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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Zechariah 11

 

 

Verses 1-17

5. ISRAEL’S REJECTION OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Zechariah 11.

A. Poetical Introduction ( Zechariah 11:1-3). B. The Flock of Slaughter ( Zechariah 11:4-6). C. The Prophet tries to be their Shepherd ( Zechariah 11:7-8). D. He Fails ( Zechariah 11:9-11). E. He is contemptuously Rejected ( Zechariah 11:12-13). F. The Result ( Zechariah 11:14). G. A worthless Shepherd takes Charge (vats, 15, 16). H. This Shepherd Punished ( Zechariah 11:17).

1Open, O Lebanon, thy doors,

And let fire devour thy cedars.[FN1]

2Howl, cypress, for the cedar has fallen,

For the lofty are laid waste;

Howl, ye oaks of Bashan,

For the high[FN2] forest has gone down.

3 A sound of the howling of the shepherds!

For their glory is laid waste;

A sound of the roaring of young lions!

For the pride of Jordan is laid waste.

4Thus saith Jehovah, my God,

Feed[FN3] the flock of slaughter;[FN4]

5 Whose buyers slaughter them and are not guilty,

And their sellers say, Blessed be Jehovah, for I am getting rich,[FN5]

And their own shepherds spare them not.

6 For I will no more spare the inhabitants of the land, saith Jehovah,

And behold I give up the men,

Each into the hand of his neighbor and into the hand of his king,

And they lay waste[FN6] the land,

And I will not deliver out of their hand.

7 And I fed[FN7] the flock of slaughter, therefore[FN8] the most miserable sheep,[FN9] and I took to myself two staves; the one[FN10] I called Beauty, the other I called Bands,8 and I fed the flock. And I cut off the three[FN11] shepherds in one month, and my9 soul became impatient with them, and their soul also abhorred me. And I said,

I will not feed you,

The dying, let it die,

And the cut off, let it be cut off,

And the remaining, let them devour each the flesh of the other.

10And I took my staff Beauty and broke it asunder in order to destroy my covenant with all peoples.[FN12] 11And it was destroyed in that day, and thus[FN13] the wretched of the flock, who gave heed to me, knew that this was the word of Jehovah 12 And I said to them, If it seem good to yon, give me my wages;[FN14] and if not, forbear 13 And they weighed as my wages thirty[FN15] pieces of silver. And Jehovah said to me, Throw it to the potter, the noble price at which I am valued by them; and I took the thirty pieces of silver, and threw it into the house of Jehovah, to the potter 14 And I broke my second staff, Bands, to destroy the brotherhood[FN16] between Judah and Israel.

15 And Jehovah said to me, Take again the implements[FN17] of a foolish shepherd,

16 For, behold, I raise up a shepherd in the land,

The perishing[FN18] he will not visit,

The straying[FN19] will he not seek for,

And the wounded he will not heal,

The strong[FN20] will he not feed;

But the flesh of the fat one he will eat,

And their hoofs he will break off.

Wo to the worthless[FN21] shepherd who forsakes[FN22] the flock!

A sword upon his arm!

And upon his right eye!

His arm shall be utterly withered,

And his right eye utterly blinded.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

This chapter, on any view of its meaning, presents a marked contrast to the tenor of chaps9,10. The latter are full of encouragement. They speak much of conflict, but uniformly represent the covenant people as victorious, and paint a bright picture of increase, prosperity, and happiness. Here, on the contrary, is a sad scene of general overthrow caused by deliberate and persistent wickedness. The explanation is well given by Calvin: “These predictions appear to contradict one another. But it was necessary that the blessings of God should first of all be announced to the Jews in order that they might engage with greater alacrity in the work of building the temple, and feel assured that they were not wasting their time. It was now desirable to address them in a different style, lest, as was too generally the case, hypocrites should be hardened by their vain confidence in these promises. It was also requisite, in order that the faithful should take alarm in time, and earnestly draw near to God; since nothing is more destructive than false security; and whenever sin is committed without restraint, the judgment of God is close at hand.” Just then, as in the former part of the book, there is interjected, in the midst of a series of encouraging symbolical visions, a pair of representations ( Zechariah 6.) setting forth the certainty and severity of the punishment of wickedness, so here, after exhibiting Judæa’s protection from Alexander, and also (with a passing glance at Zion’s future king, Messiah) the triumph of the Maccabees and the recovery of former strength and influence, the Prophet passes on to lift the veil from the final outcome of Jewish obduracy, and its terrible results.

The first three verses describe the ruin of the entire land, in words arranged with great rhetorical power, full of poetic imagery and lively dramatic movement. Then the cause of this widespread desolation is set forth, not by vision as in the earlier portion, but by symbolical action or process subjectively wrought. Israel is a flock doomed to perish by the divine judgment. The Prophet personating his Lord makes an effort to avert the threatened infliction. He therefore assumes the office of shepherd, equipped with staves fitted to secure success. He seeks to rid them of false leaders, and win them to ways of truth and right. But the attempt is vain, because of their obdurate wickedness, and the issue is a mutual recoil. He loathes them; they abhor him. Accordingly he significantly breaks his staves in token that all is over. But after breaking one, and before doing the same to the other, the shepherd asks a reward for his unavailing effort. He receives one, but it is so trifling that he had better have received none. They insult him with the offer of the price of a slave ( Zechariah 11:4-14). Then the scene changes. Instead of a wise, kind shepherd, the Prophet personates one of an opposite character. The gentle crooks, Beauty and Bands, are replaced by knives and battle-axes. The flock, so far from being fed and guided and guarded, is torn and devoured, and then at last its misguided rulers are smitten and palsied, and so the curtain falls ( Zechariah 11:15-17).

