A brief outline of the passage
The passage and the Exodus
The passage and the coming of Jesus
a. Zech 11:10
b. Zech 11:14
c. Zech 11:6,15-17
Zechariah 11:4-17 and Matthew 27:3-10
a. Jeremiah chapter 19
b. Zechariah 11:4-14
c. The combination of the two passages
At the beginning of his comments on this passage, Smith notes that
‘S R Driver says that this prophecy is the most enigmatic in the OT’
Though, at first sight, this may be a statement that we would wholeheartedly agree with, when we think about the implications and teaching of the passage in question, it appears remarkably straightforward to understand what it is the prophet is trying to say to the people of Israel at the prompting of the Lord God.
The puzzling aspect of the prophetic word, however, is the position of the passage standing, as it does, at the conclusion of the passage which has begun at 9:1 and seeming to speak into a situation against the Israelite leaders when both Zerubbabel and Joshua had already been commended by God as examples to the flock. Certainly, although the passage is prophetic, there is nothing in it to suggest that we are looking at a situation that will arise at a future date but that the situation was current to the first utterance of the word.
So, we need to ask ourselves how this passage fits into the life and times of Zechariah and also how it may or may not relate to the passage which it sits as the conclusion to.
As I’ve said on previous pages and as I mentioned in the Introduction to this commentary, there are indications that Zechariah the prophet was a teenager when he first began to prophecy to the nation and that he became the head of his father’s house towards the end of his life when he was several decades older.
Though we cannot be certain as to the exact events in Zechariah’s life after the end of chapter 8 of the Book (there are no dates given or actions indicated), there is no reason to suggest that Zech 9:1 onwards has to have been given to the exiles before the Temple was completed under the leadership of both Zerubbabel and Joshua. Though some of it may fit well into this context, no date exists that would tie it down to it being given through the prophet during this period. Therefore it is a fair assumption (if we accept the unity of the Book of Zechariah - which I do) to take this passage as referring to a time still in the future after the close of chapter 8, probably after the death of both Joshua and Zerubbabel when the zeal of the Lord’s people had begun to wane for the things of the Lord.
As a conclusion to the passage which runs from 9:1, it doesn’t summarise too much but it does expand a theme which has raised its head in 10:3 (and, perhaps, in 11:3) where the shepherds (leaders) of Israel have been spoken against by the Lord and where certain of the flock have also been singled out for comment who oppress their fellow Israelites.
But the passage here goes a little further in that both shepherds and the nation (not just individuals within that nation) are condemned for their reaction to and rejection of the Lord’s chosen shepherd given to them for their welfare. Though the former passages commented that there was unrighteous leadership, that the nation were going after foreign gods and that some of them were oppressing those who lived with them, the solution of God - providing for them a good and righteous shepherd who has the welfare of the people at heart - is seen to actually be no solution at all because of the problem in the people. That is, they will turn against that shepherd and reap the rewards of being given a leader who is wholly oppressive and will exploit them for his own ends.
Though it may seem, at first glance, to be quite enigmatic, if we do not try and make it say anything that we would want it to say, the implications of what Zechariah is being told to do is fairly straightforward (though we cannot be certain whether this event was what actually happened [being a priest, Zechariah may not have been allowed to be the shepherd of the flock doomed to be sacrificed within the Temple] or a parable that was only to be related to the nation).
A brief outline of the passage
I have dealt with a few of the points of the passage above but, to relate the complete series of events of the Scripture I shall repeat them here.
Zechariah the prophet is told to become the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered (v.4) which represents the sheep (people) of Israel. Just as the existing shepherds used the flock for their own advantage and benefit (v.5), so Israel’s leaders oppressed those under their charge.
Baldwin notes that
‘The shepherds have been identified in at least forty different ways...’
noting that even Moses, Aaron and Miriam have been suggested as a positive identification though the type of these shepherds is certainly not that of good, righteous leaders who have the welfare of the flock at heart. But we need not try and identify these ‘three’ shepherds in history (and, if we did, we would be adding to the list of possible identifications) but simply observe that they are representative of Israelite leadership over the people of God who exploited those under their care.
