Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 11

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


This Second Main Section In Chapters 9-14 Probably Came Later in Zechariah’s Life and It Concentrates on the Eschatalogical Future When God Will Finally Bring All His Work to Fruition.

Many years have passed. The building of the Temple has been completed, but it has not produced the spiritual revival that Zechariah had hoped for. The nations round about are constantly at odds with them. The leaders are dallying with divination and the occult (Zechariah 10:2). Zechariah, whose words had been so effective in his youth, now finds his efforts thwarted and he himself rejected and put to one side (Zechariah 11:4-14). His opponents are profiting from their position by misusing the Temple to the detriment of the people, having become ‘traffickers of the sheep’ (Zechariah 11:5; Zechariah 11:7; Zechariah 11:11).

So in this second main section the prophet, realising that everything was not going to happen as speedily as he had hoped, seeks to encourage the faithful in Israel and concentrates on the more distant future, and the fulfilling of the purposes of God. Then the nations as a whole will be dealt with by God and His people will become a blessing to the world, especially through their Coming King. But before the final fulfilment there will be treachery and suffering. For God’s triumph will come through the tribulation of His people.

This second main section divides up into two subsections, 9-11 and 12-14.


This third section of Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 9:1 to Zechariah 11:17) is not so clearly divided up as the previous sections but we may possibly divide it as follows on the basis of exhortations:

· ‘The burden of the word of YHWH on’ (the northern nations) - (Zechariah 9:1).

· ‘Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion --- behold your King comes’ (Zechariah 9:9).

· ‘Ask of YHWH rain in the time of the latter rain’ (Zechariah 10:1).

· ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon ---’ (Zechariah 11:1).

IN DEPTH ANALYSIS OF Zechariah 9-11.

· Destruction of the pride and wisdom of the nations, salvation for the humbled Philistines, God will encamp around His house (His people) so that they will never again be oppressed (Zechariah 9:1-8).

· ‘His people are called on to behold the arrival of the lowly but triumphant King who will introduce peace and abjure warfare. He will release the captive exiles, who are therefore to turn to the Stronghold, for YHWH will act on their behalf as their Defender using His own weaponry of lightning and whirlwind and thus they will feast and rejoice and flourish in perfect safety (Zechariah 9:9-17).

· His people are to ask of YHWH for the necessary rains and the One Who is their Defender (the One Who makes lightning - Zechariah 9:14) will give them rain, for God will deal with the false prophets and shepherds, and will raise up One Who will be His Cornerstone, His secure nail, and His battle bow, and an army of rulers who will be mighty men and will deliver His people. His people will be made strong and rejoice and He will signal to the exiles, will strengthen them in YHWH and they will return and walk up and down in His Name (Zechariah 10:1-12).

· The nation is to open its doors to invaders because it has listened to the false shepherds and rejected its true shepherd who is valued at a derisory thirty pieces of silver. The result is that they will have to endure the false shepherds that they have chosen (Zechariah 11:1-17)

Note that in ‘a’ God promises that He will deal with the proud nations, and that His people will never be oppressed, and in the parallel His people will be oppressed because they have chosen to follow false shepherds. In ‘b’ their King comes and YHWH fights on His people’s behalf with His own weaponry, and in the parallel He sends His Cornerstone and again acts on their behalf again with His own weaponry.

In this remarkable chapter we have a description of YHWH’s purposes for the world. We may summarise it as follows:

· All who are proud, and especially Tyre and Sidon, the outstanding symbol of pride and wealth at the time, will be brought down (Zechariah 9:1-4).

· This will affect the attitudes of the peoples like the Philistines and they will see what happens and will be afraid. They too will be humbled, but in their case it will lead them to become one with God’s people, freed from idolatry (Zechariah 9:5-7).

· At this time YHWH will become as a guard to His house (the house of Israel), so that His people will be free from oppressors (Zechariah 9:8).

· The coming King will arrive, triumphant and victorious and yet riding in humility on an ass (Zechariah 9:9).

· At this stage all weapons of warfare will be dispensed with, and the King will command peace to the nations and establish worldwide dominion in peace (Zechariah 9:10).

· Because of the blood of the covenant His people will now be free to come out of their prisons as ‘prisoners of hope’ and return to His stronghold (Zechariah 9:11-12).

· The influence of His people will reach across the seas even to Javan (Zechariah 9:13).