Zechariah 11:1-3 are a vivid poetical apostrophe, introductory to what follows in the rest of the chapter. A fierce conflagration sweeps over the land, devouring alike mountain forests, and lowland pastures; and a cry of despair is heard from man and beast.

Zechariah 11:1. Open, O Lebanon, etc. Instead of simply declaring that Lebanon shall be devastated, the Prophet summons the lofty mountain to open its doors for the consuming fire.

Zechariah 11:2. Howl, cypress, for the cedar, etc. Continuing his apostrophe, he calls on the less important trees to bewail the fall of the stately cedars as foreshadowing their own impending doom, for if the steep inaccessible forest on the mountain side is prostrated, much more must the cypresses and oaks be consumed. But the crashing ruin extends yet further.

Zechariah 11:3. A sound of the howling of the shepherds! The flames spread over the low grounds and pastures of the wilderness, and the Prophet hears the outcry of the shepherds over the destruction of what is their hope and dependence. With this is mingled the roaring of young lions, driven by the fiery blast from their favorite lair, the thickets on the river banks, known as the pride of the Jordan ( Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 1:44), so called because the luxuriant bushes and reeds inclose the stream with a garland of fresh and beautiful verdure.

To what does this vivid and startling representation refer? (1.) Avery old Jewish interpretation makes it descriptive of the overthrow of the temple, which is here called Lebanon, because so much of the wood of that goodly mountain was used in its construction. So Eusebius, Jerome, Grotius, and Henderson. But this, as Calvin says, is frigid. Indeed, it gives no explanation of Bashan, or of Zechariah 11:3. (2.) Others applied it to Jerusalem, which is liable to the same objection. (3.) Most of the moderns refer it to the holy land, some supposing that the cedars, cypresses, etc, denote heathen rulers who are swept away by a general judgment (Hoffman, Umbreit, Kliefoth); others holding that these terms denote the chief men of Israel (Hitzig, Maurer, Hengstenberg, Ewald). But any such close pressing of a passage like this, the most vigorous and poetical in all the book, is both needless and unwise. Standing as a prelude to the fearful doom of the flock of slaughter, it is simply a highly figurative representation of the overthrow of all that is lofty and glorious and powerful in the nation and kingdom of the Jews. The choice of the local terms used (Lebanon, Bashan, etc.) may have been suggested by Zechariah 10:10; but even if not Song of Solomon, they may very well stand for the whole kingdom. A poet is not to be bound by the rules of a historiographer. Pressel, quite consistently with his general view of the second part of Zechariah, sees in this prelude only a literal description of the march of Tiglath Pileser, when he invaded Israel in the days of Pekah ( 2 Kings 15:29). But surely the Assyrian king did not set fire to the cedars of Lebanon or the reeds of the Jordan.

Zechariah 11:4-14. A justly celebrated section, of which Pressel says it “exhibits Isaiah’s power and beauty of language, as well as his fullness of Messianic thought.” By command of Jehovah the prophet assumes the office of a shepherd over his flock, and feeds it until he is compelled by its ingratitude to break his staves of office and give up the sheep to destruction.

Zechariah 11:4. Thus saith Jehovah. To whom does He speak? The earlier interpreters said, to the Angel of the Lord or Messiah. But this is disproved by the commission in Zechariah 11:15 given to the same person: Take again the implements of a foolish shepherd, seq.,—language which, as all admit, could not be addressed to the Messiah. Others say that the prophet in his individual capacity is addressed (Hitzig, Ewald, et al.), but the whole strain of the passage, the illustrative parallels in other prophets, the destroying of other shepherds ( Zechariah 11:8), and the thirty pieces of silver, all show that Zechariah in person could not have been intended. It remains then to view him as addressed in his typical or representative capacity, not, however, as standing either for the prophetic order (Hoffman), or the mediatorial office (Köhler), for no human agency could possibly perform the works here recounted; but as personating the great Being who was predicted by Isaiah,, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, under the form of the Good Shepherd. Flock of slaughter. Not the whole human race (Hoffman), but, as nearby all agree, the nation of Israel. Their condition is farther described in the next verse.

Zechariah 11:5. Whose buyers, etc. Not “possessors,” as E. V, but “buyers,” both because this is the primary signification of the word, and because the antithesis of “sellers” in the next clause requires it. These buyers and sellers are those who do just as they please with the covenant people, consulting only their own interests. The one class slaughter them and are not guilty, i. e., do not incur blame, so far, at least, as the mere act is concerned, since they only execute what is a righteous punishment from God. This statement is just the reverse of the one in Jeremiah 2:3, “Israel is holy to Jehovah … all who devour him become guilty, evil will come upon them,” where it appears that while Israel was holy, none could injure him without incurring guilt. Now, however, the case is different. Cf. Jeremiah 51:6 (in Hebrew), where the same word, אָשַׁם, is used. The other class say, Blessed be Jehovah, etc, i. e., they make merchandise of the people, and yet consider the gains thus made perfectly honest, such as they can properly thank God for bestowing. These buyers and sellers are heathen rulers and oppressors. The last clause completes the picture by setting forth their own shepherds, i. e., their domestic rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, as those who do not spare them,—a pregnant negative.

