The Good Shepherd Rejected – II
1Open your doors, O Lebanon,
so that fire may devour your cedars!
2Wail, O pine tree, for the cedar has fallen;
the stately trees are ruined!
Wail, oaks of Bashan;
the dense forest has been cut down!
3Listen to the wail of the shepherds;
their rich pastures are destroyed!
Listen to the roar of the lions;
the lush thicket of the Jordan is ruined!
4This is what the Lord my God says: "Pasture the flock marked for slaughter. 5Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the Lord, I am rich!’ Their own shepherds do not spare them. 6For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land," declares the Lord. "I will hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king. They will oppress the land, and I will not rescue them from their hands."
7So I pastured the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I pastured the flock.
8In one month I got rid of the three shepherds. The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them 9and said, "I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh." 10Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. 11It was revoked on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.
12I told them, "If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. 13And the Lord said to me, "Throw it to the potter"—the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord to the potter. 14Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
15Then the Lord said to me, "Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. 16For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hoofs. 17Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!"
In the previous issue’s study, we looked at verses 1 through 6 of this chapter. We saw that verses 1 through 3 are a poetic overview of the devastation spoken of in the rest of the chapter. Then, in verses 4 through 6, the Lord Himself gives a straightforward summary of the prophecy that is related in the form of a parable in the rest of the chapter. It seemed to us that the fulfillment of the prophecies in this chapter occurred primarily when the Romans devastated Israel from A.D. 68 to A.D. 70.
Now, we come to the parable, which describes in symbolic and picturesque language, the choices that the people of Israel made concerning whom they would follow. It was these choices that led to the devastation. In short, they chose to reject the Shepherd sent to them by God, that is, Jesus Christ. In the parable, Zechariah (presumably in a vision) acts out the role of, first, the Good Shepherd whom they reject, and then a foolish shepherd, whom they choose to follow.
"So I pastured the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I pastured the flock" (vs. 7). One thing that is striking about the prophecy in this chapter is the accuracy of the picture portrayed of Jesus. For instance, the Good Shepherd in the parable particularly pastured the "oppressed of the flock." Jesus, of course, went out of His way to reach out to the oppressed of Israel.
The two staffs described here, "Favor" and "Union", are symbolic of the goals of the mission of the Messiah towards the nation of Israel. Had the nation of Israel accepted the Messiah at His first coming, He would have shown "Favor" towards the nation, especially through special protection from other nations. He would have also brought "Union" by ridding the land of internal strife.
In verses 8 and 9, Zechariah describes the rejection of the Good Shepherd: "In one month I got rid of the three shepherds. The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them and said, ‘I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh’" (vss. 8–9). The reference to the Messiah getting rid of "three shepherds" is one of the most enigmatic sentences in the whole Bible. As such, no one seems to agree on whom it refers to. There are literally dozens of interpretations of it by commentators. In my opinion, its placement within the parable seems to indicate that it was something that Jesus did, during His time on earth, that caused the people to reject Him. Therefore, I believe that this prophecy is in some way referring to Jesus’ undermining the power of the existing religious leaders of the time. Jesus was not timid in telling the people about the shortcomings of their religious leaders. And many people, recognizing the true Messiah, turned from their leaders and followed Jesus. In turn, the religious leaders set in motion the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus, which was the culmination of the rejection of the Good Shepherd by the nation of Israel.
When the people turned against Jesus, and allowed Him to be crucified, they thought that they were punishing Jesus. In reality, they were punishing themselves. This is underscored by the words of the Shepherd here: "I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh" (vs. 9). Jesus came to cause the "dying" to live, and the "perishing" to be saved. They rejected Him, and so, since He will force Himself on no man, He chose to "let the dying die, and the perishing perish." They rejected Him, and so, He broke the first staff: "Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord" (vs. 10). As stated above, the staff called "Favor" gave the nation of Israel special protection against her enemies. By breaking it, the Shepherd was, in essence, freeing hostile nations to attack Israel. This is what is being referred to when the Shepherd says He revoked "the covenant [He] had made with all the nations." As we have been saying, Rome fulfilled this prophecy by devastating Israel.
The Shepherd speaks again of their rejection of Him: "I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’ So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—the handsome price at which they priced me!" (vs. 12–13). In the parable, the Shepherd asks for His wages, in order to determine the people’s valuation of the Good Shepherd. "The wage He expected, we know, was their love, their obedience, and their devotion to God and His Shepherd" [Feinberg, 328]. Instead, they showed how much they valued Him by selling Him for "thirty pieces of silver." This valuation was symbolic. In the law, it was the compensation that one was required to pay a slave owner if a bull gored his slave (see Ex. 21:32). So, by paying that price, "they placed the Messiah on the level of a worthless slave" [Feinberg, 328]. This payment for the Shepherd was fulfilled by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for the exact price of "thirty pieces of silver." In his shame, Judas returned the money to the chief priests by throwing it down in the Temple (see Matt. 27:5). The priests then used the money to buy a potter’s field (see Matt. 27:7).
This act of rejection of the Shepherd caused Him to break the second staff: "Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the brotherhood between Judah and Israel" (vs. 14). The breaking of this staff would bring internal strife to the nation of Israel. "This was surely fulfilled in the sad scenes during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus. There was a breaking up of the social fabric of the Jewish nation. Internal strife and divisions were prevalent and contributed largely to the downfall of Judea" [Feinberg, 329]. "How terribly this prediction was fulfilled can be seen in the pages of Josephus. The most terrible factions that have ever torn out the vitals of a commonwealth appeared in Judea, and amidst the terrors of invasion without and the horrors of fratricide within, this prophecy was fulfilled" [Moore, 183].
The children of Israel, by and large, were to reject the Good Shepherd, and there will come a time when they will, by and large, choose to follow the "foolish shepherd." This is acted out in the next part of the parable: "Then the Lord said to me, ‘Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hoofs. Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!’" (vss. 15–17). The "foolish shepherd" described here is the one we often call "the Antichrist." He is prophesied in a number of places in the Bible (see Dan. 7:25–27; Dan. 11:36–39; John 5:43; II Thess. 2:1–12; Rev. 13:1–18). The amazing thing is that the people reject the Good Shepherd, who comes to serve them, and accept the "foolish shepherd", who comes to exploit them. "It is often assumed that if a country were to find a ruler totally dedicated to the good of his people, who would rid the land of injustice and encourage all that makes for harmony, peace and happiness would prevail. One insight of [Zechariah] is that such a ruler would not only not be welcomed, but he would be positively hated and rejected" [Baldwin, 179].