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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 11

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-3


When the Jews came into the power of hostile nations (Zechariah 10:2) they were governed by bad shepherds, that is, by cruel foreign rulers. But a change is about to take place; Jehovah will cut off the bad shepherds and deliver the oppressed flock (3). Judah and Ephraim will be transformed into mighty men (4-7), and Jehovah will bring them back from Assyria and Egypt to dwell in their own land (8-12), where they may rejoice over the wonderful deliverance, while the hostile powers wail and lament over their own complete undoing (Zechariah 11:1-3).

Verses 1-17

THE FINAL TRIUMPH OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, Zechariah 9:1 to Zechariah 14:21.

With Zechariah 9:1, begins the second main division of the Book of Zechariah, which consists of various oracles, loosely connected, dealing for the most part with events leading up to the final triumph of the kingdom of God. It opens with an announcement of the overthrow of the nations surrounding Palestine (Zechariah 9:1-8), which will prepare the way for the advent of the Messianic king (9, 10) and the restoration and exaltation of the exiled Jews (11-17). This restoration is described more fully in Zechariah 10:1 -xi, 3. The promises are followed by an allegory which is intended to warn the people that the realization of the glorious promises depends upon their attitude toward Jehovah (Zechariah 11:4-17; +Zechariah 13:7-9). The remaining portion of the book naturally falls into two parts. The first (Zechariah 12:1 to Zechariah 13:6) opens with a picture of a marvelous deliverance of Judah and Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:1-9); but this triumph is only the preparation for the bestowing of rich spiritual gifts. In order to enjoy these fully, they must pass through a process of spiritual preparation (10-14). Then Jehovah will remove all spiritual uncleanness, and a life of intimate fellowship with Jehovah will ensue (Zechariah 13:1-6). In chapter xiv the prophet pictures a new conflict between Jerusalem and the nations. At first the latter will be successful, then Jehovah will interfere, save a remnant, and set up his kingdom upon earth (1-7). From Jerusalem he will dispense blessing and prosperity (8-11); the hostile nations will be smitten and their treasures will become the possession of the Jews (12-15). Those who escape will turn to Jehovah (16); any who fail to do him proper homage will be smitten with drought (17-19), but Judah and Jerusalem will be holy unto Jehovah (20, 21).

Verses 4-6

The shepherd’s loving care, Zechariah 11:4-6.

4. The author represents Jehovah as appointing him the shepherd of the flock of slaughter, which Jehovah has determined to deliver from its oppressors.

Feed Give shepherding care and protection (see on Micah 5:4).

The flock The community of the Jews (see on Micah 7:14).

Of the slaughter Not a flock already slaughtered, nor a flock that is to be slaughtered literally (compare Jeremiah 12:3), but a flock that is treated cruelly and shamefully in the manner described in Zechariah 11:5, which undoubtedly led to the undoing of many.

Whose possessors Margin R.V., “buyers.” The former is the meaning of the word in Isaiah 1:3, but the parallelism favors the marginal reading (compare Amos 8:6).

Hold themselves not guilty Literally, are not guilty; meant ironically, in their own opinion; hence the English reproduces the thought correctly (compare Jeremiah 50:7; Hosea 5:15). The buyers, in spite of their cruelty, admit no wrongdoing.

They that sell them The Jews are represented as cattle or sheep that may be bought or sold at the pleasure of the owner. The sellers succeed in filling their own pockets.

Blessed be Jehovah Not only do they not recognize guilt; they even exclaim piously that they are prospered by Jehovah; hence their acts must be in accord with his will.

Their own shepherds This is a translation plus an interpretation; literally, their shepherds. The form of the pronoun indicates that their does not refer to the flock, but to the buyers and sellers.

These two are under the direction of the shepherds.

Pity them not The form of the pronoun is the same as in their buyers, their sellers; hence it must refer to the flock. Opinions differ as to who are the persons meant by buyers, sellers, shepherds. In all probability the first two are practically identical; they are persons who ill-treat the flock; the distinction is introduced only to make complete the picture of the helplessness of the sheep; they can be bought or sold at the pleasure of their owners and can do nothing to prevent it. Some think that they represent foreign rulers, but the exclamation “Blessed be Jehovah” contradicts this view. It seems best to understand all three terms of native rulers, the buyers and sellers as unscrupulous nobles or officials who oppress the people to serve their own interests, the shepherds as the masters or rulers of these nobles, who should have compassion for their subjects, but were indifferent and allowed their underlings to do as they pleased.

