Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 11

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Zechariah 11:0


Desolation of IsraelThe Fall of the TyrantsThe Fall of the TyrantsA Taunt Against Enemies
Zechariah 11:1-3Zechariah 11:1-3Zechariah 11:1-3Zechariah 11:1-3
Prophecy of the ShepherdsThe Two ShepherdsThe Two ShepherdsThe Two Shepherds
Zechariah 11:4-6Zechariah 11:4-6Zechariah 11:4-5Zechariah 11:4-6
Zechariah 11:6
Zechariah 11:7-14Zechariah 11:7-14Zechariah 11:7-12Zechariah 11:7-14
Zechariah 11:13-14
Zechariah 11:15-16Zechariah 11:15-16Zechariah 11:15-17Zechariah 11:15-16
Zechariah 11:17Zechariah 11:17 Zechariah 11:17

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This chapter, as others in this section (Zechariah 9-14), is very difficult to interpret because of the ambiguity of the historical setting and the literary genre.

B. Each of these chapters contains material used in the Gospels to describe the life of Jesus. However, the original setting can be (1) pre-exilic; (2) post-exilic; (3) interbiblical; (4) Jesus' day; or (5) eschatological. Possibly the ambiguity is purposeful to allow the prophecy to show God's faithfulness and His people's faithlessness throughout history. If victory comes it will come from YHWH's gracious character and redemptive purpose brought about through a wounded shepherd (the Messiah, cf. chapters 12 and 13).

C. The context of chapter 11 is obviously the rejection of a godly leader and his replacement by wicked leadership. Jesus saw Himself as both the wounded Shepherd (cf. Mark 8:32-33; Mark 9:32-34; Mark 10:35-37) and the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:0).

D. Zechariah 11:1-3 is in poetic form (as is Zechariah 11:17). Some see it relating to chapter 10 concerning the judgment of the surrounding nations (which is also in poetic form, i.e., Zechariah 11:2-12), while others relate it to chapter 11 and the appropriate judgment on God's people.

E. Some possible theories about the historical setting of Zechariah 11:8.

1. early date, Targums - Moses, Aaron, Miriam

2. pre-exilic, last three kings of Judah - Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah

3. post-exilic

4. interbiblical

a. three high priests of Seleucid period - Jason, Menelaus, Lysimachus

b. three kings of Seleucid empire - Seleucus IV, Heliodorus, Demetrius

5. Jesus' day (A.D. 70), Jewish conspirators in the Temple during Jewish revolt - Eleazar, John, Simon

6. after Jesus' day, Roman Caesars

7. end-time? (possibly related to Antichrist in Daniel 7:8)

8. in context these are possibly the three types of leaders: prophets, priests, and civil leaders/ kings

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 11:1-3 1Open your doors, O Lebanon, That a fire may feed on your cedars. 2Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, Because the glorious trees have been destroyed; Wail, O oaks of Bashan, For the impenetrable forest has come down. 3There is a sound of the shepherds' wail, For their glory is ruined; There is a sound of the young lions' roar, For the pride of the Jordan is ruined.

Zechariah 11:1 “Open your doors” This (BDB 834 I, KB 986) is a Qal IMPERATIVE (i.e., submit to be taken over). Zechariah 11:1-3 forms a literary unit. This poem could relate to (1) chapters 9 and 10, the judgment of God on the surrounding nations or (2) the rest of chapter 11, the judgment of God on His own people.

This idiomatic phrase (cf. Isaiah 45:1) is a way of personifying the nation of Phoenicia (cf. Zechariah 9:3-4). It depicts the military defeat of Phoenicia (Lebanon).

“Lebanon” Lebanon was proverbial for its wealth and power. This poem uses the analogies of certain well-known trees (cedars, cypress, and oak) and their destruction to describe the judgment of God (i.e., fire, see Special Topic: Fire).

“a fire may feed on your cedars” The VERB (BDB 37, KB 46) is a Qal IMPERFECT used as a JUSSIVE. This is either an emphasis on God's judgment or an invasion from the north (possibly by YHWH, cf. chapter 9).

