Destruction to come upon the Jews. (1-3) The Lord's dealing with the Jews. (4-14) The emblem and curse of a foolish shepherd. (15-17)
Verses 1-3 In figurative expressions, that destruction of Jerusalem, and of the Jewish church and nation, is foretold, which our Lord Jesus, when the time was at hand, prophesied plainly and expressly. How can the fir trees stand, if the cedars fall? The falls of the wise and good into sin, and the falls of the rich and great into trouble, are loud alarms to those every way their inferiors. It is sad with a people, when those who should be as shepherds to them, are as young lions. The pride of Jordan was the thickets on the banks; and when the river overflowed the banks, the lions came up from them roaring. Thus the doom of Jerusalem may alarm other churches.
Verses 4-14 Christ came into this world for judgment to the Jewish church and nation, which were wretchedly corrupt and degenerate. Those have their minds wofully blinded, who do ill, and justify themselves in it; but God will not hold those guiltless who hold themselves so. How can we go to God to beg a blessing on unlawful methods of getting wealth, or to return thanks for success in them? There was a general decay of religion among them, and they regarded it not. The Good Shepherd would feed his flock, but his attention would chiefly be directed to the poor. As an emblem, the prophet seems to have taken two staves; Beauty, denoted the privileges of the Jewish nation, in their national covenant; the other he called Bands, denoting the harmony which hitherto united them as the flock of God. But they chose to cleave to false teachers. The carnal mind and the friendship of the world are enmity to God; and God hates all the workers of iniquity: it is easy to foresee what this will end in. The prophet demanded wages, or a reward, and received thirty pieces of silver. By Divine direction he cast it to the potter, as in disdain for the smallness of the sum. This shadowed forth the bargain of Judas to betray Christ, and the final method of applying it. Nothing ruins a people so certainly, as weakening the brotherhood among them. This follows the dissolving of the covenant between God and them: when sin abounds, love waxes cold, and civil contests follow. No wonder if those fall out among themselves, who have provoked God to fall out with them. Wilful contempt of Christ is the great cause of men's ruin. And if professors rightly valued Christ, they would not contend about little matters.
Verses 15-17 God, having showed the misery of this people in their being justly left by the Good Shepherd, shows their further misery in being abused by foolish shepherds. The description suits the character Christ gives of the scribes and Pharisees. They never do any thing to support the weak, or comfort the feeble-minded; but seek their own ease, while they are barbarous to the flock. The idol shepherd has the garb and appearance of a shepherd, receives submission, and is supported at much expense; but he leaves the flock to perish through neglect, or leads them to ruin by his example. This suits many in different churches and nations, but the warning had an awful fulfilment in the Jewish teachers. And while such deceive others to their ruin, they will themselves have the deepest condemnation.
Zechariah 11:1-17 . DESTRUCTION OF THE SECOND TEMPLE AND JEWISH POLITY FOR THE REJECTION OF MESSIAH.
1. Open thy doors, O Lebanon--that is, the temple so called, as being constructed of cedars of Lebanon, or as being lofty and conspicuous like that mountain (compare Ezekiel 17:3 , Habakkuk 2:17 ). Forty years before the destruction of the temple, the tract called "Massecheth Joma" states, its doors of their own accord opened, and Rabbi Johanan in alarm said, I know that thy desolation is impending according to Zechariah's prophecy. CALVIN supposes Lebanon to refer to Judea, described by its north boundary: "Lebanon," the route by which the Romans, according to JOSEPHUS, gradually advanced towards Jerusalem. MOORE, from HENGSTENBERG, refers the passage to the civil war which caused the calling in of the Romans, who, like a storm sweeping through the land from Lebanon, deprived Judea of its independence. Thus the passage forms a fit introduction to the prediction as to Messiah born when Judea became a Roman province. But the weight of authority is for the former view.
2. fir tree . . . cedar--if even the cedars (the highest in the state) are not spared, how much less the fir trees (the lowest)!
forest of . . . vintage--As the vines are stripped of their grapes in the vintage (compare Joel 3:13 ), so the forest of Lebanon "is come down," stripped of all its beauty. Rather, "the fortified" or "inaccessible forest" [MAURER]; that is, Jerusalem dense with houses as a thick forest is with trees, and "fortified" with a wall around. Compare Micah 3:12 , where its desolate state is described as a forest.
