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Bible Commentaries
Zechariah 11

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3494. B.C. 510.

In the three preceding chapters Zechariah speaks of the advantages and prosperities of Judah and Jerusalem, after the return from Babylon, both before and after the times of the Maccabees. But this chapter contains a prophecy of a very different nature. Here he predicts the ruin of the temple, the reprobation of the Jews, and their subjection to the Romans , vv1-3. But previous to these calamities taking place, this flock of God is delivered into the hands of the Messiah, typified by the prophet, who is charged with the custody of it, Zechariah 11:4-6 . This he undertakes, and bears rule for some time; but at length, finding them perverse, he gives up the care of them, and as a token of it, breaks his shepherd’s staves, resenting the contempt put upon him, and the indignities done him, Zechariah 11:7-14 . After this the prophet is held forth as the type of a worthless shepherd, or a succession of evil governors, who, heedless of the flock, or seeking only to oppress it, at once ruin the flock and bring destruction on themselves, Zechariah 11:15-17 .

Verse 1

Zechariah 11:1. Open thy doors, O Lebanon The prophet, having signified in the foregoing prophecy that the Jewish nation should recover its prosperity, flourish for some time, and become considerable; and having announced to Zion the coming of Messiah her king, and congratulated her on the peaceable nature and great extent of his kingdom, with the blessed effects which his rule should produce, proceeds now to foretel the ruin which should come on the body of the Jewish nation for rejecting him, with the destruction of their temple and capital city. To this only can the first three verses of this chapter relate; for no calamities happened to that people, from the time of Zechariah till that event, of which the expressions here used can with propriety be understood. Lebanon itself cannot be here addressed, which had no doors or gates: but it is figuratively put, either for the temple, built of the cedars of Lebanon, as it is Ezekiel 17:3; and Habakkuk 2:17; or for the city of Jerusalem, whose lofty buildings resembled the stately ranks of trees in a forest: but the former is more probably intended. And, if the Jewish writers may be credited, such was the application made of this prophecy by the Rabbi Johanan, when the doors of the temple opened of their own accord, a little before the temple was burned, a circumstance attested by Josephus, Bell. Jud. lib. 6. cap. 5: “Then R. Johanan, a disciple of R. Hillel, directing his speech to the temple, said, ‘I know thy destruction is at hand, according to the prophecy of Zechariah:’ Open thy doors, O Lebanon, &c.” That the fire Either, figuratively, the wrath of God and the rage of the enemy, or, literally, fire kindled by the enemy; may devour thy cedars Thy palaces and other fabrics built with cedars.

Verses 2-3

Zechariah 11:2-3. Howl, fir-tree By the several sorts of trees here mentioned, seem to be meant the several orders and degrees of men, who should be sharers in the common destruction: see Isaiah 2:13; Isaiah 10:33-34; and the notes. The fir-tree seems to denote the lower people, who are bid to howl because even their superiors, signified by the cedar, could not withstand the storm. Howl, O ye oaks of Bashan O ye rich, great, and powerful people of the land; Bashan was famous for its stately oaks. For the forest of the vintage Or rather, a forest, the fenced one, is come down “As the inhabitants are represented under the image of the trees, the city is aptly denoted by a forest; to which is added by way of distinction הבצר , the fenced one, the article ה being emphatic, and marking the extraordinary strength of its fortifications, or fence, which, however, proves insufficient for its security.” There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds That is, of the princes and rulers of the people. For their glory is spoiled Their magnificent houses are destroyed. A voice of the roaring of young lions Those who are in the foregoing sentence called shepherds, are here called young lions, because they were devourers of the people by their extortions and oppressions. The pride of Jordan is spoiled By the pride of Jordan, those woods and thickets are primarily intended that rose proudly above the banks of that river, and greatly decorated the scene. But as those were the receptacles of lions, they are here, in a secondary and metaphorical sense, put for the residences of those princes and grandees, who are denominated lions in the preceding clause for the reason now mentioned.