Zechariah 11:2 “Wail” There are two Hiphil IMPERATIVES (Zechariah 11:2a,c). This term (BDB 410, KB 413) is used for God's judgment on God's people (cf. Hosea 7:14; Micah 1:8; Zephaniah 1:11) and for God's judgment on the surrounding nations (cf. Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 16:7; Isaiah 23:1, Isaiah 23:6, Isaiah 23:14; Isaiah 52:5; Jeremiah 48:39; Jeremiah 49:3).

“cypress” The tree (BDB 141) may be a juniper, which was the major source of lumber in Lebanon. It was an evergreen used in the temple.

1. floors, 1 Kings 6:15

2. doors, 1 Kings 6:34

3. panels for the hall, 2 Chronicles 3:5

NASB, TEV“the glorious trees have been destroyed” NKJV“the mighty trees are ruined” NRSV“the glorious trees are ruined” NJB“the majestic ones have been ravaged”

The NOUN (BDB 12) means “glory” or “magnificence.” It is also used in Zechariah 11:13 in a sarcastic sense. Here it may refer to leaders, symbolized as mighty, beautiful trees.

The VERB (BDB 994, KB 1418, Pual PERFECT) means “to despoil,” “devastate,” or “ruin.” It can refer to

1. cities, Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 23:1; Jeremiah 48:1; Jeremiah 49:3

2. nations, Jeremiah 4:20; Jeremiah 9:18; Jeremiah 48:15, Jeremiah 48:20

3. houses, Jeremiah 4:20; Jeremiah 10:20

4. trees, Zechariah 11:2

“O oaks of Bashan” Bashan, in the transJordan area, part of Gilead (cf. Zechariah 10:10), was mostly a pasture land, but it was dotted with groups of beautiful trees. Its name (BDB 143) means “smooth” (i.e., fertile) land.

“impenetrable forest has come down” The destruction of a forest is used to symbolize the fall of nations and governments.

Zechariah 11:3 “shepherds' wail” The metaphor has changed from a burning gate and a cut down forest to a shepherd's weeping over the loss of a pasture land. The metaphor will change again in the last of Zechariah 11:3 to young lions' roaring because their natural habitat (i.e., “pride”) is destroyed. Possibly this poem is an allusion to Jeremiah 25:34-38.

“the pride of the Jordan is ruined” This refers to the flood plain of the Jordan, which was a dense undergrowth (cf. Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 49:19; 50:49), but is now destroyed and, therefore, no hiding place for the lions.

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 11:4-6 4Thus says the LORD my God, “Pasture the flock doomed to slaughter. 5Those who buy them slay them and go unpunished, and each of those who sell them says, ‘Blessed be the LORD, for I have become rich!' And their own shepherds have no pity on them. 6For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the land,” declares the LORD; “but behold, I will cause the men to fall, each into another's power and into the power of his king; and they will strike the land, and I will not deliver them from their power.”

Zechariah 11:4-14 This section deals with two kinds of shepherds (i.e., leaders), the coming of a godly ruler who is rejected and replaced by wicked rulers (cf. Zechariah 11:4-6 and 15-17). Zechariah 11:7-14 refer to the good shepherd, the Messiah (YHWH's personal representative). Jesus picked up on this theme in His discourse on He, Himself being the Good Shepherd in John 10:0.

Zechariah 11:4 “Pasture the flock doomed to slaughter” “Pasture” (BDB 944 I, KB 1258). This is a Qal IMPERATIVE (i.e., “shepherd”). “The flock” seems to refer to God's people (cf. Zechariah 11:6; Psalms 44:22; Jeremiah 12:1-3). This phrase does not imply that these are faithful to YHWH, but that they are exploited by their own leaders or foreigners (same ambiguity as Zechariah 10:3a-b).

Zechariah 11:5 “Those who buy them slay them” A Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE (BDB 888, KB 1111) is followed by a Qal IMPERFECT (BDB 246, KB 255). This is the allusion of the new owners of the sheep who use them for food (not wool). This may typify careless and uncompassionate acts of merchants or governmental leaders (cf. Zechariah 10:3).