3. shepherds--the Jewish rulers.
their glory--their wealth and magnificence; or that of the temple, "their glory" ( 13:1 , Luke 21:5 ).
young lions--the princes, so described on account of their cruel rapacity.
pride of Jordan--its thickly wooded banks, the lair of "lions" ( Jeremiah 12:5 , 49:19 ). Image for Judea "spoiled" of the magnificence of its rulers ("the young lions"). The valley of the Jordan forms a deeper gash than any on the earth. The land at Lake Merom is on a level with the Mediterranean Sea; at the Sea of Tiberias it falls six hundred fifty feet below that level, and to double that depression at the Dead Sea, that is, in all, 1950 feet below the Mediterranean; in twenty miles' interval there is a fall of from three thousand to four thousand feet.
4. The prophet here proceeds to show the cause of the destruction just foretold, namely, the rejection of Messiah.
flock of . . . slaughter--( Psalms 44:22 ). God's people doomed to slaughter by the Romans. Zechariah here represents typically Messiah, and performs in vision the actions enjoined: hence the language is in part appropriate to him, but mainly to the Antitype, Messiah. A million and a half perished in the Jewish war, and one million one hundred thousand at the fall of Jerusalem. "Feed" implies that the Jews could not plead ignorance of God's will to execute their sin. Zechariah and the other prophets had by God's appointment "fed" them ( Acts 20:28 ) with the word of God, teaching and warning them to escape from coming wrath by repentance: the type of Messiah, the chief Shepherd, who receives the commission of the Father, with whom He is one ( Zechariah 11:4 ); and Himself says ( Zechariah 11:7 ), "I will feed the flock of slaughter." Zechariah did not live to "feed" literally the "flock of slaughter"; Messiah alone "fed" those who, because of their rejection of Him, were condemned to slaughter. Jehovah-Messiah is the speaker. It is He who threatens to inflict the punishments ( Zechariah 11:6 Zechariah 11:8 ). The typical breaking of the staff, performed in vision by Zechariah ( Zechariah 11:10 ), is fulfilled in His breaking the covenant with Judah. It is He who was sold for thirty pieces of silver ( Zechariah 11:12 Zechariah 11:13 ).
5. possessors--The buyers [MAURER], their Roman oppressors, contrasted with "they that sell men." The instruments of God's righteous judgment, and therefore "not holding themselves guilty" ( Jeremiah 50:7 ). It is meant that they might use this plea, not that they actually used it. Judah's adversaries felt no compunction in destroying them; and God in righteous wrath against Judah allowed it.
they that sell them--(Compare Zechariah 11:12 ). The rulers of Judah, who by their avaricious rapacity and selfishness ( John 11:48 John 11:50 ) virtually sold their country to Rome. Their covetousness brought on Judea God's visitation by Rome. The climax of this was the sale of the innocent Messiah for thirty pieces of silver. They thought that Jesus was thus sold and their selfish interest secured by the delivery of Him to the Romans for crucifixion; but it was themselves and their country that they thus sold to the Roman possessors."
I am rich--by selling the sheep ( Deuteronomy 29:19 , Hosea 12:8 ). In short-sighted selfishness they thought they had gained their object, covetous self-aggrandizement ( Luke 16:14 ), and hypocritically "thanked" God for their wicked gain (compare Luke 18:11 ).
say . . . pity--In Hebrew it is singular: that is, each of those that sell them saith: Not one of their own shepherds pitieth them. An emphatical mode of expression by which each individual is represented as doing, or not doing, the action of the verb [HENDERSON]. HENGSTENBERG refers the singular verbs to JEHOVAH, the true actor; the wicked shepherds being His unconscious instruments. Compare Zechariah 11:6 , For I will no more pity, with the Hebrew "pitieth not" here.