Therefore, the passage (as we will see) can apply to many differing situations which have the underlying problem of oppressive leadership. Baldwin notes that the ‘them’ of verse five which refers to the sheep
‘...is feminine, indicating that the sheep are ewes, intended for breeding and not for slaughter’
This may be a realistic point but ewes were used in the sacrificial system to offer to God (see, for instance, Lev 3:6), so we cannot be certain that this is the meaning intended here. It does however make perfect sense in that the shepherds were using those under their charge for a purpose (sacrifice) that they were not intended to be used for.
Verse 6 is a comment on the outcome of the subsequent rejection of Zechariah and we see Israel’s rejection foretold by the Lord here before the event takes place. It is best not to follow the RSV’s emendation which changes the original ‘neighbour’ to ‘shepherd’.
Zechariah is a representative or ‘type’ of the Good Shepherd who is to come (or of any good shepherd sent by the Lord to His people - this is the meaning here even though the NT teaches us concerning Jesus being the Good Shepherd of the entire flock of God - John 10:11) and who truly cares for the sheep. Within a short time, he deposes (rather than the RSV’s ‘destroys’ which both Smith and Baldwin note is probably too strong a word for the original Hebrew) the three shepherds who have been exploiting those under their care (v.8a), but he is not welcomed by the sheep who, instead of rejoicing in this good shepherd, despise and reject him (v.8b - read the RSV here).
The agreement made to look after the sheep is broken (v.10 - the phrase ‘with all the peoples’ would normally be interpreted as being a reference to the Gentiles but Baldwin comments that we should, rather, look at it as referring to the Jews who were amongst the nations in the Diaspora) and, after having been paid off with a wage that the prophet considers to be an insult (v.13 - Zechariah’s ‘the lordly price’ is full of irony - if not sarcasm - though the precise amount of thirty shekels of silver appears to be quite a high price for the services rendered), he symbolically breaks the union that exists between the two nations of Israel and Judah (v.14).
Baldwin notes Delcor’s explanation of the thirty pieces of silver that it
‘...links the verse with Judges 17:4, where two hundred shekels of silver were made into a molten image. By comparison thirty shekels would make only a figurine, and in this detail, he thinks, lies the irony. If they will not have the Lord’s shepherd to rule them the only alternative is to have a little god made from the silver pieces’
Having rejected Zechariah’s leadership, the flock are ultimately subject to the rule of a false shepherd who is even more oppressive than their original shepherds were (v.15-17 and v.6). We saw in Zech 10:2 that far from teaching that false leadership changes the heart of the people, it is the state of the people which causes no true shepherd to be present within society - that is, the leaders a nation gets are the leaders it deserves and this passage is an outworking of that principle.
As Baldwin correctly summarises the passage at the beginning of her notes
‘It is often assumed that if a country were to find a ruler totally dedicated to the good of his people, who would rid the land of injustice and encourage all that makes for harmony, peace and happiness would prevail. One insight of this prophet is that such a ruler would not only not be welcomed, but he would be positively hated and rejected’
The passage and the Exodus
The teaching of this passage was by no means indiscernible from the history of Israel’s experience - indeed, there was a prime example in the events surrounding the Exodus that such a scenario could take place even in the life of God’s people.
Pharaoh was an uncaring shepherd (Ex 1:8-11, 1:15-16, 1:22, 5:6-9) who only afflicted the people of God with tasks and burdens that were for his own benefit and reward (Ex 1:11 - the store cities of Raamses and Pithom were both built for him by the Israelites).
The taskmasters over the people were also uncaring (in Zech 10:4 God speaks about righteous taskmasters coming out from Judah - where see on that passage), harsh shepherds who increased the burden upon the Israelites by command of Pharaoh (Ex 5:10-14 - they also beat the foremen which Pharaoh had not specifically ordered but which he, no doubt, turned a blind eye to).
The land of Egypt, therefore, was a place of suffering and slavery because of the leadership that was over them.
When Moses came, he brought a new freedom and liberty that the children of Israel had not, upto that time, experienced. God had been preparing His leader as a shepherd (Ex 3:1) for forty years. When he came to the Israelites, he came as one who leads his sheep, not as one who drives them from behind and who cares nothing for them. He was a man who would stand in the gap between his people and danger as a true shepherd does (Ex 32:9-14, Num 14:13-19), one who would rather lay down his life than see those under his charge come to harm (Ex 32:30-32).
