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§ 8. Restoration to their own land and material prosperity do not free the Israelites from probation or trouble. The prophet, therefore, darkens his late picture with some gloomy shadows. The Holy Land is threatened with judgment (Zechariah 11:1-3).
Open thy doors, O Lebanon. The prophet graphically portrays the punishment that is to fall upon the people. The sin that occasions this chastisement, viz. the rejection of their Shepherd and King, is denounced later (§ 9). Lebanon stood in the path of an invader from the north, whence most hostile armies entered Palestine. The "doors" of Lebanon are the mountain passes which gave access to the country. Some commentators, following an old Jewish interpretation, take Lebanon to mean the temple or Jerusalem; but we are constrained to adhere primarily to the literal signification by the difficulty of carrying on the metaphorical allusions in the following clauses. That the fire may devour thy cedars. That the invader may wantonly destroy thy trees which are thy glory and thy boast.
Howl, fir tree. A species of cypress is intended, or, as some say, the Aleppo pine. It is the tree of which Solomon made floors, doom, and ceiling in his temple (1 Kings 6:15, 1 Kings 6:34), and David harps (2 Samuel 6:5). The prophet dramatically calls on this tree to wail for the fate of the cedar, as being about to suffer the same destruction. The mighty; μεγιστᾶνες, "the chieftains". Trees are being spoken of, and so the primary sense is, "the goodly" (Ezekiel 17:23) or "glorious trees." Metaphorically, the chiefs of Israel may be intended. Bashan, famous for its oaks, is next visited by the invading force, and its trees are felled for the use of the enemy. The forest of the vintage. The Authorized Version here follows, very inappropriately, the correction of the Keri. The original reading should be retained and translated, "the inaccessible forest"—an expression appropriate to Lebanon. If Lebanon is not spared, much less shall Bashan escape. LXX; ὁ δρυμὸς ὁ σύμφυτος, "the close-planted wood;" Vulgate, saltus munitus, "defenced forest."
There is a voice. The Hebrew is more terse and forcible, "A voice of the howling of the shepherds!" or, "Hark! a howling," etc. (Jeremiah 25:34, etc.). The destruction spreads from the north southwards along the Jordan valley. Their glory. The noble trees in whose shadow they rejoiced. Young lions. Which had their lairs in the forests now laid waste (Jeremiah 49:19). The pride of Jordan. The thickets that clothed the banks of Jordan are called its "pride" (Jeremiah 12:5). The lion is not now found in Palestine, but must have been common in earlier times, especially in such places as the brushwood and reedy coverts which line the margin of the Jordan. The prophet introduces the inanimate and animate creation—trees, men, beasts—alike deploring the calamity. And the terms in which this is depicted point to some great disaster and ruin, and, as it seems, to the final catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the punishment of the rejection of Messiah. This reference becomes plainer as we proceed. It is inadmissible to refer the passage (as some do) to the Assyrian invasions mentioned in 2 Kings 15:29 and 1 Chronicles 5:26. Holding the post-exilian origin of the prophecy, we are bound to interpret it in accordance with this view, which, indeed, presents fewer difficulties than the other.
§ 9. The punishment falls upon the people of Israel because they reject the good Shepherd, personified by the prophet, who rules the flock and chastises evildoers in vain, and at last flings up his office in indignation at their contumacy.
Thus saith the Lord. The person addressed is Zechariah himself, who in a vision is commanded to assume the office of the good Shepherd (see verse 15), and to tend the chosen people, the sheep of the Lord's pasture. God herein designs to show his care for his people from the earliest times amid the various trials which have beset them both from external enemies and from unworthy rulers at home. The flock of the slaughter; rather, the flock of slaughter—destined for, exposed to, destruction at the hands of their present shepherds (Psalms 44:22; Jeremiah 12:3; Romans 8:36).
Possessors; or, buyers. Those who claimed to be owners by right of purchase. Hold themselves not guilty. They are so blinded by self-interest that they see no sin in thus treating the flock. But the expression is better rendered, bear no blame, i.e. suffer no penalty, commit this wickedness with impunity. Septuagint, "repent not;" Vulgate, non dolebant, which Jerome explains, "did not suffer for it." Blessed be the Lord. So little compunction do they feel that they actually thank God for their ill-gotten gains. The prophet is speaking of chiefs and rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, who played into the enemies' hands, and thought of nothing but how to make a gain of the subject people. Our Lord denounces such untrustworthy shepherds (John 10:11-13). Doubtless, too, the expressions in the text refer to the foreign powers which had oppressed the Jews at various times, Egypt, Assyria, etc. Amid all such distresses, from whatever cause, God still had tender care for his people, and punished and will punish their enemies. In this verse the offenders against Israel are of three classes—buyers, sellers, shepherds (see Zechariah 11:8). "Shepherd" appears sometimes in the Assyrian inscriptions as a synonym for "prince" :
The inhabitants of the land. It is a question whether by this expression is meant the Israelites, or the dwellers on earth generally. In the former ease, the verso gives the reason of the calamities depicted in Zechariah 11:5, viz. God's displeasure, and expounds the parable of the sheep as meaning men (so Cheyne). In the other case, the signification of the paragraph is that God intends to put an end to the state of things just described, by punishing the oppressing world powers who had so cruelly executed their office of being instruments of God's judgment on his people. The latter seems the correct exposition; for the people of Israel have just been called the flock of slaughter, and they were to be fed, while these "inhabitants" are to be destroyed; nor could the Israelites be said to have kings, as just below. Thus for, at the beginning of the verse, introduces the reason why Jehovah tells the shepherd to feed the flock, because he is about to punish their oppressors; and "the inhabitants of the land" should be "the inhabitants of the earth;" i.e. the nations of the world, among whom the Israelites lived. I will deliver the men, etc. God will give up the nations to intestine commotions and civil war, so that they shall fall by mutual slaughter. Into the hand of his king. Each of them shall be delivered over helpless unto their tyrant's hands, and God will not interpose to succour them.
And I will feed. Thus the Greek and Latin Versions; but it should be, So I fed. It is the account of what the prophet did in accordance with the command in Zechariah 11:4 (see the end of this verse, "and I fed"). Even you, O poor of the flock. There is difficulty about the word rendered "you" (lachen) which may be the personal pronoun, or an adverb meaning "therefore," "therewith," "truly," or a preposition, "on account of;" Vulgate, propter hoc. The best rendering is, I fed the flock therefore the poor among the flock. "Therefore" refers to the previous command. It is also rendered "in sooth." The LXX; arranging the letters differently, translates, Ποιμανῶ τὰ πρόβατα τῆς σφαγῆς εἰς τὴν Χαναανίτιν "I will go and tend the flock of slaughter in the land of Canaan;" some render the last words, "for the merchants." This Jerome interprets to mean that the Lord will nourish the Israelites for slaughter in the land of the Gentiles (but see note on Zechariah 11:6). And I took unto me two staves. Executing in vision his commission of feeding the flock, the prophet, as the representative of the Shepherd, took two shepherd's staves. The two staves intimate the manifold care of God for his flock from the earliest days, and the two blessings which he designed to bestow (as the names of the staves show), favour and unity. Beauty; Κάλλος; Decorem (Vulgate); "Graciousness". It probably means the favour and grace of God, as in Psalms 90:17. Bands; literally, Those that bind; Σχοίνισμα, "Cord;" Vulgate, Funiculum. The name is meant to express the union of all the members of the flock, especially that between Israel and Judah (see Psalms 90:14). These make one flock under one shepherd. I fed the flock. This repetition emphasizes the beginning of the verse, and expresses God's ears in time past and in time to come also.
