The Good Shepherd Rejected
1Open your doors, O Lebanon,
so that fire may devour your cedars!
2Wail, O pine tree, for the cedar has fallen;
the stately trees are ruined!
Wail, oaks of Bashan;
the dense forest has been cut down!
3Listen 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!
4This is what the Lord my God says: "Pasture the flock marked for slaughter. 5Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the Lord, I am rich!’ Their own shepherds do not spare them. 6For 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."
7So 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. 8In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.
The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them 9and 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flesh." 10Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. 11It was revoked on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord. 12I told them, "If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. 13And 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. 14Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
15Then the Lord said to me, "Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. 16For 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. 17Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!"
In the previous chapter, Zechariah spoke of the Favor and Union that the Good Shepherd would ultimately bring to Israel: Favor through the special protection from their enemies that will be provided by the Good Shepherd (see Zech. 10:3–5); Union through the physical and spiritual restoration of the children of Israel that will be brought about by the Good Shepherd (see Zech. 10:6–12). "Such strains of prophecy, however, usually need to be offset by words of warning and counsel, for there is no group in this still sinful nation that is entirely ready for God’s favors and blessings, and to whom only good can be prophesied. Promises of future greatness need to be offset by words of judgment against sin lest the gracious words breed carnal pride and a false sense of security" [Leupold, 203]. "To complete the prophetic forecast of the future, and also to prevent an abuse of the proclamation of salvation, the obverse side of the picture, which sets forth a yet future apostasy and judgment, had to be presented" [Baron, 375]. Chapter 10 dealt with the Favor and Union that are to be bestowed upon the children of Israel by the Messiah in the end-times. This chapter deals with the rejection of the Messiah, in the guise of the Good Shepherd, when He came to earth the first time to bring Favor and Union. It accurately prophesies the suffering and devastation that resulted from the Israelites rejection of the Good Shepherd.
The chapter begins with a poetic overview of this devastation: "Open your doors, O Lebanon, so that fire may devour your cedars! 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! 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!" (vss. 1–3). This poem pictures total destruction, from the north to the south, from the mighty to the humble, from the strong to the weak. The destruction begins at the northern door of Israel at Lebanon, proceeds southward through Bashan, then down to the valley of the river Jordan. It devours the mighty "cedars", which gives cause for the less stately "pine trees" to "wail". For if the mighty cedars are devoured, then surely the pine trees will also be. And so the destruction engulfs all, from the "cedars of Lebanon," to the "pine trees," to the "oaks of Bashan," to the "dense forest," to the "rich pastures of the shepherds," to the "lush thickets of the Jordan."
Such a vast and total destruction has occurred in the land of Israel only once since the time of Zechariah, and this occurred by the Romans after the time of Christ from 66 A.D. to 70 A.D. Jesus hinted that the people of Israel would have been protected from this destruction if they had accepted His protection: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look your house is left to you desolate" (Matt. 23:37–38). Then, He told His disciples, concerning the Temple: "Do you see all these things?… I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Matt. 24:2). Here in Zechariah, verses 4 through 7 contain a visionary parable of sorts, where Zechariah plays the part of first the Good Shepherd, then the "foolish shepherd". The suffering and devastation occurs because the people reject the Good Shepherd. We conclude then, that the devastation spoken of in this chapter is that which the Romans wrought from 66 A.D. to 70 A.D. Boice gives us the historical background:
"For years before this war the country had been in turmoil, various small skirmishes against the existing authorities being commonplace. At last revolutionaries gained control of Jerusalem and massacred the Roman garrison stationed there. The year was A.D. 66. In the next year General Vespasian, dispatched by Nero, arrived in Antioch. From there he moved first against the fortified towns of Galilee, subduing or arranging the surrender of each, and then against Jerusalem. In A.D. 68 Nero died, and after a considerable delay Vespasian was proclaimed the new emperor. He returned to Rome, leaving his second-in-command, Titus, to carry on the war. By this time Jerusalem was host to three rival factions, which made negotiations with the Romans impossible and greatly intensified the coming tragedy. Jerusalem was surrounded. Food was cutoff. People starved; some even resorted to cannibalism. Steadily the Romans broke through wall after wall, defense after defense, and the defenders were driven back to the temple. On July 17, A.D. 70, the daily sacrifices came to an end for lack of men to offer them. At last the gates of the temple were burned and then the temple itself. Thousands were crucified. The victorious Titus set up Roman standards in the temple court and returned to Rome to celebrate his triumph in the year A.D. 71. Through this great war and a later series of rebellions and reprisals, Judaism ceased to exist politically, and Jewish people were widely scattered throughout the known world." [Boice, 201].
Beginning with verse 7, Zechariah acts out a parable that illustrates the different types of leadership the Israelites would experience. The Lord, in verses 4 to 6, summarizes this parable: "This is what the Lord my God says: ‘Pasture the flock marked for slaughter. 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. 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’" (vss. 4–6). Interestingly, Zechariah is told to be a shepherd to the Israelites, who are "marked for slaughter." The Lord sees ahead of time that the people will reject the Good Shepherd, and so, for this reason, they are "marked for slaughter." The affliction they suffer will come at the hands of their leaders: "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" (vs. 5). This is somewhat deserved, for they rejected the Good Shepherd, who would have protected and saved them. Their rejection of the Good Shepherd (which is described beginning in verse 8) caused God to remove for a time His special protection of them: "‘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’" (vs. 6). Note especially the statement: "I will hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king." This depicts internal strife (as everyone is handed over "to his neighbor"), as well as external domination (as everyone is handed over to "his king"). This statement was certainly fulfilled during the war of the Romans against the Israelites, as described above by Boice. Recall, there were "three rival factions, which made negotiations with the Romans impossible." The fact that they were handed over to their "king", Caesar in this case, is ironical. When the Israelites rejected the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, they told Pilate to crucify Him, saying: "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15).
(The study of this chapter will continue in the next issue.)