Pp Acts 1:15-20
Revoking the sale
The parallel with Ahithophel
Jeremiah and Zechariah
1. Jeremiah chapter 19
2. Zechariah 11:4-14
3. The combination of the two passages
Interrupting the overall flow of the passage, Matthew’s Gospel inserts this incident into his narrative which deals with the ultimate outcome of Judas the betrayer. Only Luke records a similar incident in Acts 1:15-20 which seems to be a parenthesis in Peter’s speech to explain to the reader what had happened to the person that the band of disciples are now wanting to be replaced.
Luke only inserts the story here as a necessary piece to the continued unfolding of the story of the early Church and both he along with Mark and John found no reason to mention the incident in the main body of their Gospel accounts. Matthew, however, does and can be seen to be giving the reader a fuller account of the incident than Luke.
Indeed, the fate of Judas seems to be extremely important to the writer and the insertion of it at this point seems to be a clear indication that the incident took place at this point or very close to it - notice that the passage says that it occurred when Judas saw that Jesus was condemned (Mtw 27:3), not when He was being crucified or buried. We should remember that the presence of the chief priests and elders both here (Mtw 27:3 - Mtw 27:6 could quite easily be recording an incident which occurred later) and before Pilate (Mtw 27:12) seems to be an impossible situation if they were in the process of leading Jesus away to the Governor (Mtw 27:2) so that it’s best to think of this as occurring at the earliest immediately after the Sanhedrin have sat to decide how they’re to bring charges before the Roman authorities but before the procession leads Jesus towards the Antonia Fortress - but certainly before the crucifixion.
There needs to be some attempt at reconciliation between the two passages which have come down to us and some of the differences will be discussed in the articles which follow (for example, the reason why the field was named ‘the Field of Blood’ will be dealt with under the header ‘Akeldama’) but there are a couple of issues which I’ll deal with here.
Firstly, Mtw 27:5 clearly says that Judas hanged himself whereas Acts 1:18 states that
‘...falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out’
However, the first doesn’t deny the other and it’s possible that, upon hanging himself, the rope was either fastened improperly or it snapped and, falling from a height onto sharp, protruding rocks, he sliced his stomach open - the Latin Vulgate harmonises the Acts passage in this manner by rendering it, according to Actsbruce
‘...having hanged himself, he burst open’
Vines also notes that the phrase ‘falling headlong’ in Acts 1:18 could be rendered ‘having become swollen up’ as the phrase is a medical term
‘...indicating the condition of the body of certain suicides’
but this seems unlikely unless the harmony by the Vulgate is taken as being an accurate interpretation - indeed, the interpretation by Vines seems to have been derived from the Latin Vulgate rather than from anything which the words could have meant. NIDNTT notes a possibility that one of two Greek words here could be traced back to another Greek word meaning ‘to burn with fever, to swell up’ but it remains no more than a possibility and there appears to be no certain proof.
It certainly seems to have been the church’s understanding of the matter at a very early date and it’s generally accepted as being the best of the attempts at a harmonisation. Matcar adds a note to his commentary that
‘If Judas hanged himself, no Jew would want to defile himself during the Feast of Unleavened Bread by burying the corpse; and a hot sun might have brought on rapid decomposition till the body fell to the ground and burst open’
but his conclusion that
‘We are not so much beset by contradictory accounts as by paucity of information...’
is, perhaps, the best line to take here for, although the two suggestions above make good sense, they may be wide of the mark because we’re unaware of the full details of what transpired that morning.
Secondly, Mtw 27:7 informs the reader that the chief priests and the elders used Judas’ money to buy the field, whereas Acts 1:18 infers that it was Judas himself who purchased the field. Edersheim is best read here who parallels a point which we’ll consider under the header ‘Revoking the sale’ below. He writes that
‘It was not lawful to take into the Temple treasury, for the purchase of sacred things, money that had been unlawfully gained. In such cases, the Jewish Law [unfortunately, Edersheim provides no Jewish reference to substantiate this assertion] provided that the money was to be restored to the donor; and, if he insisted on giving it, that he should be induced to spend it for something for the public weal [Dictionary - ‘the well being, interest and prosperity of the country’]’
The chief priests were, therefore, only acting as agents in the transaction on behalf of Judas, they were not purchasing the land themselves. Besides, it would have been difficult for Judas to have cast the money into the Treasury and, at the same time, to have taken it out with him and completed a transaction on a Festival Day.
