a. The people wander like sheep
b. They are afflicted for want of a shepherd
The shepherds and the sheep
a. The leadership
b. The Flock
The Lord's provision
Because of passages such as these which speak of idolatry similar to the pre-exilic Scriptures, many commentators assert that the entire second section of Zechariah (chapters 9-14) is part of an older prophecy which has been tacked on to the end (there are, of course, probably an equal number of commentators who assert that it is a much later addition due to the same sort of reasoning).
Although it may seem unusual for the prophet to speak of idolatry when the nation was cured of that on the whole through the exile into Babylon, we find in Zephaniah’s prophecy that we are confronted with equal difficulty seeing as the prophetic word comes, as it does, in the days of a righteous king (Zeph 1:1) and with condemnation for the land (Zeph 1:4-6). Jeremiah also was given prophecies during the days of righteous king Josiah (Jer 3:6ff) which we would not have expected seeing as the Lord commended him for his faith and commitment (II Chr 34:19-28).
There is no reason to doubt, therefore, that although Israel had returned from exile, they were still in the habit of petitioning the false gods of the nations both round about them and within their borders.
More puzzling is the declaration by the Lord (Zech 10:2) that
‘...[the people of Israel] are afflicted for want of a shepherd’
when both Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel had shown themselves to be righteous leaders amongst the people who were attempting to guide them into the ways of YHWH. But, as we noted in the Introduction to the Commentary, it may be that Zechariah lived many years after the completion of the Temple and, if that is the case, the deaths of both leaders and the raising up of their replacements may not have been without their problems.
Though this prophetic word does not appear to fit comfortably within the framework of the time during which the exiles were restoring the Temple, it needn’t be seen to be constricted to this short period of some four years.
The passage which begins here at Zech 10:1 seems to follow a single train of thought through the first 5 verses of the chapter but I’ve split verses 4 and 5 up as there are certain points that need dealing with at greater length than within a passage. Therefore, my divisions follow 10:1-3, 10:4, 10:5, 10:6-12 and 11:1-3
I don’t understand why both Baldwin (9:11-10:1, 10:2-3a, 10:3b-11:3) and Smith (10:1-2, 10:3-12, 11:1-3) make a division within the first three verses of the chapter though there may be some justification for Baldwin ending at 10:3a seeing as the Lord’s condemnation of His leaders ends here. But the pastoral imagery continues and the Lord’s intentions for His people are declared in contrast with the derogatory ways in which the leaders treat with contempt those under them from 10:3b onwards.
Though Smith attempts to address the reason for his division, his statement that
‘The pericope [10:1-2] is short and must be regarded as separate from chapter 9 and 10:3-12...’
is meaningless and gives no real justification for taking the first two verses as a separate message and thought. Therefore, 10:1-5 should really be taken as one complete unit and readers should remember this when they read my notes on both 10:4 and 10:5 - I have not divided these up because they mark divisions within the Scriptures but because they seem to need more space devoting to them than would be justified if viewed within the context of one passage.
The spring rain is called the latter rain elsewhere, especially in James 5:7 (a verse used amongst some denominations to say that there must be an outpouring of considerable blessing before the final return of the Lord, even though the Scripture was never intended to be taken prophetically. As will be seen below, the refreshing latter rains do not immediately precede the harvest - the torrid scorching heat of drought does - so that, if used prophetically, tribulation, not blessing, should be proclaimed). These latter rains come immediately before the long period of drought (June-September) during which time the harvest ripens. The longer these spring rains continue (within reason!), the better and more abundant the harvest will be.
Therefore, the spring rains are fundamentally important to the prosperity of the nation and of its restoration. The Lord had said through Haggai previously (Hag 2:18-19) that He was returning to His land to give them bountiful harvests and Zechariah was used to prophesy concerning good harvests (Zech 8:12), but here the Israelites are urged to ask from the Lord the rain that is necessary for the harvest to be increased.
This is the main emphasis of the prophecy - not that they should ask rain (that is, Ask rain from the Lord) but that they should be careful to ask the right Person (Ask rain from the Lord). This verse does not stand on its own but is contrasted by the one immediately following - the idolaters sought the false gods for the provision of life (10:2) but God’s people are here urged to ask Him, the source of all supply (Is 30:23) and so reminds them in the second half of this verse that such natural provision is a consequence not of their work but of His.
The false gods are contrasted here with the Lord’s provision for His people in the preceding verse.
Both Jer 23:32 and 27:9-10 speak of the false messages that came through individuals which were leading His people astray in the days immediately before the exile, but the context may be that the people prophesying were still doing so ‘in the name of the Lord’ for God says that
‘...I did not send them or charge them...’
which disowns any responsibility for the words that are being attributed to Him. Even though these prophets were speaking out comforting words to the people of Israel, they were deceptive seeing as they were encouraging them to behave in a manner that was against the way God would have them move.
