Shepherds

1Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds. He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone. 2The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.

3"My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for His flock, the house of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle. 4From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler. 5Together they will be like mighty men trampling the muddy streets in battle. Because the Lord is with them, they will fight and overthrow the horsemen.

6"I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. 7The Ephraimites will become like mighty men, and their hearts will be glad as with wine. Their children will see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the Lord. 8I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before. 9Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive, and they will return. 10I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them. 11They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up. Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s scepter will pass away. 12I will strengthen them in the Lord and in His name they will walk," declares the Lord.

The previous chapter ended with a prophetic picture of prosperity for Israel: "The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of His people. They will sparkle in His land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women" (Zech. 9:10–11). Zechariah begins this chapter speaking of prosperity for Israel in general, and the barriers preventing Israel from experiencing it: "Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds. He gives showers of rain of men, and plants of the field to everyone. The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd" (vs. 1–2). True blessings come from the hand of God, so to receive true blessings, we should, as Zechariah encourages, "Ask the Lord." "Prayer is the appointed means of bringing down ‘showers’ both of temporal and spiritual blessings" [JFB, 694].

For the Israelites, literal rain was a very valuable thing. Israel is, in general, an arid land, and so the Israelites were especially dependent on the Lord to send rain in due season. Make no mistake, and Zechariah affirms it here, the Lord controls the natural processes on earth: "It is the Lord who makes the storm clouds." In the Law, rain in due season was specifically promised to the Israelites as a reward for obedience: "So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 11:13–15). Zechariah points out that the Israelites had not been obedient. They turned to idols, rather than to prayer: "The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd" (vs. 2). It is very sad when people turn to idols for blessings, instead of to the True and Living God, who is so ready and anxious to bestow blessings upon His people.

While obedience and prayer bring blessings, chasing after idols brings "oppression for lack of a shepherd." Their leaders were not providing spiritual leadership, for they were not leading the people to the Lord. The Lord Himself speaks against these shepherds who do not properly care for their flock: "My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for His flock, the house of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle" (vs. 3). The Lord then speaks about the Good Shepherd, the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, who will come from the tribe of Judah: "From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler" (vs. 4). Four aspects of the Messiah are spoken of here, through the use of four symbols. The first symbol, the "cornerstone", is a well-known symbol of the Messiah. Jesus, as "cornerstone", is the Rock upon which the Kingdom of God is built. Peter speaks of Jesus as the "cornerstone": "As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame’" (I Pet. 2:4–6; cf. Isa. 28:16). The second symbol, the "tent peg", is an especially precious symbol of Jesus. The "tent peg" was the place to hang burdens after a long day, and so symbolizes that we can hang our burdens upon our Savior. The last two symbols represent two aspects of the Messiah during the end-times, when Jesus will be "the battle bow" and "every ruler." Israel will be victorious when she joins with the Messiah: "Together they will be like mighty men trampling the muddy streets in battle. Because the Lord is with them, they will fight and overthrow the horsemen" (vs. 5).

In the rest of the chapter, the Lord speaks of both the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel. He begins: "I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them" (vs. 6). First, the Lord speaks of the spiritual restoration of Israel. This restoration is based on the Lord’s compassion: "I will restore them because I have compassion on them." A by-product of the Lord’s compassion is His mercy and grace: "They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them." God’s power of restoration is complete: "They will be as though I had not rejected them." When He restores us, He does so completely. For instance, when He forgives our sins, we become as though we had not sinned. What a blessing! Praise the Lord! We could have had a God who forever keeps track of each sin. Instead, we have a God who offers, as a free gift through His Son, complete forgiveness from sin. We have a God who forgives completely, who restores completely. God’s perfect restoration was prophesied elsewhere: "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jer. 31:34). For the Israelites, their eventual spiritual restoration by God will bring joy: "The Ephraimites will become like mighty men, and their hearts will be glad as with wine. Their children will see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the Lord" (vs. 7).

The Lord next speaks of their physical restoration to the promised land: "I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before. Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive, and they will return. I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them. They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up. Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s scepter will pass away" (vss. 8–11). Concerning their physical restoration to the promised land, the Lord says: "I will signal for them and gather them in" (vs. 8). This signal is literally a "whistle", as a shepherd would "whistle" for his sheep to gather the herd. The Lord underscores that this regathering in the promised land was to be fulfilled: "Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before" (vs. 8). And in fact, in the last century or so, we have seen this fulfilled. The Israelites are back in the land of Israel. Their return, in large part, came suddenly, just as if the Lord had "signaled for them."

The Lord Himself, according to His purposes, scattered the Israelites throughout the world: "Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive and they will return" (vs. 9). "Here it is revealed that God had a special purpose in thus sowing them among the peoples of the earth. In those places they would bring to mind the goodness and blessings of the Lord in former days and return wholeheartedly to God" [Feinberg, 323]. The scattering of the Israelites, and their suffering among other peoples, was one of the punishments given in the Law for disobedience: "Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life" (Deut. 28:63–66).

By the way, it was prophesied here: "…yet in distant lands they will remember me." This was an amazing prophecy, which has been fulfilled. The Israelites were scattered throughout the world, having no homeland for some 1900 years, and yet, they maintained their national character, and continued to remember their God. Their situation is unique in history among dispersed peoples.

The Lord prophesied that He would bring them back from lands throughout the world, symbolized here by Assyria to north and Egypt to the south: "I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them" (vs. 10). When they returned, the northern boundary of the land they returned to was Lebanon, and the eastern boundary was Gilead (which bordered on the Jordan), and these boundaries remain today (if one includes the current Jewish occupation of the West Bank).

The Lord prophetically pictures symbolically the trials the Israelites would experience while scattered about the world, and the difficulties they would face in returning to the promised land: "They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up. Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s scepter will pass away" (vs. 11). When they were scattered throughout the world, there is no doubt that the Israelites "pass[ed] through the sea of trouble." They also faced many obstacles to returning to the promised land, both physical and political. Ironically, it was the sympathetic reaction of the world following the worst of the trials of the Israelites, the Holocaust during World War II, that cleared the way politically for the Israelites to return and establish the nation of Israel in 1948. The political obstacles were overcome, "Assyria’s pride [was] brought down and Egypt’s scepter [passed] away."

But the establishment of the nation of Israel is not the end of the story. For these prophecies to be entirely fulfilled, Israel must turn to their true Messiah and Lord, Jesus Christ: "‘I will strengthen them in the Lord and in His name they will walk,’ declares the Lord" (vs. 12). Redemption shall follow restoration to the land. "The prophets are one in declaring that the restoration of the people of Israel to their own land will be followed by their coAnversion to the Lord" [Feinberg, 324]. The one has happened; the other will follow. God will not rest till His promises are fulfilled. "For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (Isa. 62:1). "We need ever to be admonished that political prestige and recognition for Israel do not connote the blessing of God He intends for her. She must rest by faith in Messiah Jesus the Lord if she is to know the full purpose of God" [Feinberg, 324]. As Paul teaches: "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; He will turn godlessness away from Jacob’" (Rom. 11:25–26).

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