In executing the office of feeding the flock, three shepherds also I out off in one month; Septuagint, "And I will take away the three shepherds in one month." The article in the Hebrew and Greek seems to point to some known shepherds, three in number, unless we take it as "threes of the shepherds." Hence expositors have sought to find historical personages to whom the term might apply. Those who assort a pre-exilian origin for this part of the prophecy, suggest the three kings, Zachariah, Shallum, and Menahem; or, as Menahem reigned ten years, some unrecorded pretender, who started up at the time. Others see some Syrian monarchs in Maccabean times; or the three offices, king, prophet, priest; or the three dynasties that oppressed Israel, viz. the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Macedonian. All these interpretations fail in some point; and we are reduced to see herein a reference, as Cheyne says, to "the prompt and vigorous action of Jehovah's Shepherd in dealing with the evil shepherds, as well as in feeding the flock;" the number three being used indefinitely. Or we may find in this number an allusion to the three classes in Zechariah 11:5—the buyers, the sellers, and the pitiless shepherds. The oppressors, external and internal, are removed and cut off in one month. To the prophet's eye all this seemed to take place in that short space of time. If anything more is intended, we may, with Keil and others, taking the month as consisting of thirty days, assume that ton days are assigned to the destruction of each shepherd, after each had fulfilled his allotted period—the number ten expressing perfection or completion. And my soul loathed them; literally, but my soul was straitened for them; i.e. was impatient, weary of them. These words begin a new paragraph, and refer, not to the three shepherds, but to the sheep, the Israelites. The prophet now shows how ill the people had responded to God's manifold care, and mingles with the past a view of their future ingratitude and disobedience which will bring upon them final ruin. God, as it were, was weary of their continual backslidings and obstinate perseverance in evil. (For the phrase, see Numbers 21:4; Judges 16:16; Job 21:4.) It is the opposite to long suffering. Their soul also abhorred me. They showed their abhorrence by their devotion to idols and their disinclination for all goodness.
I will not feed you. In consequence of their contumacy, the shepherd abandons the flock to their fate, as God threatened (Deuteronomy 31:17; comp. the very similar passage in Jeremiah 15:1-3). Three scourges are intimated in the succeeding words—plague, war, famine, combined with civil strife. Eat every one the flesh of another (comp. Isaiah 9:20). Many see here a reference to the awful scenes enacted when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans, and intestine feuds filled the city with bloodshed and added to the horrors of famine.
Cut it asunder. The breaking of the staff "Beauty" indicates that God withdraws his grace and protection; he will no longer shield the people from the attack of foes, as the following words express. My covenant which I had made with all the people; rather, with all the peoples. God calls the restriction which he had laid on foreign nations to prevent them from afflicting Israel, "a covenant." Similar "covenants," i.e. restraints imposed by God, are found in Job 5:23; Hosea 2:20 (18, Authorized Version); Ezekiel 34:25, etc. The restraint being removed, there ensued war, exile, the destruction of the kingdom and theocracy, the subjection of Israel to Gentile nations.
It was broken. The covenant just mentioned (Zechariah 11:10) was broken. And so the poor of the flock that waited upon me (that gave heed unto me) know. The punishment inflicted on the withdrawal of God's protection had some good result. Though the bulk of the nation took no heed, learned no lesson, yet the humble and the suffering among them, who paid respect to his words, recognized that what happened was according to God's Word, and knew that all the rest would be fulfilled in due season. This was the effect of the Captivity; it forced the Israelites to see the hand of the Lord in the calamities that had befallen them, and it drove the thoughtful among them to repentance and amendment (Jeremiah 3:13, Jeremiah 3:23; Daniel 9:8, etc.). The breaking asunder of the first staff refers primarily to the time of the exile, and not to the absolute relinquishment of the flock. One staff is left, and for a time utter destruction is postponed. For "the poor," the LXX. reads, as in Zechariah 11:7, "the Cananeans," meaning probably "merchants." Ewald and others, who hold the pre-exilian date of this prophecy, see here an allusion to the invasion of the Assyrians under Pul (2 Kings 15:19).
I said. The prophet is speaking in the person of the great Shepherd. Unto them. Unto the whole flock. Give me my price; my wages. He asks his hire of the flock, because the flock represents men. Acting far differently from the wicked shepherds, he used no violence or threats. He gives them this last opportunity of showing their gratitude for all the care bestowed upon them, and their appreciation of his tenderness and love. The wages God looked for were repentance, faith, obedience, or, in another view, themselves, their life and soul. It was for their sake he required these, not for his own. If not, forbear. He speaks with indignation, as conscious of their ungrateful contempt. Pay me what is due, or pay me not. I leave it to you to decide. I put no constraint upon you. So God has given us free will; and we can receive or reject his offers, as we are minded. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. This paltry remuneration displayed the people's ingratitude and contempt. It was the compensation offered by the Law to a master for the loss of a slave that had been killed (Exo 21:1-36 :82). It was, perhaps, double the pries of a female slave (Hosea 3:2); and the very offer of such a sum was an insult, and, says Dr. Alexander, "suggested an intention to compass his death. They despised his goodness; they would have none of his service; they sought to cut him off; and they were ready to pay the penalty which the Law prescribed for the murder of one of so mean a condition." The word "weigh" was used in money transactions even after the use of coined money rendered weighing unnecessary.
The Lord said unto me. The Lord takes the insult as offered to himself in the person of his representative. Cast it unto the potter; Κάθες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ χωνευ τήριον, "Lay them in the foundry, and I will see if it is approved;" Vulgate; Projice illud ad statuarium; the Syriac and Targum have, "Put it into the treasury" (Malachi 3:10). This involves an alteration of the text, and is in itself an improbable reading, as God could not be made to tell the prophet to throw this despicable wage into his treasury, unless, perchance, it is said ironically. There may be an undesigned coincidence here. In Matthew 27:5 the council discuss the propriety of putting the thirty pieces of silver into the treasury. But taking our present text as genuine, commentators usually consider the phrase as a proverbial expression for contemptuous treatment; as the Greeks said, ἐς κόρακας, as the Germans say, "zum Schinder," "to the knacker," and we, "to the dogs." There is, however, no trace elsewhere of any such proverb, nor do we know how it could have arisen; it likewise does not very well suit the last clause of the verse, "I cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord." If we substitute the supposed analogous expression, "I threw them to the dogs," we see how unseemly would be the proverb in this connection. The rendering of the Jews in old time, adopted recently by Knabenbauer, "Cast them to the Creator," is considered by Dr. Pusey to be unidiomatic, and involves great difficulties. It seems simpler to consider that the command, "cast it to the potter," implies contemptuous rejection of the sum, and at the same time intimates the ultimate destination to which, in the sight of Omniscience, it was directed. The potter is named as the workman who makes the meanest utensils out of the vilest material. That this was ordered and executed in vision is plain; how much the prophet understood we cannot tell. The ambiguous and highly typical order was explained and fulfilled to the letter by the action of Judas Iscariot, as the evangelist testifies (Matthew 27:5-10). A (the) goodly price, etc. This is ironical, of course. Such was the price at which they estimated the good Shepherd's services. Cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord. This rejection of the paltry wage took place in the house of the Lord (in the vision), because the insult had been really offered to him, and this was the natural place where oblations would be made; thus the transaction was represented as formal and national. Whether the potter was seen in the temple we know not. The prophet was made to connect him in some way with the business; and we learn from the fulfilment that the potter did in the end receive the money, which was paid for his field applied to an unclean purpose. In Matthew 27:9 the two verses, 12, 13, with some variations, are quoted as "spoken by Jeremy the prophet." Hence some attribute this part of Zechariah to Jeremiah; and others think that in St. Matthew the present name is a mistake. The probability is that the evangelist did not name any prophet, but that some early transcriber, remembering the purchase of the field in Jeremiah 32:6-12, attributed the quotation to that prophet. Or we may suppose that inspiration did not extend to all minor details, nor save the writers from unimportant errors.
I eat asunder mine other staff. As the flock, by their contemptuous payment, showed their alienation from the Shepherd, so he now, by his symbolical action, shows his rejection of them, and his surrender of them to anarchy, confusion, and ruin. The breaking of the first staff indicated that God withdrew his defensive care; the breaking of the staff called "Bands" signifies the utter dissolution of all the bends that held the nation together, the civil and social disunion that paved the way for the victory of the Romans, and issued in the final disruption which sent the Jews wandering through the world. This in the vision is represented as the breaking of the brotherhood between Judah and Israel, the component parts of the nation. Thus was hinted the ultimate rejection of the Jews in consequence of their treatment of Christ, the good Shepherd, who came unto his own, and his own received him not (comp. Matthew 23:36-38). This doom is declared more fully in the next section.