Here, however, messages from false gods through intermediaries seems to be in view, the teraphim being gods used to get messages from (Ezek 21:21 seems to be the only definitive verse which teaches this, the verses cited by Baldwin merely mention of their existence rather than describe their function), the diviners were people who looked for signs through normal events, circumstances and objects (Ezekiel 21:21 again) and the dreamers were people who, like their description, probably dreamt during the night and put so much confidence by what they ‘saw’ that they would even allow them to pull them away from a correct service of YHWH (Jer 23:26-28).
But the outcome of the prophetic utterances of all these ‘gods’ through their representatives is self-defeating for the people of God for the reasons set out in the last two phrases of Zech 10:2:
a. The people wander like sheep
TWOTOT comments on the Hebrew word translated by the RSV’s ‘wander’ that the root means
‘...to pull out tent-pegs...to break camp...’
and that it
‘...gave rise to the derived meaning of “to set out” or “journey” - the usual meaning of this frequent verb’
while Baldwin states simply that
‘The verb means “to set out on a journey”...’
Therefore, the sense of the phrase appears to be something like
‘The people set out on a journey like sheep do...’
But with no attainable destination, they are forever wandering in a wilderness and scatter with a diversity of purpose and objective.
Such are sheep when left to their own - push a flock out into a field and, within a short space of time, you’ll find them covering most of the pastured area, each grazing on a particular space seemingly unaware of their neighbours. They achieve no real purpose and arrive nowhere if the boundaries of their field are removed, wandering in circles and scattering themselves over a wide area.
False prophecy, then, leads God’s people into paths that go nowhere and which continue to be aimless, producing bewilderment that achieves no satisfactory objective.
Much ground may indeed be covered, but the knowledge of and relationship with God cannot be achieved - it is only a continual search for a lie that cannot satisfy the seeker. Having not one Leader but many, the flock disperse and stray into areas that are as diverse as the gods that they follow after and the words that they listen to.
In the UK, the multiplicity of voices through a legion number of gods has produced a nation in which there is no one distinct and clear voice. Instruction and teaching become like muddied waters and a person seeking the one true God is presented with a series of absolutes which contradict (presuming that they don’t follow after humanism which suffers for want of some sort of definitive absolute statement), having to decide which way is the correct one.
Such was the society into which the early Church were sent out to preach the Gospel and in which they made known the absolute Truth wherever they found themselves, so we shouldn’t despair that the many differing voices cannot be overcome by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
But, where there is such a diversity of source within the Church there can be no effectiveness within the relevant society - the people who bear the name of God must learn to rely on the Voice of God alone and not on wisdom received through whatever gods are in vogue at the present time - else they become people who have set out on a journey into God only to wander from the true path and arrive nowhere, achieving nothing.
b. They are afflicted for want of a shepherd
There is no righteous leader amongst them so that they find themselves afflicted. Zech 10:3 goes on to speak of God’s anger being kindled against the shepherds of Israel, so the idea is not that there isn’t anybody to lead them, but that the type of leadership needed for God’s people is lacking.
As I mentioned in the introduction to these verses, it hardly seems likely that, when God speaks of there being no shepherd amongst the people, that He is speaking to His people during the days of both Zerubbabel and Joshua who were pillars in their society and who gave an example to the congregation to get on with the Lord’s work when He began speaking once more to the returned exiles (Hag 1:14). Some later time is, therefore, the best setting for this passage and, as we showed in the general introduction to the Book, it is quite possible that the prophet survived many years after the restoration of the Temple.
What the Lord’s people needed was righteous leadership to lead them away from following after false gods and of trying to hear God’s voice through methods that were abominable to Him. But the verse probably means something slightly different here - the context makes me understand the prophet to be saying that their following after the ways of the nations was the reason why their nation hadn’t any leaders that were worth their salt. The ‘therefore’ seems to imply that, because what precedes it takes place, what follows it sits as a consequence.
It may be true to say (though not absolutely true) that we get the leaders we deserve. But here the idea is that it wasn’t that the people wandered because they had no righteous leader but that they had no righteous leader because they followed after false gods.
The parallel passage of Ezekiel chapter 34 (which applies to the next verse also) speaks condemningly of the shepherds of Israel and, after speaking of the ways of the current shepherds (34:1-4) says simply that the sheep were scattered
‘...because there was no shepherd...’