Zechariah 11:6. For I will no more … saith Jehovah. This verse assigns the reason for the direction given in Zechariah 11:4. Jehovah, being about to visit upon his people the just desert of their sins, will yet make one more effort to save them. If this fails, they will be given up to the worst evils, namely, inward discord and subjugation to a stranger. Thus apprehended, the land is the land of Israel, and its inhabitants=the flock of slaughter (Calvin, Hengstenberg). Others (Keil, Köhler) take the phrase as=the nations of the world, and suppose the sense to be that Jehovah will no longer suffer them to oppress his people with impunity. This is grammatically possible, but needlessly diverts the current of thought in the passage, which is the sins and sufferings of the chosen people. His king, i. e., foreign oppressor. Cf. Hosea 11:5. The last clause fitly completes the sad picture.

Zechariah 11:7. And I fed, etc. The prophet assumes the duty enjoined upon him. He undertakes to discharge the functions of a shepherd to a flock which is in a very sad condition,—so much so as to be already devoted to destruction. That Isaiah, dropping the figure, he proposes to guide and feed and defend a people so wicked and hardened that they are on the point of. being given over to the just retribution of their sinful ways. He begins by assuming the implements of office. I took … two staves, such as shepherds use. One of these he named נֹעַם which most expositors (Ewald, Umbreit, Keil, Henderson) render, Grace or Favor, but it is better to adhere to the primary: signification of the word, Beauty or Loveliness. (Hitzig, Hengstenberg, Maurer, Köhler), as in Psalm 27:4; Psalm 90:17, beauty of Jehovah=all that makes Him an object of affection or desire. Of course, the staff denotes the loveliness, not of the people (Bleek), but of God. The other staff he named תֹוֵלִם. This word the LXX. (σχοίνι̇σμα) and the Vulgate (funiculi) seem to have read as if pointed, תֲבָלִים for which there is no authority. As it stands, the word is masc. plural of Kal participle. Luther, and many others after him, render “destroyers,” but the verb never has this meaning in the Kal. Another class render it “the bound” or “the allied” (Hitzig, Hengstenberg, Maurer, Kliefoth), but this would require a passive participle. It only remains to adopt the legitimate, natural sense—“binders, or binding ones” (Marckius, Gesenius, Fürst, Keil). The plural may be explained as a plural of excellence, and the general sense is well enough expressed by the E. V, bands. (Gesenius says, Constringens poetice pro fune). And I fed the flock, i. e., with these two staves, one indicating God’s favor and protection from outward foes; the other, an internal union and fellowship. The next verse shows what he did in the discharge of this office.

Zechariah 11:8. And I cut off. … one day. Who are the three shepherds? Forty different answers have been given, which may thus be classified: (1.) Those who referred them to individuals, from Jerome’s Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, to Calmet’s Roman emperors, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. The impossibility of any agreement upon the point shows that three distinct persons cannot be intended. (2.) The “later criticism” maintains that the three shepherds are the three kings of Israel, Zechariah, Shallum, and Menahem; but these were not cut off in one month, and even if that designation of time were referred (as it cannot be) to the duration of their reigns, it would apply only to one of them, Shallum; 2 Kings 15:10-13. Nor was their cutting off an act of mercy even to Israel, which the cutting off in the text is evidently meant to be. (3.) Others suppose that the phrase points to the three imperial rulers who became liege-lords of the covenant nation, i. e., the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Macedonian dynasties (Ebrard, Kliefoth, Köhler, Keil). But it is not consistent with usage to call these shepherds; in no conceivable sense were they cut off in one month; when cut off they were succeeded by another, a fourth, quite as much an oppressor of God’s people as they were; and besides, Babylon was already destroyed at the time Zechariah wrote. (4.) It is better to fall back on the old opinion (Theodoret, Cyril), that the three shepherds are the three orders by which Israel was ruled,—the civil authorities, the priests, and the prophets. These three classes are mentioned together in Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 2:18 as perverters of the nation and causers, of its destruction. And although in the future to which the passage refers, there were no longer prophets, yet there was a class, the Scribes or teachers of the law, who stood in the same relation to the people, and partly, at least, discharged the same functions. See the three classes mentioned by our Lord in Matthew 16:21. In one month=in a period which is long when compared with one day, but brief as contrasted with other periods of time. “It shows that the extermination of the three shepherds is not to be regarded as a single act like the expiation ( Zechariah 3:9), but as a continuous act which occupies some time” (Hengstenberg). The plural suffix, בָהֶם in the next clause, My soul became impatient … abhorred me, by the earlier interpreters and by Hengstenberg, Kliefoth, et al., is referred to the shepherds, but it is certainly more natural to refer it to “the flock” in Zechariah 11:7, and consider the clause as furnishing the reason of the rejection stated in the next verse, which is evidently aimed at the Jewish nation as a whole. The Good Shepherd lost patience with their perverse impenitence, and they, on the other hand, loathed him for his spirituality and holiness.

