Zechariah: The Wrong Kind of Shepherds

So I said, “I will not be your shepherd…”

Zechariah 11:9a

Chapter 11 of Zechariah is filled with Messianic prophecies and imagery.  Just as the Messiah would refer to Himself as a shepherd (John 10:1-18), so now Zechariah prophesies of Him using that same metaphor.

He starts by prophesying of a time when the various kinds of trees of Lebanon (north of Israel), Bashan (east of Israel), and the Jordan (east of Jerusalem) would be burned, “ruined,” and “felled” (11:1-3).  Because of this, “shepherds” would “wail” and “lions” would roar, symbolic references to the Jewish governmental leaders whose “glory is ruined” when their power is taken from them (11:3; cf. Jer. 25:34-37; 50:44; Ezek. 19:1-9).  To give the reason this calamity would befall the Jews, God directed Zechariah to take on the role of a shepherd whose “flock (is) doomed to slaughter” (11:4), the shepherd symbolizing the Messiah and the flock symbolizing the Jewish nation.  Three groups, possibly later described “three shepherds” in verse 8, are said to control the Jews: “those who buy them” who “slaughter them and go unpunished,” “those who sell them” and bless the Lord for the wealth they get, and “their own shepherds (who) have no pity on them” (11:5).  While some believe they refer to foreign powers such as the Romans, these three groups likely refer to the rulers of the Jews during Jesus’ day…the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, elders, and chief priests who were leading the Jews astray and were not concerned with their spiritual welfare.  I am reminded of how John, upon seeing the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, called upon them to repent and spoke of “the wrath to come” and how “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees” (Matt. 3:7-10).

Because the Jews were willingly led into apostasy and would reject Christ, the Lord would “no longer have pity on the inhabitants of this land,” resulting in both infighting among the Jews themselves as well as causing “each (to fall) into the hand of his king, and they shall crush the land, and I will deliver none from their hand” (11:6).  This likely foretells the destruction of Jerusalem by invading Roman forces after they rejected Christ as their Messiah (cf. Matt. 24:1-34), especially when we remember how the Jews declared to Pilate that Caesar was their king while demanding Jesus’ death (John 19:15).  He had become “the shepherd of the flock,” taking “two staffs” which He named “Favor” (likely referring to God’s favor towards the Jews shown in the covenant He had with them) and “Union” (probably referring to the union between Judah and Israel) to care for His sheep (11:7).  God had indeed cared for His people under Moses’ covenant.  Whenever they had followed His ways, He had shown them grace and favor and had united them (cf. Josh. 24:14-20).

Yet in the end they rejected Him.  Because of this, the Messiah would destroy “the three shepherds” – the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day who were leading the Jews away from God  – “in one month,” likely figurative of a very short amount of time (11:8a).  He had become “impatient” with the shepherds, who also “detested” Him (11:8b), resulting in His decision to “not be your shepherd” and declaring to them, “What is to die, let it die.  What is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed.  And let those who are left devour the flesh of one another” (11:9; cf. Rom. 11:22; Matt. 23:38).  He then took the staff named “Favor” – His special covenant relationship with Israel – and “broke it, annulling the covenant that I had made with all the peoples” (11:10; cf. Matt. 27:51; 5:17; Heb. 9:15-17; Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14-16).  Those who observed this “knew that it was the word of the Lord” (11:11), a possible reference to the remnant of Israel who accepted Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Rom. 11:5ff).  Most of the Jewish nation, led by their hypocritical rulers, had detested and rejected Christ, and so God gave them up as well (cf. Rom. 1:18-2:11; 2 Thess. 2:10-12).

There are many warnings here for us as Christians.  May we always heed the voice of our Good Shepherd and never incur His wrath!

— Jon

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