The thought, on the one hand, is the same as Zechariah in that to have ‘no shepherds’ means that the people do not have a shepherd who stands righteously before God and who looks after those under his charge but, on the other, is quite different inasmuch as the flock scattering is a direct result of there being no shepherd - Zechariah, as seen above, reverses this equation of cause and effect.
The shepherds and the sheep
The consequence of seeking after a word of direction from wrong sources is bad leadership and a people who wander with no destination like sheep who set out on a journey (Zech 10:2). But God here goes on to speak both about the leadership and the flock in words that are reminiscent of Ezekiel 34:
a. The leadership
Pp Ezek 34:1-10
God says through His prophet that His
‘...anger is hot against the shepherds...’
The parallel passage cited above is the best exposition of this verse outlining, as it does, the acts of selfishness and neglect that were representative of the leadership in Israel. Instead of fearing God and of looking after those who were under them, they exploited their position to increase their own wealth and well-being, allowing the people to go after whatever they chose, so long as it didn’t hinder their own prosperity. Moreover, they actively exploited the flock and fed themselves with the resources of the people.
Mankind tolerates all sorts of leadership in the nations that they live in. Some tolerate oppressive regimes that control their lives and which bring fear to their land while others tolerate unrighteous individuals and are frightened to judge righteously because, politically, they seem to have raised the prosperity of their nation to levels undreamed of (well, that’s old Russia and modern day America summed up!).
But, in God’s Church, God will not allow forever the leaders to run matters the way they choose and the warning to all leaders remains (I Peter 5:2-3) that they should
‘Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock’
b. The Flock
Pp Ezek 34:17-22
God says, concerning the flock, that He will
‘...punish the leaders’
where both Baldwin and Smith note correctly that the word italicised rightly means ‘he-goats’. But they go on to speak of the word as being representative of the leadership of Israel rather than of individual people within the nation. God has just spoken of His leaders as being shepherds and His people as sheep and, to me, it seems incorrect to suppose that the return to a reference to sheep should be taken to refer to something other than we have already seen it to mean.
Besides, the parallel passage in Ezek 34:17-22 also speaks clearly not about the leaders who are labelled as shepherds but about the sheep who vault themselves over other sheep within the flock and put down others for their own advantage and through lack of any pastoral care for their brethren.
Baldwin is correct to see the verse as referring to those who
‘...take advantage of the weakness of others, and get their own way by bullying’
but not that it is primarily aimed at the leadership previously condemned.
Both shepherds and sheep incite God’s anger but it is not a result of mistakes made - rather, disobedience to His commands by following after the false gods of the nations, seeking guidance and favours from them (Zech 10:2).
The Lord’s provision
Zech 10:3b Pp Ezek 34:7-16, 20-31
From here through probably to the end of the chapter, the theme remains the same. Even though the nation’s leaders and over-bearing sheep think so little of God’s people, He will act on their behalf and raise them up into a position of favour because of the commitment He has towards them.
God’s dealings with both shepherds and sheep in the previous half of the verse, here develops initially into an outpouring of punishment towards them because
‘...the Lord cares for His flock...’
In the parallel passage cited above, God promises that, as a result of the shepherds of Israel mistreating His people, He will become their own Shepherd (Ezek 34:7-16 esp v.15-16). And that, as a result of the flock mistreating one another, God says that David will become their shepherd (Ezek 24:23-24).
Now, it seems logical to put both these statements together and to realise that, if both God and David are His people’s Shepherd then either there are two shepherds or else one person fulfils the role of them both. Even though Ezek 34 was prophesied to the exiles in Babylon and had particular relevance for them in their situation, it is only Jesus, the good Shepherd (John 10:1-8), who is both God incarnate (John 8:58) and descended from the lineage of David (Mtw 1:1-17). It can only be He who can fulfil the promise of God regarding the Shepherd of Ezek 34.
The reason for God’s concern, though, is because of the state of the leadership and of the attitude of His people who have set themselves against one another.
God’s heart is pastoral - He cares for the needs of His people so much that, in Christ, every individual believer can be pastored by God alone. A timely reminder for us in an age when we often run to counsellors to receive pastoral guidance and ministry instead of finding in Jesus the answer to our every need and deficiency.
We often forget that the promise of the New Covenant under which we serve, states (Jer 31:34) that
‘...they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest...’
not that we shall all know about God or that we shall know God because of others, but that each believer has freedom of access into the presence of God to commune and to fellowship with Him. That we have so many ‘counsellors’ within the Church is a sad indictment that we are not living in the reality of the New Covenant and fail to turn directly to God for pastoral guidance in our lives.
From verse 4 onwards, we go on to see how God will outwork His care and concern for His people, seeing as He will install Himself as the nation’s Shepherd.
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