Zechariah 11:9. And I said. … flesh of the other. The shepherd renounces his flock. I will not feed you, i. e., I will no longer be your shepherd. The futures in the second half of the verse are by some taken strictly as predictions, but it is more vivid and more natural, like the older versions, to render them optatively in the sense of surrender. All kindly control is withdrawn, and the flock is left to receive the appropriate consequences of its fatal rejection of the means of deliverance. The three forms of calamity mentioned are death by natural causes, plague or famine; violence, at the hand of foreign foe; and intestine discord. On the last clause, compare Isaiah 9:20-21. The fulfillment of these words in the history of Jerusalem is well known.

Zechariah 11:10. And I took my staff. … nations. What is predicted in the foregoing verse is here exhibited in a symbolical action—the breaking of the staff, Beauty,—the explanation of which is immediately added. The Lord will remove the restraint which He had hitherto laid upon the enmity of foreign nations. See this restraint from violence expressed in the form of a covenant in Job 5:23; Hosea 2:18; Ezekiel 34:25. עַמִּים has here its usual sense of peoples or nations, and not that of the tribes of Israel, as Calvin and some of the moderns affirm (cf. Zechariah 12:6; Micah 4:5).

Zechariah 11:11. And it was destroyed … word of Jehovah. The covenant was annulled, just as the staff had been broken; the thing signified answered to the sign. This was not observed by the flock at large, but the wretched portion of it, the small company who gave heed to the Lord (cf. John 10:4-5; John 10:14-15), recognized the fulfillment of a divine word (cf. Jeremiah 32:8). “In that day,” i. e., that in which the staff was broken.

Zechariah 11:12. And I said to them … pieces of silver. To them would at first sight refer to the wretched among the sheep just mentioned, but the connection, and the form of the inquiry, which aims simply to ascertain whether they are willing to acknowledge and appreciate his pastoral care, show that it must be addressed to the whole flock. His leaving the matter to their pleasure—“if it seem good,”—indicates that he served them not for wages, but in obedience to the Divine will (Köhler). The wages, however, were due. They are usually explained to mean repentance and faith or heartfelt piety. What they offered was thirty pieces of silver, the compensation for a slave who had been killed ( Exodus 21:32), the price for which a female slave could be purchased ( Hosea 3:2). Such an offer was “more offensive than a direct refusal” (Hengstenberg). Accordingly it was contemptuously rejected, as the next verse shows.

Zechariah 11:13. And Jehovah said … to the potter. As the prophet acted in the name of the Lord, the Lord regards the wages of the shepherd as offered to Himself, and therefore tells his representative what to do with the miserable sum. “The noble price at which I am valuedIsaiah, of course, an ironical expression,—one of the few instances in Scripture in which that form of speech occurs, This renders it exceedingly improbable that the Lord would direct such a sum to be put into the I treasury, as many interpret his words, “Throw to the potter,” to mean, either taking יוֹצֵר to be a copyist’s error for אוֹצָר=treasury or treasurer (Syr, Kimchi, et al.); or altering the last vowel: of the former, and making it synonymous with the latter (Jahn, Hitzig); or deriving the word from the intransitive יצר to be narrow, and rendering it “cleft in the treasure chest,” which Pressel claims as a well-grounded and simple explanation! There is no authority for altering the text, and יוֹצֵר always means an image-maker or potter. It seems clear that the phrase is a sort of proverb, and is used contemptuously, like our common saying, Throw it to the dogs. So much is evident, even if we reject the account which Hengstenberg gives of its origin. He argues from Jeremiah 18:2; Jeremiah 19:2, that there was a potter employed about the Temple, that his workshop was in the Valley of Hinnom, which from the time of Josiah had been fearfully polluted in every possible way, and that hence his pottery became an unclean spot. He insists that our passage contains an allusion to the act of Jeremiah (Zech 19) when, with several of the elders and priests he went to the Valley of Hinnom, and there broke a potter’s earthen vessel, and said, “Even so will I do unto this place, saith the Lord, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel that cannot be made whole again, and they shall bury them in Tophet because there is no more room … and I will make this city like Tophet.” Hengstenberg claims that the casting of the thirty pieces to the potter was simply a renewal of the old symbol and a fresh pledge of God’s purpose to punish. It is objected to this view with much force that the potter did not certainly dwell in Hinnom, and that if he did, this fact would not make him personally unclean. Köhler explains the phrase as meaning, “The sum is just large enough to pay a potter for the pitchers and pots which he furnishes, and which are thought of so little value that men are easily comforted for the breaking of any by the thought that others can readily be obtained in their stead.” This, however, does not account for the word “Throw,” which is emphatic. It is best to rest in the general conception of a contemptuous rejection of the offered wages. In the execution of the command the prophet threw the money in the house of Jehovah, which Hengstenberg explains as meaning that it was to be carried thence to the potter, in reply to which it is justly said that if that were the prophet’s meaning, he expresses himself very obscurely. The circumstance Isaiah, no doubt, significant, and may express either that the rejection of the wages was done in Jehovah’s name and by his authority, or that being done in the sanctuary where the people assembled for worship, it indicated that they would be held accountable for their course. This shameful payment by the people leads to another token of Jehovah’s displeasure.