As I’ve noted under the heading ‘Akeldama’, blood figures prominently in this passage both by direct reference and implication for we read of innocent blood (Mtw 27:4), the Field of Blood (Mtw 27:8, Acts 1:19), blood money (Mtw 27:6) and the death of Judas which implies blood shed even if his body hadn’t been ripped open (Mtw 27:5, Acts 1:18) - and a reference to ‘blood’ could mean any one of a few details in the written record especially when the ‘Field of Blood’ is being referred to. We need to be careful with our interpretation of the passage, then, and especially as we seek to harmonise both accounts.
At the end of the day, the twin passages may either not need a harmonisation, may be harmonised but, if we knew the facts, would realise that we’d harmonised them wrongly or, if we don’t believe the authenticity and authority of the Bible, be a point at which it can be shown to be a fallible collection of writings (the third option isn’t my own, by the way). There’s no harm for the believer in either of the first two.
One final note needs to be made of the statement in Mtw 27:3 that Judas ‘repented’. As can be seen on my web site which deals with repentance (parts 1iib and 2i), the word employed here
‘...means to “care afterwards” or “to regret” but it does not necessarily indicate any change of mind or heart’
and the Gospel record seems to be indicating simply a feeling of regret that tried to put an action right without the change of heart that’s necessary for repentance to take place. This is important to understand why Judas Iscariot should be understood as finding no forgiveness of his sin, because all that seems to have gone through his mind was a way to put right a wrong without the power of God moving within Him to secure reconciliation. This appears to be the meaning and intention of Jesus’ words in Mtw 26:24 when He says of His betrayer that
‘It would have been better for that man if he had not been born’
When I dealt with the mention of Judas Iscariot in the text of Mtw 10:4, I said very little regarding both the character of the man or what the reader might be able to glean from the Scripture. The name ‘Judas Iscariot’ has come down to the present day as a label which no one would desire to be levelled at themselves, but the actual type of person that he was is virtually impossible to determine from the NT writing. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ would have him appear in heaven having been forgiven his sin and singing a song about wondering why Jesus came to earth at a time when there was no easy way to proclaim the message of the Gospel - actually, we know more about the character of Jesus than we do about Judas and, if anything, Jesus should have sung the song about Judas, asking him about his intentions and motives for the questions posed by the songwriters aren’t too difficult to answer.
It’s very strange that some liberal commentators should disparage the testimony of the Gospels at points when it’s reasoned that ‘they couldn’t possibly have known what took place’, inferring that they’ve embellished the facts when, the information you’d liked to have been embellished about Judas to give us an insight into the workings of his mind, are wholly lacking.
But we’ll try and observe at least a few details about the person and the name here that might be relevant to further study. The name ‘Judas’ is not an uncommon one in the NT and appears 31 times in RSV, only 22 of these referring to Judas Iscariot. The other references are quite significant for, in Col 4:11, Paul notes one
‘...Jesus who is called Justus...’
and the implication seems to be that the disciple was renamed simply because he bore the name of Jesus - this may be reading too much into the incidental note which is recorded for the reader here but that no one else seems to have changed their name from Judas to something else less ‘offensive’ points towards the fact that, being simply a variation of the OT ‘Judah’, it wasn’t thought anything ill to be called it even after Jesus had been betrayed. Therefore, Judas is mentioned as one of Jesus’ brothers (Mtw 13:55, Mark 6:3), as one of the twelve disciples, the son of James (John 14:22, Acts 1:13) and the names of various characters and followers of Christ in the times of the early Church (Acts 5:37, 9:11, 15:22, 15:27, 15:32).
The ‘surname’ (if that’s what it was) of ‘Iscariot’ is wholly different, though, and is never affixed to the name Judas - or to anyone else - except to the betrayer himself. What it actually meant is open to a lot of conjecture amongst scholars but the most likely explanation is that it denoted the place from which he came and could be translated ‘man of Kerioth’, an indication that he was an inhabitant of a city in southern Judea, many miles away from the Galilean setting of Jesus’ main ministry and possibly the only Judean amongst the twelve - also an indication that my suggestion that Judas was the disciple who let Simon Peter into the high priest’s courtyard (John 18:15-16) because he would have been known to him is more likely a possibility than believing it to be any of the other ten.
