Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chap. 11 The rejection of the Shepherd
In this chapter, which forms the second section of the First Burden, we have, so to speak, a companion picture to that drawn in the first section. If that picture, however, was bright with the coming of the King, the victories He would achieve and the blessings He would bestow, this picture is dark with His rejection and the disastrous consequences which it would entail. The chapter opens with a vivid description of these consequences, Zechariah 11:1-3. The desolating scourge, approaching as it ever did from the north, overthrows the pride of Lebanon and Bashan, Zechariah 11:1-2, and then, sweeping southward down the Jordan valley, falls upon the shepherds of Israel, Zechariah 11:3. The causes which led to this judgment are treated of in the next paragraph, Zechariah 11:4-14. In obedience to the command of Jehovah, Zechariah 11:4, the charge of the flock, which had been impiously slaughtered and sold by former shepherds, Zechariah 11:5, whom God in His displeasure had suffered to maltreat them, Zechariah 11:6, is undertaken by a good shepherd, whom the prophet personates, and who endeavours to restore the comeliness and unity of the flock, Zechariah 11:7, and to cut off its oppressors, Zechariah 11:8 a. Wearied, however, and disgusted with the want of sympathy which he encounters, the shepherd relinquishes his thankless task, Zechariah 11:8 b–11. He asks for his wages, as his work was finished, and receives the paltry and insulting purchase-money of a slave, Zechariah 11:12, which at the bidding of Jehovah he casts away in scorn, Zechariah 11:13, and completes the abandonment of the work which he had undertaken, Zechariah 11:14. Then, in the remaining paragraph, or sub-section, of the chapter, Zechariah 11:15-17, the prophet is directed to assume a new and opposite character, and to personate a foolish shepherd, Zechariah 11:15, whose neglect and cruelty should fall heavily on the flock, Zechariah 11:16, but whom terrible vengeance should ultimately overtake, Zechariah 11:17.
Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.1. Open thy doors, O Lebanon] The passage is highly poetical and dramatic, but in its first reference literal and physical. In the path of the invading army stands Lebanon, at once the pride and bulwark of the land. As the priestly herald of the approaching host (quasi esset Dei fetialis, Calv.), the prophet summons it to open wide an access, and to surrender to the reckless torch of the fierce foe its goodly pines and noble cedars. Comp. 2 Kings 19:23; Isaiah 37:24; Isaiah 14:8.
Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down.2. fir tree] or cypress. It is uncertain what tree is meant. See Dict. of Bible, Art. “Cypress.”
for the cedar is fallen] Grand trees as were the firs, or cypresses, the cedars were grander still. The fall therefore of the latter might well make the former howl in despair at their own assured fate. “Nam si cedris haud parcitur, aliis arboribus, quæ minoris quam illæ pretii sunt, multo minus parcetur.” Rosenm.
the mighty] i.e. the mighty trees, “præstantes scil. arbores, cedri,” Rosenm., who compares, “a goodly cedar,” Ezekiel 17:23, where the Heb. word is the same. Possibly, however (especially as the clause is additional or parenthetical and mars the symmetry of the parallelism), it is thrown in to suggest the figurative or allegorical reference to the rulers and chiefs of Israel which lies behind and goes together with the literal reference. The goodly ones, R. V.
Bashan] Compare the association of “Gilead and Lebanon,” chap. Zechariah 10:10. “From the heights of Lebanon the destructive storm sweeps down on the land of Bashan, and the oaks, the pride of the land (with their kindly shade from the burning heat), are likewise felled by the enemy to meet the wants of the invading army, and to construct his means of offence and defence.” Wright.
forest of the vintage] Rather, inaccessible forest.
There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds; for their glory is spoiled: a voice of the roaring of young lions; for the pride of Jordan is spoiled.3. There is a voice] More literally and forcibly, A voice of the howling of the shepherds! R. V.
the shepherds] Here again the figurative reference appears through the literal, Comp. Zechariah 10:3, and Zechariah 11:5 below. But the literal reference holds good. “The desolating storm sweeps from the highlands to the lowlands. The very shepherds are forced to howl, because their splendour is laid waste, namely, the pasture lands, in which they were wont to tend and feed their flocks in the days of peace and quiet. The conflagration extends even to the south of the land. Judah is wrapped in flames. The close thickets which fringed the Jordan river as it ran along through the territory of the southern kingdom are consumed by the fire.… ‘The pride of Jordan’ is rendered desolate, and hence the voice of the roaring of lions is heard wailing over the general ruin.” Wright.
young lions] Comp. Jeremiah 25:36-38; Jeremiah 49:19.
Zechariah 11:4-14. The rejection by them of Jehovah’s shepherd is the cause of the calamity which is to fall upon them. “Subjicit rationem cur Deus tam severe agere cogitet cum populo suo, quoniam insanabilis sit eorum malitia.” Rosenm.