We would expect the Israelites to respond to this ‘good shepherd’ and follow him. After all, haven’t they been oppressed and subjugated cruelly? And hadn’t Moses been the instrument God had used to bring the freedom from their situation that they had been praying for? But they do just the opposite, continually rebelling against his leadership and wanting to go back to the bondage and slavery that had been their experience in the land of Egypt.
This rebellion culminated in the incident when they stood on the verge of receiving all that the Lord had brought them out of Egypt to possess where they speak in their situation and ask the rhetorical question (Num 14:3)
‘...would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’
and (Num 14:4)
‘...Let us choose a captain [thereby rejecting both God and His chosen leader], and go back to Egypt’
Ultimately, the Israelites didn’t want to follow God’s shepherd, they wanted their old ones back. A change of leadership from one that imposes bondage to one that imparts freedom does not necessarily solve any problems. As Zechariah discovered, the sheep ‘detested’ him (Zech 11:8) - they didn’t want the good shepherd to rule over them in place of those who had been exploiting them.
Men want strong leadership, not meekness and humility. A leader can exploit a people for his own ends so long as he portrays the image they want to see and they will serve him. But one who cries out on behalf of his people will only be rejected by them.
If the testimony of both I and II Corinthians is also considered, we see that Paul discovered the same problems inherent within the Corinthian Church who rejected the apostle on the grounds that he was ‘weak’ while he was amongst them (II Cor 10:10), preferring to ally themselves with false apostles who were, in their eyes, much stronger and could give them better leadership (II Cor 11:5,13).
Though the Church should be radically different from the world because of the new birth is absolutely certain - our fault lies in allying ourselves too often to the vision and ways of the world who look for leadership that is so dominant over their enemies that it becomes oppressive over themselves.
NB - On a natural level (that is, in the secular world), rebellions, insurrections, civil wars, riots and revolutions against oppressive regimes and leaderships do not bring about freedom in the people (as even more recent history has shown us in countries who have thrown off the oppressive political powers that have been over them for decades). It may even be found that the oppression of the subsequent leadership is even more authoritarian and uncaring than it was before the rebellion.
Freedom - true freedom - only comes when God changes the heart.
The passage and the coming of Jesus
When Jesus walked the earth, the leadership of Israel were like the oppressive shepherds mentioned in Zech 11:4-17.
They loaded the masses with heavy burdens of religious duty (Mtw 23:4) that were their own private interpretations and statutes rather than the commandments of God (Mk 7:8). Specifically, they would have forbidden Jesus to heal on the sabbath (Mtw 12:10,14, Luke 13:14, John 5:9-12,18) though there would have been many other situations where they were at conflict.
They ‘lorded it’ over the flock (Mtw 23:5-8) and exploited whatever they could for their own advantage (Mtw 23:25), even going to the extreme of persecuting the true servants of God (Mtw 23:29-36).
Jesus, however, was the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) just as Zechariah was told to be (Zech 11:4,7), who released the sheep under His charge from the burdens that had been placed upon them by their false shepherds who didn’t care for them (Mtw 11:28-30). It was Jesus who went about bringing in the age of Jubilee, the age of liberty (Luke 4:18-19), healing the sick (Mtw 8:5-13), cleansing the lepers (Mtw 8:1-4), casting out demons (Mtw 8:28-34) - in short, releasing the sheep from any oppression that was upon them.
You would have thought that the Israelites would have welcomed a change of leadership in which the burdens they’d been carrying were removed from them, but they rejected it just as Zechariah had discovered (Zech 11:8, Mtw 27:20-23, Acts 2:23). Although it is hardly surprising that Israel’s leadership turned against Him (John 11:51-53), for He threatened the control they had over the people, it is surprising that those who participated in the freedom He brought should reject Him.
A people who are oppressed by false leadership often reject the good shepherds that are sent to them, preferring the bondage of their life than the freedom and liberty that is offered them.
Just as Zechariah was ‘bought off’ for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:12-13), a price which he sarcastically describes as a ‘magnificent sum’ (RSV ‘lordly price’), Jesus was also removed from being the Israelites’ shepherd for the same amount (Mtw 26:14-16).