6. Jehovah, in vengeance for their rejection of Messiah, gave them over to intestine feuds and Roman rule. The Zealots and other factious Jews expelled and slew one another by turns at the last invasion by Rome.
his king--Vespasian or Titus: they themselves ( John 19:15 ) had said, unconsciously realizing Zechariah's words, identifying Rome's king with Judah's ("his") king, "We have no king but Cæsar." God took them at their word, and gave them the Roman king, who "smote (literally, 'dashed in pieces') their land," breaking up their polity, when they rejected their true King who would have saved them.
7. And--rather, "Accordingly": implying the motive cause which led Messiah to assume the office, namely, the will of the Father ( Zechariah 11:4 Zechariah 11:5 ), who pitied the sheep without any true shepherd.
I will feed--"I fed" [CALVIN], which comes to the same thing, as the past tense must in Zechariah's time have referred to the event of Messiah's advent then future: the prophets often speaking of the future in vision as already present. It was not My fault, Jehovah implies, that these sheep were not fed; the fault rests solely with you, because ye rejected the grace of God [CALVIN].
even you, O poor of the flock--rather, "in order that (I might feed, that is, save) the poor (humble; compare Zechariah 11:11 , Zephaniah 3:12 , Matthew 5:3 ) of the flock"; literally, not you, but, "therefore (I will feed)" [MOORE]. See Margin, "Verily the poor." It is for the sake of the believing remnant that Messiah took charge of the flock, though He would have saved all, if they would have come to Him. They would not come; therefore, as a nation, they are "the flock of (that is, doomed to) slaughter."
I took . . . two staves--that is, shepherds' staves or rods ( Psalms 23:4 ). Symbolizing His assumption of the pastor's office.
Beauty--The Jews' peculiar excellency above other nations ( Deuteronomy 4:7 ), God's special manifestation to them ( Psalms 147:19 Psalms 147:20 ), the glory of the temple ("the beauty of holiness," Psalms 29:2 ; compare Psalms 27:4 , 90:17 , 2 Chronicles 20:21 ), the "pleasantness" of their land ( Genesis 49:15 , Daniel 8:9 , 11:16 ), "the glorious land."
Bands--implying the bond of "brotherhood" between Judah and Israel. "Bands," in Psalms 119:61 , Margin, is used for confederate companies: The Easterns in making a confederacy often tie a cord or band as a symbol of it, and untie it when they dissolve the confederacy [LUDOVICUS DE DIEU]. Messiah would have joined Judah and Israel in the bonds of a common faith and common laws ( Zechariah 11:14 ), but they would not; therefore in just retribution He broke "His covenant which He had made with all the people." Alexander, Antiochus Epiphanes, and Pompey were all kept from marring utterly the distinctive "beauty" and "brotherhood" of Judah and Israel, which subsisted more or less so long as the temple stood. But when Jehovah brake the staves, not even Titus could save the temple from his own Roman soldiery, nor was Jurian able to restore it.
8. Three shepherds . . . I cut off--literally, "to cause to disappear," to destroy so as not to leave a vestige of them. The three shepherds whom Messiah removes are John, Simon, and Eleazar, three leaders of factions in the Jewish war [DRUSIUS]. Or, as Messiah, the Antitype, was at once prophet, priest, and king, so He by the destruction of the Jewish polity destroyed these three orders for the unbelief of both the rulers and people [MOORE]. If they had accepted Messiah, they would have had all three combined in Him, and would have been themselves spiritually prophets, priests, and kings to God. Refusing Him, they lost all three, in every sense.
one month--a brief and fixed space of time ( Hosea 5:7 ). Probably alluding to the last period of the siege of Jerusalem, when all authority within the city was at an end [HENDERSON].
loathed them--literally, "was straitened" as to them; instead of being enlarged towards them in love ( 2 Corinthians 6:11 2 Corinthians 6:12 ). The same Hebrew as in Numbers 21:4 , Margin. No room was left by them for the grace of God, as His favors were rejected [CALVIN]. The mutual distaste that existed between the holy Messiah and the guilty Jews is implied.