Verses 4-5

Zechariah 11:4-5. Feed the flock of the slaughter That is, the people, who are so denominated, because they were devoted to ruin by the following mischievous counsels of their false teachers, and the oppressions of their rulers. This command seems to be addressed to Zechariah; but an insuperable objection lies against its being understood as given to him in his own person, because he did not live in such times as are here described; for Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the high-priest, it appears, were men of extraordinary piety and virtue; and no doubt the rest of the princes or rulers of the people at this time were good men. We can, therefore, understand it in no other manner, as addressed to Zechariah, than as he typified Christ; and so God commanded him to do that which he had appointed Christ to do, namely, to gather and feed the lost sheep of Israel, which their shepherds scattered and destroyed. Whose possessors slay them Whose governors and teachers are the cause of their destruction. Those are not improperly said to do a thing who are the cause of its being done. And hold themselves not guilty Are not aware of the great guilt of their conduct; or, act as if they thought they might lawfully make merchandise of men’s bodies or souls, for their own lucre or advantage. See 2 Peter 2:3. And they that sell them Who betray their persons, or liberty, or property, for profit; or sell them for slaves to foreigners; or, by their exactions and oppressions, reduce them to such poverty that they are obliged to sell themselves; say, Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich That is, they hypocritically and impiously pretend to return God thanks for having put it in their power to acquire riches by such ungodly practices! And their own shepherds That is, their chief priests, princes, and rulers, as above; pity them not Destroy them without remorse. In Christ’s time, which seems to be here referred to, “the chief priests and the elders, who were the possessors of the flock, by their traditions, the commandments of men, and their impositions on the consciences of the people, were become perfect tyrants, devouring their houses, engrossing their wealth, and fleecing the flock instead of feeding it. The Sadducees, who were Deists, corrupted their judgments; the Pharisees, who were bigots for superstitious observances, corrupted their morals by making void the commandments of God, Matthew 15:6. Thus they slew the sheep of the flock; thus they sold them. They cared not what became of them, so they could but gain their own ends, and serve their own interests.” Henry.

Verse 6

Zechariah 11:6. I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land I will no more spare them than their shepherds do. The inhabitants of the land are to be distinguished from the poor of the flock in the next verse. By the former are meant those who in their respective stations were as wicked as the rulers, chief priests, and others, termed their shepherds, Zechariah 11:5; by the latter, those who were oppressed and were piously disposed. But I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour’s hand “This verse assigns the reason for calling the people, the flock of slaughter. Nor can words more aptly describe the calamities which befell the Jews in the war which ended in the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans; when the people, having first, by their intestine broils, destroyed one another, as is set forth at large by Josephus, at length fell into the hand of him whom they had owned for their sovereign, (‘we have no king but Cesar,’ John 19:15,) and who completely desolated the land for their rebellion against him.” Blayney.

Verse 7

Zechariah 11:7. And Or rather, but, I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you Or, especially you, O poor of the flock Zechariah here, representing Christ the true shepherd, says, he will enter upon his office, and undertake the care of the flock appointed for the slaughter; even you, O poor of the flock This clause is explicatory of the former, and by the repetition of it we are shown, that God, in his charge to the prophet, as a type of Christ, and to Christ the antitype, distinguishes clearly between different sorts of people among the Jews; between those that were poor, despised, weak, and humble, and those that were tyrannical, proud, and cruel, and made a prey of their inferiors: these were left out of the pastoral charge; the others were to be taken care of. And I took unto me two staves These were the proper accoutrements of a shepherd, and these the prophet assumed as a badge of his office, and gave them significant names, which are partly explained, Zechariah 11:10-14. “The shepherds of old time,” says Lowth, “had two rods, or staves, one turned round at the top, that it might not hurt the sheep: this was for counting them, and separating the sound from the diseased, Leviticus 27:32; the other had an iron hook at the end of it, to pull in and hold the straying sheep. The psalmist mentions both these, Psalms 23:4, Thy rod and thy staff comfort me.” The one I called Beauty Or, pleasantness, or, delight, as the word נועם may be rendered, signifying, says Lowth, his favour, gentleness, or kindness toward his people; which was remarkably verified in Christ, whose gracious words, and beneficial works, were conspicuous through the whole course of his life. The other I called Bands Which the same author interprets of the bond of the new covenant, whereby he intended to unite both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah under himself, as their head and king, Ezekiel 37:22; and then afterward to unite the Jews and the Gentiles into one church, by breaking down the partition wall that was between them. Newcome considers the former, Beauty, as intended to “denote how beautiful and pleasant the land would have been, if its inhabitants had kept their covenant with God.” The other, Bands, “ as signifying the union which ought to have subsisted between Judah and Israel.” Mr. Scott explains “the former word of the honour, privilege, and ornament which the Jews possessed, according to their national covenant, in the oracles, instituted worship, and temple of God; and especially by the ministry of Christ and his apostles, who preached the gospel to them first.” The other, he thinks, means, “the connection of the nation under one government, and the harmony that had, in some measure, hitherto united them, as the flock of God.” Many other interpretations are given of these two names, but as they all are, and must be, in a great measure, founded on conjecture, the reader is not here troubled with them.