The only other fact we know from his past is that his father’s name was Simon (John 13:2). But apart from his origin, there’s little we can glean from the Gospel accounts.
All three lists of the twelve disciples mention him with his suffix and the fact that he was to turn out to be the betrayer (Mtw 10:4, Mark 3:19, Luke 6:16). We know also that he was the appointed treasurer for Jesus and the disciples and that he took from the money box as he wanted (John 12:6, 13:29).
Acts 1:17 and 1:25 are quite significant because they show us that the ministry to which Judas had been called was not, as some would maintain, the betrayal - that, somehow, he was compelled to be the betrayer even though, had he known what he was doing, he would have desisted - but that it was Jesus’ intention that he would fulfil the ministry to which he’d been called. In a very real sense, he’d also begun to fulfil that calling and was amongst those sent out into Israel to announce the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth (Mtw 10:5-8). In this case, that the Scripture ‘had to be’ fulfilled is not in doubt but the person who was to fulfil it was not certain (Acts 1:16).
Finally, there’s little which adds to our knowledge of him except those observations which would support our assessment of him as the one who betrayed Jesus, for he’s willing to play act in order to conceal his identity from the other disciples (Mtw 26:48, Luke 22:47-48) and to try and conceal his plan from Jesus Himself (Mtw 26:25).
What’s the most frightening aspect of Judas is what we don’t know about him, simply because he could be any one of us. Any of us who are given a ministry from the Father and appointed to fulfil it for the advancement of the Gospel could end up like Judas. No qualifications are needed, no special fiendish traits are necessary and no previous evil background from which to draw the necessary motive - just a change of heart that compels one from being an ally to an enemy and the opportunity to carry out the plans which have been forming in one’s own mind, finally to be empowered by satan himself (Luke 22:3, John 13:27).
That really is the most frightening aspect of the person of Judas Iscariot...
Revoking the sale
There’s a possible parallel with the action of Judas in another situation mentioned by the Mishnah and described by Jeremias (pages 138-40) though the latter author is using it to prove the authenticity of the passage rather than to illuminate the meaning. It begins in Lev 25:29-30 where Moses recorded the instructions that
‘If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a whole year after its sale; for a full year he shall have the right of redemption. If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be made sure in perpetuity to him who bought it, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee’
Even with such a simple regulation, one would have thought that there could be little that could have gone wrong in such a sale but it appears that the buyer was generally cunning in the whole affair and, when the last day of the year came on which the seller would have to redeem it, he would hide himself away so that the return of the money couldn’t be satisfied for the return of the house into the seller’s possession. So Arakhin 9:4 gives instructions to hedge the Law about by noting the problem but citing Hillel the elder who
‘...ordained that he [that sold it] could deposit his money in the [Temple] Chamber and break down the door [of the house?] and enter, and that the other, when he would, might come and take his money’
In this manner, therefore, transactions were annulled as made between two parties over the possession of a house in a walled city when the seller was wanting to recover his property and the buyer was unwilling within the allowance of one year. Whether this procedure was ever extended to other items of sale is impossible to say though the likelihood is that it was only applicable in the situation which it addressed - but it seems to be the basis for Judas’ return of the money.
As Jeremias notes, the implication is that
‘...Judas brought the money to the Temple, not simply to make a repayment to the treasury, but so that a completed sale might be revoked...’
The Sanhedrin who had already bought Jesus by the payment of thirty pieces of silver (Mtw 26:15) refused to give Him back (Mtw 27:4), so that Judas committed the money into the treasury as a means whereby he hoped that the sale would be revoked. Of course, Jesus may have already fallen into the hands of the Roman authorities (see above concerning the time of the passage) and such a return was impossible even if, firstly, the Sanhedrin had wanted such a thing to be done and, secondly, that there was no jurisdiction of the procedure recorded by the Pharisees to justify the necessity of such an action.
