4 This is what the Lord my God says: “Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter. 5 Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the Lord, I am rich!’ Their own shepherds do not spare them. 6 For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,” declares the Lord. “I will give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands.”
7 So I shepherded 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 shepherded the flock. 8 In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.
The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them 9 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.”
10 Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. 11 It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.
12 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.
13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.
14 Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel.
15 Then the Lord said to me, “Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. 16 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 hooves.
17 “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!”
(Zechariah 11:4-17 NIV)
Before we continue our study of chapter 11, let’s “connect the dots” from our last few studies to help set the context for today’s passage. This is a very complex passage, so please bear with me as we work through the text. If you have questions or are unclear, don’t understand something, feel free to reach out – I will do my best to find an answer.
In our last study (11:1-3), we saw this as the transition between Chapter 10 verses 10-12 and Chapter 11 verses 4-17. Zechariah 10:10-12 addressed the nations that persecuted the Jewish people during their exile; Assyria (including Babylon) and Egypt were named, but any nation that participated was implied.
Zechariah 11:1-3 looked backward to 10:10-12, using metaphors familiar to those living in the trans-Jordan region. This passage also looked forward, as we mentioned, to the time of Jesus, when the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed again and Temple would be destroyed again.
As we begin today’s text, we see the Lord instructing Zechariah to take on the metaphorical role of a shepherd to a flock of sheep. The sheep were a metaphor for the nation of Israel, and the shepherd was a metaphor for the Great Shepherd to come, Messiah (Jesus).
Now that Zechariah had his assignment, what happened? Verse 5 says that the sheep are owned by someone else; in this case, the “owners” referred to here are commonly thought to be the Romans who would eventually take over Israel and would rule throughout the time of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth.
So how were the Romans, as the owners, treating their “flock”? Remember that the primary value of the sheep was for their wool, not their meat. Verse 5 says that the owners (the Romans) would only be interested in selling the sheep as meat to make a profit. In fact, the word “them” (referring to the sheep being slaughtered) is feminine. This means that the female sheep (ewes) meant for breeding and producing offspring were being killed and eaten. This was not a sustainable practice – the herd would be eaten and dwindle to nothing over time.
Verse 5 also makes three condemning remarks about this practice of slaughtering the sheep and destroying the flock:
- there was no accountability for the Romans and their predatory actions
- the other shepherds (the Jewish religious and cultural leaders) did absolutely nothing to stop the slaughter
- they gave God credit for becoming rich (this was their own greed, not God’s goodness that made them rich in this case)
When Jesus was on earth, He addressed greed and not caring for those who needed help. In one situation, Jesus asked what good it would be for someone to gain the whole world if they had to forfeit their own soul to obtain it (Matthew 16:26). Jesus compares the unmatched value of a person’s soul against the fleeting lie of wealth, possessions, and power, and finds that there is no comparison. The value of a soul wins every time.
So what happens? The Lord says He is fed up with trying to protect and provide for His people. If the Jewish religious and cultural leaders don’t care, why should He? From a human perspective, Zechariah’s job as a shepherd is doomed a failure before he starts.
In verse 7, Zechariah is speaking again. He obeys the Lord’s directions in verse 4 and shepherds the flock, even though he knows they are doomed for slaughter and someone’s dinner plate. Zechariah makes special note that he cares for the oppressed of the flock (the sick and injured).
Doesn’t this sound familiar? When Jesus publicly announced His ministry and purpose that day in the Temple, remember what He said? He would give hope, freedom, sight, and favor to those who needed it most (Luke 4:17-19).
Zechariah also said he carried two staffs (shepherd’s crooks): One he named Favor, and the other one he named Union. These two staffs represented two of God’s many attributes. The first staff, Favor (also translated Beauty) represented God’s grace, His gentle leadership by example and by design and intent. The second staff, Union, represented the harmony and “one-ness” of those who peacefully dwell under the shepherd who leads with Favor (grace).
In verse 8, the shepherd deals with three bad under-shepherds in a month. This is a very hard verse to understand, and there is much conjecture about who or what these “shepherds” might have represented in both Zechariah’s day and in Jesus’ day. By dealing with these problem shepherds, the shepherd is also rejected by the other under-shepherds. Again, this is a metaphor and most scholars believe that this symbolism ultimately points to Jesus as the Great Shepherd (Jesus) being rejected by the Jewish religious and cultural rulers of His day.
In verses 9 – 14, Zechariah now switches metaphorical roles and takes on the role of the “bad” shepherds mentioned in verse 5. He tells the sheep they are on their own, and he does not care what happens to them, even if they die or are killed and eaten. He breaks the Favor (grace) staff in front of the people. By breaking this staff, Zechariah symbolically broke his promise to continue on in his shepherding job that normally paid about 10 pieces of silver a year and signs himself on as a slave that normally paid about 30 pieces of silver a year (v. 12). He was looking out for himself and himself only. After Zechariah is paid his slave’s wages, the Lord tells him to throw the payment to the potter in the Temple (v. 13). Zechariah then cuts up the second staff (Union), which represented the reuniting of Israel and Judah (v. 14).
Obviously, this points to the prophecy of Judas Iscariot’s actions (Matthew 26:14-16 and Matthew 27:1-10). These symbolic actions of the bad shepherd also point to the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish religious and cultural rulers, and for their selfish actions that completely ignored the needs of the Jewish people, as Jesus pointed out in Luke 11:46.
In verses 15-17, the Lord instructs Zechariah to continue to act as a foolish shepherd. This metaphor is of another shepherd, an imposter, that the people will follow in place of the rejected shepherd (Jesus). This imposter will not care for the sheep, but will in fact prey upon them and devour them.
Jesus reiterated His rejection by the Jews and their acceptance of another leader in John 5:43. In Zechariah’s prophecy and in Jesus’ prediction, they both pointed to a future time when Satan will lead many astray in the end times.
The Lord closes this chapter and section by giving a short poem (v. 17) that describes the punishment and demise of the foolish shepherd (Satan) in the final ending of the story. With a withered arm and a blind eye, the false shepherd will no longer be able to attack or even take aim against the flock. God is the victor, and ultimately shepherds His people with Favor and Union (grace and unity).
May we shepherd well (care for) those around us, even if we are rejected or hurt for attempting to do so.
And may we look forward to God’s righteous rule one day, when all will be well.
Come, Lord Jesus!