By Mark Moon
Key verses 10-11
“Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.”
This chapter is the conclusion of the section of Chapters 9 through 11. In chapter 9, God executes His judgment upon the nations surrounding Israel. It portraits a picture of God as the divine warrior watching over Israel. He said He will defend His house (9:8). The Messiah returns as the Deliverer, and gathers His people to establish His Kingdom ruling from Jerusalem. It’s the prophecy of the end time when God’s people return to the promised land under God’s rule.
Chapter 10 talks about the good and faithful Shepherd who cares for His flock. He is their blessing and anchor in life, their cornerstone, the tent peg, the battle bow, and the ruler (10:4). By God’s grace and because of His compassion, the promise is their restoration and reunion in the end times, back to their God-given land, with their sins forgiven and forgotten (10:6).
But this will not happen soon because Israel will not recognize their “Good and Faithful Shepherd” when He comes. And that’s what Zechariah Chapter 11 is all about. This chapter begins with a lamentation in verses 1 through 3 to describe the severity of the devastation of the land. So, shall we read verses 1-3?
The references to the cedars of Lebanon, the oaks of Bashan, the thicket of Jordan suggest that the destruction will be widespread, from Lebanon, Bashan (Central) and Jordan (South). All the rich forests are destroyed, leaving shepherds wailing for the loss of pastures and lions roaring for the loss of their habitat.
From a human history standpoint, this destruction was caused by the Romans who came against this land. But truth is, based on this text, it happened because God’s people rejected their Shepherd and turned to other shepherds.
From verses 4-17, there are three themes running through this passage. In verses 4-6, The Lord says His flock will be attacked and the true Shepherd will not intervene. They have their own shepherds. In verses 7-14, Zechariah acts out the prophecy of judgment. He broke his two staffs which he called “favor” and “union”. This is to demonstrate the word of God (11). Lastly, in verses 15-17, A foolish and worthless shepherd will come pretending to be the Shepherd and will deceive them. Let’s meditate them in detail.
Verses 4-6: In this 1st part, the Lord declares His judgment. Look at verse 4. “Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter”. Can you imagine sheep marked for slaughter? Out of many, they are selected and marked to be butchered soon. The Lord wanted Zechariah to shepherd such sheep to demonstrate his judgment. Israel is doomed for slaughter, and this takes place due to the absence of God’s compassion. The Lord says, “For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land.” “I will give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands.” This word was fulfilled when the people of the land were brutally killed and disappeared by the Romans.
Verses 7-14: In the 2nd part, Zechariah obeyed God’s word, acting out the prophecy by portraying the work of a shepherd. He pastured the flock marked for slaughter. He particularly cared for the oppressed of the flock out of compassion. Zechariah is God in this play. By shepherding the poor sheep, Zechariah is displaying how God cared for his people.
He took two staffs to do his job just like any shepherd would do. Interestingly though, he gave them symbolic names Favor and Union. Favor reflects God’s gracious favor toward His people, and Union reflects the coming together of a divided nation, Israel and Judah, as one.
Zechariah pastured the pitiful flock with compassion to the point he cared for them more than three careless shepherds combined did. The three shepherds were removed. This incident has a deeper meaning. He said in verse 8, “In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.” It was a prophetic statement. And it’s not so easy to identify who these three shepherds were, and commentaries say there may be over 40 interpretations for this.
One notable interpretation is related to Christ. In 10:3 the Lord says, “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders…” If it’s these shepherds he’s talking about, then they might refer to the prophets, priests and all three offices were taken away from Israel after the Roman conquest of Judea and have never been restored. However, they are all now fulfilled in Christ.
Back to the story! Look at verses 8b-9. Unfortunately Zechariah’s compassionate care was not well received. “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.”
Instead of following the selfless shepherd Zechariah, not even mentioning thanking him, the flock detested him. They did not listen to him. They felt bothered by this guy. Some of them hated him vigorously. The whole flock detested him. And they lost a good shepherd as Zechariah 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.”