Zechariah 11:6 is another exceedingly difficult verse. Its connection with the preceding verse is not clear, and Zechariah 11:7 would form a more suitable continuation of Zechariah 11:5. Most recent commentators omit it as a later gloss. If it is original, it is best interpreted as a parenthetical sentence introduced by the author to explain the appointment of the shepherd. Jehovah was about to execute judgment upon the whole earth, and during the crisis he desired to have his people in the care of a capable leader.

Inhabitants of the land Better, of the earth; for the men, which follows, is used ordinarily of all mankind; Jehovah intended to shake the nations (Haggai 2:6-7).

The men Better, mankind, or, the human race; with special reference, perhaps, to the surrounding nations that have proved hostile to the Jews.

Deliver… every one into his neighbor’s hand, and into the hand of his king The threat is one of anarchy and civil strife among the nations of the earth and of oppression by tyrannical kings. It is not improbable, however, that we should read, with a change of a single vowel point, “into the hand of his shepherd” instead of “into his neighbor’s hand”; the whole clause, “into the hand of his shepherd and into the hand of his king.” Then the thought will be, while the Jews are to have a good shepherd, the nations of the earth are to be placed under the rule of tyrannical shepherds (rulers) and kings.

They The tyrannical rulers and kings.

I will not deliver Jehovah will allow the nations of the earth to be destroyed. No further reference is made to the fate of the nations, and in the succeeding verses the author returns to the shepherd appointed over the Jews.

Verses 4-14


The interpretation of these verses is a very difficult task, chiefly because it is not possible to determine the historical situation reflected in them (for Marti’s view and other theories see Introduction, p. 589). Two things seem to be certain:

1. There is no immediate connection between this section and Zechariah 10:3 to Zechariah 11:3.

2. The verses are descriptive rather than predictive. The preceding section looks into the future, this into the past, most probably the immediate past, so that the author may have been one of the actors in the events described. In the form of an allegory he describes Jehovah’s loving care for the people, their ingratitude, his resentment, and the resulting judgment.

He declares that their experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, were ordained by Jehovah for a special purpose. When they disregarded his pleasant leadings he gave them up, temporarily at least, to calamity and misfortune. In the section immediately following the prophet turns again to the future with the promise that Jehovah will once more have mercy upon them. The close connection between the human agent and the divine Master is indicated in the use of the first person by the former, even when the act described must be regarded as having been executed by Jehovah himself. Whether the symbolical acts described were, either all or in part, actually performed by the prophet, or whether he introduces them only for the purpose of making the description more vivid, cannot be determined and is of secondary importance. The act symbolized is the real thing, and it remains the same whatever one may think of the reality of the symbolical acts (see p. 603f).

Verse 7

7. Even you, O poor of the flock R.V., “verily the poor of the flock”; margin, “the most miserable of sheep.” The word translated even you or verily means ordinarily therefore, which gives no sense here. LXX. combines it with the next word into one and reads, “for the Canaanites of the flock”=for the traffickers of the flock (see on Hosea 12:7), which would be a reference to the buyers and sellers of Zechariah 11:5. The divinely appointed shepherd enters upon his tasks with the determination to displace these buyers and sellers who have cruelly abused the flock. LXX.

is probably to be preferred. The means with which the shepherd intended to accomplish his ends are indicated by the two staves which are selected.

Beauty Margin R.V., “Graciousness.” The staff symbolizes the return of the divine favor to the people. The shepherd meant to emphasize constantly the truth that, in spite of the present suffering, Jehovah is gracious to his people and is ready to shower upon them his blessing, if they will let him.

Bands Or, union. Zechariah 11:14 places it beyond doubt that the prophet is thinking of the reunion between the north and south. The promise of such reunion would be an earnest of strength and victory.

Evidently he considers the two staves sufficient to put new life and courage into the ill-treated flock.

I fed See on Zechariah 11:4, and reference there.

Verses 7-8

The people’s lack of appreciation, Zechariah 11:7-8.

The newly appointed shepherd enters upon his tasks with great expectation, but, alas! he is sorely disappointed.