Thus saith the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter;4. Feed] The person addressed is Zechariah. The passage is dramatic. The prophet is represented as personating, inclusively perhaps, as is so generally the case in O. T. prophecy, the long line of Jehovah’s true shepherds, but chiefly and ultimately the Good Shepherd of whom they all were types. Compare, as illustrating the rejection alike of the whole typical order and of the Antitype, St Stephen’s words: “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and the murderers.” Acts 7:52. “Hic autem non recitat propheta simpliciter quale mandatum ipse acceperit a Deo: sed in genere docet semper Deum officio boni et fidi pastoris defunctum fuisse erga Judæos. Suscipit igitur propheta in se personam omnium prophetarum.” Calv.
flock of the slaughter] Rather, of slaughter, R. V., i.e. exposed to slaughter, as Zechariah 11:5 explains. Comp. Psalm 44:22, where “sheep for the slaughter,” or “sheep appointed to be slain” (P. B. V.) is literally, “sheep of slaughter.”
Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not.5. possessors] Rather, buyers. The flock of which the prophet was commanded to take charge had been bought and slain without compunction, and sold for gain, with a complacent “bless the Lord” at the good price they fetched.
For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them.6. the men] Rather, man. This verse at once gives the reason of the misery described in Zechariah 11:5, viz. Jehovah’s displeasure, and interprets the parable of the flock. They of whom I am speaking are “the inhabitants of the land (of Judæa);” they are not sheep but “men.” Comp. Ezekiel 34:31.
And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock.7. And I will feed] Rather, So I fed, in accordance with the command given me in Zechariah 11:4. Comp. “and I fed,” at the end of this verse.
even you] or, therefore: i.e. “So I fed the flock of slaughter: therefore (because I had been commanded to do so, fed I) the poor of the flock.” R. V. adopts A. V. margin: verily the poor of the flock.
two staves] two, instead of one as on becoming shepherd he would naturally have done, to denote, as the names given them imply, that his twofold aim in discharging his office would be to ensure the comeliness and the unity of the flock. The latter name, “Bands,” refers specially to the union between Judah and Israel.
Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul lothed them, and their soul also abhorred me.8. Three shepherds … in one month] This has been understood to refer either to three historical persons, e.g. Zachariah, Shallum (2 Kings 15:8; 2 Kings 15:13) and some third usurper, not mentioned in the history, of the same time, or Antiochus Epiphanes, Antiochus Eupator and Demetrius I., in the time of the Maccabees (though it is difficult to believe that these could have been called shepherds of Israel); or else to the three offices of king, priest and prophet. But all these references break down, and it is better to take the words generally, as describing the prompt and vigorous action of Jehovah’s shepherd in dealing with the evil shepherds (Zechariah 10:3), as well as in feeding the flock. “Mensis unus hic capitur pro exiguo tempore: tres autem pastores significant multos indefinite.” Calv.
and my soul lothed them] or, but, &c.: for, R. V. At this point the prophet begins to describe the failure of his good offices towards the flock, and the mutual antipathy that sprang up between him and them.
Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.
And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.10. the people] Lit. the peoples. This may mean either (1) the nations of the earth, in which case the sense will be that the prosperity which the shepherd on assuming office had guaranteed to the flock, and of which his staff “Beauty” was the symbol, was assured to them by a covenant, so to speak, into which he had entered with all nations not to molest them (comp. Hosea 2:18; Job 5:23): or (2) the tribes of Israel, in which sense the word is used Deuteronomy 33:3; Hosea 10:14.
And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD.11. it was broken] i.e. the covenant.
the poor of the flock] “The rest were blinded: those who listened to God’s word, observed His prophet, waited on him and observed his words, knew from the fulfilment of the beginning, that the whole was God’s word.” Pusey.
waited upon me] gave heed unto me, R. V.
And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.12. price] Rather, wages, or hire, R. V. This demand is made by the prophet not “in order to try whether the people would submit themselves further to his guidance” (Wright), but to signify the complete abandonment of his office of shepherd. It is as much as to say, “I will be no more your shepherd: give me therefore my wages, that I may go my way.” It is further designed to bring out in bold relief the mutual aversion and contempt, that had sprung up between the shepherd and the flock (Zechariah 11:8). He asks as one who cares not whether his request be granted: “Give, or forbear.” They reply by a gift more insulting than refusal.
forbear] “ne date; q.d. non sum de mercede admodum sollicitus, licet jure mihi debeatur. Exprimit summam indignationem, ut si quis alicui suam ingratitudinem exprobrat.” Rosenm.
thirty pieces of silver] The value of a slave. Exodus 21:32. Comp. Hosea 3:2.
