For the Love of God, Volume 2/December 24
From Gospel Translations
2 Chronicles 29; Revelation 15; Zechariah 11; John 14
ZECHARIAH HAS ALREADY USED imagery associated with sheep and shepherd (9:16; 10:2, 3, 8-12; 11:3). Now he deploys it at length (Zech. 11:4-17). The passage is difficult. Probably it is an extended allegory, rather than something acted out, if only because of all the other people involved. Quite certainly its purpose is to overturn a major assumption about leadership. Many think that if a nation has the right ruler, all will be well. But here the right shepherd is hated and rejected.
(1) The “LORD my God,” Zechariah says, gives the people one last chance (11:4-6). God commissions him to serve as shepherd of a flock “marked for slaughter,” i.e., raised for their meat. The “sheep” are oppressed people, while their oppressors are variously their own shepherds who fatten them for the slaughter, and the traders who “slaughter them and go unpunished” (11:5). The language that describes their owners is scathing: they sell them for slaughter and say, “Praise the LORD, I am rich!” (11:5)—as if wealth were a reliable index of the Lord’s favor (cf. Mark 10:23). The “buyers” in the parable are the occupying powers. Thus the “sellers,” the leaders of the covenant people, are complicit in “selling out” their people. Zechariah’s mission as a shepherd, to save this flock, appears doomed to failure. God himself will turn the people over to their own neighbors and their own king. They are not loyal to him, and he abandons them to their fellow citizens—and God will not rescue them (11:6).
(2) In the second section (11:7-14), the good shepherd, Zechariah, is rejected. One might have thought that the flock would turn to him for rescue, since everyone else—sellers, shepherds, buyers—are intent on selling them and profiting from them. But the flock detests the good shepherd (11:8). Eventually he abandons the sheep to follow the course they are determined to take (11:9). The staff called “Favor” or “Graciousness” is broken, as is the covenant made “with all the nations” (probably referring to the Jewish colonies scattered among many nations, as in Joel 2:6). So the merchants who provided Zechariah’s salary, and who doubtless wanted him to be gone, unwittingly accomplish God’s judicial will and buy off Zechariah with a final payment of thirty pieces of silver. These Zechariah is commanded to throw to the potter (a craftsman who worked with both clay and metal), presumably so that he could make a little figurine, a little godlet (11:12-13). Those who reject the good shepherd are left with idols—and disunity (12:14).
(3) In the closing lines (11:15-17) Zechariah acts out the only alternative to a good shepherd: a worthless shepherd. How much did Jesus meditate on this chapter—the good shepherd rejected by so many of his people and dismissed for thirty pieces of silver?