This is an exact portrait of what happened between Israel and God. The sheep Israel detested their shepherd God. They lost their good shepherd, and inevitable destruction followed. “Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh”. The survivors of sufferings ended up even slaughtering each other to eat their meat for survival. This was fulfilled when Roman soldiers besieged Jerusalem in AD70, and the people were forced to eat one another’s flesh for survival.
Look at verse 10-11. Zechariah took his staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant God made with all the nations. His hand of protection was lifted and His people were destined to suffer and be destroyed. Zechariah broke the Favor staff intentionally to demonstrate this was the word of God (11).
Interestingly, as Zechariah acts out this prophecy, he paused and asked for his pay for being the shepherd of this flock. Verse 12-13 say: “I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it. So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.” But this billing was not God’s intention because the whole pay of Zechariah’s hard work on shepherding was to serve God and honor his word. Fundamentally, he did not work for them but for God, thus he should not ask wages.
In verse 13, the Lord intervened. He said to Zechariah, “Throw it to the potter”. Zechariah felt a significant loss as thirty pieces of silver was such a handsome price. But Zechariah obeyed the word and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord. “Throwing it to the potter” may be mockery, because potters were the lowest class among the working class. Remarkably, this incident was prophetically fulfilled in Jesus, who was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver which is the price of a slave. When Judas wanted to return the money, the chief priests refused to take it back, saying it was blood money. So Judas threw the money into the temple, and they used it to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners (Matt 27:7). A potter’s field is a piece of useless land where the potter threw his broken, damaged and unwanted pots.
Zechariah broke the other stick Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel. The union and harmony among God’s people would be broken. This could be a reference to the time when Jerusalem was under siege, when there was conflict within, which eventually led to the city being destroyed by the Romans. And what followed was the dispersion of the Jews all over the world. The breaking of both sticks reflects God’s displeasure, which happened before the Messiah came to bring together His people.
Verses 15-17: Finally, in this 3rd part there’s a prophetic word that a foolish shepherd will appear. Zechariah plays acts of a foolish shepherd who doesn’t care for the sheep the way that a good shepherd would. He doesn’t care for the lost— he doesn’t seek the young— he doesn’t heal the injured— he doesn’t feed [nourish (ESV)] the healthy (all these are qualities of a good shepherd). Instead he cares only for himself— eating the meat of choice sheep.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Instead this “shepherd” is going to eat the flesh of the best sheep. He may well be the fake Christ called Antichrist. Many will be misled by this foolish and worthless shepherd, thinking that he is the ‘Christ’ when clearly he is everything that Christ is not.
What will God do about it? He will surely judge him (11:17). “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm (in reference to his strength) and his right eye (in reference to his sight, and to his intelligence)! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!”
In Conclusion, there is this unchanging image of the shepherd and his flock throughout Zechariah 10-11. The prophecy describes, not so much a prophetic account of what’s going to happen to Israel in the future, but God’s people’s relationship with the One Messiah Shepherd.
We see Israel rejecting Christ and facing all the consequences of that rejection. Without their good Shepherd, they lost God’s favor and their unity as one people of God under one God! It’s a picture of Israel’s spiritual condition before God. They rejected their only true Shepherd who cares for them and blesses them (as portrayed in Zechariah chapter 10) and they replaced Him with other “shepherds” who have no power to save them— such as the foolish and worthless shepherd who isn’t a shepherd at all (as portrayed in Zechariah chapter 11). It’s a warning to them, and a reminder to us today as we read of their sin.
There is only One true Shepherd for Israel and for us— One Messiah— One Savior— Jesus. He said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) That’s the true character of the Good Shepherd! He died for us. And it’s a good reminder for us always as we serve God’s flock during good times, and especially during difficult times like these. In these difficult times, many people are tempted to turn to other saviors. But we can and should turn to no one else but to the Only True Shepherd of our lives.
How do we turn to him in difficult times? We Listen to Him. Not only because he is the Good Shepherd, but also because He is determined to guide us in the good way of truth. And usually His sheep listen to Him. (John 10:2-5) This is the sure characteristic of true sheep— they listen to and follow the Good Shepherd. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” says Christ Jesus (John 10:27)