…And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver…
Recall how Jehovah had directed Zechariah to take on the role of the “shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter” (11:4), the shepherd symbolizing the Messiah (cf. John 10:1-18) and the doomed flock symbolizing the rebellious Jewish nation of Jesus’ day who were taught by other “shepherds” – the religious leaders such as the scribes and Pharisees – who had “no pity for them” (11:5; cf. Matt. 23:1-4). The prophet then foretold of the Christ by tending the sheep of Israel (11:7) with two staffs named “Favor” (likely referring to God favoring the Jews with the Mosaic covenant) and “Union” (probably referring to the union between Judah and Israel). He also prophesied of the hatred the religious leaders felt toward Jesus and His subsequent decision to punish them through the destruction the Romans would bring in A.D. 70 (11:8b-9; cf. Matt. 23:29-39; 24:1-34). Speaking for the Messiah, Zechariah broke his staff named Favor and thus “annull(ed) the covenant that I had made with all the peoples” (11:10), a likely reference to Christ taking the Law of Moses out of the way at the cross (Matt. 27:51; 5:17; Heb. 9:15-17; Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14-16).
Verses 12 and 13 are clearly a prophecy of Judas’ betrayal of the Messiah for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-16) and how that blood money would later be used to buy a potter’s field after the remorseful Judas threw the money into the temple (Matt. 27:3-10). Yet how Zechariah describes it here gives us further insight into how God viewed the actions of both Judas, the religious leaders, and the Jews for rejecting their Messiah. Zechariah, still speaking for the Shepherd Messiah, said to Israel, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them” (11:12a). Bob Winton’s commentary interprets this as a prophecy about Jesus, after ministering to the Jews for three and a half years, asking them “to pay him according to His worth to them,” to “place a value on their estimate of his services.” Winton points out, “What he wanted from them was their loving obedience, which was in their own best interest…” According to Homer Hailey’s take, the Messiah “leaves the question of the value of his work for them to decide.”
In response, “they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver” (11:12b), about $15 in today’s money, the amount of money you would pay a slave’s master if your animal injured the slave (Ex. 21:32). Winton concludes, “They esteemed the Son of God to worth no more than a common slave.” Hailey notes, “This was nothing short of willful and intentional insult…an insult to Jehovah and an expression of contempt for all He had done for them.” Accordingly, the Lord directed Zechariah to take the money and “throw it to the potter” (11:13a), describing it sarcastically as “the lordly price at which I was priced by them” (11:13b). So Zechariah “took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter” (11:13c). Judas and the chief priests fulfilled this prophecy when he threw the money into the temple and they determined to use it to buy “the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” who had died in Jerusalem, rather than put it into the temple treasury since it had been used to kill a Man (Matt. 27:3-10). They likely knew of a very cheap piece of property near the city from which potters had been taking clay for years to make their pottery, thus now rendering it useless for nothing more than a graveyard, something worth no more than $15.
God would react to this insult by “(breaking) my second staff Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel” (11:14). Zechariah saw unity between the Jews after they returned from their exile, but by the time Jesus came they were very much divided into religious sects who were constantly fighting (cf. Acts 23:6-10). After His death, this division would increase until Rome destroyed the temple in A.D. 70. When anyone who claims allegiance to God rejects Jesus in any way, division is always the result (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-4).