And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.13. Cast it] “as a thing vile and rejected, as torn flesh was to be cast to dogs (Exodus 22:31), or a corpse was cast unburied (Isaiah 14:19), or the dead body of Absalom was cast into the pit (2 Samuel 18:17), or the dust of the idol-altars into the brook Kidron by Josiah (2 Kings 23:12), or the idols to the moles and the bats (Isaiah 2:20), or Judah and Israel from the face of God into a strange land (2 Kings 13:23); Coniah and his seed, a vessel in which is no pleasure, into a land which they knew not (Jeremiah 22:28), or the rebels against God said, let us cast away their cords from us (Psalm 2:3), or wickedness was cast into the Ephah (Zechariah 5:8); once it is added, for loathing (Ezekiel 16:5).” Pusey.
a goodly price] or, the goodly price, R. V. This is, of course, ironical.
to the potter in the house of the Lord] to the potter; because his business was to make the most worthless of vessels, the last and least “to honour” of those found “in a great house” (2 Timothy 2:20), and thus the unworthiness of the “price” was shewn, as being only deserving of such a destiny. In the house of the Lord: both because He it was who, whether in the person of His servants or of His Son, was the real subject of the insulting valuation, and also because a formal and national character was given to the transaction, by its thus taking place before Jehovah and in His House. This explanation, which seems to be the simplest and most satisfactory, of this confessedly difficult passage, does not necessarily involve the supposition that the potter was in the house of the Lord, when the pieces of silver were cast contemptuously down there. It is enough if, in the vision or symbolical action of Zechariah, they were in some way clearly declared to be for him.
Like the earlier prophecy of the King (Zechariah 9:9), this prophecy of the Shepherd is remarkable for its literal fulfilment. The “thirty pieces of silver” were literally the “goodly price” paid for Him, “whom they of the children of Israel did value. “The potter” was literally the recipient of it, as the purchase-money of his exhausted field for an unclean purpose (Matthew 27:5-10).
Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.14. I cut asunder mine other staff] to signify both the completion of the rupture between the shepherd and the flock, with which he had now nothing more whatever to do, and also the second evil consequence of that rupture, which would befall the flock. Its beauty was gone already: its unity would now be gone also.
And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd.15. the instruments of a foolish shepherd] There is no reason to suppose that “the instruments,” the staff and scrip, of a foolish shepherd differed from those of a wise one, and so in themselves indicated his character. The command is: “Again take to thee (as thou didst before, Zechariah 11:7) the instruments of a shepherd, (but this time let him be) a foolish one.” The punishment of rejecting the Good Shepherd was to be not only the loss of Him, but the substitution of an evil shepherd in His place.
15–17. The foolish shepherd, Zechariah 11:15; the misery he inflicts upon the flock, Zechariah 11:16; and his doom, Zechariah 11:17.
For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces.16. cut off] i.e. destroyed, or lost. See Zechariah 11:9, and comp. Exodus 23:23. “Pastores seduli requirunt siquid est perditum, vel siquid evanuit in grege: et hoc intelligit Zacharias per visitationem.” Calvin.
the young one] Rather, the scattered, lit. the dispersion, τὸ ἐσκορπισμένον, LXX. dispersum, Jerome.
feed that that standeth still] Rather, nourish that that standeth (firm). τὸ ὁλόκληρον. LXX. that which is sound, R. V. Pusey compares the petition in the Litany, “that it may please Thee to strengthen such as do stand.” Another view is that they that stand, are the sheep which stand still, unable through weakness and weariness to go forward. But the word seems always to be used of standing firmly, not of coming to a stand-still through infirmity.
claws] Rather, hoofs. Like a voracious man, who not content with eating the flesh of the fat, tears to pieces and sucks the goodness out of the very hoofs. “Videtur diffringere ungulas esse hominis voracis, ipsas ungulas frangentis et exsudentis.” Maurer. For a like picture both of neglect of duty and of cruelty in a shepherd see Ezekiel 34:4.
Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.17. idol shepherd] Rather, worthless shepherd: lit. shepherd of nothingness, or worthlessness. Comp. “physicians of no value,” Job 13:4.
leaveth the flock] Comp. John 10:12.
the sword] To be taken perhaps metaphorically of punishment or visitation: “per gladium quamlibet speciem pœnæ designat.” Calv. The particular kind of punishment then follows, in the withering of the arm and blinding of the eye.
The Second Burden. Chaps. 12–14. Like the First Burden of the Word of Jehovah, this Second extends over three chapters and contains two chief sections or prophecies. Of these the first reaches from Zechariah 12:1 to Zechariah 13:6; the second is comprised in the remainder of the Book.
The First Section contains three subdivisions, viz. Jehovah’s protection of His people from their enemies, Zechariah 12:1-9; their penitent sorrow for sin, Zechariah 12:10-14; their worthy fruits of repentance, Zechariah 13:1-6.