Jeremias goes on to observe the action of the chief priests in that they committed the money deposited in the Temple to a work for the common good and writes that
‘It is attested in the Talmud that any ill-gotten gains or property which had become ownerless (for example, stolen goods whose owner could not now be traced) were devoted to the treasury, but were used for some public requirement - for example, the water supply to Jerusalem [b.Betz 29a Bar, b.B.K. 94b]’
Jeremias also goes on to comment about the price of the field and the relevancy of the price paid for the plot of land. He converts the thirty pieces of silver into a value of 120 shekels and notes that the traditional value of sixty denarii is incorrect because the Greek word
‘...can only mean either the Roman silver denarius = one Attic silver drachma...or the equivalent of the OT kesep= silver shekel, reckoned as four denarii in the Talmud, Philo, Josephus, Origen and Dio Cassius’
Jeremias’ cites Arakhin 9:2 in which he observes that a field is there valued at either 100 or 200 denarii - in the context of a field being sold on for a profit when the year of redemption has come. He also notes Arakhim 8:2 where bids for a piece of land are given from 10 selahs (= 20 shekels) in multiples of ten upto 50 selahs (= 100 shekels). As 2 denarii = 1 shekel (this all gets very complicated, doesn’t it?), the price of a field is rendered variously as 40, 80, 120, 160 and 200 denarii making an average of 120 which is the price paid for the Potter’s field by the chief priests.
It would be going too far to state with any certainty that the price of a piece of land was 120 shekels in first century Israel (for it must have also depended on the size of the land as well as the willingness of the purchaser to buy something which was over the expected price) but that this sort of figure is recorded as being a good estimation should be noted as quite fitting with the times.
Besides, a field in which someone had just committed suicide and had rendered the ground unclean by the shedding of his own blood (Mtw 27:5, Acts 1:18) may have found the owner eager to dispose of it and even to take a price which was under that which was expected.
But, in summary, the situations surrounding the return of the money and the purchasing of the field for the benefit of the population is fully in keeping with what we know the practices and traditions were in first century Israel - even if the revoking of the sale seems to have been a ploy on the part of Judas to attempt to remove his own guilt through the application of a command that was only justifiable in the sale of a house in a walled city.
Judas isn’t simply trying to return the money to remove the feelings of guilt, but he’s trying to revoke the sale that the consequences of his actions might be undone. But Judas can’t find the opportunity to do it, for his betrayal has taken on a finality that has no solution.
Mtw 27:7-8, Acts 1:18-19
The name ‘Akeldama’ appears only once in the NT in Acts 1:19 where Luke translates it as ‘Field of Blood’, the name which Matthew ascribes to the place as well in Mtw 27:8. At first glance, this seems nothing unusual but, when you consider that Matthew’s Gospel is considered to be the one specifically compiled for Aramaic readers, the absence of the local name is somewhat surprising and should be noted. Although it proves nothing, it does serve as a balance with those places where Aramaic content is said to be conclusive proof that the Gospel was written ‘for the Jew’.
The precise location of Akeldama is only able to be fixed through tradition which places it in the Valley of Hinnom, an area which would have laid immediately outside the southern walls in the first century and was the place where the Jerusalem rubbish was burnt and the place that Jeremiah prophesied against and which seems to be the passage which Matthew refers to in his reference to the prophet (Mtw 27:9, Jeremiah chapter 19).
Jeremias sees Jeremiah’s prophecy as the main basis for the traditional site being in the valley of Hinnom and, as such a place would probably have been forgotten after the destruction of the city and the Temple in 70AD, the site was possibly guessed at and erroneously identified in later years. Matthew notes the identification of the site as being possible even in his day (Mtw 27:8) but, if one accepts the date of composition as being prior to 70AD as seems the most likely, the remembrance of the place could have been lost after the Jewish War.
Zondervan comments that the present day site has
‘...some first century tombs found in this area. The soil contains a kind of clay which is suitable for use in the manufacture of pottery and the area could be designated as the “Potter’s Field”’
We’ll have more to say about the description of the field as that which was the Potter’s when we come to the final header which deals with the identification of the prophetic passage and it will be shown that both pottery and the storage of money were closely associated (as well as the words) and that one might be taken to infer the other. This is not to deny that the traditional site might be the correct one but it appears that the identification is bound up with the identification of Jeremiah chapter 19 as Jeremias notes.
The reason for the name ‘Akeldama’, however, seems to be based on two incidents and, though many would see a contradiction in the two accounts, there’s no reason to suppose that they represent two contradictory pieces of information but two different reasons why the place was so named.