Verse 8

8. In the carrying out of his commission the shepherd met opposition, but he overcame it.

Three shepherds… I cut off R.V., “the three shepherds.” Who are these shepherds? Are they foreigners or native rulers? If native rulers, who are they? The shepherds of Zechariah 10:3, are foreign oppressors, but the shepherds of Zechariah 11:5, are native rulers; since the latter is in the more immediate context it seems best to take the three shepherds of this verse to be native rulers. The defenders of the pre-exilic date see here a reference to the assassination of the successors of Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Shallum, and a “third pretender” (2 Kings 15:13-15). On the other hand, those who favor a late postexilic date think of the frequent changes in the high-priestly office during the years immediately preceding the Maccabean uprising. Marti thinks of Lysimachus, who was killed by a mob about 171 B.C. ( 2Ma 4:22 ); Jason, who was driven from the office in 170 and found an ignominious end in exile ( 2Ma 5:10 ); and Menelaus, who became high priest again in 170 and lost his office in 168, when the Jehovah cult was temporarily discontinued in the temple, and who died a violent death in Beroea in Syria in 163 ( 2Ma 13:3-8 ). Reference has been made to the difficulty involved in assigning the prophecy to so late a date (p. 589); certainty seems impossible.

In one month Not to be understood literally. It is equivalent to in a short space of time. At any rate, we know of no crisis in Jewish history when three rulers, either foreign or native, either kings or high-priests, were cut off during one month.

8 b might be interpreted as supplying the reason why the good shepherd cut off the three shepherds. If so, the transition from Zechariah 11:8 to Zechariah 11:9 would be very abrupt; hence it seems better to make a full stop after “in one month” and connect 8b with Zechariah 11:9. With great zeal the shepherd entered upon his task, but the flock failed to appreciate his efforts.

And R.V., “for”; better, but.

My soul loathed them R.V., “was weary of them.” The shepherd grew weary of the unappreciative flock; to it refers the pronoun them and not to the shepherds.

Their soul also abhorred me R.V., “loathed.” The flock came to dislike the shepherd’s strict control.

Verses 9-14

Withdrawal of the good shepherd, 9-14.

9, 10. As a result of the flock’s ingratitude, the shepherd decided to discontinue the shepherding care. It is difficult to differentiate in these verses between the voice of the shepherd and that of Jehovah; sometimes Jehovah, sometimes the shepherd, seems to be the speaker. Only the former could authorize the sentence of doom implied in Zechariah 11:9 or break the covenant (Zechariah 11:10). The shepherd will leave the flock to its hopeless fate, to die, or to be cut off by the oppressors mentioned in Zechariah 11:5, or to be devoured by one another.

10. As an indication of his determination he breaks his staff.

Beauty See on Zechariah 11:7. The breaking of this staff symbolized the withdrawal of the divine favor.

Break my covenant… made with all the people Better, R.V., “with all the peoples”; the nations surrounding the Jewish community. While the divine favor endured it prevented the hostile nations from doing injury to the flock (Hosea 2:18). Since Jehovah’s will would be supreme in this matter, his resolve amounted practically to a covenant with these peoples, binding them to refrain from hurting the flock of Jehovah; with the covenant broken they would be at liberty to do as they pleased.

The staff was broken and the covenant dissolved, and Zechariah 11:11 implies that the results became apparent at once.

And so the poor of the flock As in Zechariah 11:7; better, the traffickers of the flock (compare Zechariah 11:5).

That waited upon me R.V., “that gave heed unto me.” Not that were obedient to me, but in a general sense that observed me; that is, that took notice of the acts of the shepherd. The words do not imply that they were influenced for the better. The events which immediately followed the breaking of the staff were evidence that the shepherd was indeed the representative of Jehovah.

12. This recognition on the part of the traffickers would seem to offer an opportunity for further tests, (1) whether they had been led to a better appreciation of his services, (2) whether there was any desire on their part to have his services continued. One staff was still whole, an indication that he had not finally forsaken them.

Unto them If the emendation suggested in Zechariah 11:11 is correct, this can refer only to the traffickers; it is only natural that they should pay the wages, since they had derived the most benefit from the flock (Zechariah 11:5). The shepherd makes no demands; he asks them to decide whether or not his services merit compensation, and, if so, how much. They reply by offering him wages.

Thirty pieces of silver A piece or shekel of silver is equivalent to about 60 cents; thirty pieces to about $18. This seems to have been the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32), and the offer showed how little they appreciated the services of a divinely appointed shepherd (compare Matthew 26:15).