9. Then said I--at last when all means of saving the nation had been used in vain ( John 8:24 ).
I will not--that is, no more feed you. The last rejection of the Jews is foretold, of which the former under Nebuchadnezzar, similarly described, was the type ( Jeremiah 15:1-3 , 34:17 , 43:11 , Ezekiel 6:12 ). Perish those who are doomed to perish, since they reject Him who would have saved them! Let them rush on to their own ruin, since they will have it so.
eat . . . flesh of another--Let them madly perish by mutual discords. JOSEPHUS attests the fulfilment of this prophecy of threefold calamity: pestilence and famine ("dieth . . . die"), war ("cut off . . . cut off"), intestine discord ("eat . . . one . . . another").
10. covenant which I made with all the people--The covenant made with the whole nation is to hold good no more except to the elect remnant. This is the force of the clause, not as MAURER, and others translate. The covenant which I made with all the nations (not to hurt My elect people, Hosea 2:18 ). But the Hebrew is the term for the elect people (Ammim), not that for the Gentile nations (Goiim). The Hebrew plural expresses the great numbers of the Israelite people formerly ( 1 Kings 4:20 ). The article is, in the Hebrew, all the or those peoples. His cutting asunder the staff "Beauty," implies the setting aside of the outward symbols of the Jews distinguishing excellency above the Gentiles
11. poor . . . knew--The humble, godly remnant knew by the event the truth of the prediction and of Messiah's mission. He had, thirty-seven years before the fall of Jerusalem, forewarned His disciples when they should see the city compassed with armies, to "flee unto the mountains." Accordingly, Cestius Gallus, when advancing on Jerusalem, unaccountably withdrew for a brief space, giving Christians the opportunity of obeying Christ's words by fleeing to Pella.
waited upon me--looked to the hand of God in all these calamities, not blindly shutting their eyes to the true cause of the visitation, as most of the nation still do, instead of referring it to their own rejection of Messiah. Isaiah 30:18-21 refers similarly to the Lord's return in mercy to the remnant that "wait for Him" and "cry" to Him ( Zephaniah 3:12 Zephaniah 3:13 ).
12. I said--The prophet here represents the person of Jehovah-Messiah.
If ye think good--literally, "If it be good in your eyes." Glancing at their self-sufficient pride in not deigning to give Him that return which His great love in coming down to them from heaven merited, namely, their love and obedience. "My price"; my reward for pastoral care, both during the whole of Israel's history from the Exodus, and especially the three and a half years of Messiah's ministry. He speaks as their "servant," which He was to them in order to fulfil the Father's will ( Philippians 2:7 ).
if not, forbear--They withheld that which He sought as His only reward, their love; yet He will not force them, but leave His cause with God ( Isaiah 49:4 Isaiah 49:5 ). Compare the type Jacob cheated of his wages by Laban, but leaving his cause in the hands of God ( Genesis 31:41 Genesis 31:42 ).
So . . . thirty pieces of silver--thirty shekels. They not only refused Him His due, but added insult to injury by giving for Him the price of a gored bond-servant ( Exodus 21:32 , Matthew 26:15 ). A freeman was rated at twice that sum.
13. Cast it unto the potter--proverbial: Throw it to the temple potter, the most suitable person to whom to cast the despicable sum, plying his trade as he did in the polluted valley ( 2 Kings 23:10 ) of Hinnom, because it furnished him with the most suitable clay. This same valley, and the potter's shop, were made the scene of symbolic actions by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:1-19:15') when prophesying of this very period of Jewish history. Zechariah connects his prophecy here with the older one of Jeremiah: showing the further application of the same divine threat against his unfaithful people in their destruction under Rome, as before in that under Nebuchadnezzar. Hence Matthew 27:9 , in English Version, and in the oldest authorities, quotes Zechariah's words as Jeremiah's, the latter being the original author from whom Zechariah derived the groundwork of the prophecy. Compare the parallel case of mark 1:2 mark 1:3 in the oldest manuscripts (though not in English Version), quoting Malachi's words as those of "Isaiah," the original source of the to Zechariah. The "potter" is significant of God's absolute power over the clay framed by His own hands ( Isaiah 45:9 , Jeremiah 18:6 , Romans 9:20 Romans 9:21 ).