§ 10. In retribution for their rejection of the good Shepherd the people are given over to a foolish shepherd, who shall destroy them, but shall himself, in turn, perish miserably.
Take unto thee yet (yet again) the instruments of a foolish shepherd (comp. Hosea 3:1). The prophet, in vision, is directed to do as he had done before (Zechariah 11:4, etc,), and enact the part of a shepherd, taking the dress, scrip, and crook, which were appropriate to the character; but this time he was to represent "a foolish," i.e. an evil, shepherd; for sin is constantly denoted by "folly" in the Old Testament; e.g. Job 5:2, Job 5:3; Psalms 14:1; Psalms 107:17; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 7:22; Proverbs 14:9, etc. (comp. Proverbs 14:17).
I will raise up a shepherd in the land. God explains the reason of the symbolical character which he directed the prophet to assume. He was going to allow the people to be chastised by an instrument whom he would permit to work his will upon them. As this evil shepherd was to arise to punish them for their rejection of Messiah, he must represent some person or power that existed subsequent to Christ's death. Many consider that he symbolizes the Romans; but these people could not be deemed to exercise pastoral care over the Israelites, nor could their neglect of this (verse 17) be attributed to them as a sin; nor, again, did their destruction follow upon the overthrow of the Jewish polity (verse 18). Others see here a prediction of the coming of antichrist; but the character of "shepherd" does not suit his attributes as given elsewhere; at any rate. this cannot be the primary reference of the symbol, though all evil powers that oppose the Church of Christ are in some sense images and anticipations of antichrist. The genuine reference here is to the native chiefs and rulers ("in the land") who arose in the later times of the nation—monsters like Herod, false Christs and false prophets, hirelings who made merchandise of the flock, teachers who came in their own name (John 5:43), and deceived the people to their destruction. Which shall not visit those that be cut off; or, those that are perishing. This foolish shepherd shall perform none of the offices of a good shepherd; he will not care for and tend those that are in danger of death (Jeremiah 23:2). The young one; rather, those that are scattered; Septuagint, τὸ ἐσκορπισμένον: Vulgate, dispersum (Matthew 18:12). That that is broken. Bruised, or with limb fractured. Feed that that standeth still; literally, that standeth; i.e. is sound and healthy. This shepherd attended neither to the diseased nor to the healthy sheep. Septuagint, τὸ δλόκληρον, "that which is whole." He shall eat the flesh of the fat. He thinks only how to get personal advantage from the flock (comp. Ezekiel 34:2-8). Tear their claws (hoofs) in pieces, as some say, by making them traverse rough places, and not caring where he led them; but as such travelling would not specially injure sheep, and as the immediate context is concerned with their treatment as food, it is better to see here a picture of a greedy and voracious man who tears asunder the very hoofs to suck out all the nourishment he can find, or one who mutilates the fattest of his flock, that they may not stray, and that he may always have a dainty morsel at hand.
Woe to the idol shepherd! rather, woe to the worthless shepherd! literally, shepherd of vanity, or nothingness, as Job 13:4, "physicians of no value." The LXX; recognizing that no special shepherd is signified, renders, Ὦ οἱ ποιμαίνοντες τὰ μάταια, "Alas for those who tend vanities!" St. Jerome, expounding the verse of antichrist, "O pastor, et idolum!" That leaveth the flock. Thus Christ speaks of the hireling (John 10:12). The sword shall be upon his arm, etc. The punishment denounced is in accordance with the neglect of the shepherd's duties. The sword represents the instrument of punishment, whatever it he; the right eye, the severity of the retribution (1 Samuel 11:2). The arm that ought to have defended the flock shall be withered up as by catalepsy; the eye that should have watched for their safety shall be blinded. This is the judgment on the foolish shepherd. Ewald thinks that the passage Zechariah 13:7-9 is out of place there, and belonged originally to the end of the, present chapter.
A final warning.
"Open thy doors, O Lebanon," etc. The prophet, after having foretold (Zechariah 10:6-12) the great future and final glory of the literal Israel, seems here, as it were, to "hark back" to a previous and very different scene, viz.—as most commentators, both Jewish and Christian, believe—to that which should happen in those evil days when Jerusalem should be destroyed. We noted a very similar transition at the beginning of ch, 9. (comp. also Luke 17:24, Luke 17:25; Luke 19:11, etc.; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). In the present case the destruction predicted seems to be of a threefold description. It was to be a destruction of the nation by being a destruction
(1) of their palaces;
(2) of their princes; and
(3) of the people at large.
I. OF THESE PALACES OR CONSPICUOUS PUBLIC BUILDINGS, in which they came afterwards to glory so much. To this interpretation of Zechariah 11:1, Zechariah 11:2 we seem pointed by the peculiar word "doors;" as also by the fact that the "doors" of the Jewish temple, and almost all its inner linings as well, are said to have been made of cypress ("fir") and cedar (see 1 Kings 5:8, 1 Kings 5:10); and, if so, we may notice:
1. How thorough is the nature of the coming destruction. What the "fire" can "devour" will be utterly destroyed in that way. What the fire cannot devour will "come down," or be levelled. Even if the stones remain, that is, the buildings will perish (see Matthew 24:2, end). Also:
2. How wide its extent. All the buildings they gloried in would thus perish. They would perish thus,
(1) however costly, even though almost built, as it were, of the precious cedar (Jeremiah 22:13, Jeremiah 22:14); and
(2) however varied, whether comparable to "cedar," or "oak," or cypress; and finally
(3) however strong, or "mighty," even if comparable to a "defeated forest." Nothing would save the whole collection of buildings from being utterly "spoiled" and destroyed. Well might those buildings be called upon, in the bold language of prophecy, to "howl" at such an outlook! And abundantly was all this fulfilled when the Roman ploughshares ploughed the ground on which the temple and fortress of Jerusalem had previously stood.
II. OF THE PRIESTS. These are compared, in Zechariah 11:3, to "shepherds" and "young lions," as showing, perhaps, on the one hand, what they ought to be to the commonalty of Israel, and, on the other band, what they ought to be to its foes (see Psalms 78:70-72; Genesis 49:9, Genesis 49:10). We see:
1. How complete their destruction. This evidenced
(1) by their "howl" of despair. With the destruction of Jerusalem came that of the whole Jewish polity and liturgical service; and with that also forever departed all the glory of the then ruling classes of Jewry. How great the emphasis, in this connection, of Matthew 23:38! Also
(2) by their "roar" of fury like that of young lions, the "pride," or terror, of the whole valley of Jordan, who's driven therefrom by its "swelling" (Jeremiah 49:19). What is there that so excites the deepest anger as the utter humiliation of pride (comp. John 11:48; John 12:10, John 12:11; Matthew 27:18) ?
2. How just their destruction, and that also in two separate ways, Namely,
(1) by their neglect of others. Though they belonged to the flock, as being its "own" shepherds, appointed to tend and care for it, they "pitied" it "not" (contrast Matthew 9:36). Though the flock belonged to them, as being, in a sense, its "possessors," instead of preserving the flock they "sell" and "slay" it (see Matthew 23:1-39; almost passim). Also
(2) by their satisfaction with themselves. They see no sin in their conduct; "they hold themselves not guilty." They even see cause for thankfulness to God in its results: "Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich" (comp. Luke 12:1; Luke 16:14). Can any men more deserve to suffer than those who "glory" thus "in their shame" (Philippians 3:19) ?
III. OF THE PEOPLE AT LARGE—OF THE "FLOCK." Of this destruction, note:
1. How solemnly it was predetermined. The very appellation here given, viz. the "flock of slaughter," signifies as much. Almost all, also, that is said respecting the flock—"I will no more pity;" "I will deliver" to evil; "I will not deliver" therefrom—implies as much.
