Outside of the opening three verses of this chapter – which really are a continuation of the previous chapter – Zechariah 11 is about shepherding and sheep and, frankly, destruction. God does not paint a pretty picture here.
God gives Zechariah a commission as “shepherd” of Israel. Zechariah carried out his commission and rooted out, in the course of a month, “three shepherds” who apparently were up to no good. Bible scholars really have no idea who those three shepherds were. It’s a biblical mystery.
But the people – the “sheep” – resented Zechariah and drove him to quit his shepherding job in protest. He took his wages, “thirty pieces of silver,” and threw them into the temple where the potters were. This might also be a reference to the temple treasury.
Then God asked Zechariah to take up his role as shepherd again (verse 15). But this time, Zechariah was to act like a “foolish shepherd.” God then pronounced a curse on “my worthless shepherd.”
So there’s an interesting story here. This is one of those chapters that you might want to read a couple of times, or more.
A good shepherd, who tried to carry out his commission in the midst of a difficult time, quit in protest because the sheep were unruly. The sheep, of course, didn’t seem to see that they were under dire threat. They were “doomed to slaughter.” There were sheep traders observing all of this. Were they other nations?
The good shepherd had two staffs – one named “Favor” and one named “Union.” They represented God’s favor on the nation and the union of the northern and southern tribes of Israel. When things got tough in the land, and the sheep and shepherd had their falling out, the shepherd broke each staff. God’s favor was pulled back from the flock, and the unity of the nation of Israel was broken.
That was it for the good shepherd. Next, God appointed the foolish shepherd. This one didn’t care for the flock. He didn’t seek out the newborns. And he didn’t heal those who were sick. Instead, this bad shepherd just sought to devour every ounce of the flock – right down to the hoofs.
So the following is where my brain went with this text. Take it for what it’s worth:
The prophet Ezekiel had prophesied that the nation of Israel would be reunited after its exile in Babylonia. God had given Ezekiel a sign. He told the prophet to take two sticks. On one, he was to write “For Judah,” and on the other, he was to write, “For Joseph.” These represented the two nations of Israel that were divided after the death of King Solomon. Then God told Ezekiel, “join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand” (Ezekiel 37:17). It was God’s promise that the old division would be broken down when he returned the people to their land (Ezekiel 37:15-23).
The fact that the “unity” staff was broken must have meant God’s people simply were not there yet. Unity still was coming.
The prophet Ezekiel also had a lot to say about good and bad shepherds of the people of Israel. Ezekiel 34 is worth reading. God condemned the leaders of Israel as bad shepherds who didn’t search out the lost sheep but instead fed them to the wolves. In fact, the shepherds were eating the sheep themselves (Ezekiel 34:7-10). This is bad leadership!
Then God said, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:11-12).
Jesus – God in the flesh – said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).
Back in Zechariah 11, when the prophet got fed up with the people and quit his shepherding job, he accepted “thirty pieces of silver” for his work. God seemed to mock it – “the lordly price at which I was priced by them.” He told Zechariah to throw the money into the temple.
When Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, the leaders of Israel gave Judas thirty pieces of silver. Judas had a moment of remorse, however, and threw the money into the temple (Matthew 27:3-5). But the priests knew it was blood money and didn’t want it to go into the “treasury.” So instead, they bought a “potter’s field” (Matthew 27:6-10).
And by the way, thirty pieces of silver was the going price for a slave during at least one moment in biblical history (Exodus 21:32). This is all stuff worth pondering!
And when Zechariah quit his role as the shepherd of the people, he said, “I will not be your shepherd. What is to die, let it die. What is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed. And let those who are left devour the flesh of one another.”
The apostle Paul reported this about all of humanity, about all of us, as we live our lives in rebellion against God: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie … For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. … And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind …” (Romans 1:24-32).
I’m not sure what else to say about Zechariah 11, except this: The world was broken when Jesus Christ stepped onto the scene. Nothing was working the way that it should – the shepherds or the sheep. The favor of God was gone. The sheep traders were looking on. The unity of the people was broken.
And then the good shepherd came. The favor of God is given to anyone who responds to the call of this shepherd. And we are called into a flock – a community of the faithful who follow, together, as one.
Spend your own time with this text. Listen for what God has to say to you today.