“Blessed be the LORD, for I have become rich” This seems to be a sarcastic comment by Jewish leaders praising God for their ill-gotten gain from the exploitation of the poor and under privileged. Deuteronomy 27-29 was often interpreted in such a way that wealth equaled God's blessing!

“their own shepherds have no pity on them” Here shepherds means leaders. That which characterizes God (compassion) does not characterize these Jewish leaders.

Zechariah 11:6 “For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the land” This language is similar to Hosea 1:6-9; Hosea 2:1-23. Hosea was told to live his life (i.e., marry a prostitute) in order to model YHWH's love for faithless Israel. Zechariah, or the future Messiah, is also modeling YHWH's attitudes! The Jewish leaders were to model God's leadership.

“I will cause” Notice another characteristic of apocalyptic literature is the “God is totally sovereign” motif (“I will” three times).

“each into another's power and into the power of his king” The problem of human leadership is that because of the fall it is incapable of the selfless administration of power and authority.

The NASB translates this Hebrew idiom “into the hand of” (twice) as “into the power.”

Verses 7-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 11:7-14 7So I pastured the flock doomed to slaughter, hence the afflicted of the flock. And I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Favor and the other I called Union; so I pastured the flock. 8Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul also was weary of me. 9Then I said, “I will not pasture you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be annihilated, let it be annihilated; and let those who are left eat one another's flesh.” 10I took my staff Favor and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. 11So it was broken on that day, and thus the afflicted of the flock who were watching me realized that it was the word of the LORD. 12I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!” So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. 13Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD. 14Then I cut in pieces my second staff Union, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

Zechariah 11:7 “I” The “I” of Zechariah 11:6 (as Zechariah 11:16) referred to YHWH, so too, Zechariah 11:7-11, Zechariah 11:12-14. It is possible that Zechariah speaks and acts for YHWH or that the Messiah speaks and acts for YHWH. The NIV footnote says, “Zechariah, as a type (foreshadowing) of the Messianic Shepherd-King” (p. 1418). This is the fluidity in apocalyptic prophecy, which makes it so difficult to be specific.

NASB“the afflicted of the flock” NKJV“in particular the poor of the flock” NRSV“so on behalf of the sheep merchants” TEV“those who bought and sold sheep hired me” NJB“belonging to the sheep-dealers”

The ADJECTIVE (BDB 776) can mean “afflicted,” “poor,” or “humble.” It is often used of the faithful being persecuted by wicked Jews or pagan nations (cf. Isaiah 14:32; Isaiah 51:21; Isaiah 54:11; Habakkuk 3:14; Zephaniah 3:12-13).

It is obvious, however, that the NRSV, TEV, and NJB are following the Septuagint's understanding of combining the terms (BDB 485 and 776) into one Hebrew word “merchants” (i.e., Canaanite, BDB 488 I, cf. Zechariah 14:21).

“And I took for my two staffs. . .Favor. . .Union” From Psalms 23:4 we learn that shepherds usually carry one large, crooked-necked staff to control the sheep, and one war club in their belt to fight off predators. Here, the shepherd obviously carried two large, crooked-necked staffs (BDB 596). One is called “pleasantness” (BDB 653), while the other one is called “union” or “binding cords” (BDB 287). These staffs stand for God's attempt to reunite Israel and Judah (cf. Zechariah 11:14; Zechariah 9:13; Zechariah 10:6).

Zechariah 11:8 “I annihilated the three shepherds in one month” The term “annihilate” (BDB 470, KB 469, Hiphil IMPERFECT) means “to totally destroy” (cf. Exodus 23:23; 1 Kings 13:34; 2 Chronicles 32:21; Psalms 83:4). The Niphal is used in Zechariah 11:9 and 16 with the same meaning. The UBS, Handbook, says it can mean “deposed” or “dismissed,” as well as “disposed of” (p. 291).

There are over forty current theories as to the historical application of this verse, none of which literally occur in one month. The commentator's presupposition is often superimposed on this chapter to find an allusion to history. See the Contextual Insights at the beginning of this chapter for the current theories. Interpreters must remember this is apocalyptic language, not historical narrative. See D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic.

