GOD’S JUDGMENT ALWAYS ACCOMPANIES THE REJECTION OF HIS WORTHY SHEPHERD AND ALLEGIANCE TOWARDS UNGODLY FALSE SUBSTITUTES
Before opening the window to give us a glimpse of Israel’s promising future, Zechariah shows the utter folly of the nation and its leaders in rejecting their Messiah. This scene speaks mainly of Christ’s first coming and the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
FOUR KEY PLAYERS IN THIS DRAMA OF HUMAN SHEPHERDING
I. (:1-3) THE WAILING SHEPHERDS –
As God’s Judgment Sweeps Through the Land
A. Judgment on the Glorious Cedars of Lebanon
“Open your doors, O Lebanon,
That a fire may feed on your cedars.
Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen,
Because the glorious trees have been destroyed”
Constable: The prophet announced in vigorous poetic language that Lebanon’s famous cedars would perish. The Israelites referred to the royal palace in Jerusalem as Lebanon because it contained so much cedar from Lebanon (Jer. 22:23; cf. 1 Kings 7:2). The Talmud spoke of the second temple as Lebanon for the same reason.241 The cedar also became a symbol of the royal house of Judah (Ezek. 17:3-4, 12-13).
B. Judgment on the Impenetrable Oaks of Bashan
“Wail, O oaks of Bashan,
For the impenetrable forest has come down.”
C. Judgment on the Pride of Jordan
“There 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.”
Merrill: Attention to the following verses makes it rather apparent that the objects mentioned under the guise of trees and animals are the same as the shepherds. As already noted “shepherd” is a common way of referring to kings in the ancient Near East and the OT, an epithet particularly favored by Zechariah (10:2, 3; 11:3, 5, 8, 15, 16, 17; 13:7). The lament of the poem, then, introduces the occasion for the lament, namely, the destruction of the evil shepherds (11:8, 17).
Perhaps next in prominence to shepherd as metaphor for king is that of a plant, especially a tree. One thinks of the parable of Jotham, a son of Gideon who tried to warn his countrymen of the danger in allowing his brother Abimelech to become king over them after Gideon’s death (Judg. 9:7-15). He said that the trees sought one who could lead them, and they first asked the olive tree to do so. He refused, so the trees next asked the fig tree, who also declined. The vine similarly refused the invitation, but at length the bramble agreed to serve if they would meet his harsh terms. To Jotham, Abimelech was the bramble.
MacArthur: Those three verses are judgmental. They identify three different locations: Lebanon, Bashan, and Jordan. In the geography of Israel, that list begins in the north and descends to the south. It pictures judgment sweeping down like fire burning the vegetation in Lebanon and Bashan on down to the foliage around the Jordan Valley, where lions dwelt. The Holy Spirit used dramatic imagery to describe the ravaging of the whole land of Israel.
Zechariah was describing a fire of judgment that would consume the ungodly as a conflagration consumes trees. The trees symbolize portions of land. Lebanon was known for its cedars. The wood that was used to build Solomon’s Temple was from the cedars of Lebanon (1 Kings. 5).
Moving down from Lebanon, which is on the northern border of Israel, we come to the area of Bashan, which is east of the sea of Galilee. It was known for its oak trees. Descending further south we come to the Jordan Valley, in which runs the Jordan River, which extends from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. At one time there appears to have been dense, jungle-like foliage along both sides of the river.
I believe that the judgment God is speaking about here is an actual devastation. Although a literal fire that burns trees may not be involved, the devastation is not limited to spiritual judgment only. It includes the death of people as the land of Israel is being judged.
There’s an inevitability to this judgment. In verse 1 Lebanon is told to open its doors, as if there’s no sense in resisting. The fir and oak trees might as wail because cause if the mighty cedars, which are relatively inaccessible, go up in flames the other trees aren’t going to be able to stand. When the high and the mighty are fallen, every lesser tree is going to be unable to escape. Some people have likened these trees to the leadership of Israel, assuming this is a spiritual judgment on the hierarchy of Israel, which includes the priests, elders, scribes, and runs all the way down to the common people.
II. (:4-6) THE WATCHING SOVEREIGN –
As God’s Pity runs out and He withholds Deliverance
A. (:4-5a) The Doomed Flock
“Thus says the Lord my God, ‘Pasture the flock doomed to slaughter.
Those 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!’”