· And all this will be wrought by the hand of YHWH as He goes forward to conquer, just as He did before Israel of old (Zechariah 9:14).

· YHWH will watch over His people who will be under His protection and will make even the most fiendish weapons fail against them. They will be able to feast, and tread on their enemies’ sling stones, and satiate themselves with wine in the face of their enemies (Zechariah 9:15).

· And on that day God will save them, and the age of blessing and plenty will dawn (916-17).

So the overall picture is of judgment on the proud, and of salvation to the humble, wrought by YHWH through the coming King.

Verses 1-3

A Lament Over The Condition Of Israel (Zechariah 11:1-3 ).

Zechariah 11:1-3

‘Open your doors, Oh Lebanon,

That the fire may devour your cedars.

Howl, Oh fir tree,

For the cedar is fallen,

Because the glorious ones are spoiled.

Howl, Oh you oaks of Bashan,

For the thick forest is come down.

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.’

Again Lebanon is seen as part of the land of promise. But as the prophet sees what is to come he depicts catastrophe in terms of those things which were the pride of the land. The cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan were proverbial for their glory and strength. But now as far as Israel is concerned the cedars are burned and the oaks are cut down. The pride of Jordan contains the same idea, referring to the jungle thickets which provided a home for the lions. They too are spoiled. Thus even the young lions will have cause for complaint.

The picture is one of invasion and the destroying of that of which the people are most proud. The unfaithfulness of God’s people as a result of the teaching of false shepherds will have the reverse effect to what Zechariah has previously described. Prior to the coming of the Messianic king there will be devastation in the land. The history of the Jews illustrates how this happened again and again.

It should be noted that usually invaders spared the trees. They recognised that they were for future generations. A land despoiled of trees was truly a land despoiled.

‘A voice of the howling of the shepherds.’ The catastrophe is directly related to the activities of false shepherds. They have proclaimed falsehood and will now see it bring ruin to the land. Even the lions will roar because their homes are destroyed.

So while the prophet has been filled with hope he now recognises that coming adversity will precede the fulfilment of his hopes. The future is not all one of triumph, it must rise out of disaster. How quickly the revival of hope has to bow to realities and be delayed. It is ever thus and will be until God directly intervenes.

Verses 1-17

A Prophecy in Which Zechariah Sees that Instead of True Shepherds There Will Arise False Shepherds. He as The True Shepherd will be Rejected (Zechariah 11:1-17 ).

Zchariah now returns to his theme of the false shepherds as found in Zechariah 10:2-3. Up to now the future has on the whole seemed rosy. But Zechariah recognised the problem of the false shepherds. False shepherds have already arisen (Zechariah 10:2-3) and will yet arise and doom will come on the land. Before the eschatological salvation must come the period of darkness. Things will not quite go as he had hoped.

Verses 4-6

Zechariah Is To Feed The Flock Doomed For Slaughter (Zechariah 11:4-6 ).

There is an interesting contrast here between the false shepherds of Zechariah and the true shepherd of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 34:0 YHWH Himself will save the sheep, here He hands them over to the false shepherds. In Ezekiel 34:23 YHWH promises to raise up a shepherd who will feed them, here He says that he will raise up shepherds who are not concerned for the welfare of the sheep. In Ezekiel 34:25 YHWH promises to establish a covenant of peace with His people, here in Zechariah 11:10; Zechariah 11:14 He breaks His covenant of peace and union with them. In Ezekiel 34:26-31 great blessings are promised for His people, here in Zechariah 11:16 doom and desolation is threatened. In Ezekiel the new age is in mind, here there is simply a grim period ahead. In Ezekiel 37:19 the two sticks of Israel and Judah are brought together, here the two staffs representing the covenant and the union between Israel and Judah are broken. It is difficult not to see this as deliberate. It is Zechariah’s sad warning that the refusal of the people to respond to God’s true shepherd can only delay the blessing that He has been promising.

Zechariah 11:4-6

‘Thus says YHWH my God, “Feed the flock doomed to slaughter, whose owners slay them and hold themselves not guilty, and those who sell them say, ‘I am rich’, and their own shepherds do not spare them. For I will no more spare the inhabitants of the land,” says YHWH, “but lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour’s hand and into the hand of his king, and they will smite the land and out of their hand I will not deliver them.”.’