“for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul was weary of me” There are several theories about the PRONOUN's antecedents. This shows the attitude of the godly shepherd (i.e., “impatient” BDB 894, KB 1126, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Numbers 21:4; Jdgs. 10:26; Job 21:4) because of the rebellious attitude of the people (i.e., the sheep of Zechariah 11:9; “weary” BDB 103, KB 119, Qal PERFECT may mean (1) “nauseated,” “loathed” (but there are no cognates); (2) this shows the godly shepherd's attitude toward the three shepherds (NRSV); or (3) this shows the godly shepherd's attitude toward the sheep merchants (cf. Zechariah 11:7, Zechariah 11:11). For “soul” (nephesh) see note at Genesis 35:18 online.

Zechariah 11:9 “I will not pasture you” Most English translations see the “you” as referring to the sheep. However, the UBS, Handbook, points out that the PRONOUN is MASCULINE, not FEMININE (pp. 292-293). It can mean “pasture for you,” which would make it refer to the “sheep merchants” of Zechariah 11:7, Zechariah 11:11.

“What is to die, let it die” The first VERB (BDB 559, KB 562) is Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, FEMININE, SINGULAR and obviously refers to the sheep. The second is a Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. The sheep are going to die. Their sins have found them out (similar to Romans 1:24, Romans 1:26, Romans 1:28).

“eat one another's flesh” This is another Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. It does not reflect God's view on cannibalism, but it develops the metaphor from Zechariah 11:4-5. This is part of the “sheep” and “slay” terminology.

Zechariah 11:10 “my staff. . .Favor. . .to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples” The symbolic destruction of the staff “Favor” shows God's attitude toward: (1) the Jewish people (Qal IMPERFECT); (2) the Jews of the Diaspora; or (3) that His attitude toward Gentile nations had changed! The VERB “break” (BDB 154, KB 180) has a violent connotation (cf. Isaiah 10:33) of something being “cut off” or “sawed off.” It is used in the Piel for the destruction of Canaanite fertility objects (cf. Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3; 2 Chronicles 14:3; 2 Chronicles 31:1; 2 Chronicles 34:4, 2 Chronicles 34:7).

The very concept of YHWH breaking His eternal covenant (cf. Isaiah 24:5) with the descendants of Abraham was shocking, but notice Jeremiah 14:21 and Ezekiel 16:59.

The phrase “all the people” (CONSTRUCT BDB 481 plus 766 I) seems to imply the universal element (cf. Zechariah 8:20-23; Zechariah 9:7).

Zechariah 11:11 “So it was broken on that day” The real interpretive question is does this refer to (1) the past acts of YHWH; (2) the future acts of the Messiah; or (3) a typology of God's leaders?

This refers to the staff “Favor,” but it also refers to the breaking (BDB 830 I, KB 974, Hophal IMPERFECT) of God's covenant, either with the surrounding nations or with the Jewish people. This is shocking! The faithful God knowingly turns from His promises and covenant (cf. Judges 2:1) because of the people's continued unfaithfulness (cf. Jeremiah 14:19-22). The Mosaic covenant was conditional (cf. Leviticus 26:40-45)!

“the afflicted of the flock who were watching me realized it was the word of the LORD” The “afflicted of the flock” refers to the sheep merchants (cf. NRSV, TEV, NJB). See full note at Zechariah 11:7. The good shepherd's actions were recognized as being directed by YHWH. God was actively involved in this process of judging:

1. the sheep

2. the three shepherds

3. the sheep merchants

Zechariah 11:12 “give me my wages” This refers to the prophet asking (BDB 396, KB 393, Qal IMPERATIVE) for payment for his services (i.e., “wages,” BDB 969 I) from the owners of the flock. This verse is used in Matthew 26:15 to refer to Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Jesus to the High Priests.

“weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages” The term “shekels” is in italics, which means that it is not in the original text. In the Mosaic legislation this was the price of a gored slave (cf. Exodus 21:32). This is used of typological prophecy of Judas in Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:9, Matthew 27:10.