2. How terribly it was accomplished. Whether
(1) as to extent—the very land itself, as well as its inhabitants, being smitten for their sakes; or
(2) as to the agency used, the destruction in question being effected partly by their mutual jealousies and internecine contentions as "neighbours," and partly by their common madness in preferring "Caesar" to "Christ" as their "king." See the well known account of Josephus, in which the final overthrow of Jerusalem and the Jews is traced almost equally to the unwilling action of Titus without, and the furious folly of the factions within. Under both aspects it was a marvellous case of political self-destruction, as described in this passage.
In conclusion, there are just two other points to observe and admire, viz.:
1. How inexhaustible is God's mercy! In this awful scene of destruction, with all its aggravated guilt, shameless hypocrisy, and suicidal infatuation, the light of that mercy is yet not wholly extinguished. There are some in this "flock of slaughter" who are to be "fed" (verse 4). So, in the case of the Noachian Deluge, and in that of the destruction of Sodom, there were some to be saved. So it is said, also, that in the fearful, final destruction of Jerusalem—and the fact may possibly be referred to in the words now before us—the Christians were saved by their flight to Pella.
2. How discriminating are God's Judgments! The people were guilty here as well as their leaders (Jeremiah 5:30, Jeremiah 5:31). Therefore the people are visited with anger as well as their leaders (see Isaiah 24:2; Hosea 4:9). The people, however, being less privileged and instructed, are also, in some measure, less guilty (see Jeremiah 5:4, Jeremiah 5:5). The people, therefore, though punished as well, are not punished as much (see above, about some of these being "fed;" also below, in verse 7, about the "poor of the flock;" compare such passages as Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 11:29-32). The acknowledgment of David in Psalms 51:4, end, will be the acknowledgment of all "in that day."
A final opportunity.
"And I will feed the flock of slaughter," etc. Although the "flock" of Israel was ripe for "slaughter"—as we saw in our last—there was to be, nevertheless, a certain measure of pause before that slaughter began. Israel should hear again, if only once more, an offer of peace. Our present very difficult passage may, perhaps, be understood as describing how such an offer was made to rebellious Israel—just previously to that destruction of Jerusalem which seems predicted in the preceding verses—by our Lord himself (the good Shepherd) and his apostles. Also it seems to describe to us how that final offer was met. These, accordingly, are the two points on which we would speak; viz.
(1) that momentous offer; and
(2) its momentous results.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS FINAL OFFER. This Seems to be represented to us:
1. By the good Shepherd's resolve. "I will feed the flock"—I will attend to them carefully; I will offer them all they require. Also:
2. By the good Shepherd's implements. These are two, we read, called "Beauty" and "Bands," By the one we may, perhaps, understand (see Psalms 90:17; Psalms 27:4; Zechariah 9:17, supra; Isaiah 52:7) the abounding favour and grace and love of the message of Christ. Though he came to a "generation" altogether deserving condemnation and death (Matthew 12:34, Matthew 12:39; Matthew 23:32, Matthew 23:33; Acts 2:40), he came not to condemn, but to save (John 3:17; John 12:47; Luke 9:56). By the other we may, perhaps, understand the special limitation of the personal message of Christ (Matthew 15:24); as also, in the first instance, of that of his apostles (Matthew 10:5, Matthew 10:6; Acts 13:46). There was especial favour—there was almost exclusive favor—in this final offer of Christ to "his own" (John 1:11, second clause).
II. ITS MOMENTOUS RESULTS. These appear to have been of two very different kinds.
1. In the case of the Jewish teachers and people at large they proved to be of a very painful and calamitous kind. On the one hand, these teachers and people contemptuously rejected the gracious offers of Christ. To them there was no degree whatever of "beauty," either in his character or his teaching (see Zechariah 11:8, end; and comp. Isaiah 53:2; John 7:12, John 7:13; John 19:7; Matthew 26:66; Matthew 27:63). By them, therefore, the peculiar favour he offered was utterly scorned (John 19:15; John 18:40; and such passages as Acts 13:45; 1 Thessalonians 2:15, etc.); and he himself, in a certain most remarkable and significant manner, only estimated and valued at the price of a slave (Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13; Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:9, Matthew 27:10; Exodus 21:32). On the other hand, this being so, both the Saviour's feelings and conduct towards them became changed. Instead of favour there comes" loathing"; instead of a special offer of mercy, the coming down of special judgment, in a singularly rapid and terrible manner, on the highest persons or classes amongst them ("three shepherds in one month"); instead of deliverance, utter desertion (Zechariah 11:9 compared with Matthew 23:38; Luke 21:22-24); and instead of the limitation of favour to them, the manifest transference of it from them to the rest of mankind (Acts 13:46; Acts 18:6; Acts 28:28; Romans 11:11).
2. At the same time, in the case of the less esteemed and less eminent portion of the flock of Israel, there were results of a different kind. In their case the Shepherd's gracious offer was not only made, but also received. As he resolved ("I will feed even you, O poor of the flock") in their case, so he did. In their case, again, the Shepherd's message was duly honoured and highly prized as being indeed "the Word of the Lord" (Zechariah 11:11, end; comp. Matthew 16:16; John 6:68; John 16:30). Even that comparative and temporary rejection of the Jews, which we suppose to be described in Zechariah 11:8, Zechariah 11:9, Zechariah 11:10, and Zechariah 11:14, contributed greatly among the "poor" of the Gentiles to their establishment in this faith (see, again, Zechariah 11:11, and such passages as Romans 11:11, Romans 11:25, beginning of 28, 30; 1 Corinthians 1:26).
From this view of the passage—or, at any rate, from this review of those undoubted New Testament facts to which we have supposed it to point—two concluding reflections seem to arise.
1. How obdurate is man's nature! We have become so familiar with the story of the rejection of Christ by his own people, that it does not always surprise us as it ought. Yet how exceedingly surprising it is! Greater power, greater wisdom, greater goodness, could not possibly have been combined. Should we not also have said, at first, that they could not possibly have been resisted? No wonder the apostle speaks with such evident amazement as he does in John h 11 (supra); see also John 12:11, John 12:37,
2. How wonderful are God's ways! The rejection of Christianity by those to whom it first came has been overruled to furnish its best evidence in the eyes of the rest of mankind. By crucifying their Messiah the Jews crowned him as ours. It reminds us of the words of the poet—
"From seeming evil still educing good,
And better thence again, and better still,
In infinite progression."
A picture of antichrist.
"And the Lord said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd," etc. After the experience of the good Shepherd comes the description of the bad; after the right "instruments," the wrong ones; after the Christ, the antichrist, the person usurping the true Christ's position, that is to say, and so opposing his work. See (Zechariah 11:17) the "idol shepherd"—the shepherd making himself the object of worship to his flock; and comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:4; Luke 4:7. Which of the "many antichrists" (1 John 2:18) to appear in "the last time" is here intended primarily, we do not propose to discuss. It seems safer to take the description as applying to all. So interpreted, it may be understood as setting before us
(1) their true calling;
(2) their chief characteristics; and
(3) their final doom.
I. THEIR TRUE CALLING. They are spoken of here (Luke 4:16) as "raised up" by God. By this we may understand:
1. That they do not come without the knowledge of God. By the typical action enjoined on his prophet (Luke 4:15), God not only shows here that he foreknew the appearance of these various enemies, but he also foretells it. As the prophet is ordered to do in figure, so will they do in fact (comp. Acts 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1; Matthew 13:25; and see 1 Corinthians 11:19).
2. Nor yet without God's will. It is the natural tendency of corruption to come to a head, as it were, in this manner. An evil movement never continues long without producing evil leaders to guide it. But they cannot be fully developed till God permits (see the story of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 11:13, 1Ki 11:26, 1 Kings 11:35; 1 Kings 12:2, 1Ki 12:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:6, 2Th 2:7, 2 Thessalonians 2:8, beginning).