Zechariah 11:14. And I broke … and Israel. The evil threatened here is worse than the former. It is the loss of all fraternal unity, represented under the figure of the old disruption of the nation in the time of Jeroboam. This verse is a sad difficulty in the way of those who refer the composition of the Second Part of Zechariah to a period prior to the Captivity, for to account for this verse they must put the period back to the days of Song of Solomon, which is quite inconceivable. The breaking up of the nation into parties bitterly hostile to each other, was one of the most marked peculiarities of the later Jewish history, and greatly accelerated the ruin of the popular cause in the Roman war.

Zechariah 11:15-17. Since Israel rejected the good shepherd, they should be tended by shepherds of a very different class. This truth is represented by fresh symbolical action.

Zechariah 11:15. And Jehovah said … shepherd. Again points back to Zechariah 11:7, and shows that the present action is of the same symbolic character as the one there recorded. A crook, a bag, a pipe, a knife, etc, were the articles usually carried by shepherds. The nature of these other implements is not specified, but they were doubtless of a character fitted rather to injure than to benefit the flock. Foolish, with the usual Scriptural implication of wickedness. “The term directs attention to the fact that the rulers of the nation are so blinded by the judicial punishment inflicted by God, as to be unable to see that whilst their fury is directed against the nation they are undermining their own welfare” (Hengstenberg). Who is meant by this evil shepherd? The “later critics” say, Pekah, or Hosea, or Menahem. Others say, Herod (Henderson), the Romans (Hoffman, Köhler, Keil), or the whole body of native rulers (Hengstenberg). I prefer to combine the last two and understand the shepherd to represent the ruling power in whomsoever vested. The point of the prediction is that just they who ought to protect and aid the people would oppress and destroy them. They are presented in the form of an ideal unity in order to complete the antithesis to the one good shepherd. The next verse describes the conduct of this evil ruler.

Zechariah 11:16. For behold I raise … break off. He does the very opposite of what Christ is represented as doing in Isaiah 42:3. He not merely neglects, but destroys (cf Ezekiel 34:3-4). The perishing. The present rendering in the text is equally grammatical with the past adopted in E. V, and more consistent with the verb visit. The whole verse is striking in its complete enumeration of particulars, showing how far this evil ruler falls short of what is involved in the oriental conception of a shepherd. The history of Israel after the flesh furnishes for centuries one continuous commentary upon the fidelity of this delineation. The breaking off of hoofs expresses the ferocious greed of the shepherds who will rend even these extremities rather than lose a shred of the flesh. This is better than the view (Ewald, Hitzig) which makes it refer to injuries caused by driving the flock over rough and stony roads. But these merciless masters are to meet due retribution.

Zechariah 11:17. Woe to the worthless … blinded. The arm is the organ of strength, the right eye of vigilance. As these are the members which instead of guarding the flock as they should have done, shamefully abused it, they are specified as the objects of punishment. The apparent jumble of metaphorical expressions in threatening a sword upon the arm and the eye, and then declaring that the former shall be withered and the other blinded, has led some (Jahn, Bunsen, Pressel) to give to חֶרֶב the pointing חֹרֶב=dryness (as Vulgate. Arab, and Sam. have done in Deuteronomy 28:22). But it is better to allow that the Prophet connects several punishments together in order to render prominent the greatness of the retribution. The sacred writers are not concerned about the requirements of an artificial rhetoric where the sense is abundantly plain (cf. Isaiah 62:5). A similar reason may have led Rosenmüller to follow the Chaldee in changing the verse from the liveliest poetry into the jejunest prose by rendering, “Woe to the shepherd who is like a butcher, whose knife is in his hand and whose eye is upon the sheep to slay them.”

THEOLOGICAL AND MORAL

1. The rejection of Israel after the flesh is the one sad subject of this chapter. The picture is wholly dark, unrelieved by a single ray of light. The impression made by the opening verses, the vivid startling prelude, is deepened all the way through to the end. A whirlwind of flame sweeps through the entire land, laying waste mountain and plain, forests and meadows, and drying up even streams and rivers. Men and beasts are overtaken together, and their cries of terror and despair indicate the completeness of the fiery ruin. It seems as if the Prophet, rising with the awful grandeur of his theme, had condensed into a few poetic lines the substance of the long chapters in which Moses of old had predicted the divine judgment upon an unfaithful people. The national Israel had enjoyed peculiar privileges, but such privileges always draw with them increased responsibility. As Jehovah said by the mouth of Amos ( Zechariah 3:2), “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities.” Repeatedly in the course of their previous history had God visited them with his rod, but there had always been a recovery. War, pestilence, or famine had executed his wrath; or they were sold into the hand of their enemies for a longer or shorter period; and once they had actually been transplanted into a foreign land where they remained for more than two generations. But in the end the rod was lifted off, and they resumed their former condition. Now, however, there was to be a final act of judgment, one summing up in itself all that had gone before, and expressing once for all the wrath of God upon obdurate impenitence. The unfaithful trustees should be dispossessed of their trust, their precious inheritance given to others, and themselves cast out to become a hissing and a by word. Foreign foes and civil discords would concur to work their destruction, and they who should be their protectors would become their oppressors. So without friends or helpers in heaven or on earth, they would pass away as an organized nation, and live only to perpetuate the memory of their past history, and teach more vividly its great lessons of sin and retribution.

