Chapter 11 concludes the first of two oracles in Second Zechariah. The prophet continued with his Messianic theme, describing the Savior to come as a shepherd. The Shepherd had two staffs, one named “Favor” and the other “Union.” In this post, the staff of Favor is broken, and in the next post the staff of Union will be broken.
70 AD, The Destruction of Jerusalem
Like a movie that starts with the end, and then does flashbacks of the events leading up to the end, these first three verses describe, in poetic language, the total destruction by fire of Jerusalem. Israel had been rebelling against Roman rule for a hundred years, beginning in 63 B.C.
Open your doors, O Lebanon,Zechariah 11:1-3 (NRSV)
so that fire may devour your cedars!
Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen,
for the glorious trees are ruined!
Wail, oaks of Bashan,
for the thick forest has been felled!
Listen, the wail of the shepherds,
for their glory is despoiled!
Listen, the roar of the lions,
for the thickets of the Jordan are destroyed!
For years before this war, various clashes had become commonplace. Finally, in 66 AD some rebels gained control of Jerusalem and massacred a Roman garrison. Nero sent general Vespasian to put down the revolt. In 68 A.D. Nero died, Vespasian became emperor and general Titus took over the siege.
Meanwhile, within Jerusalem three rival factions were warring with each other making negotiations with Rome impossible. Food was cut off. People starved, some resorted to cannibalism. Steadily, the Romans broke in, wall after wall, driving the rebels into the temple.
In July of 70 A.D. sacrifices in the temple stopped. There was no one left to make them.
The temple was burned and torn apart, stone from stone, as the soldiers scrabbled for all the melted gold that used to cover it.
Israel ceased to exist as a nation.
After the vision of Jerusalem burning, God instructed Zechariah to act out the part of two different shepherds as a foreshadowing of God the Son, Jesus, Who would use this same metaphor for Himself in John’s Gospel, chapter 10. Israel was called the flock doomed to slaughter because God knew the people would reject God the Son. They would be misused by other nations and even by their own leaders, but God would not intervene because of their rejection of the Lord.
So, on behalf of the sheep merchants, I became the shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter. I took two staffs; one I named Favor, the other I named Unity, and I tended the sheep.Zechariah 11:7 (NRSV)
Shepherds in the east commonly used two kinds of staffs. One [named Favor] was to protect the flock by warding of wild animals and the other [Union] was to help the flock in difficult places, to keep them together. This is what the Lord had done for God’s people, protecting them from spiritual and physical enemies so long as they followed the Lord, and keeping them together as one people, as God’s people.
In one month I disposed of the three shepherds, for I had become impatient with them, and they also detested me.Zechariah 11:8 (NRSV)
I am not kidding when I say there are over forty different ideas about who those three shepherds might be!
- They might be the three kinds of leaders who rejected Jesus—the religious rulers (Sanhedrin), the teachers of the law, and the Pharisees.
- The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the civil authorities, the priests and the prophets rejecting both the worship of God, and God’s law.
- Jesus Himself also spoke of three kinds of leaders—elders, chief priests, and scribes.
Think of the work of Jesus, fulfilling the role of prophet, priest and king. Think of how God has chosen this people, blessed them, poured out God’s love to them again and again. Think of how Jesus, God the Son, humbled Himself to become a man, to redeem His people, to make them holy.
But the flock detested their shepherd, just as the religious leaders detested Jesus.
The Covenant Annulled
So I said, “I will not be your shepherd. What is to die, let it die; what is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed; and let those that are left devour the flesh of one another!” I took my staff Favor and broke it, annulling the covenant that I had made with all the peoples.Zechariah 11:9-10 (NRSV)
When a shepherd broke his staff, he was saying “I am no longer the Shepherd.”
Notice the covenant with the people is annulled. How can that be?! Because Jesus was ushering in a new and better covenant.
Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
God finds fault with them when he says:
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah;
not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors,
on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt;
for they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord.
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
—I will put my laws in their minds,
—and write them on their hearts,
—and I will be their God,
—and they shall be my people.
—And they shall not teach one another
or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’
—for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
In speaking of “a new covenant,” God has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.Hebrews 8:6-13 (NRSV)
The flock had rejected the grace and favor of God the Son. Therefore, as in times past, God’s hand of restraint against those nations intent on destroying Israel was lifted.
So it was annulled on that day, and the sheep merchants, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the Lord.Zechariah 11:11 (NRSV)
The Christians in Jerusalem, who had their eyes on Christ, knew what was coming. So when, for some inexplicable reason (or the Lord!), Titus lifted the siege for a couple of days, all the Christians ran out of Jerusalem and escaped its awful end.
Judas Iscariot’s Treachery
I then said to them, “If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” So they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver.
Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it into the treasury”—this lordly price at which I was valued by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them into the treasury in the house of the Lord.Zechariah 11:12-13 (NRSV)
Is it not hair-raising to read the chilling accuracy of the prophet’s oracle! How much of it did Zechariah understand?
The final rejection of the Good Shepherd came in considering Him worth no more than a captive on the open slave market. Those who were enslaved by their captors were devalued as living tools, a little higher than a creature, but without the basic human rights of a person.
In fulfillment of prophecy, this is the exact sum Judas received to betray Jesus. And he did throw it back into the House of the Lord – at the Pharisees, who then used it to buy a potter’s field to bury people in who had no relatives or money.