Mtw 27:8 seems to tie in the name with the decision of the chief priests to put the land aside as a graveyard (Mtw 27:7) and not so much that the money which Judas returned was considered to be ‘blood money’ (Mtw 27:6) even though this is possible and would be an additional reason why ‘unclean’ money should have been designated for an ‘unclean’ purpose.
Luke, however, records that the field got its name from Judas’ death in that he spilled his own insides out onto the ground (Acts 1:18). But both are possible here, for the reason such a field could have been procured by the religious leaders might have been that, as it had been defiled by Judas’ blood, it seemed fitting to use it for a purpose which would continue it as a piece of unclean land.
The demarcation then becomes not only the initial reason for its name, but the continuing label by which it was remembered, ‘Akeldama’ coming to mean something more akin to our ‘graveyard’ when used locally.
The parallel with Ahithophel
Mtw 27:5, II Sam 17:23
Mtw 27:5 employs a rare word in the NT - so rare that it’s only used here (Strongs Greek number 519). But this is hardly surprising seeing as men hanging themselves are not the most obvious of details to be recorded and are only mentioned in connection with Judas. However, II Sam 17:23 in the LXX also employs the word to speak of the hanging of Ahithophel and there are certain parallels in the two incidents which need addressing here for both words are used of someone close to another, who betrays them and, ultimately, takes their own life - in Matthew it’s Judas of the Son of David, Jesus, and, in II Samuel, it’s Ahithophel of David himself.
Matcar may be correct when he notes that it’s doubtful that Matthew ever intended such a comparison and Mathag that
‘...deliberate allusion to Ahithophel seems unlikely...’
but that there are comparisons which can be made should alert us to the fact that we might glean some insights into the NT event by thinking of the OT one not only as a real event but as a shadow of what was to come. In this case, it becomes a prophetic action which has to be considered in the light of David’s greater Son, Jesus.
Ahithophel was originally king David’s counsellor (I Chr 27:33) but went over to help David’s son Absalom to steal his kingdom away in the conspiracy which saw David have to flee for his life (II Sam 15:12,31). His reasons for doing this aren’t clearly apparent but by comparing two genealogical statements we can hint at an explanation. Firstly, II Sam 11:3 records the statement of one of David’s men who identifies the woman Bathsheba with whom he committed adultery as
‘...the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite’
and II Sam 23:24 notes that a certain Eliam was
‘...the son of Ahithophel of Gilo’
the Ahithophel of II Sam 15:12 where he’s describes as being ‘the Gilonite’. If we take the Eliam of both verses as one and the same person (a not-too-bad assumption seeing as the RSV only has the name appearing in the two places that we’ve cited above indicating that it wasn’t too common a name), it can be seen that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba who David had seduced and, subsequently, had had her husband, Uriah, murdered (I Samuel chapter 11).
This would certainly be a reasonable explanation for Ahithophel’s sudden change of loyalty, for unforgiveness would therefore be seen to have led to bitterness and vengeance because it hadn’t been dealt with in his own life.
When David fled into exile, Hushai the Archite remained in Jerusalem to destroy Ahithophel’s wise counsel which, in II Sam 17:1-14, would have finally secured the throne for the usurper Absalom. However, Hushai’s words appealed to Absalom’s pride - what could be more of an ego trip than to lead an entire nation (II Sam 17:11a) as their commander (II Sam 17:11b) and to totally annihilate all your enemies (II Sam 17:12)? As Prov 16:18 perceptively observes
‘Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall’
and it was demonstrably true of the young man Absalom who bowed to his own ego at the detriment of his security. Sambald comments here that
‘...By his delay, Absalom had forfeited the advantage and the seasoned strategist Ahithophel knew that, since David would now regain control, there was no longer any future for him. Ahithophel would face death for treason against the king’
Ahithophel’s counsel had been thwarted by Hushai the Archite through the work of God (II Sam 15:31, 17:14) and the counsellor saw to what business needed doing and then went and hanged himself (II Sam 17:23).