The situation as portrayed in the early chapters has changed. Zechariah is no longer listened to with reverence and now he describes a power struggle that is taking place between himself and other members of the prophetic guild (Zechariah 11:4-14). And it is one that in the end he loses because the people choose to follow the false prophets. It was a foretaste of what will happen to theGreater Shepherd Who was to come.

Because there has not been a final proper response to God Zechariah is now told that he must act as shepherd to the people while he may, for the future is gloomy and the people are doomed to slaughter because they are following the false shepherds. Apart from Zechariah there is no other who shepherds them properly. Their own rulers, priests and prophets, pictured as owners of the flock, have betrayed them. They are acting in such a way as will only bring about their deaths and slavery. Their own shepherds have no pity on them. And yet they follow them and refuse to listen to the lone voice of Zechariah as he pleads with them.

The result is that God Himself will not act on their behalf. He also will no more have pity on them. They will be beset by their neighbours and their neighbour’s governors, and the land will be smitten and God will not deliver them.

Yet His mercy is shown in that He continues to send to them a true prophet, Zechariah, if only they will listen. Had they responded there would have been mercy.

‘The flock doomed to slaughter.’ Literally ‘the flock of slaughter.’ A vivid picture of a flock set aside for the butcher’s knife because they have been selected as the next to fill the butchers’ shops.

So the hopes that had been previously raised have been quenched. The leaders have failed. The people have not responded. The result is that further reversals must take place before the final triumph is achieved. This is the story of history. God will only act when men respond. Although paradoxically that response itself is the result of God’s action.

Verses 7-11

Zechariah Battles Against The Odds And Finally Resigns (Zechariah 11:7-11 ).

Zechariah 11:7

‘So I fed the flock doomed to be slain for the traffickers of the sheep (or ‘truly the lowly of the flock’). And I took to me two staves, the one I called Beauty (or Favour’) and the other I called Bands (or ‘Union’), and I fed the flock.’

In obedience to God Zechariah acts as shepherd to those who are doomed to die as a result of the failure of their leaders and teachers, seeking to feed and deliver them. He takes as his implements God’s covenant with His people, the covenant that offers God’s grace and favour (beauty) and also offers to unite the people (bands). But those who watch over them, to whom the people are listening, are behaving merely as traffickers or traders in sheep. Their concern is for their own welfare rather than that of the sheep. And the sheep are being condemned to die for their gain. It is Zechariah alone who is concerned for their true needs.

The translation ‘traffickers’ arises from the fact that the Hebrew consonants for cen ‘aneyy (‘thus the lowly’) if combined as one word would give cen‘aneyy (Cananeans or ‘Canaanites’ i.e. merchants - see Job 41:6; Isaiah 23:8; Ezekiel 17:4; Zephaniah 1:11 for a similar use of the root form). The original Hebrew text had no word divisions so that either reading is possible, and the latter certainly fits better with the previous verse. Compare also the use of the same root consonants to mean ‘Cananeans’ or ‘Canaanites’ in Zechariah 14:21.

History is full of the activities of ‘traffickers of the sheep’. Whether it has been for money, or for political power, or for position and standing, many so-called leaders of the people of God have failed them and treated them as merchandise. Yet the people choose to follow them to their own disadvantage, often ignoring the true voice that speaks out in God’s name, delaying yet again the final fulfilment of God’s purposes.

Alternately we may read ‘even the poor (or lowly) of the flock’. The word for lowly would then be the same as that used of the coming King in Zechariah 9:9. This would then refer to those few who were listening to Zechariah.

To assist him in his task he takes two staves, one called Beauty the other Bands. These staves clearly represent God’s covenant with His people (Zechariah 11:10). This is on offer to the people if only they will respond.

‘Beauty.’ See Psalms 27:4; Psalms 90:17 where the beauty of YHWH reflects His graciousness and favour, especially as revealed in His covenant with His people. So Zechariah’s first implement of support and protection as the seal to the covenant is the grace and favour of God.

‘Bands’ or ‘unity’. His second staff is that which binds in unity making God’s people one within the covenant (see Zechariah 11:14). Unity and love for one another is ever the requirement of God as a response to His grace and favour.

‘And I fed the flock.’ Repeated twice. The repetition, connected with the fact that there are two staves, stresses the importance of what he did. Two is the number of true witness. Other shepherds have failed but Zechariah feeds with truth the lowly ones who respond to his words and give heed to him (Zechariah 11:11).