Verse 8

Zechariah 11:8. Three shepherds also I cut off in one month The prophet may be said to do what God did; either in the punishment of certain false prophets, or of certain wicked governors. Some think, that by these three shepherds were figuratively signified the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the Jews. Christ exposed these as blind guides, and thereby lessened their authority among the people, which contributed very much to the spreading of the gospel. Blayney, who thinks the common translation encumbered with insuperable difficulties, renders the clause, and I set aside the authority of the shepherds in one month. His reasons for this interpretation have certainly considerable weight, but cannot with propriety be introduced here. One argument, however, in favour of it, to which he appeals, may be noticed. It evidently suits that application of the prophecy which most commentators adopt. “Let us now see,” says he, “what happened to him, of whom Zechariah is evidently set forth as the type. Our Saviour’s teaching was in a style so far superior to that of the professed guides of the people in his days, that, stung with jealousy, they exclaimed, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Ye have lost all your wonted influence; behold the world is gone after him, John 12:19. Even so it may be presumed the purity and disinterestedness of Zechariah’s instructions may have gained so far upon the minds of the people as to deprive the corrupt and selfish teachers of that ascendency which they once possessed.” And my soul loathed them Or, was straitened toward them, as the Hebrew, תקצר בהם , may be literally translated, that is, I was straitened in my affections to them. I was less tender toward them than toward the poor of the flock, because they showed themselves to be averse from my person and doctrine. So the Vulgate, contracta est anima mea in eis. The LXX., however, read, βαρυνθησεται η ψυχη μου , my soul shall be burdened; and Bishop Newcome, my soul was grieved at them. The word בחלה , rendered abhorred, in the next clause, does not occur elsewhere in the Scriptures, but, according to Bishop Newcome, bears that sense in the Syriac. The LXX. render it, αι ψυκαι αυτων επωρυοντο επ ’ εμε , Their souls howled, bellowed, roared, or, raised a horrible outcry against me, an expression strikingly descriptive of the fierce and vehement accusations of the Jewish chief priests, scribes, and elders against Christ, and of the violent, loud, and oft-repeated clamours of the people for his condemnation and crucifixion. Of which see Luke 23:5; Luke 23:10; Luke 23:18-24.

Verse 9

Zechariah 11:9. Then said I, will not feed you I will no longer exercise a tender paternal care over you; that that dieth, let it die Or rather, the dying let it die; that which has a deadly disease, let it perish by that disease. Or, that which is ready to die, and will not be cured, but hath rejected the shepherd’s love and skill, let it die. Thus Jesus said, If ye believe not, ye shall die in your sins. For this seems to be spoken of the miseries to which the Jewish people were delivered up for their manifold sins, and in particular for their rejection of Christ, which filled up the measure of their iniquity. And that that is to be cut off Namely, by the sword of the enemy; let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another Either live to be besieged till hunger and famine make the living eat the dead, or cruelly kill their children and others, that they may eat their flesh; a calamity threatened, Deuteronomy 28:52-58; or else, by seditious and bloody intestine quarrels, destroy each other; all which happened to them in the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Verses 10-11

