The Rejection of the Good Shepherd and Its Consequences for Israel (Chap. 11)
This dark chapter conveys the cause for the delay in Israel’s realizing the blessings of chapter 10.
a. The coming of wrath introduced (11:1-3)
This lamentation portrays the impending devastation that will result from the people rejecting the Messiah as the True and Good Shepherd (vv. 4-14). The language obviously involves personification, but the references to the cedars of Lebanon ... oaks of Bashan, and lush thicket of the Jordan suggest devastation of the entire land of Israel from the north to the south, including of course its inhabitants. All three areas — Lebanon, Bashan, and the Jordan — were heavily forested. Shepherds would wail because their pastures would be devastated. Even lions who lived in the thick woods around the Jordan River would roar because of the destruction of their living areas.
The general description of the devastation is to be taken literally. However, some writers have viewed the trees as representing the glory of Jerusalem, particularly the temple which was constructed, in part, of lumber. While this is doubtful, the general period of the destruction, whether literal or figurative, probably includes the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.
b. The cause of devastation indicated (11:4-14)
In this difficult but messianically significant passage, Zechariah was directed by God to portray Israel’s true Shepherd-Messiah. Then (vv. 15-17) Zechariah was required to portray the wicked shepherd, pointing to the end-time Antichrist. The passage (vv. 4-14) is probably not intended to be a strict dramatic portrayal, for this would require the unlikely cooperation of other actors in the narrative. The passage focuses attention on Israel’s spiritual condition at the time of Christ’s ministry and the consequences of her rejection of Christ, the True Shepherd.
God told Zechariah, Pasture the flock marked for slaughter. To “pasture” includes not only feeding but also directing and defending. The “flock” was the nation Israel which God had designated for slaughter by the Romans.
There is debate whether the buyers of the flock and those who sell them were Jewish leaders or foreign oppressors. However, their own shepherds are Jewish leaders who would fail in their responsibilities to care for their people (cf. 10:3).
The climactic phase of Israel’s apparently pitiable condition was God’s withholding of pity: I will no longer have pity on the people of the land. This divine withdrawal seemed to result from the people’s rejection of their true Shepherd-Messiah, stated in verses 8-13. The king to whom God would hand over Israel was apparently the Roman emperor (cf. John 19:15, “We have no king but Caesar”). God would not deliver them from the Roman armies.
As commanded, Zechariah portrayed the work of a shepherd tending the flock marked for slaughter (cf. v. 4), especially the oppressed of the flock. This perhaps refers to the believing remnant at Messiah’s First Advent. Like any good shepherd, Zechariah took two staffs to use in directing and protecting the flock. The staffs were given the symbolic names of Favor (or beauty, grace, pleasantness) and Union (lit., bands or “ties”). They depicted God’s gracious benefits toward His people (cf. 9:14-17) and the internal union of Israel and Judah as a nation (cf. Hosea 1:11).
The identity of the three shepherds disowned by the True Shepherd is not indicated (accounting for the more than 40 interpretations of v. 8!). Most likely, the shepherds refer to three kinds of Jewish leaders — prophets (custodians of the Law), priests, and kings (or civil magistrates) — all of them inadequate. Closely linked to the disowning of the three shepherds is the flock’s disowning of their True Shepherd whom they detested, a word (used only here in the OT) that means to loathe to the point of nausea. The Messiah (portrayed by Zechariah) repudiated His role as Shepherd (I will not be your Shepherd), and He relegated the flock to their doom, involving foreign oppression (Let the dying die and the perishing perish) and internal civil strife (Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh). An alternate interpretation sees this last clause as speaking of the cannibalism that occurred in the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
The revoked covenant (symbolized by breaking the staff called Favor) had been made with all the nations, apparently to secure God’s providential protection of Israel. The divine disfavor on Israel because of her rejection of the True Shepherd resulted in spiritual blindness (Rom. 11:25) and national destruction and dispersion. Only the believing remnant (the afflicted of the flock) who recognized Jesus as the true Messiah understood His true origin in God.
Israel’s appraisal of the True Shepherd’s worth was 30 pieces of silver, the compensation price for a slave gored by an ox (Ex. 21:32). Baldwin thinks 30 pieces of silver for a slave indicates the “high value set on human life” in the Mosaic Law (Zechariah, p. 184). Whether or not this is correct, the choice of the slave price was probably intended as an insult to the Shepherd, worse than a direct refusal to pay Him any wage. Throwing this handsome price (an obvious use of irony) to the potter shows its trifling worth (the potter was one of the lowest of the laboring class). This prophecy was fulfilled in Judas’ betrayal of Christ (Matt. 26:14-16; 27:3-10; for a survey of problems relating to Matthew’s citation of this passage, cf. Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets. Chicago: Moody Press, 1968, pp. 340-2).
Zechariah then broke the second staff called Union to picture the dissolving of the national solidarity of Judah and Israel. Discord within the nation was one of the factors that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and a new wave of worldwide dispersion.
c. The consequences of rejecting the True Shepherd (11:15-17)
After rejecting the True Shepherd, the flock of Israel will accept a foolish and worthless shepherd. This is a prophecy of the end-time Antichrist who will do the very opposite of Christ the True Shepherd (cf. John 5:43).
Zechariah was called on to portray a second prophetic role, this time a foolish shepherd. The Hebrew word rendered “foolish” (eveel) suggests a person who is a coarse, hardened fool. This shepherd will have no concern for the flock and its needs; he will be interested only in his own gluttony. Instead of defending the flock, the foolish shepherd will destroy it (cf. Rev. 13:7).
Thus the foolish shepherd is also a worthless shepherd who rightfully deserves the condemnation pronounced (Woe). The arm indicates his strength and the eye his intelligence. The foolish plottings of the worthless shepherd will be annulled when the True Shepherd returns (cf. 12:10; Rev. 19:19-20).
B. The rejected King enthroned (chaps. 12-14)
Chapters 12-14 are one “oracle” (KJV, “burden”; cf. 9:1) concerning God’s people Israel. The events predicted deal with one future time period (except for 13:7) and center in the city of Jerusalem. Thus the prophecies of these chapters rank among the most significant in the Old Testament.
1. The Redemption of Israel (Chaps. 12-13)
Two conditions are necessary for the establishment of Israel’s future messianic kingdom: (a) the overthrow of the Gentile world powers that oppose the establishment of this kingdom and (b) the regeneration of individual Jews who will constitute the nation when God fulfills the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Both of these conditions will be accomplished by the Lord, as seen in chapters 12-13. He will deliver Israel physically from her enemies (12:1-9) and He will deliver her spiritually (12:10-13:9). Zechariah 11:1 - 12:1
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