2. But prior to the consummation of this great act of judgment, before the fire was yet kindled, the Lord determined to make one last effort to save the wretched people. This is set forth in the striking symbolism of the chapter, by a shepherd who offers to take charge of the flock notwithstanding its miserable condition. Instead of bearing a single crook, he is furnished with two staves. These have names, expressing in one case the divine favor which wards off all external foes; in the other, union or concord, which when it exists excludes the evils sure to be engendered by mutual distrust and alienation. But the diligence and affection of the shepherd produced no effect. The fore-doomed flock turned away from him with loathing. The kindly effort miserably failed. The passage bears a striking analogy to the parable of the wicked husbandmen ( Matthew 21:33-34; Mark 12:1-12). The lord of the vineyard had repeatedly sent messengers to receive of its fruits, but these were abused and injured as often as they were sent. “At last he sent his Song of Solomon, saying, They will reverence my Son.” But even this means failed. The Son was no more regarded than the servants had been. On the contrary, he was cast out of the vineyard and slain. The contemporary Jews, when asked by our Lord what would be the fate of these wicked husbandmen, answered promptly that they would be miserably destroyed, and the vineyard let out to others who would render the fruits in their season. They thus pronounced their own sentence. For the Saviour, after reminding them of the stone which the builders rejected and which yet became the head of the corner, declared with great solemnity, “Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Nothing more was to be done. The last and crowning manifestation of the divine mercy had been made, and yet, so far from awakening and reclaiming the infatuated people, it only incensed them, and brought wrath and ill-doing upon the bearer of the message. Just so with the flock Zechariah describes. They had the services of Him who justly calls himself the Good Shepherd, under whom all may find protection and repose, green pastures, and running streams. But they would none of Him. He came unto his own, and his own received Him not. There was a deliberate and peremptory rejection of God’s unspeakable gift. When the furious crowd, gathered before the tribunal of Pilate, rent the air with shouts, “Away with Him, crucify Him,” the Roman governor asked in wonder, Shall I crucify your king f Instantly came the startling answer from the heads of the nation, “We have no king but Cassar” ( John 19:15). These decisive words terminated the case. Pilate ceased to remonstrate, and gave sentence that it should be as they required. Then was filled the measure of Israel’s iniquity. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now have they no cloke for their sin. … If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father” ( John 15:22-24). Israel rejected the good shepherd, and was itself in turn rejected. The two staves were broken, and he who held them relinquished his office. Neither Beauty nor Bands any longer performed their grateful function. To break a shepherd’s crook is a very simple Acts, but as performed by one who represented the Good Shepherd, it expressed a most fearful truth—the final abandonment of the flock by the only being who could feed, guide, or defend it. Ever since, the miserable sheep have experienced the weight of Jehovah’s words: Woe unto them when I depart from them!

3. The consideration of the interesting critical and exegetical questions suggested by the quotation of Zechariah 11:12-13, in Matthew 27:9-10, properly belongs to the interpretation of that Gospel. See Lange in loc. Although the Evangelist attributes the language he cites to Jeremiah, there can scarcely be a doubt that he does in fact quote from Zechariah. The case then is one which illustrates very well the principle upon which such applications of the Old Testament are made. The substance of the thought contained in Zechariah 11:12-13, is that the services of the good shepherd were contemptuously undervalued and rejected by the flock, and that this scornful rejection was indignantly rebuked by the Lord. Now this would have been fulfilled even had there been no sale by Judas for a precise sum of money, and no application of that money to a specific purpose. Just as in the corresponding case in Zechariah 9:9-10, the prediction respecting our Lord’s lowly and peaceful position and character would have been accomplished, had He not made his formal entry into Jerusalem riding upon an ass. But it pleased the Lord in that case and in this, not only to fulfill the general purport of the prediction, but even to bring about an exact correspondence in minor and unessential details. Thus in the prophecy, Israel depreciates the worth of the shepherd’s services, estimating them at thirty pieces of silver; in the narrative of the gospels it appears that this is the precise sum for which the Saviour was betrayed. In the prophecy, the sum paid for the possession of the shepherd was indignantly cast away by him; in the history it was so ordered by the Lord that the priests and elders did not dare to put in the treasury the price, of the Saviour’s blood, for they said, “it is not lawful.” In the prophecy the thirty pieces of silver are thrown to the potter, i. e., contemptuously spurned, yet this is done in the temple; in the history the money which the wretched traitor had received was brought back by him to those who had given it, and when they declined to take it, “he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple;” but the ecclesiastical authorities, unwilling to apply the coin to any sacred use, devoted it to the purchase of ground to be used as a burying place for strangers, and the land which they purchased was “the potter’s field,” a field which doubtless was selected because it was so broken and marred as to be unfit for agricultural purposes, but which yet in its very name contained a peculiar suggestiveness. Thus did divine providence bring about a striking correspondence between the symbolical treatment and action of the prophet and the actual course of events in the betrayal and rejection of our Saviour.