Zechariah 11:10-11. And I took my staff, even Beauty Or, pleasantness, or delight. See note on Zechariah 11:7: emblematical, as of God’s favour, gentleness, or kindness to his people, and of the honour and privilege which they possessed in his oracles, instituted worship, and temple; so especially of God’s covenant with them, and all the blessings of it. And cut it asunder To signify that, as they had rejected God and his favour, and refused to comply with the terms of his covenant, so that God had now annulled it, and rendered it utterly void. That I might break my covenant This, in some measure, illustrates what is meant by the staff Beauty. While it was unbroken, the covenant between God and the Jews was whole and unbroken. And it is to be observed, Christ calls it his covenant, for he was the mediator of it: namely, to bring us to God in repentance, faith, and holy obedience; and to reconcile God to us in mercy and grace. Which I had made with all the people Hebrew, כל עמים , literally, all people, that is, all the tribes of Israel; and all other people that, by being proselyted to their religion, were incorporated into their nation. The Jewish Church is thus represented as being now stripped of all its glory, its crown profaned and cast to the ground, and all its honour laid in the dust, God being departed from it, and resolved no more to own it for his church. When Christ told the Jews that the kingdom of God should be taken from them, and given to another people, then he broke the staff of Beauty, Matthew 21:43. And it was broken in that day, though Jerusalem and the Jewish people were spared yet forty years longer; and though the great men did not, or would not, understand Christ’s words uttered on that occasion as a divine sentence, but thought to put it by with a cold, God forbid, Luke 20:16. Yet the poor of the flock, that waited upon him Namely, who knew the Messiah, believed in him, observed his doctrine, miracles, and life, and obeyed him; who understood with what authority he spoke, and could distinguish the voice of their shepherd from that of a stranger; knew that he was the word of the Lord Saw and acknowledged God in all this, trembled at his word, and were confident that it would not fall to the ground.

Verses 12-13

Zechariah 11:12-13. And I said unto them Namely, upon parting. The prophet, still personating Christ, or acting as a type of him, reminds the Jews of his concern for their welfare, the care he had taken of them, and the labour he had bestowed on instructing them; and refers it to them whether his services had not deserved some reward, and, if they had, what that reward ought to be; saying, If ye think good, give me my price Or rather, my wages or hire of service, as the word שׂכר undoubtedly signifies; and if not, forbear If you dismiss me without wages I shall be content. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver That is, as is supposed, thirty shekels, of the value of about 2 Samuel 4:0 d. each, which was the price of a slave. This showed how little they regarded him, or his labours; that is, how little value the Jews would put on the ministry of Christ; or on his labours and sufferings for their salvation. For, according to St. Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:9, this symbolical action was fulfilled when the chief priests and elders of the Jews paid that sum to Judas for betraying Christ to them, and putting his life in their power. And the Lord said unto me Unto the prophet, personating Christ; Cast it unto the potter Hereby intimating that it was a reward only suitable to a potter’s labour, and a price only adequate for such wares as he sold, which were of the meanest value. A goodly price that I was prized at of them Thus the prophet ironically remarks on the high estimation in which he and his services were holden: or rather, God here upbraids the shepherds of his people, who prized the great Shepherd no higher. And I cast them to the potter, &c. Or, cast them into the house of the Lord for the potter: I cast them back into the treasury in the temple, whence afterward they were taken, and laid out in purchasing the potter’s field. This whole transaction, performed by Zechariah in a vision, as Lowth, Doddridge, and many other interpreters suppose, or, as others think, in reality; “was designed to be an exact representation of the several circumstances that should attend the betraying of Christ by Judas, the price the chief priests would put upon him, (to whom, as the governors of the temple, the money was returned,) and the use to which the money would be applied. And this whole prophetic scene was transacted in the single person of Zechariah, just as Ezekiel sustained the type or figure both of the Chaldean army that should besiege Jerusalem, and of the Jews themselves that should be besieged, Ezekiel 4:1-12.” So Lowth, who adds, “This is one of those prophecies whose literal sense is fulfilled in our blessed Saviour, and cannot be applied to any other person but in a very remote or improper sense.” The like instances may be seen Psalms 22:16-18; Psalms 69:21; Hosea 11:1. The Jews themselves have expounded this prophecy of the Messiah. “There can be no doubt,” says Blayney, “that this is the passage referred to Matthew 27:9, though under the name of Jeremiah, (put by mistake of some transcriber of St. Matthew’s gospel,) instead of Zechariah. But a question arises, how the transaction related by the evangelist can be said to be a fulfilling of that which was spoken by the prophet, considering the striking difference in some of the circumstances. In the one case, thirty pieces of silver were given as wages for service; in the other, they were paid as the price of a man’s blood: in the one they were thrown with contempt to the potter; in the other, they were cast down in the temple in a fit of remorse, and taken up by others, who employed them in the purchase of the potter’s field. But notwithstanding these differences, considering that all passed under the special direction of Divine Providence, it is impossible not to conclude, from a review of both transactions, that there was a designed allusion of the one to the other, and not a mere accidental resemblance between them. But the quotation, it is said, is not just: for no such words are to be found in the prophet, which the evangelist hath pretended to cite from him. To this it may be answered, that though not the precise words, the substance of them is given, so that the passages are at least equivalent,” as a collation of them in the original will show: see the note on Matthew 27:9.

