In chapter 10, the Lord made great and precious promises concerning his deliverance of Israel from her enemies. Men “on foot” would turn back men “on horses,” sending them running off in panic.
Today’s reading, the very next chapter, presents a much darker tone. The first three verses seem to be in pretty stark contrast to the last chapter, talking about a horrible catastrophe that would sweep the entire nation. What would cause this?
The answer to that question is found in the rest of the chapter. The Lord appointed Zechariah to stand in for the true Shepherd who'd be coming to gather the flock of Israel. In vss. 4-6 God gave instructions for Zechariah--representing the True Shepherd--to abandon the flock and treat them as sheep fit for slaughter, giving them over to their neighbors and a king without any mercy. Then in vss. 7-14 he gives the reasons why he’s doing this, and that’s what I want to focus on.
The sheep had originally been “marked for slaughter” when the Shepherd found them. They had no hope without him, but he took them under his care. He had two staffs, one named “Favor,” and the other one named “Union.” Verse 8 says that he got rid of three bad shepherds (we’re not sure whom he’s referring to), and things apparently started off well.
But the flock “detested” him. They refused to submit to his leadership and guidance and care. They showed execrable ingratitude for what he’d done, the sacrifices he’d made. Finally he’d had it with them, and abandoned them to the wolves. He broke his staff called “Favor,” illustrating that his patience was at an end: His “covenant” with the surrounding nations--his protection of Israel—was revoked.
Then we come to a very interesting couple of verses, namely 12-13. He brashly demanded his “pay” from them. This is referring to his severance pay as he was leaving his job. They counted out 30 pieces of silver, which ended their relationship. Of course, this is the exact price that the religious leaders paid Judas for betraying his Master. It was also the price of a gored slave, so it was considered a pittance, an insult. The Shepherd’s response in vs. 13 (a “handsome” price!) is pure sarcasm. They showed a complete devaluing of who the Shepherd was, what he’d done, and what he was offering.
In verse 14 he breaks the second staff, “Union,” which we’ll address in a moment. In vss. 15-17 we have the sad end to this sordid story. They didn’t want the True Shepherd to lead them? Then the Lord would hand them over to a “foolish” shepherd, someone much more destructive, someone who couldn’t care less about the flock, and someone who’d care only about his own gratification.
Before we get to the modern application of this, let’s handle the ancient fulfillment. Scholars seem to be pretty united that what Zechariah’s referring to overall here is the destruction of Israel by Rome in A.D. 70-73. They rejected the Messiah, choosing a murderer in his place, and Jesus warned them that there'd be harsh consequences for this. Israel rebelled against Rome, and Josephus recorded that when the Romans attacked, the internal dissension among the people in their conflicting parties set Jew against Jew so that they were completely ineffective (thus fulfilling vs. 14). And yes, some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem resorted to cannibalism during the siege (vs. 9).
Maybe you’ve figured out the modern application by now. In case you haven’t, here’s mine: You’re going to have someone as your ruler, your Shepherd. If you don’t have the Lord as your Shepherd, then you’ll get someone else who’s not nearly as pleasant. Jesus is the only Shepherd who really cares about you, who keeps his word and stands between you and the wolves. My advice would be to not settle for anything less than the best.
Lord Jesus, once and for all I choose you as my Shepherd. I’d be really foolish to choose anyone or anything else to put my trust in, right?
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