The offer was an insult to the shepherd as well as to Jehovah, and Zechariah 11:13 describes the displeasure of the latter. He orders the shepherd to throw the money away.

Cast it unto the potter A much-discussed phrase. Limited space makes impossible the enumeration of all the different interpretations given. On the assumption that the present Hebrew text is correct, the fewest difficulties are offered by the interpretation of Keil, who suggests that cast it to the potter may be a “proverbial expression for contemptuous treatment,” though, as he says, “we have no means of tracing the origin of the phrase satisfactorily.” Exception has been taken to the present text on the ground that there was no potter in the temple (compare last clause of Zechariah 11:13), but if the phrase is a proverbial saying it is not necessary to assume the presence of a potter in the temple, be it for the purpose of repairing or selling dishes or for the purpose of worship, for the money might be treated contemptuously without a potter being present. The addition “in the house of Jehovah” calls attention to the seriousness and solemnity of the transaction. The action was symbolical as much as the breaking of the staff (Zechariah 11:10; Zechariah 11:14); for it signified the cessation of the care of the shepherd and of Jehovah. Jehovah and the people were the persons chiefly interested in this; the temple was the dwelling place of Jehovah, and to it flocked the people; hence all transactions requiring the presence of both parties could best be performed there. Such was the act performed by the shepherd, and it is for this reason that he selected the house of Jehovah as the place where he would give expression to Jehovah’s displeasure. With this interpretation the nature of the “contemptuous treatment” remains undefined; the shepherd may have cast the money away, or may have trampled upon it, or may have done anything else that would indicate how lightly he and Jehovah valued the sum. Many recent scholars prefer the reading of Targum and Peshitto,” “to the treasurer” or “treasury” in the place of “to the potter.” This would remove the obscurity of the present expression, but the objection raised by Keil is not without weight: “God could not possibly say to the prophet, The wages paid for my service are indeed a miserable amount, yet put it in the temple treasury, for it is at any rate better than nothing.”

Goodly price Meant ironically.

I was prized at Jehovah identifies himself here with the shepherd; the insult offered to the latter was in reality an insult to Jehovah.

14. In consequence of the lack of appreciation on the part of the flock the shepherd decides to abandon it entirely; as a sign of this he breaks the second staff, for which he has no further use.

Bands See on Zechariah 11:7.

That I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel This does not imply the existence of the two kingdoms, nor does it point to a period before the division; it refers rather to the future reunion of the north and south, which is expected by many prophets to take place in the Messianic age. The breaking of the staff implies the destruction of the prospects of such reunion, but with these prospects gone there will be dashed to pieces any hope of a final triumph over the enemies, which will lead to the exaltation and glorification of the victors. On the teaching of the allegory see Introduction, p. 603. If the prophecy comes from the Maccabean period (see on Zechariah 11:8), the good shepherd represents a high priest who occupied the office about 170 B.C. Who he was cannot be determined; Marti thinks of Onias IV.

Verses 15-16

15. Jehovah said unto me As on the former occasion (Zechariah 11:4).

Yet R.V., “yet again.” Connects this command with the preceding one.

Take… the instruments of a… shepherd The staves (Zechariah 11:7). The taking up of these shows that the shepherd is ready to begin the shepherding care of the flock; hence the command is practically equivalent to that in Zechariah 11:4.

Foolish This time the prophet is to act the part of a foolish shepherd (Zechariah 11:7-8). Foolish is to be understood in a moral sense, as ordinarily in the Old Testament, equivalent to forgetful of duty, worthless (Zechariah 11:17). While this shepherd also would have staves, they could not be the same as those of the good shepherd (see on Zechariah 11:7).

Zechariah 11:16 does not point to the future from the standpoint of the prophet, but from that of Jehovah’s command. It states why the latter issued the command, and at the same time it supplies an interpretation of the symbolic action. Jehovah, who withdrew the good shepherd (Zechariah 11:13), determined to raise up one who would not protect and guard but hurt and destroy.

A shepherd in the land Not a successor of the “three shepherds” (Zechariah 11:8), but of the good shepherd. Who is meant cannot be determined definitely. If Marti’s view concerning the three shepherds (see on Zechariah 11:8) and concerning the good shepherd (see at the close of comments on Zechariah 11:14) is correct it is not impossible that the foolish shepherd is Alcimus, who became high priest in 163 (compare 1Ma 7:5-25 ; 1Ma 9:54-57 ).