Constable: Those who bought sheep slew them (Heb. feminine) and went unpunished. This was bad because these were female sheep, ewes, intended for breeding and not for butchering. The slayers represent the foreign rulers who took over the Israelites, persecuted them, and had not paid the full penalty for their abusive treatment of them (Gen. 12:3). Those who sold the sheep were Israel’s former rulers and leaders who, by their sins, had set the people up for divine judgment by foreigners.
B. (:5b-6a) The Disinterested Shepherds
“’And their own shepherds have no pity on them. For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the land,’ declares the Lord;”
C. (:6b) The Devastated Land
“‘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.’”
Merrill: On balance, it appears best to understand this passage (v. 6) to mean that YHWH will withhold His compassion for His people Israel, delivering them instead to neighboring peoples and their kings who will beat down the land of Israel with no interference from YHWH. This, of course, is precisely what took place in the last decades of Israel’s and Judah’s history leading up to their respective captivities by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and on into the future as well.
III. (:7-14) THE WORTHY SHEPHERD = ZECHARIAH PREFIGURING THE MESSIAH –
As God’s anointed shepherd is betrayed for 30 pieces of silver
A. (:7-8) Commitment to Shepherding Symbolized by the Taking of Two Staffs
“So 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. Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul also was weary of me.”
Constable: The two shepherd’s staffs that he named “Favor” (Heb. no’am, pleasantness, graciousness) and “Union” (Heb. hobhelim, binders, unifiers) represented God’s blessing and the unity of the flock (Israel; cf. Ezek. 37:15-28).
Merrill: Zechariah says he shepherded the flock that, because it was destined for slaughter, was the most afflicted of the flock (v. 7). In this way he distinguishes between Israel as a whole and the oppressed remnant within Israel that had maintained its covenant faith. An indispensable instrument in shepherding was the shepherd’s staff, so Zechariah says he took two of them, one named “pleasantness” and the other “binders.” With these, he says, he shepherded the flock (v. 7). The former name speaks of the relationship between YHWH and His people (v. 10) and the latter of that between Israel and Judah (v. 14).
MacArthur: Verse 8 is difficult to interpret. I agree with those who say the three shepherds refer to the priests, elders, and scribes of Israel. I believe the Lord fulfilled the symbolism of bestowing grace and unity upon the populace, but when it came to the religious leaders He confronted their hypocrisy (Matt. 23). He “cut off” or disowned them with scathing denunciations. The time period of “one month” is best understood as referring to a short period of time.
B. (:9-11) Breaking of the First Staff = Favor (Beauty)
“Then 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.’ And I took my staff, Favor, and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. So 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.”
C. (:12-13) Contempt Shown to the Worthy Shepherd and the Word of God
“And I 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. Then 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.”
Silversides: Initially it speaks of Zechariah – but ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Here is the shepherd of Israel giving you the Word of God. What value do you place upon it? They should have said it is priceless to have the Word of God and His covenant blessings. But they valued it as 30 pieces of silver (Ex. 21:32) = the price of a slave gored by an ox. It was twice as much for a free man. Like saying “throw it to the dogs.” Matt. 27:3 Judas preferred 30 pieces of silver to Christ Himself – despising the goodness of God and the truth of God.
D. (:14) Breaking of the Second Staff = Union (Bands)
“Then I cut my second staff, Union, in pieces, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.”
Constable: Zechariah then symbolically broke his second staff, “Union,” indicating the end of the unity that bound the Jews together. Just before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 the Jews broke up into parties that were very hostile to one another. This condition accelerated their destruction by the Romans.262 Evidently fighting among the Jews will also be common in the Tribulation. The order of events is significant, and it was historical: the breaking of God’s favor on His people, their rejection of the Shepherd, and the breaking of their unity.263 We know that this destruction would not be permanent, however, because of other promises that God would reunite and restore His people and that He would not cast them off permanently (e.g., Rom. 11).
III. (:15-17) THE WORTHLESS SHEPHERD = ROMAN EMPIRE PREFIGURING THE ANTICHRIST – (CONTRASTED WITH THE WORTHY) As God’s flock is ravaged by the shepherd instead of protected
A. (:15) His Equipment – False Shepherd vs True Shepherd
“The Lord said to me, ‘Take again for yourself the equipment of a foolish shepherd.’”
As a faithful pastor, how should you be equipped?
B. (:16) His Ministry – False Shepherd vs True Shepherd
1. Related to Nurturing
“For 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,”
2. Related to Devouring
“but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs.”
As a faithful pastor, how should you nurture your flock?
C. (:17) His Reward – False Shepherd vs True Shepherd
“Woe 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.”
Arm indicates strength and eye indicates his intelligence
As a faithful pastor, what type of reward can you expect?