This is not the end of Zechariah’s experience, however, for their were specific consequences that the rejection of the good shepherd made inevitable:
a. Zech 11:10
God’s covenant of grace made with the people and/or the leaders is broken inasmuch as it is dependent upon the acceptance of God’s servant as the good shepherd. The RSV’s ‘the nations’ is interpreted as being the Gentile nations by Smith while Baldwin, although noting that the phrase is normally taken to refer to this, prefers to see a reference to the Jews scattered throughout the world. Certainly, the context favours Baldwin’s interpretation and is to be preferred for it makes good sense.
God’s covenant of grace (not only in the OT but in the New also) is dependent upon His people accepting the leaders that He sends them or, perhaps better, the Leader (Jesus) He sends them.
b. Zech 11:14
The unity of God’s people is destroyed as it is only in the good shepherd that differing people are made one. Division is a result of rejecting the good shepherd from being in authority.
This flies in the face of previous Scriptures in Zechariah which speak of the unity of the northern and southern kingdoms (Zech 9:13, 10:6) but we must realise firstly, that prophecy is not pre-written history (see my notes on prophecy here) and, secondly, this passage seems to be dealing with an event that will be lasting until the nation turns to accept the shepherds that are sent to them.
c. Zech 11:6,15-17
The most frightening aspect of their rejection is what it means God’s people get as their leadership. There is only an either/or here - either the good shepherd or the false shepherd who abuses those under his care.
Even if the sheep cry out for deliverance, yet reject the one who God sends, they will inevitably receive a shepherd over them who treats them worse than their first shepherds that they had complained about.
Frost (quoted in Baldwin) writes
‘...if Yahweh is not received as a Shepherd, then another will be, and that other will be a shepherd of doom’
Let us not forget that, although we may like to only apply this to the Jewish nation, it equally applies to nations at large but, more importantly, to the Church of the NT.
Many older commentators (among them JFB) see in this passage an exposition of the situation that Israel found itself in when it rejected the Messiah. If this is so (and I have highlighted how similar the facts of both are above), then the three consequences outlined above should be present throughout subsequent Jewish history until that future generation that will turn to Him for healing.
To some degree this has been the case (and, according to my reading of subsequent history from the Ascension of Christ to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, this is positively true), but it would seem appropriate to see in the prophecy of the worthless shepherd a reference to that one individual - the antichrist or antimessiah - who will be acknowledged as leader over the peoples towards the end of the age before the Good Shepherd returns.
Because of the context here, it is even possible that this worthless shepherd may arise over the Jews or, even, the Church. If the latter, it would indicate a deluded Church who have rejected the leadership that God has sent to it.
Zechariah 11:4-17 and Matthew 27:3-10
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 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 19 and, even apart from this one word, Jeremiah does contribute to the overall picture that is 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.
We’ll consider both OT passages here and see how each relates to the passage in Matthew:
a. Jeremiah chapter 19
Mtw 27:3-10 resembles Jer 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), 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 had 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 is 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 is 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).
b. Zechariah 11:4-14
Mtw 27:9-10 resembles Zech 11:4-14 in a number of ways:
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’
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 11:12.
Mtw 27:10 reads ‘...and they gave them for the potter’s field...’ and 27:6 ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury...’
Zech 11:13 can be read either ‘...cast it to the potter...’ or ‘...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 of the Lord is considered.
Smith 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 is difficult to be sure that the Jews of this period adopted a similar procedure. Smith’s citation of Torrey here relies on a citation from Herodotus but it appears as if Smith has 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.
Smith also notes the comments of M 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 is 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.
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 we have seen - the comparison between false leadership (the other shepherds apart from the prophet) and true leadership (the shepherd of the Lord). The words ‘...to the potter’ (Zech 11:13) are significant. 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 to possibly 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 their assertions are correct.
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 our own image and of our 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.
It was cast to form the type of god they worshipped - that is, the god of corruption and death. Therefore, 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).
Smith 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 defense” 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 defenseless...’
c. 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 had undermined the profitability of their intentions toward the flock (Zech 11:8) and, having had Him removed, can get on with their 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 shepherd (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 will 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 is Jeremiah who is attributed with the quote.
GO TO ZECHARIAH PAGE