Today's passage is Zechariah 11:1-17. It's arguably the most difficult chapter in the book of Zechariah. However, within this passage there are many powerful lessons and insights that the Holy Spirit would want us to learn. Let's go!
Zechariah 11:1-3 (NIV)
1 Open your doors, O Lebanon, so that fire may devour your cedars!
2 Wail, O pine tree, for the cedar has fallen; the stately trees are ruined! Wail, oaks of Bashan; the dense forest has been cut down!
3 Listen to the wail of the shepherds; their rich pastures are destroyed! Listen to the roar of the lions; the lush thicket of the Jordan is ruined!
On verses 1-3: The first three verses of Zechariah 11 may be the most difficult in the whole chapter to interpret. Various interpretations for these verses have been suggested. Most likely these verses are describing the grief and suffering that the people would experience after rejecting the Messiah in verses 4-14.
In verses 1 and 2, what does Zechariah mean when he talks about cedars of Lebanon and oaks of Bashan being cut down? Zechariah is building on the prophet Isaiah who also used the term "cedars of Lebanon" and "oaks of Bashan" to describe those who are arrogant and prideful and how God would bring them down (see Isaiah 2:12). Similarly, in verse 3, the shepherds and lions Zechariah is referring to are probably metaphors for arrogant and prideful people who reject the Lord and who subsequently will be destroyed as a result.
What can we learn from this? Don't let pride and arrogance creep into your heart. Remember that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5).
Zechariah 11:4-6 (NIV)
4 This is what the LORD my God says: "Pasture 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 hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king. They will oppress the land, and I will not rescue them from their hands."
On verses 4-6: In verses 4-14, the Lord tells Zechariah to dress up as a good shepherd who takes care of a flock "marked for slaughter" -- in other words, a flock that no one wants, that everyone is out to use and abuse rather than to care for (v5) and a flock that even God Himself has rejected (v6). This flock represents the Jews, who had been used and abused by those who possessed her, and whom God Himself had rejected because of their constant rebellion against Him.
Zechariah 11:7 (NIV)
7 So I pastured 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 pastured the flock.
On verse 7: Playing the dramatic role of a good shepherd, Zechariah takes care of this flock of sheep the best way he can, caring especially for the weak and oppressed. He then takes two staffs, calling one Favor (or "beauty", "lovely", "pleasant", "grace") and the other Unity (or literally, "ties"). What does this mean? Favor represents a blessed vertical relationship with God and Unity represents blessed horizontal relationships with people. God's plan for His people has always been that they would enjoy "Favor" (a blessed relationship with Him) and "Unity" (blessed relationships with one another). That's His plan for you and me too.
Today as I was reading this passage, the Holy Spirit showed me something beautiful: when Zechariah plays a good shepherd holding two staffs, this is a picture of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14) who laid down His life for all of us who were weak and oppressed. Jesus came to give us favor (a blessed relationship with God) and unity (blessed relationships with people). He did so holding out two staffs in the form of a cross and dying on it. Jesus died on a cross made of two staffs so that we could have favor with God and unity with one another.
Zechariah 11:8-11 (NIV)
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 afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the LORD.
On verses 8-11: Zechariah does his best to take care of the sheep, even getting rid of other shepherds (v8a). Yet the flock did not appreciate what Zechariah did to shepherd them. In fact, they detested Zechariah and rejected him (v8b). So Zechariah in turn chose to leave them alone to fend for themselves (v8b-9). To symbolize Zechariah's choice to leave the flock alone to fend for themselves, Zechariah breaks the staff called Favor.
What can we learn from this? When we reject Jesus our good shepherd, Jesus will not insist on continuing to lead and shepherd us. He will leave us to our own devices. As 2 Timothy 2:12 says, "if we disown him, he will also disown us". Jesus will not insist on staying where he is not wanted. And the result of us rejecting Jesus? Favor is broken, and our vertical relationship with God is lost. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting a relationship with God.
Zechariah 11:12-13 (NIV)
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 priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.
On verses 12-13: In verse 12 Zechariah requests that the flock give him his wages for his hard work. He requests it so humbly too: "If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it" (v12). Yet to add insult to injury, the flock pays him the lowly price of 30 pieces of silver. This was an insulting compensation, for according to the Jewish law, 30 pieces of silver was the price you would pay for a slave that had been killed or gored by a bull (Exodus 21:32). So the Lord tells Zechariah not to accept that "handsome price" (Zechariah says it sarcastically), but to "throw it to the potter".
What can we learn from this?
1. Verses 11 and 12 are prophetic, foretelling specific details of the day 500 years later when Judas would betray Jesus:
- just as Zechariah was paid 30 pieces of silver, Judas sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16);
- later on, the Holy Spirit would convict Judas of his sin, and just as Zechariah threw the 30 pieces of silver into the house of the Lord (v13), Judas threw the 30 pieces of silver into the the temple and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5);
- just as in Zechariah's case the 30 pieces of silver would end up where the potter was (v13), the religious leaders would take the money Judas had thrown away and use it to buy a potter's field (Matthew 27:6-10).
2. Especially if you have committed your working life to serving God and His people, remember this: the way God values you is not the same as the way some people will value you. When others do not value or appreciate your hard work, do not let their view of you determine your view of you. Remember this: people treated Jesus the same way. People valued Jesus and His work at the low price of 30 pieces of silver, when in fact there is no price that can be placed on Jesus and His work on our behalf. Similarly, servant of God, remember that you are of indescribable worth to God and your labor for Him is worth much in His sight.
Zechariah 11:14 (NIV)
14 Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
On verse 14: Zechariah takes the second staff called Unity that he used to shepherd the flock and breaks it. What can we learn from this? The second thing that happens when we reject Jesus as our shepherd is that our horizontal relationships -- and especially our relationships with people in the body of Christ -- become broken.
Zechariah 11:15-16 (NIV)
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 hoofs.
On verses 15-17: After playing the part of a good shepherd, Zechariah is then instructed by the Lord to play the part of a foolish shepherd (v15). It was meant as a sign and warning to the people: because they rejected the good shepherd, another shepherd will come who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will simply devour the sheep (v16). God then speaks a curse on that "worthless shepherd". In verse 17b God curses the things in which that worthless shepherd places his hope: his strength (represented by his arm) and his intellect (represented by his eye).
What can we learn from this? Some scholars have tried to identify this worthless shepherd with a specific individual in history, such as Herod, Ptolemy IV or the anti-christ of the end times. Support for this interpretation is not entirely clear. In any event, there are at least two lessons we can learn from these verses:
1. If you don't appreciate the shepherds who work hard on your behalf, one day God will take them away and replace them with lazy, selfish, uncaring shepherds.
2. If you are a shepherd yourself (whether you're a parent, a small group leader, a pastor, or a manager of people), take your role very seriously. God will call every shepherd to account for the way they led the sheep in their care.
Holy Spirit, thank You for every powerful insight we can learn from this passage. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for being our Good Shepherd. Thank You for laying down Your life for us, even to the point of letting Yourself be devalued, rejected, and stepped on. You are worth more than all the silver and gold in this world. Help me to appreciate You and the hard working shepherds You have placed in my life. In Jesus' name, AMEN!