II. THEIR CHIEF CHARACTERISTICS. These appear to be three.
1. Shameful negligence. The things to which, in the position assumed by these idol shepherds, they ought specially to attend are just those they neglect. Where their flocks are in danger ("cut off"), they forsake them; where weak, as the "young," they pass by them; where "wounded," they do not "heal" them; where unable to walk (standeth still), they do not "bear" them (see John 10:12, John 10:13; Ezekiel 34:4; and contrast Ezekiel 34:16; Isaiah 40:11; John 10:15).
2. Shameless selfishness. Instead of feeding the flock, they feed themselves—"eating the flesh of the fat" (see Ezekiel 34:2, Ezekiel 34:8, end, 10; also such passages as Matthew 23:14; Luk 16:14; 2 Peter 2:1-3, 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; and contrast 2 Corinthians 12:15-18).
3. Unblushing cruelty. (See end of Luke 4:16, "tear their claws in pieces;" and comp. Ezekiel 34:4, end.) These perverters of God's truth ever become, in due course, the persecutors of God's people (see Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:2).
III. THEIR FINAL DOOM. Judgment, though often long delayed, will always come upon them at last. The "sword," in due time, will descend. Moreover, this judgment, when it does come, will be found:
1. Peculiarly just. It is on the negligent "eye," and the cruel and grasping hand and "arm," that the punishment comes (compare, perhaps, in Ezekiel 34:16, how it is said of the "fat and the strong," which had "fed themselves," "I will feed them with judgment").
2. Peculiarly awful; all their power being "clean dried up," and all their light being" utterly darkened." So 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 18:8, Revelation 18:21, etc.; and compare such passages as 2 Kings 9:35-37; Psalms 2:9; Isaiah 30:14; Matthew 21:44; and below Zechariah 14:12.
In contemplating these scenes we may frequently notice:
1. How great is the forbearance of God. When we see this succession of enemies permitted to arise and prosper in sowing tares in his field, we may well exclaim as in Romans 9:22. Not so would man have acted (Matthew 13:28).
2. How great is the goodness of God. This forbearance is partly for the sake of those who truly believe in his Name (Matthew 13:29); and partly, also (more wonderful still), for the sake of those who do not (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
3. How great should be the humility of his people. With our short lives and limited powers and many infirmities both of intellect and of temper, how little we can understand of that widely scattered, often-shifting, far-spreading, long enduring campaign of good against evil which he thus permits and directs! Well may even an apostle confess as in 1 Corinthians 13:9, and beginning of 1 Corinthians 13:12! And well may he admonish us all, therefore, as in 1 Corinthians 4:5!
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
Grief for the fall of a leader.
"Howl." This may be held to express -
I. SENSE OF A GREAT LOSS. The death of a good man is always a loss. But there are differences. Some stand higher than others in society. Not only "firs," but "cedars." Great men leaders in Church and state. Hence more deeply missed and mourned. There is not only loss of their work, counsel, prayers, but of their personal influence. There are times when the feeling is intensified. Some great work to do, some difficult enterprise to be carried out; or a national crisis, demanding the service of the wisest and the best.
II. COMPLAINT OF GRIEVOUS WRONG. Death is the lot of all. When it comes in the order of nature, may grieve, but cannot justly complain. But often death comes not of necessity, but through violence and crime. The "axe," which belongs of right to justice, is seized and foully used by tyrants and assassins. So with many of the prophets and apostles. So often in the history of nations—William the Silent, President Lincoln. So in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, when so many great and good men were cruelly murdered.
III. PRESAGE OF DIRE CALAMITY. Dark cloud. The stroke falls. Forecasts the storm. Greater disasters. If the first, the noblest, the usefullest are struck down, who shall escape?
"Freedom shrieked as Kosciusko fell."
1. Call to activity. Close ranks.
2. Challenge to the living to look to themselves. We must all fall, but how and with what results? Robert Hall said of Robinson that "he fell like a noble tree." We should live so as to be missed. Better be mourned for, as friends and well doers gone before, than die unhonoured and unblest.—F.
Zechariah 11:5, Zechariah 11:6
Oppressors and oppressed.
I. GOD'S JUDGMENT ON OPPRESSORS. Power great thing. Test of character. Few able to use it rightly. Even the "wise man" (Ecclesiastes 7:7) may have his head turned, and act as if "mad." The "shepherds" false to their awful trust. Hence the people became the prey of oppressors. Merciless, avaricious, godless, neither fearing God nor regarding man. Such oppressors are found in various forms. Landlords and other "possessors" have need to take warning. The people were not made for the land, but the land for the people. Property has its duties as well as its rights. "Unto whom much is given, of them shall much be required." "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
II. GOD'S MERCY FOR THE OPPRESSED. The Bible is on the side of the weak, and not the strong; of the wronged, and not the wrong doer. Prophet after prophet has spoken on behalf of the poor and the needy, and carried their cause to the throne of the Most High. God acts by means. "Feed:"
1. With the gospel of love.
2. With the law of righteousness. Binding on all.
3. With the hope of immortality.
"We were weary and we
Fearful, and we in our march
Fain to drop down and to die;
Still thou turnedst and still
Beckonedst the trembler and still
Gavest the weary thy hand. If, in the paths of the world,
Stones might have wounded thy feet,
Toil or dejection have tried
Thy spirit, of that we saw
Nothing; to us thou wast still
Cheerful and helpful and firm.
Therefore to thee it was given
Many to save with thyself.
And at the end of thy day,
O faithful Shepherd, to come,
Bringing thy sheep in thy hand."
The true Shepherd.
I. GOD'S IDEA OF THE TRUE SHEPHERD. His character and service. Faithful and disinterested. Not a hireling. He is for the sheep, not the sheep for him. If his recompense left to the free will of the people, should be adequate and fair. "The workman is worthy of his hire." But the wage should be given in more than material form. "Themselves." Their trust, sympathy, prayers, and hearty cooperation in all good. "I seek not yours, but you," said Paul.
II. MAN'S TREATMENT OF THE TRUE SHEPHERD.
1. Grossly unjust. Remuneration mean and paltry. Not measured by the work done, but doled out by selfish and stupid hands.
2. Basely insulting. Instead of just appreciation, mockery. Put on the level of a slave. Such remuneration worthy of scorn. Away with it.
3. Darkly menacing. Take it or leave it. Nothing to us. Starve if you will. Murder is in their hearts.
4. Reveals the baseness of the heart. Indicates great social degeneracy. Foreshadows the rejection of the Saviour (Matthew 27:9, Matthew 27:10). Let us endeavour to be true to God's idea.
"The Christian pastor, bow'd to earth
With thankless toil, and vile esteem'd,
Still travailing in second birth
Of souls that will not be redeem'd'
Yet steadfast set to do his part,
And fearing most his own vain heart."
The two staves.
Acted parable. May be taken to illustrate the two great blessings of Christ's kingdom.
I. THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD. "Beauty" may indicate the covenant of peace. God's grace restraining, preserving, governing. "Broken." Sign of judgment and woe. "Ichabod!" But as whole, emblem of the fatherly love and care of God, and the fairness and beneficence of his vile.
II. BROTHERHOOD OF MAN. National covenant. Union of Judah and Israel. One people under the rule of Jehovah. Fulfilled in part in the restoration; more perfectly, and in a spiritual sense, under the gospel of Christ. His kingdom is one. In him all the kindreds of the earth shall be blessed (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14-22).—F.
The evil shepherd.
I. CHARACTER. Vain. Selfish. Hypocritical Greedy of gain and popularity. Worthless for real good. Permitted, but not approved.
1. Coldness. No "pity." His heart is not in his work.
2. Neglect. Takes no pains to seek out the poor and needy. Does not "visit."
3. Unfaithfulness, No warnings. False teaching. Making gain of godliness. God's ideal of the shepherd lost. God's benign purposes in the ministry of grace frustrated. Souls perish, and their blood calleth from the ground,
"The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But, swoln with wind and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing fed:
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more."
(Cf. Ruskin's exposition in 'Sesame and Lilies.')