in the house of the Lord--The thirty pieces are thrown down in the temple, as the house of Jehovah, the fit place for the money of Jehovah-Messiah being deposited, in the treasury, and the very place accordingly where Judas "cast them down." The thirty pieces were cast "to the potter," because it was to him they were "appointed by the Lord" ultimately to go, as a worthless price (compare Matthew 27:6 Matthew 27:7 Matthew 27:10 ). For "I took," "I threw," here Matthew has "they took," "they gave them"; because their (the Jews' and Judas') act was all His "appointment" (which Matthew also expresses), and therefore is here attributed to Him (compare Acts 2:23 , 4:28 ). It is curious that some old translators translate, for "to the potter," "to the treasury" (so MAURER), agreeing with Matthew 27:6 . But English Version agrees better with Hebrew and Matthew 27:10 .
14. The breaking of the bond of union between Judah and Israel's ten tribes under Rehoboam is here the image used to represent the fratricidal discord of factions which raged within Jerusalem on the eve of its fall, while the Romans were thundering at its gates without. See JOSEPHUS [Wars of the Jews]. Also the continued severance of the tribes till their coming reunion ( Romans 11:15 ).
15. yet--"take again"; as in Zechariah 11:7 previously he had taken other implements.
instruments--the accoutrements, namely, the shepherd's crook and staff, wallet, &c. Assume the character of a bad ("foolish" in Scripture is synonymous with wicked, Psalms 14:1 ) shepherd, as before thou assumedst that of a good shepherd. Since the Jews would not have Messiah, "the Good Shepherd" ( John 10:11 ), they were given up to Rome, heathen and papal, both alike their persecutor, especially the latter, and shall be again to Antichrist, the "man of sin," the instrument of judgment by Christ's permission. Antichrist will first make a covenant with them as their ruler, but then will break it, and they shall feel the iron yoke of his tyranny as the false Messiah, because they rejected the light yoke of the true Messiah ( Daniel 11:35-38 , 12:1 , 9:27 , 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 ). But at last he is to perish utterly ( Zechariah 11:17 ), and the elect remnant of Judah and Israel is to be saved gloriously.
16. in the land--Antichrist will probably he a Jew, or at least one in Judea.
not visit . . . neither . . . seek . . . heal . . . broken, nor feed . . . but . . . eat . . . flesh . . . tear--Compare similar language as to the unfaithful shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34:2-4 . This implies, they shall be paid in kind. Such a shepherd in the worst type shall "tear" them for a limited time.
those . . . cut off--"those perishing" [Septuagint], that is, those sick unto death, as if already cut off.
the young--The Hebrew is always used of human youths, who are really referred to under the image of the young of the flock. Ancient expositors [Chaldee Version, JEROME, &c.] translate, "the straying," "the dispersed"; so GESENIUS.
standeth still--with faintness lagging behind.
tear . . . claws--expressing cruel voracity; tearing off the very hoofs (compare Exodus 10:26 ), giving them excruciating pain, and disabling them from going in quest of pasture.
17. the idol--The Hebrew expresses both vanity and an idol. Compare Isaiah 14:13 , Daniel 11:36 , 2 Thessalonians 2:4 , Revelation 13:5 Revelation 13:6 , as to the idolatrous and blasphemous claims of Antichrist. The "idol shepherd that leaveth the flock" cannot apply to Rome, but to some ruler among the Jews themselves, at first cajoling, then "leaving" them, nay, destroying them ( Daniel 9:27 , 11:30-38 ). God's sword shall descend on his "arm," the instrument of his tyranny towards the sheep ( 2 Thessalonians 2:8 ); and on his "right eye," wherewith he ought to have watched the sheep ( John 10:12 John 10:13 ). However, Antichrist shall destroy, rather than "leave the flock." Perhaps, therefore, the reference is to the shepherds who left the flock to Antichrist's rapacity, and who, in just retribution, shall feel his "sword" on their "arm," which ought to have protected the flock but did not, and on their "eye," which had failed duly to watch the sheep from hurt. The blinding of "the right eye" has attached to it the notion of ignominy ( 1 Samuel 11:2 ).