Zechariah 11:13 “the LORD said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'“ The VERB “throw” (BDB 1020, KB 1527) is a Hiphil IMPERATIVE. There have been several textual emendations to explain “potter” (BDB 428): (1) the Septuagint has the term “furnace smelter” (cf. 2 Kings 12:10; 2 Kings 22:9); (2) the Peshitta has the term “treasury”; (3) the Vulgate has the term “sculptor”; and (4) the Masoretic text has the term “potter” (i.e., shaper). Some believe that it refers to Levites who made the vessels used by the priests, and therefore, a potter's shop was located in the temple. Others say that it is a Hebrew idiom for “that which is worthless and needs to be remade.”

that magnificent price at which I was valued by them” This refers either to irony at their lack of understanding of the value of the Messiah or it is an allusion for the high price (CONSTRUCT BDB 12 and 429, KB 431) to be paid for human life, even that of a slave (cf. Exodus 21:32; Leviticus 27:2-3). It is uncertain which of these opposing views was in Zechariah's mind, but the first fits the context best.

“threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD” In the NT it refers to Judas throwing his ill-gotten treason money back into the priests' possession (cf. Matthew 27:3-5). They saw it as blood money and could not accept it back into the temple's treasury, so they bought a worn out potter's field in which to bury strangers in (cf. Matthew 27:6-10).

Zechariah 11:14 “I cut in pieces my second staff, Union, in pieces, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel” In chapters nine and ten there is an emphasis on the restoration of the people of God, but here, old scars are reopened and the union disappears! The footnote in the JB suggests this might refer to the Samaritan schism in 328 B.C. in which they built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizin (p. 1541).

Verses 15-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Zechariah 11:15-17 15 The LORD said to me, “Take again for yourself the equipment of a foolish shepherd. 16For behold, I am going to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs. 17Woe to the worthless shepherd Who leaves the flock! A sword will be on his arm And on his right eye! His arm will be totally withered And his right eye will be blind.”

Zechariah 11:15-17 This may be Zechariah play acting the wicked shepherd, as he did the good shepherd (cf. Zechariah 11:4).

Zechariah 11:15

NASB,“equipment” NKJV, NRSV“implements” TEV“act the part of” NJB“the gear”

This term (BDB 479) is very general and refers to the items of a trade. The TEV gets it translation from “take again” (BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE and the PREPOSITION, 728, “repeat,” “return,” or “do again”), which starts the verse and implies a previous role playing (i.e., good shepherd, Zechariah 11:7).

NASB, NKJV“foolish” NRSV, TEV“worthless” NJB“good-for-nothing”

This Hebrew ADJECTIVE (BDB 17) is used often in Proverbs of someone who despises wisdom (i.e., a fool). It is used of prophets in Ezekiel 13:3, Ezekiel 13:10 and Hosea 9:7 and of God's people in Jeremiah 4:22.

Zechariah 11:16 This verse expresses in a negative way (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-4) the very attributes of YHWH and His Messiah (cf. Ezekiel 34:11-16, Ezekiel 34:23). This may be the reality of Zechariah 11:9.

Zechariah 11:17 “Woe” Less emphatic than (BDB 17) this word (BDB 222) usually introduces a pronouncement of judgment in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Habukkuk. It is often translated “Ah” or “Alas.”

Many English translations print Zechariah 11:17 as poetry (NASB, NKJV, NRSV, NJB).

“Who leaves the flock” This was a major failure for the profession of shepherd. To leave the sheep left them open to attack and theft. Jesus picks up on this very point in John 10:7-18 (esp. John 10:10, John 10:12).

“A sword will be on his arm” This is idiomatic language for effectiveness in leadership and influence.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What does the poem of Zechariah 11:1-3 refer to?

2. What three different metaphors are used in this poem?

3. Explain the different theories of Zechariah 11:8. Which one do you think is best and why?

4. What is so shocking about Zechariah 11:8b and 9?

5. How does Zechariah 11:12 relate to its own day and to NT usage?

6. Why is this chapter so difficult to interpret in history?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/zechariah-11.html. 2021.
Ads FreeProfile