III. Doom. "Woe."
1. Hardened in evil. Degradation. Judicial blindness.
2. Cursed with uselessness.
3. Destined to destruction.
"Alas, my brother! round thy tomb
In sorrow kneeling and in fear
We read the pastor's doom,
Who speaks and will not hear."
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Zechariah 11:1, Zechariah 11:2
The cedars, fir trees, and oaks of society.
"Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down." This chapter, it has been said, divides itself into three sections.
1. The threat of judgment (Zechariah 11:1-3).
2. The description of the good Shepherd (Zechariah 11:4-14).
3. The sketch of the foolish shepherd (Zechariah 11:15-17).
The expression, "Open thy doors [gates], O Lebanon," is, of course, quite dramatic in style. "The prophet, instead of announcing to Lebanon its future destruction, commands it as the servant of God to open its gates; the meaning therefore is, 'Thou Lebanon wilt be stormed and devastated by the foe'" (Hengstenberg). Lebanon, here, may be regarded as a symbol of the kingdom of Judah, its cedars as denoting the chief men of the kingdom. We shall take the words to illustrate three subjects in relation to mankind—a variety of distinction, a common calamity, and a natural alarm.
I. A VARIETY OF DISTINCTION. The "cedar" here, the "fir tree," or cypress, and the "oaks," are employed to set forth some of the distinctions that prevailed amongst the Hebrew people. How, whilst all men have a common origin, a common nature, and common moral obligations and responsibilities, yet in every generation there prevails a large variety of striking distinctions. There are not only the cedars and fir trees, but even briars and thistles. There is almost as great a distinction between the highest type of man and the lowest as there is between the lowest and the highest type of brute. In the great forest of every generation there are a few tall cedars and oaks rising in majesty above all the other trees, down to mere brushwood and even fungi. There are intellectual giants and intellectual dwarfs, moral monarchs and spiritual serfs. This variety of distinction in the human family serves at least two important purposes.
1. To check pride in the highest and despondency in the lowest. The cedar has no cause for boasting over the fir tree or over the humblest plant: it owes its existence to the same God, and is sustained by the same common elements. And what have the greatest men—the Shakespeares, the Schillers, the Miltons, the Goethes—to be proud of? What have they that they have not received? And why should the weakest man despond? He is what God made him, and his responsibilities are limited by his capacities.
2. To strengthen the ties of human brotherhood. Were all men of equal capacity, it is manifest that there would be no scope for that mutual ministry of interdependence which tends to unite society together. There are the givers and the receivers; the delight of the former is in his gifts, the hope of the latter is in the helps he receives. The strong rejoices in bearing the infirmities of the weak, and the weak rejoices in gratitude and hope on account of the succour received. Between the least and the greatest, therefore, in human society there is ample scope afforded for the fall play of the faculties, the sympathies, and the services of all.
II. A COMMON CALAMITY. "Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen," An expression which implies that the same fate awaits the fir tree. There is one event that awaits men of every type and class and grade, the tallest cedar and the most stunted shrub, and that is, death. "All flesh is grass;" "Wine men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others."
1. This common calamity levels all distinctions. The cedar and the fir tree—if not cut down by the woodman, scathed by the lightning, or uprooted by the tempest—must sooner or later rot, and their dust mingle with the earth; so with men of all distinctions, the prince and the pauper, the cedar and the bramble in the human forest, must bow to the stroke. "Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish forever."
2. This common calamity should dematerialize all souls. Since we are only here on this earth for a few short years at most, why should we live to the flesh, and thus materialize our souls? Here we are only pilgrims, and we should be in quest of "the city that hath foundations, Whose Builder and Maker is God." To see the pinions of the noble eagle, made to pierce the clouds and bask high up in sunlight, buried in a foul pool of mud, is a lamentable sight; but ten thousand times more terrible is the sight of a human soul immersed in matter.
III. A NATURAL ALARM. "Howl, fir tree." It is the howl, not of rage, not el sympathy, but of alarm. The principle of alarm here implied is that when the higher falls the lower may well take the alarm. If the cedar gives way, let the cypress look out. This principle may apply to:
1. Communities. Amongst the kingdoms of the earth there are the "cedar" and the "fir tree." Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome,—these were cedars; they have "fallen." Let the smaller ones take the alarm. England is a "cedar," but it must fall; it has, I fear, even now the marks of decay on it; its multiplying branches of ambition are exhausting its roots. Its tall, when it comes, will be a just warning to all the smaller states of the world. The same may be said of markets. There are the "cedars" in the commercial world, great houses regulating almost the merchandise of the world. Some have recently fallen, others are falling: let the "fir trees" take the alarm and be cautious.
2. Individuals. When men who are physical "cedars," strong and stalwart, whose build is almost like the gnarled oak, fall, let weaker men take the alarm. When men who are moral "cedars," majestic in character and mighty in beneficent influences—great preachers, authors, philanthropists—fall, let the less useful take the alarm, still more the useless. "Howl, fir tree, for the cedar is fallen." This was the text of the funeral sermon which the famous Mr. Jay, of Bath, preached on the equally famous Rowland Hill; and commenting on it he spoke eloquently concerning the impressions made by the death of a man of mark.—D.T.
Bad men in high office.
"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." We have here two subjects of thought.
I. BAD MEN IN HIGH OFFICE. The men referred to here are called "shepherds," which is a designation of men in power, men who politically and ecclesiastically presided over the people—the leaders. Communities of men everywhere and in all times have had "shepherds," men who guided and ruled them. These "shepherds" have sometimes reached their position irrespectively of the will of the people, sometimes with the will of the people, sometimes against the will of the people. In this country we have a number of "shepherds," politically from the mayor to the queen, ecclesiastically from the assistant curate to the archbishop. The "shepherds" referred to in the text had unfortunately what, alas! the leaders of the people in all ages have too frequently had—an ambitious character. Hence they are here called, "young lions," "a voice of the roaring of young lions;" or, as Keil has it, a "loud roaring of the young lions." They were hungry, ravenous, and rapacious, fattening upon the people of their charge. Elsewhere they are represented as "ravening wolves." How often have men in high office, both in state and Church, been of this character! Such as they care nothing for the people, only so far as they can make use of them, feed and fatten on them. Observe:
1. That a man in high office who has a bad character is of all men the most contemptible. A bad character in a pauper makes him contemptible; but a bad character in a king makes him ten times the more contemptible. When God commands us to honour our parents, and to honour the king, it implies that the parents and the king are honourworthy; if they are corrupt in character, they should be die, honoured and denounced.
2. That it is the duty of all peoples to promote those alone to high office who have a high moral character. Alas! they have not done so; hence they have often had unworthy magistrates, judges, kings, bishops.
II. BAD MEN IN HIGH OFFICE GREATLY DISTRESSED. "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." "The glory of these shepherds being spoiled," says Wardlaw, "signifies the brining down of all their honour and power, and the wealth and luxury which, by the abuse of their power they had acquired, all becoming a prey to the sacking and pillaging besiegers. The pride of Jordan lay in it, s evergreens and brushwood with which its banks were enriched and adorned; and these being the covert and habitation of the young lions, the two parts of the figure are appropriate. As the lions howl and roar in dismay and fury when dislodged from their refuges and dwelling places, whether by the swelling flood sweeping over their lairs, or from the cutting down or the burning of their habitations, so should the priests and rulers of Jerusalem be alarmed and struck with desperation and rage, when they found their city, within whose walls they had counted themselves secure from the very possibility of hostile entrance, laid open to the outrage of an exasperated enemy, and all its resources given up to plunder and destruction—country as well as city thrown into confusion and desolation!" Such rulers may well be distressed. Let them howl:
1. Because all the keen-sighted and honest men over whom they preside despise them. Though the hordes of miserable sycophants worship them on account of the glitter and pageantry of their elevated position, the Carlyles, the Thackerays, and the unsophisticated millions regard them with ineffable disdain.
2. Because the righteous Governor of the world has denounced them. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess" (Matthew 23:14, etc.).—D.T.