Zechariah 11:8-9

‘And I cut off the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was weary of them, and their soul also loathed me. Then I said, “I will not feed you. What dies, let it die. What is to be cut off, let it be cut off. And let those who are left every one eat the flesh of another.’

Those who refuse to respond to his words come under the condemnation of God. The act of cutting off most probably refers to some overt act by which Zechariah displays his rejection of them in an attempt to win over the people. Or it may refer to some form of disrobing of official prophets and teachers which would then suggest Zechariah was at the time in a position of some authority. There was clearly strong disagreement between Zechariah and them for Zechariah was tired of their teaching and they loathed him and what he proclaimed.

‘The three shepherds.’ The number three is often used to express completeness. Thus the idea of ‘three’ may be intended to indicate the whole body of prophets and teachers. Alternately three often means ‘many’. Compare for example 1 Kings 17:12 where ‘two sticks’ meant ‘a few sticks’. In the same way ‘three sticks’ would have meant ‘many sticks’. This may therefore mean the ‘many shepherds’. This would tie in with the phrases which follow it. However, three particular prophets or teachers may also have been in mind representing the whole.

To most people numbers were rarely in use mathematically so that the numbers from one to ten and especially ‘two’ and ‘three’ were often used adjectivally to signify ideas rather than quantity.

‘I will not feed you.’ Zechariah refuses to act as shepherd. This may mean to the shepherds, or it may mean to the people because they have listened to the false shepherds and rejected him. It is not because he is unwilling to guide them aright but because they have refused his ministration.

‘What dies, let it die. What is cut off, let it be cut off.’ They must be left to their own devices and learn their lesson the hard way. What is to die must be left to die, what is cut off must be left to be cut off. What they sow they will reap. They will have no one to blame but themselves.

‘Eat the flesh of one another.’ To ‘eat the flesh’ meant to kill (Psalms 14:4; Psalms 27:2; Psalms 53:4; Ezekiel 39:18; Micah 3:3). Thus through the false teaching they are destroying each other.

Zechariah 11:10-11

‘And I took my staff Beauty and cut it in two, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. And it was broken in that day, and thus the lowly of the flock (or ‘the traffickers of the sheep’) who took notice of me knew that it was the word of Yahweh.’

Zechariah now recognises that he has lost the struggle. The majority of the people cling to the false shepherds and refuse to listen to him. So he breaks the staves one after the other. Firstly he breaks Beauty. This signifies that God will cease to be a shepherd to His people as a whole and that the grace of God towards His people will cease because they have refused His word through Zechariah. In the breaking of this staff the covenant of God’s grace and favour which had been renewed is now again broken and no longer holds.

‘My covenant which I had made.’ In other words the covenant He had brought from God as His prophet.

‘Thus the lowly of the flock who took notice of me’. This translation fits better here. Indeed there is probably a deliberate play on the fact that cen ‘aneyy can mean ‘thus the lowly’ here and ‘Cananean’ or ‘trafficker’ in Zechariah 11:7. The Cananeans are unlikely to have rightly interpreted his actions, but his true followers surely would. They alone, the remnant, would still benefit from the promises of God. So there are those who still listen to him and to them the covenant still stands firm.

Alternately it could suggest that through his actions those who use the sheep as simply means of trade know that YHWH has indeed spoken through him, but if so it is probably his hope and intention rather than the reality.

It was a sad day for Zechariah when, having raised such hopes in people’s hearts, he had to declare that because they have listened to and responded to false teachers the promises no longer apply to them and he can no longer be their shepherd. He must have felt that he had failed miserably, not realising what a blessing he would be to future generations.

‘All the peoples.’ The plural is probably intended to indicate that the people of Jerusalem, Judah and Israel are all included. The second staff represented unity and its breaking indicated that Judah and Israel were still divided, were still two peoples.

Verses 12-14

Zechariah Asks For His Wage To Be Paid Because He Is Giving Up His Position (Zechariah 11:12-14 ). And Uses It As A Symbol Of Israel’s Rejection

Zechariah 11:12

‘And I said to them, “If you think good, give me my wages, and if not, do not do so.” So they weighed for my wages thirty pieces of silver.’

Having withdrawn his services Zechariah now asks for payment for his past service if they are willing to do so, although he will not insist. He wants them to give him what they think he is worth. It would appear from this that Zechariah was an official servant of the Temple, probably in the guild of prophets, and that now on his retirement from that position, so that he can be free to serve God as he will, he asks for his due reward for his past service.