4. The choice of men never lies between a good shepherd and none at all, but between a good shepherd and a bad one. Israel of old rejected the gracious provision offered by the Lord Jesus, and the alternative was ruin. The language of the prophet is vigorous and incisive. He describes a shepherd who not only fails in every duty of his office, but does the exact opposite, wounding where he should heal, and devouring whom he should feed, until the flock is miserably destroyed. But even more forcible are the words of the Saviour ( Luke 19:41), when he wept over Jerusalem, saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave one stone upon another, because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation.” The fulfillment of these fearful words is well known. The ruin of the place and people was overwhelming. Scarce any siege in the history of the world was attended with such cruelties and horrors as preceded and followed the fall of Jerusalem. There was a deliberate and energetic effort to exterminate the race. The whole power of the Roman Empire was brought to bear upon this one province, as Merivale says, “with a barbarity of which no other example occurs in the records of civilization.” And the subsequent history of the Jews for many centuries illustrated in the same manner the symbol of Zechariah. Their rulers were evil shepherds, mock shepherds. Giving nothing, they exacted everything. They taxed, they pillaged, they oppressed, they insulted, habitually and on principle. The Jew was an outcast without any rights, and when tolerated it was only as a sponge to be squeezed when it was full. The furious crowd in the judgment hall of Pilate said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” They were taken at their word, and the self-imposed malediction followed them from age to age and from country to country, and does not seem even yet to have been exhausted.

5. God often uses instruments which He afterwards destroys, scourging with a rod and then breaking the rod and casting it into the fire. The worthless shepherds who battened like vultures on the wretched flock of Judæa, the haughty Romans who inflicted the divine judgments upon the apostate and incorrigible nation, were themselves in turn exposed to a righteous retribution. The time came when there was a sword upon their arms and their eyes. She who had spoiled so many lands and peoples was herself spoiled, and the city which had gathered into her walls the precious things of all the earth became the prey of the barbarian. Her former inhabitants have disappeared from the face of the earth, and new races occupy their seats, while the Jew still lives, the lineal and indubitable descendant of the men among whom our Lord was born and by whom He was rejected. The arch of Titus commemorates in pictured stone the overthrow of Judæa and the plunder of its sacred vessels, but it likewise commemorates the overthrow of the conqueror and the utter ruin of that vast empire which survives only in these mute relies of its ancient grandeur.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Moore: Zechariah 11:6. Wicked rulers are a curse of God on a wicked nation. Now as religion tends to prevent such rulers, or at least prevent their choice, there is an obvious connection between politics and religion. Church and State may and ought to be separated; politics and religion ought not, for thus the State becomes exposed to the curse of God, and political evil follows in the train of moral evil.

Zechariah 11:7. Bands. Union of feeling in a people is a mark of the favor of God, and disunion a token of his wrath, and usually the beginning of a downfall.

Zechariah 11:8. Christ cannot be rejected with impunity. Even the Jews who “did it ignorantly in unbelief,” paid a terrible penalty for their crime; how much more terrible will be the punishment of those who have all their unbelief without any of their ignorance.

Zechariah 11:12. Men now sometimes reject Christ for a far less reward than thirty pieces of silver, and of course with far more guilt than Judas.

Wordsworth: Zechariah 11:10. Break my covenant with all peoples. “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel, for the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” ( Deuteronomy 32:8-9). This was God’s compact with all nations and with Israel. He assigned a special inheritance to Judah; and no people could deprive them of it as long as they were true to Him. But now that they have rejected Christ, He has broken that compact; Jerusalem is trodden down by the Gentiles, and the Jews are wanderers and outcasts in all lands.

Zechariah 11:15. A foolish Shepherd. Good shepherds, says Cyril, have a light pastoral staff by which they guide the sheep; but the evil shepherd maltreats and belabors the sheep with rude handling. So in spiritual things, the good Christian pastor deals gently, tenderly, and lovingly with his flock; but the bad pastor is impatient and rules them with roughness and violence; and does not bring back the sheep when astray, nor guard them against the wolf and the robber, nor heal those which are sick; and does not feed them with the wholesome food of sound doctrine, but with poisonous heresies.

Zechariah 11:17. The Idol Shepherd. It would not be easy to point out any other shepherd who makes himself to be an idol, except the Bishop of Rome. That he does make himself into an idol is certain. The first act that he performs after his election is to go into the Church of St. Peter, and there taking his seat upon the high altar to claim and receive adoration from the cardinals who kiss his feet. Among the medals struck in the Roman mint is one representing the cardinals kneeling before the Pope, with this inscription, Quem creant, adorant. Count Montalembert, in a letter written from his death-bed, February28, 1870, protested against those votaries of the papacy who, as he says, “trample under foot all our liberties and principles, in order to immolate justice and truth, reason and history, as a sacrifice to the idol which they have set up for themselves in the Vatican.”

Calvin. A Prayer: Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast hitherto so patiently endured, not only our sloth and folly but also our ingratitude and pcrverseness,—O grant, that we may hereafter render ourselves submissive and obedient to Thee; and as thou hast been pleased to set over us the best of Shepherds, even thine only begotten Song of Solomon, cause us willingly to attend to. Him, and to suffer ourselves to be gently ruled by Him; and though thou mayest find in us what may justly provoke thy wrath, yet restrain extreme severity, and so correct what is sinful in us, as to continue our Shepherd until we shall at length under thy guidance reach thy heavenly kingdom; and thus keep us in thy fold and under thy pastoral staff, that at last, being separated from the goats, we may enjoy that blessed inheritance which has been ordained for us by the blood of thy beloved Son.—Amen.