Zechariah 11:4, Zechariah 11:5
Oppressed people, and their oppressors.
"Thus saith the Lord my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter; 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." Notice two things.
I. HERE IS A DUTY ENJOINED TOWARDS OPPRESSED PEOPLES. "Thus saith the Lord my God; Feed the flock [sheep] of the slaughter." These shepherds, these rulers of the Hebrew people, "slaughtered" the people. Without figure, oppressed peoples are "slaughtered"—slaughtered, though they continue to exist, by unrighteous exactions. Their rights are "slaughtered," their energies are "slaughtered," their liberties are "slaughtered," their independency is "slaughtered," their means of subsistence and advancement are "slaughtered." People "slaughtered" in these respects abound in every state and place in Europe. Alas! millions of them groan out a miserable existence in this highly favoured land of ours. What is our duty to these oppressed ones? "Feed the flock." "Feed" them:
1. With the knowledge of their rights as men. Their rights as citizens to make their own laws, their rights as religionists to worship their own God in their own way, to form their own convictions and to work them out according to the dictates of their own conscience.
2. With the knowledge of tins true methods to obtain these rights. Not by violence and spoliation, but by moral means, by skilful industry, by temperate habits, by economic management, by moral suasion, by skilful, honest, and persevering industry.
3. With the knowledge of worthy motives by which to obtain these rights. Teach them that they should struggle for their rights, not for their own selfish aggrandizement, nor for the crushing of others, but in order fully to develop and honour the nature with which Heaven has endowed them. Let the oppressed peoples of Europe be thus fed by a Christly ethical education, and despotism will soon be swept from the face of the earth.
II. HERE IS A SKETCH OF THE AUTHORS OF OPPRESSION.
1. They are cruel. "Whose possessors slay them." Not only destitute are they of all practical sympathy for the rights and comforts of the people, but they treat them with a heartless inhumanity, they kill them.
2. They are impious. In all their cruelties they "hold themselves not guilty." The greatest despots of the world have ever been ready to justify themselves to their own consciences. Rulers have been found in all ages, and are still found, who, in originating and conducting the most cruel wars, a hold themselves not guilty." In war, the most fiendish of all the fiendish enterprises of wicked humanity, they have no qualms of conscience.
3. They are avaricious. "And they that sell them, say, Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich." A miserable greed was their inspiration; they hungered, not only for power, but for wealth; and so base were they in heart that they hypocritically thanked God for the riches which they had won by their cruelty and injustice. "Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich." There are men who say this now, men who say, "Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich," not thinking how the riches have come. The history of fortune making is too often the history of crime.
CONCLUSION. Let it be ours to "feed," by wholesome knowledge, those who are "slaughtered" by oppression—political slaves and priest-ridden dupes.—D.T.
Zechariah 11:6, Zechariah 11:7
A terrible doom, and an invaluable privilege.
"For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them. And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock." These words contain two subjects.
I. A TERRIBLE DOOM. "For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them." What is the doom? The abandonment of God.
1. This abandonment came after great kindness. For long centuries he had manifested the greatest kind, ness to the Hebrew people. From their rescue from Egypt down to this hour he had been merciful to them. He warned them, he threatened them, he besought them, he chastised them. Many a time they had provoked him, but still he bore with them. But now he delivers them up. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man."
2. This abandonment involved inexpressible ruin. They were given up to the heathen cruelty of one another and to the violence of foreigners. What more terrible fate can befall people than this? If God abandons us, what are we? This will be the doom of the finally impenitent, "Depart from me."
II. AN INVALUABLE PRIVILEGE. "I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock." "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." In Christ, the great God acted thus in a most manifest and impressive way. He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion towards them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd." "I am the good Shepherd," said Christ.
CONCLUSION. Thank God, we are not abandoned yet. God is with us as a Shepherd. He is seeking the lost and feeding those who are in his fold. "What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost."—D.T.
A mutual dislike between God and man.
"My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me." It would be idle to attempt to ascertain who are intended by the "three shepherds" that were "cut off in one month," and who are here represented as abhorring God and "loathed" by him. In running through the various conflicting explanations, as given by biblical critics, we feel such a task would be utterly hopeless and a waste of time. We take the words in order to illustrate a mutual dislike between God and man. That such a mutual dislike exists is proved by the moral history of the world, the consciousness of individuals, and the testimony of the inspired Word. Between God and man there is a mutual moral antagonism. We offer four general remarks on this subject.
I. THIS MUTUAL MORAL ANTAGONISM IS MANIFESTLY ABNORMAL. It is not conceivable that the all-wise and all-loving Maker of the universe would create beings whom he would loathe and who would abhor him. Such an idea is opposed at once to our intuitions and our conclusions. The Bible assures us, in language most explicit and in utterances most frequent, that mutual love, similar to that which exists between the most affectionate parents and their children, was that which existed in the pristine state of humanity. God loved man, and man loved God.
II. THIS MUTUAL MORAL ANTAGONISM IMPLIES WRONG ON MAN'S PART. For Infinite Purity and Righteousness to loathe the corrupt and the wrong is not only right, but a necessity of the Divine character. He abhorreth sin; it is the "abominable thing" which he hates. This is his glory. But for man to abhor him, this is the great sin, the fontal sin, the source of all other sins. To abhor the infinitely Loving and Lovable is, indeed, a moral enormity. They "hated me without a cause."
III. THIS MUTUAL MORAL ANTAGONISM EXPLAINS THE SIN AND WRETCHEDNESS OF THE WORLD. Why does the world abound with falsehoods, dishonesties, and oppressions, unchastities, cruelties, and impieties? Because human souls are not in supreme sympathy with the supremely Good, because they are at enmity with God, and not "subject to the Law of God." And why all the miseries of humanity? Because God loathes sin.
IV. THIS MUTUAL MORAL ANTAGONISM ARGUES THE NECESSITY FOR A RECONCILIATION. The great want of the world is the reconciliation of man to the character and the friendship of God. Such a reconciliation requires no change on God's part. His loathing is the loathing of love—love loathing the wrong and the self—made miserable. The change must be on man's part. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." Christ is the Atonement, the Reconciliation.—D.T.
"My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, 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. 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." The subject of these words is Divine rejection. A time comes in the history of incorrigible nations and incorrigible individuals when they are rejected of Heaven. David said to Solomon, "And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; fur the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts. If thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever" (1 Chronicles 28:9). The text gives us the cause, the result, and the sign of this lamentable event.
I. THE CAUSE. "My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me." A mutual moral antagonism (as we have seen) between man and God. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" The sinners' character becomes so repugnant to the Almighty that his patience is exhausted, and their rejection is the result. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man;" "Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone." There is a limit to the Divine forbearance. "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" "Depart from me, I never knew you;" "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;… I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh."
II. THE RESULT. The results here are threefold.
1. The cessation of Divine mercy. "I will not feed you." You are no longer my sheep; no longer will I minister to your needs.
2. Abandonment to self-ruin. "That that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off." "The wages of sin is death;" "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Let the elements of moral destruction do their work.
3. Deliverance to mutual tormentors. "And let the rest eat every one the flesh of another." All these results were realized in a material sense in the rejection of the Jewish nation. Josephus tells us that in the destruction of Jerusalem pestilence, famine, and intestine discord ran riot amongst the God-rejected people. These material evils are but faint emblems of the spiritual evils that must be realized by every God-rejected soul.
III. THE SIGN. "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." The Divine Shepherd is represented as having two staves, or crooks; ordinary shepherds have only one. Expositors, in their interpretation of these staves, differ here as in many places elsewhere in this book. Some say they indicate the double care that the Divine Shepherd takes of his people; some; the different methods of treatment pursued by the Almighty Shepherd towards his people; some, that they refer to the house of Judah and to the house of Israel, indicating that neither was to be left out in the mission of the work of the good Shepherd; and some that the one called "Beauty"—which means grace—represents the merciful dispensation under which the Hebrew people had been placed; and the other staff, called "Bands," the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. One thing seems clear, that the cutting of the staff called "Beauty" asunder was a symbol of their rejection from all future grace and mercy. It may be stated, as a general truth, that all Heaven-rejected souls have signs of their miserable condition. The sign of Samson was loss of strength; "he wist not that the Lord was departed from him," until his strength was put to the test and he failed. What are the general signs?
