthrown by Alexander Balus). As specimens of attempts to find for the passage an historical reference, taking the expression “one month” literally, the following may be cited:—Cyril considers that kings, priests, and prophets are meant; and Pusey, “priests, judges, and lawyers,” who, having “delivered to the cross the Saviour, were all taken away in one month, Nisan, A.D. 33.” But the rejection of the good shepherd is spoken of by the prophet as posterior to the cutting off of the shepherds. Maurer would interpret the three shepherds of Zechariah (son of Jeroboam II.), his murderer, Shallum, who reigned but a month, and of a third unknown usurper, whose downfall speedily took place. But Shallum was certainly murdered by Menahem (2 Kings 15:10-14), and there is no room for a third unknown usurper. Hitzig would avoid the difficulty by rendering “I removed the three shepherds which were in one month” (in support of which construction he refers, and rightly, to such passages as Exodus 34:31; Isaiah 23:17; Ezekiel 26:20), and takes them to be the kings Zechariah, Shallum, and Menahem, who in about the space of one month sat upon the throne of Israel. But the difficulty is really not so obviated. Shallum reigned actually “a month of days” (2 Kings 15:13), and the events referred to occupied much longer.

Them.—The sheep, not the shepherds. In spite of what He did for them, they abhorred Him. Though, at first sight, it would seem more natural to refer the pronoun to “the shepherds,” we are precluded from so doing by the consideration that the fact that God loathed the shepherds, and they abhorred Him—shepherds whom He had cut off for the good of His flock—would be no reason for His refusing any more to feed the flock (Zechariah 11:9); whereas the flock’s disregard of all His loving-kindness towards them would afford good cause for His so doing.

Verse 9

(9) Comp. Jeremiah 15:1-2; Isaiah 9:20.

Verse 10

(10) The people rejected Him; therefore He broke His staff “Favour,” and so annulled the covenant He had made with the nations in behalf of His people. This was fulfilled at the close of the glorious Maccabean period, when the nation became corrupted, and as a consequence was harassed by the nations on every side. This verse is the converse of Ezekiel 34:25-28.

People.—Better, nations. (Comp. Zechariah 12:6.)

Verse 12

(12) My price.—The shepherd demands a requital for his toil, as a test of the gratitude of the sheep.

And if not, forbear.—Comp. Ezekiel 3:27, &c. God does not force our will, which is free. He places life and death before us; by His grace alone we can choose Him, but we can refuse His grace and Himself.

Thirty pieces of silver.—The price set on a foreign slave (Exodus 21:32).

Verse 13

(13) This verse proves, if proof be needed, that the prophet, in his action, represents the Lord.

Potter.—The price was so contemptible that it is flung to the meanest of craftsmen. It seems probable that “to the potter with it!” was a proverbial expression, used of throwing away anything that was utterly worthless. The LXX., by the change of one letter, read for “potter,” the “treasury.”

A goodly price . . . of them.—Better, O, the magnificence of the price that I was apprised at of them! That is to say, “What a price!” ironically. The prophet—in imagination, no doubt—goes into the Temple, and there before God and Israel, in the place where the covenant had been so often ratified by sacrifice, he meets “a potter” (the article is indefinite), and there flings to him the “goodly price,” and so pronounces the divorce between God and the congregation of Israel. The prophet, in his symbolical act, represented God (Ezekiel 34:5), but at the same time he might well (or must) have represented God’s vice-gerent, “my servant David,” or, in other words, the Messiah. (See Notes on Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12-13.) Thus, though this prophecy received, no doubt, numerous fulfilments in the oft-recurring ingratitude of Israel, yet we can well, with St. Matthew, see its most remarkable and complete fulfilment in Him who was in every sense “the Good Shepherd,” and in whose rejection the ingratitude of the chosen nation culminated. The citation in the New Testament is a free paraphrase of the original, made, probably, from memory, and agrees in all the main points with the original. The introduction of the word “field” (Matthew 27:10) was made, probably inadvertently, by an unconscious act of a mind which wished to find an excellent parallel between the prophecy and its fulfilment; but the price, thirty pieces of silver, does not seem to have been a mere coincidence. May not the “chief priests” have viciously proposed to Judas this price of a slave (the same that Hosea paid for the adulterous woman, half in money, and half in kind, Zechariah 2:1-2)? and may not the wretched Judas have maliciously accepted this very sum from the same motives which the prophet supposes to have actuated the people to whom he prophesies? Such a fulfilment would be a fulfilment indeed; while a mere chance coincidence between the sum mentioned in one case and that mentioned in another, apart from any agreement in the latter with the spirit of the former, would, in our estimation, amount to no fulfilment at all.

Verse 14

(14) That I might break the brotherhood.—This was the result of their rejection of the Good Shepherd, and of their consequent rejection by Him. It began with the civil discords which followed the victorious days of the Maccabees, and reached its worst in the horrible scenes which took place during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Verse 15

(15) Instruments of a foolish shepherd.—It is needless to inquire in what respects, if any, these instruments differed from those of a wise shepherd. The words merely imply that the prophet, having represented the one character, should now personate the other.

Foolish is almost equivalent to “wicked” in Bible language, whether this word be used, or that of Psalms 53:2.

Verse 16

(16) The young one.—Better, the scattered. The foolish shepherd we understand to mean all the misrulers of Israel from the time of the decline of the glories of the Maccabean period to the day when they themselves declared “We have no king but Cæsar.” With the latter part of the verse comp. Daniel 7:7; Daniel 7:19; Daniel 7:23, and contrast it with Ezekiel 34:16.

Verse 17

(17) Idol shepherd.—Better, useless shepherd. Though the wicked useless shepherd is allowed for a time to ill-treat and neglect the flock, in the end the judgment of God will fall upon him. (Comp. Daniel 7:26; and for the date of the prophecies of Daniel, see Introduction to that book.) Ewald has maintained that the passage Zechariah 13:7-9 is out of place where it now stands, and that it ought to be transferred to the end of this chapter. There is apparently some truth in this supposition. In particular, the expression “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd” (Zechariah 13:7) seems to follow naturally after Zechariah 11:17. The expression “my fellow” (Zechariah 13:7) would certainly be rather a strong one to be used of a “foolish shepherd;” but still, all shepherds of the people, whether good or bad, are looked upon as God’s ministers and representatives, so that we cannot regard the use of this expression as fatal to Ewald’s theory. The reader is recommended to turn to Zechariah 13:7-9 (and Notes), and to read that passage in close connection with Zechariah 11:15-17, and to judge for himself.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/zechariah-11.html. 1905.
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