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Zechariah 11:1.—Perhaps it would be more exact to render, “devour among thy cedars.” Of. 2 Samuel 18:8 for the use of אֽכל with the preposition בְ.

FN#2 - Zechariah 11:2.—For בָצוֹר many MSS. and two early editions read בָצִיר which is also found in the Keri; but it is generally considered to be a needless attempt at correction. The Kethib is lit, cut off, h. inaccessible, which Dr. Riggs gives in his emendations.

FN#3 - Zechariah 11:4.—.רְעֵה Feed is a miserably inadequate version of this word It means to perform the whole work of a shepherd, of which feeding is but one part. Guiding, defending, and ruling are also included. The same is true of the Greek equivalent ποιμαινῶ but not of the Latin pasco.

FN#4 - Zechariah 11:4.—“Flock of Slaughter” Keil renders of strangling, and says that the cognate verb “does not mean to slay but to strangle” If it has this meaning in the cognate Arabic form, which I doubt, it is certainly lost in the Hebrew. See any of the Lexicons or Concordances, צאׄן הַהֲרֵגָה=צאׄן טִבְחָה ( Psalm 44:23). The flock destined or accustomed to be slaughtered.

FN#5 - Zechariah 11:5.—וַאעְשׁר is merely a syncopated form of ואַעְשיר The vav expresses consequence, and is translated accordingly. The tenses are futures expressing continued action. The plural verbs are employed in a distributive sense; they, i. e., each of them, will say, etc.

FN#6 - Zechariah 11:6. —כִתּהוּ lit-, smite in pieces=lay waste.

FN#7 - Zechariah 11:7.—The E. V. “and I will feed,” although it follows the LXX. and Vulgate, is opposed alike to grammar and to sense. The full force of the vav conv. Isaiah, “And so I fed.” Exactly the same form is found in the last clause of the verse.

FN#8 - Zechariah 11:7.—לָכֵן has been very variously rendered. The LXX. read it and the following word, as one, and so made Canaanite of it, which Blayney adopts. The Vulgate, propter hoc=therefore, is the usual sense of the word but confessedly hard here. Some (Kimchi, Ewald, Henderson) make it a noun with a preposition=in respect to truth, i. e, truly, but there is no other instance of the kind. Others (Hitzig) render on account of you, which also lacks authority, In this conflict of opinion, it is better to adhere to usage and render therefore; but then this cannot give the reason for the Shepherd’s assumption of his office as Hengstenberg claims, for it is too far from the verb; but must assign the consequence of the flock’s description, thus, And so I fed the flock of slaughter, therefore (i. e., because so named), a most miserable flock.

FN#9 - Zechariah 11:7.—עֲניֵי דַצאׄן is an emphatic positive=superlative, the most miserable sheep.

FN#10 - Zechariah 11:7.—אחד. Köhler insists that this must be regarded as a true construct, depending upon מהם understood, but it is better to take it as construct used for the absolute, as elsewhere (Green, H. G., § 223 a.).

FN#11 - Zechariah 11:8.—“The three shepherds.” Pressel shows that Köhler has quite failed to overthrow Hitzig’s assertion, that את־שְׁלשֶׁת הָרֹעִים must be thus translated (cf. Zechariah 11:12-13; Genesis 40:10; Genesis 40:12; Genesis 40:18).

FN#12 - Zechariah 11:10.—עַמִּים. Peoples. Cf. Text, and Gram, on Zechariah 8:20.

FN#13 - Zechariah 11:11.—כן. Not truly, nor therefore, but thus.

FN#14 - Ver12.—שׂכָרִי Not price (E. V.), but reward or wages. The word in the next verse, similarly but correctly rendered price in the E. V, is a totally different one, הַיְקָר.

FN#15 - Zechariah 11:12.—שֶׁקֶל as usual is omitted before רֶסֶף.

FN#16 - Zechariah 11:14.—אַחִַוָה—ἅπ. λεγ. Found in cognate languages and the Mishna. A token of post-exile composition.

FN#17 - Zechariah 11:15.—כְּלִי is a collective singular.

FN#18 - Zechariah 11:16.—הנִּכְ׳. The connection requires us to render the participle in the present, instead of the past, as E. V. “cut off.”

FN#19 - Ver16.—נַעַר is with LXX, Vulg, and Syr. to be taken as formed from נער to shake, Piel, to disperser Arab ***=in fugam vertere (Gesenius, Fürst, et al.). Hengstenberg makes it the ordinary Hebrew word of the same radicals, but this is never applied to animals, and if it were, could not have the meaning which he claims, namely, tender.

FN#20 - Zechariah 11:16.—נִאָבָה. what stands upon its feet. i. e., is strong and healthy. Henderson derives it from an Arabic root =to be wearied, feeble, which he thinks required by the connection. But the picture is the more vivid when it shows all classes and conditions of the flock to be equally neglected. Dr. Riggs renders “the well (or sound).”

FN#21 - Zechariah 11:17.—אֱלִיל, not idol’s but worthless, or, as Köhler says, mock-shepherd. Dr. Riggs gives “Shepherd of vanity,” which itself needs interpretation.

FN#22 - Zechariah 11:17—רֹעִי,עֹזְבִי paragogic vowel (Green, H. G., § 61, 6 a.), found chiefly in poetical passages.

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Zechariah 11:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/zechariah-11.html. 1857-84.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
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