Visit In a good sense, to take an interest in.

Those that be cut off As in Zechariah 11:9 (compare Zechariah 11:5); he will leave them to their fate. Margin R.V., “lost”; but, since the lost ones are referred to in the next clause, the ordinary rendering is to be preferred.

The young one Better, R.V., “those that are scattered.” If the text is correct, which may be doubted (see Ezekiel 34:4), the translation of R.V. is to be preferred; at least it expresses the thought which one would expect. The foolish shepherd would not seek the lost, nor would he heal the injured, nor feed the sound.

That that standeth still R.V., “that which is sound.” Another obscure expression, of which A.V. gives the more literal translation. Standeth is generally interpreted as the opposite of broken in the preceding clause; he does not look after the needs of the injured nor after those of the sound and strong. The translation feed also is uncertain; margin R.V. suggests “bear,” and the whole clause has been translated, “he does not bear the halting one,” that is, he does not lift up and carry in his arms the lamb or sheep that halts or comes to a standstill because of weariness (compare John 10:1-16). Though there may be uncertainty as to details, the thought expressed in all the clauses is that the foolish shepherd would not have the least care for the welfare of the flock (compare Ezekiel 34:4).

But not only would he neglect the flock, he would even help to destroy it.

He shall eat the flesh of the fat That is, of the fatlings of the flock. Instead of looking after the welfare of the flock he is concerned only with his own well-being, and to satisfy his own appetite he is ready to sacrifice the lives of the sheep (compare Isaiah 3:13-15).

Tear their claws in pieces R.V., “hoofs.” This obscure phrase has received various interpretations. Some have thought that the reference is to the cruel practice of driving the flocks over rough roads; some have interpreted it of the intense greed of the shepherd which manifests itself in the tearing to pieces of the hoofs, so as to secure the last morsel of flesh or fat. Others have thought of the tearing of the hoofs, that the sheep might not wander too far, and thus give the shepherd trouble. The second interpretation is improbable, because one as greedy as this shepherd would hardly stop to gnaw the bones clean; he would rather kill another beast. The other interpretations are possible; in either case we would have a picture of extreme cruelty. The expression is peculiar and the text may have suffered; if so, we have no means of determining the original.

Verses 15-17

ALLEGORY OF THE FOOLISH SHEPHERD, Zechariah 11:15-17 (+ Zechariah 13:7-9.)

This allegory is the sequel of the allegory of the good shepherd; Zechariah 11:15-16, continues the record of the people’s experiences down to the present, Zechariah 11:17 turns to the future. The flock that rejected the good shepherd was not left to itself it was given into the hands of a foolish shepherd, who worked havoc with it; but he is doomed, and the flock will be delivered (Zechariah 13:7-9). By the allegory the prophet teaches that the present miserable condition of the people is due to their own stubbornness, and at the same time he assures them that Jehovah will return in mercy and compassion at some future time.

Verse 17

17. The present hopeless condition is not to continue forever; Jehovah has sent it as a judgment for the rejection of the good shepherd, but he will again have mercy; the foolish shepherd will be removed.

Woe to the idol shepherd Better, R.V., “worthless shepherd.” He is doomed.

That leaveth the flock To destruction (compare John 10:12). The succeeding words should be translated as an imprecatory clause, “A sword upon his arm and upon his right eye!” May the arm which should have guarded and protected the flock be cut off, and may the eyes which should have selected good pasture and should have watched against danger be destroyed. That this will happen is affirmed in the rest of the verse. The arm will wither and the eye will lose its sight. The forms of judgment prayed for and threatened in the two clauses do not seem to harmonize. If a sword were used against the arm the result would hardly be a withering of the same. In view of this fact some commentators read, with a slight change in the vocalization of a single consonant, drought drying up, withering instead of sword. This change, “drought upon his arm and upon his right eye,” would bring the two clauses into perfect accord. On the other hand, it has been suggested that the two different kinds of punishment are placed together so as to emphasize the “greatness and terrible nature of the judgment.” If Zechariah 13:7-9, is the original continuation of Zechariah 11:17 (see introductory remarks on Zechariah 13:7-9), the present reading, “sword,” is to be retained ( compare Zechariah 13:7).

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/zechariah-11.html. 1874-1909.
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