Verse 14

Zechariah 11:14. Then As soon as I saw what little value they put upon me, and my pastoral care over them, and services for them; I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands The prophet did this in type, and Christ in reality; that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel That I might declare, or foreshow, that the friendship and union which had existed between the two tribes and the remnant of the ten tribes, was broken. “From the time that the people returned from Babylon, the Jews and Israelites had formed one society, both of religion and polity, which society continued till the last destruction of Jerusalem, when, the Jewish kingdom being subverted, the bands were broken, and a disunion in religion was made; some of the Jews continuing attached to their ancient law as much as they could without the temple, and others professing the Christian faith.” Houbigant. The design of the prophet’s commission, says Blayney, was to endeavour to bring about a reformation, upon which would depend the continuance of the brotherhood, or political union, between Judah and Israel. The second crook, or staff, was therefore called Bands. But when the commission ended without producing its effect, the breaking of the crook prefigured the dissolution of that brotherhood. What that brotherhood was, is well explained by Mr. Lowth, who says, that “upon the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the bond and cement of all their tribes, being the seat and centre both of their civil power, and of the divine worship, (Psalms 132:3-5,) the consequence was the entire dissolution of the nation, and the dispersion and confusion of all their tribes, whose families could no longer be distinguished after the loss of their genealogies.” Calmet thinks that, in this verse, Israel denotes the unbelieving Jews, who rejected Christ, and Judah the faithful ones who believed in him.

Verse 15

Zechariah 11:15. And the Lord said, Take thee yet [or once more] the instruments of a foolish [or unwise] shepherd The prophet, having hitherto represented the good shepherd, is now directed to assume the dress and equipage of one of a contrary character. As folly in the Scripture is equivalent to wickedness, by a foolish shepherd here may be meant, not only unskilful, but likewise ill-designing governors, or teachers, who should only intend their own advantage, and have no regard for the good of the flock, or people committed to their charge. The instruments of such a shepherd must be suitable to his own disposition and indiscretion, such as a crook armed with iron, which, whenever it was used, would wound the flock; and a scrip, or bag, which contained nothing useful for the sheep, and the like. The prophet here follows the order of time, that he may foretel the madness and blindness of the shepherds; that is, of the priests, rulers, and teachers of the Jewish nation, till the last destruction of Jerusalem; who not only disregarded religion, and the safety and welfare of the sheep, but even devoured such of them as were worth devouring.

