Zechariah: More Lessons From The Wrong Kind of Shepherds

Woe to my worthless shepherd who deserts the flock! 

Zechariah 11:17

Chapter 11 of Zechariah opened with the image of shepherds wailing, a prophetic allusion to the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day whose glory would be ruined when the Lord set Roman armies upon them as punishment for their rejection of His Son (11:1-3).  The prophet continued to talk about these shepherds, describing the Jewish religious authorities of Jesus’ day as selfish souls who have no pity on the Jews whom they lead, the flock whom they’ve doomed to slaughter (11:4-5) through the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies (11:6).  Zechariah then described Jesus, the Shepherd who would save the Jewish flock if not for the fact that their shepherds rejected Him and killed Him through betrayal, thus bringing upon themselves the wrath of God (11:7-14).

In verses 15-17 cited above, the Lord then spoke of “a foolish shepherd” whose “equipment” Zechariah was to take again (11:15).  This shepherd would “not care for those being destroyed.”  He would not “seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy,” unlike the Christ Shepherd who certainly would do so.  Instead, he “devours the flesh” of the fat sheep of the flock, even “tearing off…their hoofs” (11:16).  God pronounced on this shepherd a “woe” because he “deserts the flock,” calling upon “the sword” to “strike his arm and his right eye” in such a way that his arm would be “wholly withered” and his eye “utterly blinded” (11:17).  As Homer Hailey puts it in his commentary, “The arm of the shepherd that should have been protecting the flock, but did not, will have the sword fall upon his own arm…The eye that should have kept watch over the flock, but failed, will…(be) blinded.”

Some suggest that this prophecy points to the antichrist or the Catholic papacy.  However, let’s remember that Zechariah had just foretold of how the Jews – led by their religious leaders symbolized earlier in the chapter as self-centered shepherds – would reject their Messianic Shepherd.  Thus, it seems more reasonable to me to conclude that this prophecy is a description of how they would trade a good Shepherd for a foolish one, said foolish one likely being the same “shepherds” who had led them to kill their Messiah out of a desire to stay in political power and financial wealth (cf. John 11:47-48; 19:14-15).  However, that desire would not be fulfilled.  Instead, just a few decades later God would come in judgment upon them and the Jewish nation via the Roman armies who massacred them in A.D. 70 (cf. Matt. 23:29-39; 24:1-34; Lk. 21:20ff).

Concerning the foolish shepherd and the punishment God would have in store for those whom he prophetically symbolized, Hailey wrote, “It is an irrevocable law of Jehovah that indifference to stewardship entrusted to a person must invariably bring its own individual judgment.”  This is undoubtedly true.  Stewards by definition are managers.  All Christians are to be good, trustworthy managers of what God has given to them (cf. Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 12:48; 1 Cor. 3:10).  This is especially true of elders, preachers, and teachers in the church.  The writer of Hebrews was inspired to bring out how the leaders of each local congregation – the elders who are charged to oversee and shepherd (pastor) the flock among them (1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 20:17, 28) – have the responsibility to “keep watch over your souls” and “will have to give an account” to God for it (Heb. 13:17).  Those who lead through the preaching and teaching of holy Scripture must likewise be careful to “accurately handle” it and share with the church “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  God does not want such men to follow in the footsteps of the foolish shepherds of Jesus’ day and be primarily interested in gaining popular or financial prominence (Lk. 6:26; John 15:19; 1 John 4:5; 1 Tim. 3:3; 6:5-10; Tit. 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:3).  He would rather have these leaders lead the flock towards salvation, even when that path is not popular (Matt. 7:13-14; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).

East Main, we are blessed to have leaders here who care about our souls.  Go up to them and encourage them today.

— Jon

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