The Word Made Fresh
1Open up, Lebanon, and let fire burn your cedars to the ground.
2The cypress trees will weep because the cedars have fallen –
those wonderful trees have come to ruin!
Cry aloud, oak trees of Bashan!
All the trees of the forest have been cut down!
3Hear the shepherds crying out for their pastures which are no more!
The lions roar, for the thick forests of the Jordan are wiped out!
4But this is what the LORD God says: “Be a shepherd of the flock that is doomed to be slaughtered. 5Their owners slaughter them, but aren’t punished. Their sellers rejoice, saying, ‘Thank the good LORD – I’m rich!’ Their shepherds have no pity for them. 6So, I will have no pity for the people who live there.” The LORD says, “I will cause every one of them to fall into the hands of a neighbor and into the hands of the king. They will destroy the land and I will not rescue anyone from them.”
7So, I became the shepherd of that flock that was doomed to be slaughtered. I chose two staffs – Favor and Unity – and tended the sheep with them. 8In a single month I became impatient with the three shepherds and got rid of them. They didn’t like me, either. 9I said, “I’m not going to be your shepherd. Let that which is supposed to die, die. Let that which is supposed to be destroyed, be destroyed. Let those who are left devour one another!”
10Then I broke my staff, the one called Favor, which ended the agreement I had made with the people. 11On that very day those who bought and sold the sheep watched me, and realized that it was the word of the LORD. 12I told them, “If you think it’s acceptable, pay me what you owe me. If not, keep your money.” They weighed my wages and gave me thirty pieces of silver. 13Then the LORD said I should throw this lordly price at which they valued me to the potter in the temple, and I did. 14Then I broke the second staff, called ‘Unity,’ which severed the family ties between Judah and Israel.
15The LORD then told me to take up again the tools of a worthless shepherd, 16because the LORD was planning to name a shepherd who didn’t care about those who were dying or those who were lost, or healing the injured, or even nourishing the ones who were healthy. This new shepherd would eat the flesh of the fat ones, even down to their hoofs.
17Woe to the worthless shepherd who fails to protect the flock.
May the LORD make his arm be withered,
and his right eye blinded!
1-3: Although the literary style of these verses would seem to link them to the previous chapter, the general theme of the failure, and denouncement of the “shepherds,” dominates chapter 11, and verses 1-3 thus form an introduction. God’s judgment is once again pictured as proceeding in stages from the north. The cedars of Lebanon are burned. The oaks of Bashan (the Golan Heights) are ruined. The glory of the shepherds is spoiled, and the thickets of the Jordan are destroyed. Placing the shepherds between Bashan and the Jordan valley would indicate that these are the leaders of the northern kingdom of Israel that fell to the Assyrians.
4-6: Playing out recent history, God assigns Zechariah the responsibility of being the shepherd of the northern kingdom of Israel (“the flock doomed to slaughter”). He is to pronounce judgment on the false shepherds who have mistreated and misled the people: God will cause the false shepherds to fall into the hands of a king; that is, the leaders of Israel will be overrun by foreign powers.
7-14: Illustrating what happened to Israel, Zechariah imagines himself taking two staffs: “Favor,” to symbolize God’s original relationship with Israel and Judah, and “Unity,” to symbolize the reign of David and Solomon over a united Judah and Israel. He disposes of three unidentified shepherds and then resigns his office, leaving them to their fate. “Favor” is broken — God will no longer protect them. He demands his wages as the shepherd and is paid off (Christian readers will find special significance in the 30 shekels of silver — see Matthew 26:14). At God’s command he throws the coins into the temple (see Matthew 27:3-5). All of this is to say that the leaders of Israel, the northern tribes, refuse to accept God’s sovereignty, breaking the ties of unity that bound all the twelve tribes together and creating the separation that resulted in the two separate nations of Israel and Judah.
15-17: Just as Zechariah has abandoned the sheep in his vision, God has called forth a worthless shepherd who decimates the flock and who will be destroyed in battle. The withering of the arm and blinding of the eye is a reference to the helplessness with which Israel met the invading Assyrian army.
All the prophets blame the sad financial and political state of Jerusalem on the sad spiritual state of the people and especially their leaders. When the worship of God is neglected and the sovereignty of God is rejected, the favor of God is forfeited.