Zechariah 11

The History and Future of Judah’s Wicked Kings

Open your gates, Lebanon,
so that the fire may consume your cedars.
In this poetic section, plants and animals provide the imagery for rulers, especially evil ones (cf. respectively Isa 10:33–34; Ezek 31:8; Amos 2:9; Nah 2:12).

Howl, fir tree,
because the cedar has fallen;
the majestic trees have been destroyed.
Howl, oaks of Bashan,
because the impenetrable forest has fallen.
Listen to the howling of shepherds,
because their magnificence has been destroyed.
Listen to the roaring of young lions,
because the thickets of the Jordan have been devastated.
The Lord my God says this: “Shepherd the flock set aside for slaughter. Those who buy them
The expression those who buy them appears to be a reference to the foreign nations to whom Israel’s own kings “sold” their subjects. Far from being good shepherds, then, they were evil and profiteering. The whole section (vv. 4–14) refers to the past when the Lord, the Good Shepherd, had in vain tried to lead his people to salvation and life.
slaughter them and are not held guilty; those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich.’ Their own shepherds have no compassion for them.
Indeed, I will no longer have compassion on the people of the land,” says the Lord, “but instead I will turn every last person over to his neighbor and his king. They will devastate the land, and I will not deliver it from them.”

So I
The first person pronoun refers to Zechariah himself who, however, is a “stand-in” for the Lord as the actions of vv. 8–14 make clear. The prophet, like others before him, probably performed actions dramatizing the account of God’s past dealings with Israel and Judah (cf. Hos 1–3; Isa 20:2–4; Jer 19:1–15; 27:2–11; Ezek 4:1–3).
began to shepherd the flock destined for slaughter, the most afflicted
For the MT reading לָכֵן עֲנִיֵּי (lakhen aniyyey, “therefore the [most] afflicted of”) the LXX presupposes לִכְנַעֲנֵיּי (“to the merchants of”). The line would then read “So I began to shepherd the flock destined for slaughter for the sheep merchants” (cf. NAB). This helps to explain the difficult לָכֵן (lakhen) here but otherwise has no attestation or justification, so the MT is followed by most modern English versions.
of all the flock. Then I took two staffs,
The two staffs represent the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. For other examples of staffs representing tribes or nations see Num 17:1–11; Ezek 37:15–23.
calling one “Pleasantness”
The Hebrew term נֹעַם (noam) is frequently translated “Favor” (so NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT); cf. KJV “Beauty”; CEV “Mercy.”
The name of the first staff, pleasantness, refers to the rest and peace of the covenant between the Lord and his people (cf. v. 10).
and the other “Binders,”
The Hebrew term חֹבְלִים (khovlim) is often translated “Union” (so NASB, NIV, NLT); cf. KJV, ASV “Bands”; NAB “Bonds”; NRSV, TEV, CEV “Unity”).
The name of the second staff, Binders, refers to the relationship between Israel and Judah (cf. v. 14).
and I tended the flock.
Next I eradicated the three shepherds in one month,
Zechariah is only dramatizing what God had done historically (see the note on the word “cedars” in 11:1). The “one month” probably means just any short period of time in which three kings ruled in succession. Likely candidates are Elah, Zimri, Tibni (1 Kgs 16:8–20); Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem (2 Kgs 15:8–16); or Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah (2 Kgs 24:1–25:7).
for I ran out of patience with them and, indeed, they detested me as well.
I then said, “I will not shepherd you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be eradicated, let it be eradicated. As for those who survive, let them eat each other’s flesh!”

10  Then I took my staff “Pleasantness” and cut it in two to annul my covenant that I had made with all the people. 11 So it was annulled that very day, and then the most afflicted of the flock who kept faith with me knew that that was the word of the Lord.

12  Then I
The speaker (Zechariah) represents the Lord, who here is asking what his service as faithful shepherd has been worth in the opinion of his people Israel.
said to them, “If it seems good to you, pay me my wages, but if not, forget it.” So they weighed out my payment – thirty pieces of silver.
If taken at face value, thirty pieces (shekels) of silver was worth about two and a half years’ wages for a common laborer. The Code of Hammurabi prescribes a monthly wage for a laborer of one shekel. If this were the case in Israel, 30 shekels would be the wages for 2 1/2 years (R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, pp. 76, 204-5). For other examples of “thirty shekels” as a conventional payment, see K. Luke, “The Thirty Pieces of Silver (Zech. 11:12f.), Ind TS 19 (1982): 26-30. Luke, on the basis of Sumerian analogues, suggests that “thirty” came to be a term meaning anything of little or no value (p. 30). In this he follows Erica Reiner, “Thirty Pieces of Silver,” in Essays in Memory of E. A. Speiser, AOS 53, ed. William W. Hallo (New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Society, 1968), 186–90. Though the 30 shekels elsewhere in the OT may well be taken literally, the context of Zech. 11:12 may indeed support Reiner and Luke in seeing it as a pittance here, not worth considering (cf. Exod 21:32; Lev 27:4; Matt 26:15).
13 The Lord then said to me, “Throw to the potter that exorbitant sum
Heb “splendor of splendor” (אֶדֶר הַיְקָר, ’eder hayqar). This expression sarcastically draws attention to the incredibly low value placed upon the Lord’s redemptive grace by his very own people.
at which they valued me!” So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter
The Syriac presupposes הָאוֹצָר (haotsar, “treasury”) for the MT הַיּוֹצֵר (hayyotser, “potter”) perhaps because of the lack of evidence for a potter’s shop in the area of the temple. The Syriac reading is followed by NAB, NRSV, TEV. Matthew seems to favor this when he speaks of Judas having thrown the thirty shekels for which he betrayed Jesus into the temple treasury (27:5–6). However, careful reading of the whole gospel pericope makes it clear that the money actually was used to purchase a “potter’s field,” hence Zechariah’s reference to a potter. The MT reading is followed by most other English versions.
at the temple
Heb “house” (so NASB, NIV, NRSV).
of the Lord.
14 Then I cut the second staff “Binders” in two in order to annul the covenant of brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

15  Again the Lord said to me, “Take up once more the equipment of a foolish shepherd.
The grammar (e.g., the incipient participle מֵקִים, maqim, “about to raise up,” v. 16) and overall sense of vv. 15–17 give the incident a future orientation. Zechariah once more is role-playing but this time he is a “foolish” shepherd, i.e., one who does not know God and who is opposed to him (cf. Prov 1:7; 15:5; 20:3; 27:22). The individual who best represents this eschatological enemy of God and his people is the Antichrist (cf. Matt 24:5, 24; 2 Thess 2:3–4; 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7).
16 Indeed, I am about to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not take heed to the sheep headed to slaughter, will not seek the scattered, and will not heal the injured.
Heb “the broken” (so KJV, NASB; NRSV “the maimed”).
Moreover, he will not nourish the one that is healthy but instead will eat the meat of the fat sheep
Heb “the fat [ones].” Cf. ASV “the fat sheep”; NIV “the choice sheep.”
and tear off their hooves.

17  Woe to the worthless shepherd
who abandons the flock!
May a sword fall on his arm and his right eye!
May his arm wither completely away,
and his right eye become completely blind!”
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