Ahithophel and Judas (Mtw 27:5) are the only two suicides by hanging mentioned in the Bible, both coming about through the betrayal of a friend. The Mosaic Law addresses their situation in Deut 21:22-23, speaking of anyone who hangs on a tree as being accursed by God and cut off from His presence and life by their own sin. That’s not to say that suicide is being commented on here (the fact that Ahithophel was buried in the tomb of his fathers is worth noting for it shows that suicide was not considered with the same disdain as it was to be considered in later years - II Sam 17:23. Besides, there are those who, in battle, committed suicide as a mark of honour and the act is not condemned by Scripture as being impossible to reconcile with a relationship with God - Judges 9:54, I Sam 31:4. Samson also is held to be a hero for the way in which he died - Judges 16:29-30) - the fact that they ended their lives by hanging on a tree (in Ahithophel’s case, this is presumed) as a punishment for their wrongdoing is what causes the Law to pronounce the curse upon them.
Jesus, on the other hand, accursed by and cut off from God because of others’ transgressions (Gal 3:10-14, Is 53:8), brought not a condemnation but a blessing and a release to all who put their trust in Him. One Man’s obedience has led to justification available to all - Judas’ and Ahithophel’s disobedience led to condemnation for both their actions and themselves. Sambald notes with some sadness concerning Ahithophel that
‘It was a tragic end for an undoubtedly able man, who at one time had been an invaluable counsellor to David...but who had turned traitor’
but it’s difficult to see the same general point as being applicable in Judas’ case for the disciple wasn’t appointed to betray as some have maintained but appointed to fulfil the calling of God placed upon Him (Acts 1:17). In this case, there can be nothing but sadness rather than anger, that someone who should have perceived the depth of evil that would be committed by their actions should continue and, only afterwards, realise the consequences of their own actions when all was lost.
Jeremiah and Zechariah
It must be noted that Mtw 27:3-10 attributes the thirty pieces of silver as being a quote from Jeremiah not Zechariah (while Acts 1:16-20 attributes the event to a fulfilment of both Ps 69:25 and 109:8). At first sight, there doesn’t seem to be any resemblance between the passage in Matthew and the one in Jeremiah, it being apparent that Zechariah chapter 11 is the source of most of the quote. But the passage cannot account for the use of the word ‘field’, for instance, which finds fulfilment in Jeremiah chapter 19 and, even apart from this one word, Jeremiah does contribute to the overall picture that’s being conveyed in the incident recorded for us of Judas.
The two OT prophetic passages, therefore, seem to have been run together and the prophet Jeremiah has been named as the major of the two. Of course, it may just be that this prophet is used to draw attention to the fact that Jeremiah had something to say to the nation that would otherwise have been missed had Zechariah been attributed with the source, for most commentators today would have simply spoken of the ‘variations’ in the quote.
We’ll consider both OT passages here and see how each relates to the passage in Matthew.
1. Jeremiah chapter 19
Mtw 27:3-10 resembles Jeremiah chapter 19 in that what was once not a burial place has become a graveyard. The traditional site of the plot of ground bought with Judas’ thirty pieces of silver is situated at the junction of the valleys of Hinnom and Kidron (called Akeldama, the Field of Blood - see above for comments on this location), the former of which is renamed the ‘valley of slaughter’ by the Lord in Jer 19:6 for the great wickedness that the Israelites had committed through idolatry and child sacrifice. This area accounts for the mention of the field in Mtw 27:9.
Though innocent blood is mentioned in Jer 19:4 referring to the children offered to Molech in sacrifice (or, maybe, II Kings 21:16), it may prophetically echo Judas’ words in Mtw 26:4 that he’d betrayed innocent blood.
It was because of sin (that is, idolatry) that the land would be turned into a graveyard and it was because of Judas’ sin that the potter’s field was converted into a burial place for strangers.
There’s the mention here also of the potter’s vessel, paralleled in Zechariah by the use of the word ‘the potter’ and which is used to speak of the breaking of the people (Jer 19:10-11). It’s this symbolic act performed by the prophet which then leads the Lord on to speak about the mass burial of His people in the valley of Hinnom (Jer 19:11-12).
2. Zechariah 11:4-14
Mtw 27:9-10 resembles Zech 11:4-14 in a number of ways:
a. Mtw 27:9 (and 26:15) reads
‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver...’
Zech 11:12 reads
‘And they weighed out my wages - thirty shekels of silver’
b. Mtw 27:9 reads
‘...the price of Him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel...’
Zechariah notes that the price was what the other shepherds had valued him at, the shepherd of the Lord, in Zech 11:12.
c. Mtw 27:10 reads
‘...and they gave them for the potter’s field...’
and Mtw 27:6
‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury...’