1. Practical ignorance of God.
2. Utter subjection to the senses.
3. Complete devotion to selfish aims.
4. Insensibility of conscience.
CONCLUSION. Let us not trifle with the patience of God, lest he cast us off forever; but rather let us earnestly and perseveringly cultivate a stronger and more vital sympathy with him, and a closer identification with his loving heart and benevolent aims.—D.T.
A model spiritual teacher.
"And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord." Why these words should have been referred to by the Evangelist Matthew (Matthew 27:9, Matthew 27:10), and applied to Christ and Judas, I cannot explain. Nor can any one else, judging from the conflicting interpretations of biblical critics. Matthew not only misquotes the words, but ascribes them to Jeremiah, and not to Zechariah. The probability is that the "thirty pieces of silver" and the "potter's field," in connection with Judas, reminded the evangelist of these words, brought them to his memory, and from his memory he quotes them; for he gives them very incorrectly, neither according to the Greek version nor the original Hebrew. As the words, as they stand here, have an historical meaning entirely independent of St. Matthew's application of them, they may be fairly employed to illustrate a model spiritual teacher in relation to secular acknowledgments of his teachings. Three things are suggested concerning the shepherd in this capacity.
I. HE LEAVES THE SECULAR ACKNOWLEDGMENT TO THE FREE CHOICE OF THOSE TO WHOM HIS SERVICES HAVE BEEN RENDERED. "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear." He does not exact anything, nor does he even suggest any amount. He leaves the matter entirely to themselves, give or not give, give this amount or that. This is as it should be. Ministers, whilst they have a Divine claim to a secular remuneration of their services, are neither authorized nor are they disposed, if they are true teachers, to enforce their claims upon the reluctant. "We have not used this power," says Paul (see 1 Corinthians 9:9-17). It may be asked—Why should the temporal support of the spiritual teacher be left entirely to the choice of the people?
1. Because contributions that are entirely free are the only proofs to the minister that his services are really valued. What proof is there in the amounts raised by tithes or rates, or, as in some Nonconformist Churches, by diaconate guarantees, that the service of the existing minister has been really valued?
2. Because the contributions that are entirely free arc the only contributions that are of any moral worth. Those who give from custom or law, or in any way reluctantly, without a "willing mind," have no claim to moral credit; their contributions, however large, are counted worthless in the empire of virtue.
II. HIS SPIRITUAL SERVICES ARE SOMETIMES SHAMEFULLY UNDERRATED, "So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver." Thirty shekels. An amount in our money of about £3 3s. 9d. This was the price they put on his services, just the price paid for a bond-servant (Exodus 21:32).
1. Do not determine the real worth of a spiritual teacher by the amount of his stipend. This is often done: all fools do this. Yet who does not know ministers who get for their labours £100 a year who are of far higher character, and render nobler services than many who get their £500, and even £1000? The fact is, the minister who wants a large income, as a rule, must get a large congregation; and he who would get a large congregation must pander to popular prejudices and tastes.
2. Deplore the backwardness of the world in appreciating the highest services. The highest service one man can render another is the impartation of those Divine ideas that will most quicken, invigorate, and ennoble his mind. But such services are, alas! the least valued. Men will pay their scullery maid or their groom a larger sum every year than they pay their minister. "Thirty shekels," £3, for a minister; £100 for a horse! Curates are starving, whilst cooks, dressmakers, and tailors are getting fat.
III. HIS INDEPENDENT SOUL REPUDIATES INADEQUATE SECULAR ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. "And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord." He felt the insult of being offered such a miserable sum. "Cast it unto the potter"—perhaps a proverbial expression, meaning, "Throw it to the temple potter." "The most suitable person to whom to cast the despicable sum, plying the trade, as he did, in the polluted valley (2 Kings 23:10) of Hinnom, because it furnished him with the most suitable clay." A true teacher would rather starve than accept such a miserable acknowledgment for his services. Your money perish with you!
CONCLUSION. Oh for ministers of this lofty type!—ministers who feel as Paul did when he said, "I seek not yours, but you" (2 Corinthians 12:14).—D.T.
Fraudulent shepherds of the people.
"And the Lord said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd. 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 standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces. Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth 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." "After Israel has compelled the good Shepherd to lay down his shepherd's office, in consequence of its own sin, it is not to be left to itself, but to be given into the hand of a foolish shepherd, who will destroy it. This is the thought in the fresh symbolical action" (Keil). The "foolish" shepherd means the charlatan, or fraudulent ruler. Here we have—
I. FRAUDULENT SHEPHERDS OF THE PEOPLE DESCRIBED. We learn here:
1. That their existence is a Divine permission. "I will raise." In biblical phraseology, the Almighty is frequently represented as doing that which he only permits. Thus he is said to have "hardened Pharaoh's heart." He here practically respects that freedom of action with which he has endowed the human soul. Here, in this scene of probation, he allows it ample scope. Whilst he does not originate aught that is bad in the worst of men, he permits the worst of men to work out the bad that is in them, and to rise sometimes even to the highest positions in human society. In doing this, three purposes are answered.
(1) He inflicts punishment here upon the guilty by the agency of wicked men. The Herods, the Neros, the Alexanders, the Bonners, and the most corrupt occupants of the papal chair become his instruments in the punishment of a guilty generation. For this purpose, it is intimated, these "foolish shepherds" were now raised up.
(2) He reveals to the universe the enormity of human depravity. When bad men are allowed to reach the highest offices in Church and state, and give free scope and unrestrained development to all that is bad within them, an opportunity is afforded to all moral intelligences of receiving such an impression of the enormity of moral evil as otherwise would be impossible.
(3) He furnishes the most powerful assurance of future retribution for mankind. To allow wickedness such liberty as this, liberty to rise to the highest positions, and to gratify its vilest propensities forever, would be to condemn him in the eyes of the universe as an unrighteous Ruler.
2. That under the profession of blessing their race, they are its greatest curse. There are three features of wickedness in the character here described.
(1) Negligence. "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 standeth still;" or, as Keil translates it, "That which is perishing will he not observe, that which is scattered will he not seek, and that which is broken will he not heal; that which is standing will he not care for." The groans of the people affect them no more than the roar of the breaking billows affects the granite cliffs.
(2) Selfishness. "He shall eat the flesh of the fat." These fraudulent guides and guards of the people feed and fatten on their miseries.
(3) Cruelty. "And tear their claws [hoofs] in pieces." If the people yield not to their exactions, contribute not to their aggrandizement, they will pounce upon them like hungry hounds, despoil them of their property, rob them of their liberty, and persecute them even unto death. "This," says Dr. Wardlaw, "was not a just character of Herod only, there were many such negligent, selfish, cruel pretenders; false Christs and false prophets abounded, abounded then and abound now."
II. FRAUDULENT SHEPHERDS OF THE PEOPLE DENOUNCED. "Woe to the idol shepherd!" Here is the doom of those "idol shepherds"—idol because vain and worthless. "The woe pronounced," says an able expositor, "is striking and impressive." 'The sword shall be upon his arm and upon his right eye.' The sword is the sword, doubtless, of the invading foe. The faithless shepherd shall be among its surest victims. The 'arm,' which ought, as the emblem of power, to have been employed in defending the flock, shall be smitten and 'dried up:' he shall lose all power, not only for their protection, but, on account of his neglect of them, for his own. His 'right eye,' which, as the emblem of knowledge and vigilance and foresight, should have guided the flock, and been ever on the watchful look out after every member of it, shall be 'utterly darkened.' Visited by a righteous God with judicial blindness, he shall grope in the noonday as in the night, deceiving and being deceived, and shall utterly perish in his own delusions."
CONCLUSION. Beware of "wolves in sheep's clothing." "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world."—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent