Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible Coffman's Commentaries
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bcc/ zechariah-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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This chapter has a dramatic and sudden warning in shocking contrast to the glorious promises revealed in the previous two chapters, fully in keeping with the pattern in all the sacred writings of depicting blessing and punishment side by side, alternating from one to the other. The Saviour himself recognized and used exactly that same device. For example, the same chapter speaks of heaven and hell, blessing and cursing, light and darkness, etc.; and this invariable pattern appears in practically all of the prophets. Thus Zechariah is absolutely consistent in moving from the glorious promises just related to this sorrowful prophecy of the final overthrow and destruction of the Chosen People, the removal of their government, the destruction of vast numbers of their population, and the delivery of those that remained into the hands of the false shepherds they had preferred to the True Shepherd.
This is one of the easiest chapters in the Bible to interpret, due to the inspired Matthew having applied the central incident in the chapter to the betrayal of Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver by Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-10). With that as the key to the whole chapter, the whole passage unravels with remarkable boldness and clarity.
It is amusing that liberal commentators who cannot find Jesus Christ anywhere in this chapter are unanimous in their declaration that the chapter "is difficult," "no concensus is possible," "it is impossible to identify these," etc., etc. For example, in the case of the "three shepherds" removed in a month (Zechariah 11:8), more than forty opinions have been expressed by the greatest liberal scholars of this century concerning the interpretation of them. All such confusion merely demonstrates that when the obvious, central meaning of Zechariah 11 is ignored, the whole passage becomes impossible of any intelligent explanation. We are thankful for the clear vision and vital faith of many of the older commentators who do not hesitate to interpret the chapter as a reference to the rejection of Christ by Israel. Jamieson gave the whole chapter a single rifle: "The Destruction of the Second Temple and the Jewish Polity for their Rejection of the Messiah." Amen! That is what every word of this chapter is about. Deane titled the three subsections of the chapter thus:
"Wail, O fir tree, for the cedar is fallen, because the goodly ones are destroyed: wail, O ye oaks of Bashan, for the strong forest is come down. A voice of the wailing of the shepherds! for their glory is destroyed: a voice of the roaring of young lions! for the pride of the Jordan is laid waste."
Zechariah 11:3 "explains Zechariah 11:2. The cedars, firs, and oaks are the false shepherds of Israel, "the goodly ones" who possessed the wealth and glory of Israel and whom Jesus himself spoke of in the parable as "rich, clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day" (Luke 16:19). None of the secular kings of surrounding nations appears here in any sense.
These verses have the effect of introducing, not merely the certainty of Israel's destruction, but also the reason for it, namely, their evil "shepherds" or leaders. "Thus Zechariah builds up in picture form the vision of total irresistible catastrophe." These verses (Zechariah 11:1-3) are actually a prelude to the entire judgment revealed in Zechariah 11. The theme is that of disaster falling upon the false shepherds of Israel. We may forget about some alleged picture of the destruction of Syria and Egypt (Mitchell), the fall of leaders of the nations that had oppressed the Jews (Gailey). "The prophet is looking to the complete destruction of the Jewish economy." "Thus the devastation of Lebanon is a figurative representation of the destruction of the Israelitish kingdom."
The theme of the dramatic judgment having been announced, the prophet himself is instructed to act out the part of the Good Shepherd in the tale of horrors leading up to the catastrophe. "He is to feed the flock whose buyers slay them and hold themselves guiltless." The prophet goes forward here, not performing those actions for himself but for Another, doing things, which in truth, "Neither Zechariah nor any other prophet ever did, but only God through his Son."
"Thus said Jehovah my God: Feed the flock of slaughter."
This is a shocking reference to God's people; why are they called "the flock of slaughter"? Certainly, this is one of the most important revelations in the chapter; but the comment of Mitchell misses the whole point of this. He said, "This seems to have been ignored by those who find here a representation of the Good Shepherd." Such a conclusion itself ignores the fact that it was not the Shepherd who delivered the sheep to the slaughter, but the evil shepherds whom Israel preferred to follow instead of the Good. Shepherd. Zechariah was not instructed to lead the sheep to slaughter, but to feed them "The Shepherd depicted by Zechariah can only be the Messiah." The reason they were called "the flock of slaughter" sprang from the fact that slaughter was their irrevocable destiny, just so long as the Jews preferred their own evil shepherds to the True One. Zechariah's instruction here to "Feed the flock" refers to Christ himself coming into the ranks of the Chosen People to instruct and lead them in the paths of righteousness. "Last of All" God sent his Son in the hope of averting their self-motivated dash to destruction. Henry's summation here is helpful:
"Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty; and they that sell them say, Blessed be Jehovah, for I am rich; and their own shepherds pity them not."
"Whose possessors ... and they that sell them ... and their own shepherds ..." These are not three classes, but rather three designations of one class of men, the evil shepherds. The conflict between the Good Shepherd and the evil shepherds is one of the central themes of the four gospels. We believe that here is the key to the identification of the "three shepherds" that were "cut off" in Zechariah 11:8 the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, or (by identifying the scribes and the Pharisees as one party), the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians who are so visible in Matthew 22.
"Blessed be Jehovah, for I am rich ..." This is a further clue to the identity of the "possessors ... sellers ... and shepherds" mentioned as they who said such a thing. In Hosea 12:8, the same class of persons, the leaders of Ephraim, as evil and crooked as any of the old Canaanites ever were, holding in their hands the "balances of deceit," and "loving to oppress" God's people (Hosea 12:7), attempted to justify themselves before God by the bold and arrogant assertion that, "Surely I have become rich, I have found me wealth: in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that were sin!" (Hosea 12:8). (See my full comment on this passage in Hosea, Commentary on the Minor Prophets, vol. 2, pp. 198,199.) This attitude on the part of the class of men which dominates this verse represents exactly that of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians of Jesus' personal ministry. Whatever made them rich was justifiable in their eyes. Selling and slaying God's sheep, which they counted as their personal possessions, were all in the day's work for them.
"And their own shepherds pity them not ..."; John 9-10, recounting the brutal and inhuman behavior of the Sanhedrin (Pharisees, and Herodians) in their harassment of the man born blind, along with his poor parents, and their "casting him out" of the synagogue, afford a classic example of their pitiless conduct toward the innocent.
"For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith Jehovah; but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbor'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."
This statement, identified as the Word of God Himself, reveals the internal conditions in Israel that shall precede the nation's downfall. Civil strife, disorder, and anarchy shall precede their delivery into the hands of "their king" ("his king"), that king being none other than the Roman emperor, formally accepted and proclaimed as their only king by the people themselves when they cried, "We have no other king but Caesar" (John 19:15). Josephus' has an extensive history of the strife and turmoil among the Jews prior to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (For some of the details in that violent disorder, see my commentary on Mark, p. 274.)
"I will deliver ..." That it was indeed God Himself that delivered the city of Jerusalem up to the Romans, we have the testimony of the Roman emperor himself. After Titus concluded the siege and entered the city, he was so impressed with the strength and ingenuity of its fortifications that he said:
Every once in awhile, one finds in a critical commentary an expression of profound truth, much in the manner of Caiaphas' divine prophecy in John 11:50-52. This is one: "This verse (Zechariah 11:6) is treated as a gloss by some of the later critics, but that is because they have misunderstood the context!" Amen! We might go a step further and behold here also the reason for the vast majority of the excisions, emendations, and rearrangements so freely advocated in critical circles.
"So, I fed the flock of slaughter, verily the poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands."
"I fed the flock, verily the poor ..." God is still the speaker here; and how did God feed the flock? by the appearance and ministry of the son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus' ministry was primarily concerned with the poor, upon whom he lavished the most marvelous compassion. He said, "Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20).
"And I took unto me two staves ..." Zechariah is the speaker here; and the sudden transition without a break indicates that what Zechariah did was done specifically upon the Father's orders. This device of the prophet's symbolical action in which the divine message was conveyed to the people is seen also in the prophecies of Amos, Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah and others. Nobody but the critics has any problem understanding it.
What is the meaning of the two staves? Every shepherd carried a staff; although no distinction is made here with reference to the use of these, we assume that Matthew Henry was correct in the observation that:
That there was a different utility for each staff appears in their being given distinctive names; and in the light of Psalms 23, and from the fact of their endowment with separate symbolical meanings, we behold here a positive identification of Jesus Christ with the Good Shepherd of Psalms 23. Christ came both to support and to correct Israel, with his "rod and staff." Indeed Christ himself flatly declared to the evil shepherds themselves, "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11).
"And I cut off the three shepherds in one month; for my soul was weary of them, and their soul also loathed me."
"The three shepherds ..." We identify these with the three classes of evil shepherds which dominated the life of Israel during the ministry of Christ, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians. Lewis believed that, "No clue to the identity of these persons is available"; but Zechariah 11:5 seems definitely to be such a clue. See under that verse, above. It seems clear enough, as Keil affirmed, that, "The persons occurring in this vision are not individuals, but classes of men." Despite the fact of commentators having identified the "three shepherds .... in at least forty different ways," we strongly feel that none of the identifications we have seen fills the bill so exactly as that we have accepted.
"In one month ..." Such an expression in any prophecy usually stands for "a little time"; and as Henry stated, after mentioning the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians as a possible identification, "All of them Christ silenced in dispute (Matthew 22) and soon after cut off, in a little time." Mitchell's assertion that Zechariah representing Jehovah in this verse could not possibly have been the one seen, "destroying three other shepherds for the same offence he was instructed to commit," is merely a case of failure to distinguish between the false shepherds (those destroyed) and the Good Shepherd who "cut them off." Some theologians do not believe that God will ever "cut off" any one, no matter what they do. Evidently the ancient enemies of Jesus spoken of in this verse were of the same opinion. However, the tragic destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 nevertheless occurred.
"Then said I, I will not feed you: that which dieth, let it die; and that which is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let them that are left eat every one the flesh of another."
Here is detailed the attitude that Mitchell and other critics consider to be impossible in God; but when all else fails, God throughout human history has destroyed the incorrigibly wicked. The first great example of it was the deluge that swept over the ancient world. The whole theology of judicial hardening is little understood, but it is a fact, none the less. As Gill said:
Horrible as this prophecy for Israel appears, it was literally fulfilled. "Even the cannibalism described here was fulfilled literally during the final days of the siege of Titus." Sword, pestilence, and famine, the three great destroyers in all wars, appear here under the metaphor appropriate to a shepherd and the sheep.
"And I cut my staff Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples."
This symbolical breaking of the staff Beauty indicated that God would terminate finally and irrevocably the covenant with Israel. "All the peoples" here probably indicates, as suggested by Higginson, that it means, "The northern and southern kingdoms, Israel in toto." Of course, there is another sense in which the covenant with Abraham was designed to "bless all the families of the earth," and some think that is meant. However that covenant with Abraham was never broken, nor will it ever be broken.
We agree with Gill that after the rejection of the Messiah by Israel and God's termination of the covenant indicated here, that the termination was effective primarily and solely to the fleshly Israel. This ended forever their status as having any claim to be "God chosen people." "From this time forward, the fulfillment of the covenant and the fate of the Jew per se are two entirely separate matters."
Unger's reference of "all the peoples" as an inclusion of all the people on earth does not seem to be correct. The covenant to be broken was not God's promise to bless "all the families of the earth" in the Seed (singular) of Abraham, for that covenant still stands (See Galatians 3:36ff).
"And it was broken in that day; and thus the poor of the flock that gave heed unto me knew that it was the word of Jehovah."
"In that day ..." means in the generation of Israel's rejection of Christ and the destruction of their temple, state, and city that followed before that generation passed away.
"The poor of the flock that gave heed unto me ..." Christ is the one to whom the poor gave heed. "And the common people heard him gladly" (Mark 12:37). This clause also has the ability of showing which portion of the flock would be allowed to die and suffer the ravages of sword, pestilence, and famine. They were the ones who gave no heed to the word of Christ; and, for that reason, not even he could redeem them.
"(They) knew it was the word of Jehovah ..." A remnant of Israel did indeed recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and followed him, bringing the light of the gospel to all mankind. Of such were the holy apostles and prophets of the New Testament.
"And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my hire; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver."
The KJV here uses the word "price" instead of hire, and that is preferable, although the word used is actually "hire." Although the word in Zechariah 11:12 actually means, "advantage arising from labor, wages, only one amount is spoken of in both verses; and it is far better to honor the AV rendition, despite the fact of two different words being used. The word "price," used in the next verse clarifies what is really meant here. The word in Zechariah 11:12 literally means, "value set upon a person."
"So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver ..." See at the end of Zechariah 11:13 for a minute examination of the significant fulfillment of this complex prophecy. The amount of money here is very revealing. Exodus 21:32 has this:
If the ox gore a man-servant or a maid-servant, there shall be given to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
Barnes noted that this was only half the value of a freeman. "A freeman is valued, more or less, at sixty shekels, but a slave at thirty." Note too, that a dead or severely-injured slave was so valued. Pusey interpreted Exodus 21:32 to mean "gored to death," affirming that the amount here was the "price of a slave gored to death." This is doubtless correct and casts an extremely sinister shadow over the whole transaction. True, Jesus was not yet dead when the Pharisees determined to pay Judas exactly thirty pieces of silver; but then they fully intended to kill him as soon as possible, overlooking the parallel fact that God's law required the "ox" to be stoned after such an incident! Although the brilliant company of false shepherds who bought Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, fully determined to be the "ox" that would gore him to death, they sealed at the same time their own fate.
How unspeakably callous, cruel, and diabolical was the action of the three evil shepherds (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, jointly making up the Sanhedrin) in sentencing Christ to death (Matthew 26:3-5) without a trial or any intention at the time of ever having one, determining the Holy One to be, in their eyes, already dead, and buying him from the traitor at a price that exhibited for all ages their unspeakable wickedness!
"If ye think good ... and if not forbear ..." Haggling over the price is indicated by this. It really makes no difference whether Judas or the evil shepherds finally determined the amount, the evil shepherds certainly approved and paid for it. Nor is there any problem with the fact that in Zechariah, the type of Jesus is the one who consummates the "deal," while in the gospels it was Judas. Judas was the servant of Jesus; and the Master is credited with the deeds of his servants (John 4:1,2); and, in addition to that, on the very night of the betrayal Jesus commanded Judas, "What thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:27). All of the details of this complicated prophecy were exactly and minutely fulfilled.
"So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver ..." Coinage was certainly known at the time of Christ's betrayal; but, as indicated here, the old device of weighing the amount was followed (Matthew 26:15), "And they weighed him thirty pieces of silver."
"And Jehovah said unto me, Cast it unto the potter, the goodly price that I was prized at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them unto the potter, in the house of Jehovah."
Here again the prevalent misunderstanding of the critics finds a stumbling block in the fact that here Jehovah cast the money unto the potter, whereas, in the New Testament it was Judas who did it. See under Zechariah 11:12, above. It was indeed God who cast that money to the potter; and the same thing is true of a number of other actions accredited in the New Testament to many of the persons engaged in the dark drama of Calvary. It was God who spoke a prophecy through the evil high priest (John 12:51,52); it was God who wrote: THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS as the inscription upon the cross; it was God who ordered the centurion who commanded the detail at Calvary to disobey the command of Pilate to break Jesus' legs; and it was God who flung the blood money at the feet of the High Priest, a signal of the infamous crimes of that priestly conclave coming home to roost; and it was God who ordered it paid to the potter for the purchase of a field, Aceldema, the Field of Blood. Well indeed might the prophet have said, "I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them unto the potter, in the house of the Lord," thus ascribing the action to God.
How futile are the screams of the critics who cannot identify this potter! There might not have been any. Zechariah was speaking, through the power of the Holy Ghost, of an incident that would not occur until centuries had rolled by. If one wishes to find the potter let him turn to Matthew 27:7 and to Acts 1:17-19.
Having already eliminated the glorious fulfillment of this passage from any consideration, it occurs to the critic that the text here should read differently: "It is pretty generally agreed that the text needs emendation! The command addressed to the Shepherd should read, `put it in the treasury'! How ridiculous! It was against the law of God to put blood money in the treasury (Matthew 27:6); and for men to emend the text to make God command the violation of his own law is going too far. Most commentators try to make out that "cast it unto the potter" is some kind of proverbial expression, such as "throw it to the dogs," "to the bats and moles," etc.; but we do not believe any such proverb ever existed, nor have we ever heard or seen it used. Men will not find "the potter" in this passage but in the disposition of the money that Judas hurled at the feet of the priest. How can a Christian commentator say, "No satisfactory explanation of the reference to the potter has been advanced?" Have such exegetes never heard of predictive prophecy? Well, that is positively what we have in this passage. If it is objected that the money in this passage was not actually "blood money," such has no bearing on the matter; because in the event being typically presented here, it was "blood money."
The thing that puzzles some students of this passage is that there was no "potter" who can be identified as associated in any manner with the Jewish temple. How then could Zechariah have recognized the potter and have thrown the money to him? Although no man has the answer to that question, we do have Zechariah's inspired statement that he did it! Therefore, he either already knew what God meant, or God revealed it to him at the moment of his obedience. "How" this was done is of of no concern whatever. The prophecy consisted of the fact that it was done exactly as God commanded, a truth affirmed by a separate declaration, "And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of Jehovah."
Matthew's referral of this passage to the prophecy of Jeremiah is a puzzle. We are sure that the reason for it would be clear if we had all of the facts. "Believers in the inspiration of the Scriptures reject the theory that ... it was due to a lapse of memory on Matthew's part." One of the giants of Biblical exegesis, Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, one of the most learned men of half a millennium, called attention to the fact that:
It remains one of the mysteries of the New Testament which we cannot explain; but some other things are clear enough. It was not Matthew who misunderstood this passage in Zechariah, it is the present-day critics who write their books without any reference to the Christ, who do not see any suggestion at all of him in this glorious chapter, and who have invented all kinds of tales that they try to fit into the picture that appears in such brilliance here. For example, Dummelow proposed the following as a fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy:
To which it should be stated that such a piddling and insignificant incident as that simply cannot be dignified with enough importance to justify a prophet of God foretelling the event centuries ahead of time. With some, it is a question of taking "any explanation except the true one."
A SUMMARY OF THIS PROPHECY
This prophecy of the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver is one of the most remarkable in the Bible. It is not a single prophecy, merely, but a whole constellation of prophecies. Note:
"Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel."
Commentators usually see in this the promise of strife and disorder before the final dissolution of the nation by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus; and this may well be included in the meaning. However, there is another possibility. This may refer to the breaking away of the true "Israel" from any further connection with the race factor. Henceforth, God's children would be accounted sons of Abraham, only if they manifested the grace and virtuous faith of Abraham. John 8 elaborated this in detail. The Pharisees boasted about being Abraham's sons; but Jesus said, "Ye are the sons of the devil?' "If ye were Abraham's sons, ye would believe in me." Also Paul noted that Christians are "the seed of Abraham" (Galatians 3:26f).
"The brotherhood between Judah and Israel ..." What brotherhood? If this is a reference to the northern and southern kingdoms of the old states of the Jews, neither of them was in existence; and the northern kingdom had already disappeared forever from human history. It appears reasonable then, that "Israel" here means the "true Israel," which no longer would be associated with the fleshly race of Abraham in any manner whatsoever. If this seems unreasonable, let it be remembered that this whole passage is dealing with times of the Messiah. The Church of Christ is called "the twelve tribes of the children of Israel" by Jesus (Matthew 19:28), by James (James 1:1), by Paul (Galatians 6:16), and by John (Revelation 7:4; 21:12); and in 1Peter, that apostle pre-empted all of the titles that once applied to the old Israel and applied them to the Israel of God in the church!
Thus, it appears certain that what happened in the breaking of Bands was the absolute and final removal of any racial connection from any consideration whatever as to who will be saved or lost eternally. This was an event of sufficient importance to merit inclusion in this phenomenal prophecy; but the disorders of the Roman period of conquest in Palestine do not so qualify.
"And Jehovah said unto me, Take unto thee yet again the instruments of a foolish shepherd."
We are not told what the instruments of a foolish shepherd were; but this statement is made to change the subject of the prophecy from that of the Good Shepherd to the evil shepherds who were so soon to be "cut off."
"Foolish shepherd ..." It is not important to identify the person meant by this. It means any worthless leader that God's people follow when they reject their true King. Significantly, Israel cried out upon the occasion of their formal rejection of Christ and said, "We have no king but Caesar." The wretched history of the reprobate emperors of Rome is comment enough upon how "foolish" such "shepherds" were. This passage "foreshadows the terrible afflictions of the Jews following their rejection of the Messiah."
"For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, who will not visit those that are cut off, neither will seek those that are scattered, nor heal that which is broken, nor feed that which is sound; but he will eat the flesh of the fat sheep, and will tear their hoofs in pieces."
Apparently, here are a number of duties normally performed by a faithful shepherd, but they are mentioned as being neglected to portray the evil and selfish character of the "false shepherd" whom the people will invariably receive as a consequence of their rejecting the Good Shepherd. Instead of trying to figure out how all this was fulfilled and by what persons in the long and tragic sequence of events after they rejected Christ, men should be concerned lest they also reject him who alone can save, and as a consequence, suffer the same calamities that overwhelmed the ancient Jews.
"Woe to the worthless shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened."
This curse upon the worthless shepherd fell repeatedly upon the worthless shepherds who, in turn, exploited and destroyed the ancient covenant people, after their final rejection of their true King and their choice of Caesar as the leader they would follow.
This final tragic verse of the chapter is an eloquent commentary upon the "false shepherds" of Israel, from the days of the fanatical general that led a thousand of them to suicide at Masada to the present Mount Begin, Prime Minister of the Jewish state. Christ could save and bless this marvelous people, but throughout the ages their "false shepherds" have continued to eat them up!