Zech 11:13 can be read either
‘...cast it to the potter...’
‘...cast it to the treasury...’
The two Hebrew words are very similar in spelling (though the original needs an emendation to make it read ‘the treasury’ as the RSV takes the meaning - probably without justification) and one may imply the other when the service of the Temple is being considered. Zechsmith notes the work of Torrey who comments that metal was melted amongst the Persians and stored
‘...in earthen jars. When it was needed the jars were broken and the metal was cut in pieces and used’
though it’s difficult to be sure that the Jews of this period adopted a similar procedure. Zechsmith’s citation of Torrey here relies on another from Herodotus but it appears as if he’s never looked the ancient writer’s quote up for the reference (111, 96) makes absolutely no sense and I can’t check it out!
Some commentators dispute the teaching here but he has, at least, showed that both words could be connected within the service of the Temple. Zechsmith also notes the comments of Delcor who
‘...links the verse to Judges 17:4 where two hundred shekels of silver were made into a molten image. By comparison, thirty shekels would only make a figurine and therein lies the irony’
It’s difficult to be precise about this as it implies a direct reference back to a passage which has little other similarities with the one under consideration. But it does remain a possibility even if it’s a remote one.
d. Mtw 27:10 reads
‘...as the Lord directed me’
Zech 11:13 reads
‘The Lord said to me...’
Zech 11:4-14 is about leadership as can be seen on the original web page - the comparison between false leadership (the other shepherds apart from the prophet) and true leadership (the shepherd of the Lord).
The words of Zech 11:13 which read
‘...to the potter’
are significant here. The meaning (the Hebrew word for ‘potter’ is literally ‘the shaper’ or ‘the moulder’) is that the silver coins were to be cast to the potter possibly to be made into a small silver figurine as an object of worship (see above). If both Torrey and Delcor’s points are taken together, the passage takes on added meaning within Jeremiah chapter 19 where the potter’s vessel taken by the prophet could be accepted as being set aside for precious metal storage for use in idolatry. This is going a little too far, however, as both points are somewhat loosely attached to the passage and we have no way of knowing whether these assertions are correct.
But, the shepherds had refused to accept Zechariah’s leadership as being that of the shepherd of the Lord so that all that can ever be left is to set up a god in one’s own image and of one’s own choosing. Jesus, the true Shepherd of the sheep (John 10:11), rejected by the established shepherds of Israel (the chief priests and the elders), like Zechariah, was ‘bought’ for thirty pieces of silver.
The metal was cast to form the type of god they worshipped - that is, the god of corruption and death. Therefore, we comprehend the significance and relevance of the field of blood for burial which parallels also the destruction that the worthless shepherd will bring to the people of God as outlined in the closing verses of Zechariah (11:15-17).
Zechsmith points out in this connection that the attributes of the worthless shepherd imply one who can provide no real protection for the sheep. He comments
‘The arm of the leader represented “strength for defence” and the right eye was the one used to see over the shield in aiming his arrow. Thus the people under a foolish shepherd will be defenceless...’
3. The combination of the two passages
Zech 11:4-14 prophetically points toward the false shepherds of Israel rejecting the true Shepherd of the Lord for the sum of thirty pieces/shekels of silver. The delight of the false shepherds is in the fact that the Good Shepherd had been removed who’d undermined the profitability of their intentions toward the flock (Zech 11:8) and, having had Him removed, can get on with the exploitation of those placed under them.
When the Shepherd is rejected, it inevitably leads to the sin of idolatry - the people turn to serve a god created in their own image and they reap the consequences of the decision they make. But what consequences they are for, instead of having the freedom and liberty of the Good Shepherd (the New Covenant), they find themselves bound under the dictatorship of the worthless (the religiosity of the interpretation of the Law - under which the religious Jews still serve the Lord today).
Jeremiah chapter 19 teaches that the sin of idolatry leads a nation into death. The land that the Lord had previously blessed is turned into a graveyard as a result of the slaughter of the Innocent. When Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is killed, there can be nothing else for the land but judgment and spiritual death - if a people destroy the Innocent, they’ll inherit the consequences of their own actions, enforced by God Himself.
Both passages, then, combine to speak into the situation of Matthew 27:3-10 but it’s Jeremiah who is attributed with the quote even though the main body of the text comes from Zechariah.
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