Verse 16

Zechariah 11:16. For lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land A shepherd, in the singular number, denotes a succession of such shepherds as are described in the following words. So a succession of priests is represented under the single person of Levi, Malachi 2:5-6. Since the Jews had rejected the true Shepherd, God threatens to send, or permit to arise, among them, such shepherds to rule or teach them as should be notorious for their negligence and avarice, their cruelty and oppression. This may be understood either of the blind guides of whom Christ speaks, and whose character he describes at large, Matthew 23:13-33; namely, the scribes and Pharisees, the priests and doctors of their law; or of the avaricious, tyrannical, and unmerciful princes, that should rule them with rigour, and make their own land as much a place of bondage to them as ever Egypt or Babylon had been. And when they had rejected him by whom princes decree justice, it was just that they should be given over into the power of those who should decree unrighteous decrees. It is probable, also, that there is a reference here to the false prophets and false Christs, which, as our Lord foretold, Matthew 24:5, should arise. Many such there were, who, by their seditious practices, provoked the Romans, and hastened on the ruin of the Jewish nation: but it is very remarkable that they were never deceived by a counterfeit Messiah till they had refused and rejected the true Messiah. The prophet proceeds to describe the character of these foolish shepherds, in the following words: 1st, They should be negligent; which shall not visit those that be cut off Or, as the LXX. render it, το εκλιμπανον , that which is missing, or has wandered from the flock; and it may signify that which is ready to perish. Neither shall seek the young one Which are most apt to perish through weakness; he alludes to the lambs which, on account of their tender age, are not able to follow the flock. Nor heal that which is broken Which has received some hurt, but shall leave it to die of its wounds. Nor feed that that standeth still Not able to go forward. Blayney renders the word, made to stand, or set up again after sickness. “Such,” says he,” it is well known, require much care to nourish and support them, in order to their regaining strength; a care which the foolish shepherd will not bestow upon them.” Or, as the LXX. render it, το ολοκληρον ου μη κατευθυνη , nor shall direct that which is whole, mentioned in opposition to those that wander, or are diseased. 2d, These shepherds would be luxurious; he shall eat the flesh of the fat That is, instead of preserving the best of his flock, in order to increase it, he kills them to indulge his own appetite: or, enriches himself by oppressing, or otherwise taking from those that are persons of property: like that wicked servant that said, My lord delays his coming, he eats and drinks with the drunken, serving his own belly. 3d, They are tyrannical and cruel to the flock. And tear their claws [or, as it ought to be rendered, break their hoofs ] in pieces This implies the same as when it is said ( Eze 34:4 ) of such shepherds, With force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. The unwise shepherd, instead of being tender and gentle with his flock, is supposed to drag them about with his iron crook, or to over-drive them in rough and stony ground, so as to break their hoofs. Or, he imposes burdens and hardships upon them that they are unable to bear. Upon the whole, a sluggish, negligent, covetous, riotous, oppressive, and cruel government, priesthood, or ministry, is here shadowed out by a foolish shepherd.

Verse 17

Zechariah 11:17. Wo to the idol shepherd Or the shepherd of nothing, or of no value, as רעי האליל should be translated; he who calls himself the shepherd, ruler, or teacher of the people, but is in reality nothing less. So רפאי אליל , Job 13:4, signifies physicians of no value. That leaveth the flock Who taketh no care of the flock, and minds nothing but making his own profit out of them. Such a shepherd is no better than an idol, that is profitable for nothing, (Isaiah 44:10,) and hath only the outward form and appearance of a shepherd. The sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye As he has abused his power and his understanding, signified by his arm and his right eye, God shall in his just judgment, deprive him of the use of both those faculties. The sword is put for any instrument of the divine vengeance. As the word חרב here rendered sword, also means desolation, Blayney renders the clause, Because of his arm is desolation, and because of his right eye: observing, “The purport of the passage is, that since, through the misapplication of his power, and through his negligence in watching over the flock, they are subjected to desolation or the sword; therefore, as of strict justice, he shall be punished with a deprivation at least of those faculties which he so fatally misused.” Some think the right arm and right eye of the people are intended, and observe, that the arm of the Jews was dried up from that time when they were no longer able to bear arms, or to defend themselves; as their right eye has been darkened to the true knowledge of the Scriptures, which they read as with a veil before them.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Zechariah 11". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/zechariah-11.html. 1857.
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