They give him ‘thirty pieces of silver.’ This was the value of a slave gored by an ox in Mosaic times (Exodus 21:32). It was intended here to be a derisory amount, indicating what they thought of his services. The value of a male slave at this time would be more than double this amount.

Zechariah 11:13

‘And YHWH said to me, “Cast it to the smelter, the goodly price that I was valued at by them.” And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the smelter in the house of YHWH.’

God takes the value at which Zechariah is valued as indicative of the value they have placed on Him Himself. The phrase ‘the goodly price’ is sarcastic. They clearly think that God and His prophetic word are worth little. So YHWH tells him to reject it.

‘Cast them to the potter (or smelter) in the house of YHWH.’ This probably refers to the Temple foundry where the silver is melted down. The Syriac version, however, has ‘into the treasury’ and a suggested emendation to the Hebrew text would produce this phrase. But casting it to the Temple smelter implies the same thing. Handing the silver over to the Temple may well have been a device, as it was later, of rejecting the contract as unsatisfactory. Alternately it may be intended as an indication that God is telling Zechariah to give the silver to Him as it demonstrates the value the false shepherds have placed on Him.

The chief priests and Pharisees placed the same value on God and His word when they paid Judas for betraying Jesus. They may well have had this prophecy in mind indicating their scorn for Jesus (Matthew 26:15). But it was, unknowingly to them, a fulfilment of the idea behind the prophecy. He Who had been sent from God was rejected and a derisory amount was paid in respect of Him, and this proved in the end to be the value that they had placed on God.

Zechariah 11:14

‘Then I cut in two my other staff, even Bands, in order that I may break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.’

The derisory offering of thirty pieces of silver finally seals the rejection of the false teachers and prophets. The second staff is broken showing that God and Zechariah are no longer shepherds to His people Who have despised Him. This will result in dissension and division between the two sections of the people and the breaking up of the covenant community.

It is very possible that in taking the two staves Zechariah had Ezekiel 37:15-28 in mind. There two sticks are joined together to form a unity of Israel and Judah under the Messianic king. Here Zechariah is demonstrating and declaring that that time is not yet. The fulfilling of the promises is yet in the future, and the people will remain divided. It is always a sad thing when the people of God are divided for it is a sign that God’s blessing is, at least partly, absent. Thus the shepherd Zechariah looks forward to a greater Shepherd Who will finally seal the covenant with the people of God (Zechariah 13:7).

Verses 15-17

Zechariah Is Called On To Illustrate YHWH’s Rejection Of His People By Appearing Like A Foolish Shepherd (Zechariah 11:15-17 ).

Zechariah 11:15-16

‘And YHWH said to me, “Take to yourself yet again the tools of a foolish shepherd, for lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not number those that are lost (cut off), nor will seek those who are scattered, nor heal that which is broken, nor will he feed those which are standing, but he will eat the flesh of the fat and will tear their hooves in pieces.’

Zechariah, having rid himself of the tools of the covenant, is now told to imitate the foolish shepherd by taking up implements that depict him as ‘a foolish shepherd’. This is a prophetic acting out of what is the situation now is. The foolish shepherds are in control. For the one who will now be raised up as the shepherd of the people will be unworthy of the honour. He will not watch over the sheep. He will take no account of those who go astray. He will not tend their wounds and sicknesses. He will not even feed those who remain there with him. Rather he will take advantage of them for his own gain and to their disadvantage.

The contrast here is between the true shepherd and one who will take his place and gain control. It is indeed probably to be seen as referring to a number of consecutive shepherds over the years rather than just to one particularly bad shepherd, so that one foolish shepherd will be followed by another, although clearly the process will begin with one. Each generation will continue to have a false shepherd over them.

This is a warning to all that if they will not listen to true servants of God they will be left to be tended by those who are not worthy. In the end people get the shepherds they deserve.

Zechariah 11:17

‘Woe to the worthless shepherd who deserts the flock. The sword will be on his arm and on his right eye. His arm will be totally dried up and his right eye will be utterly darkened.’

The worthless shepherd will not go unpunished. He will come under judgment so that the parts which have failed the sheep, the arm that should have protected and the eye that should have watched, will be destroyed. The worthless shepherd will thus not escape unscathed.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/zechariah-11.html. 2013.
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