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Broken Shepherd’s Staffs (Zechariah 11)

The name Zechariah — Hebrew: Zekar-yah — literally means “Yahweh has remembered.” This was a very common Hebrew name, and we find almost thirty different men with this same name mentioned in the Bible, “presumably,” declares one commentator, “because the Lord had remembered the prayers of the parents for a baby boy.”

That, however, may be reading a lot more into the name Zechariah than is warranted! In Zech.1:1 we are informed that this prophet was the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo. The latter was one of the priests who returned to Jerusalem in the group led by Zerubbabel (Neh. 12:4, 16; Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Zechariah was also one of the ones who returned under Zerubbabel, and it appears he was already a priest at the time of the return (Neh. 12:16). It is also quite possible he was still a fairly young man — Hebrew: na’ar — at this time (Zech. 2:4). Many scholars speculate he was born in Babylon, and became a priest just prior to the time of the return.

Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai, and the two worked hand in hand to help bring renewal and reform to the people of God who had recently returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity. The Septuagint credits these two prophets with being co-authors of several of the Psalms, and Jewish tradition declares them to be two of the founders of the Great Synagogue. In Matt. 23:35 and Luke 11:51 Jesus speaks of “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah” who was “murdered between the temple and the altar.” It should be noted that another man named Zechariah (the son of Jehoiada) was also killed in the court of the temple (2 Chron. 24:20-22). Some scholars believe Jesus confused the two men, or some scribe making a copy of the NT text, confused the two men. Others maintain these were two separate men who simply experienced similar fates. Most likely Jesus was indeed speaking of the prophet Zechariah when He spoke of the death of this man.

“A tomb is shown to this very day at the foot of the Mount of Olives, which, it is pretended, belongs to the prophet Zechariah. Others maintain that he is buried in a place called Bethariah, 150 furlongs from Jerusalem” (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, vol. 4, p. 766). He “has been called the prophet with ‘the soul of an artist and the eye of a seer'” (H.I. Hester, The Heart of Hebrew History, p. 294).

According to Zech. 1:1, this prophet began to prophesy two months after his contemporary Haggai began his work (cf. Haggai 1:1). This would place the beginning of Zechariah’s work as a prophet around the month of November, 520 B.C. From Zech. 7:1 we know that this man prophesied for at least two more years. Chapters 9-14 are undated, however, and due to various stylistic differences, and due to internal evidence, “it is likely that this message was given after the dedication of the Temple. Presumably this represents Zechariah’s message during a later period in his prophetic career” (Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, p. 418). There are also scholars who do not believe Zechariah authored these chapters. The two major theories are:

The Pre-Exilic Theory — This view contends the section in question (chapters 9-14) was written prior to the exile, perhaps by Jeremiah. They believe there are too many things in this section that preclude a post-exilic authorship.

The Post-Alexandrian Theory — This view contends this section was written after the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) by an unknown author. This is viewed as being necessary by several scholars because of the reference to Greece in Zech. 9:13. The noted biblical scholar C.F. Keil, however, states that such conclusions against the “unity of authorship of the entire book are founded upon false interpretations and misunderstandings.”

Historically speaking, the prophet Haggai “furnished the initial impetus for laying the foundation of the second Temple, whereas Zechariah helped materially toward the completion of the project by giving a larger spiritual dimension to the restored theocracy through his prophetic oracles. With his contemporary Haggai he was called to give that kind of spiritual leadership which would regenerate the theocracy, recall it to its true vocation, and guide it toward its ultimate destiny as the living witness of God in the world” (Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, p. 1043). Zechariah “began to prophecy at a time when zeal for the ideals of the theocracy had reached a very low ebb” (ibid). “As was the case with Haggai, the primary concern of the prophet Zechariah was the establishing of spiritual priorities in the life of the returned community” (ibid, p. 1045). This prophet saw the “dangers involved in cultic formalism.” He further realized that “submission, penitence, and cleansing from sin must precede the outpouring of divine blessing,” and also that “the prosperity of the theocracy depended upon a proper relationship between the covenant people and their God” (ibid).

“Zechariah is the longest and most obscure of all the twelve minor prophets” (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, vol. 4, p. 766). “It is the most difficult of any of the OT books to interpret” (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 318). “Zechariah predicted more about the Messiah than any other prophet except Isaiah” (Ryrie Study Bible). There is no question that the book of Zechariah is the most apocalyptic and eschatological of all the Old Covenant writings. He gives emphasis to visions as a means of divine communication, and the wealth of apocalyptic symbolism is evident. Indeed, it is one of the outstanding characteristics of this prophet’s writings. The reader of the book of Revelation will also find many of the antecedents of the visions in Revelation in the prophecy of Zechariah. For example: The four horsemen (Zech 6:1-8; Rev. 6:1-8), the two olive trees (Zech. 4:3f; Rev. 11:4), and the lampstands and the seven eyes (Zech 4:2-10; Rev. 1:12f). Also, in the book of Zechariah Satan appears as the accuser to bring men’s failings to the attention of God — Zech. 3:1f; cf. 1 Chron. 21:1; Job 1:6f; 2:1f.

There are many explicit anticipations of Christ in the prophecy of Zechariah: The righteous branch (Zech. 3:8; 6:12-13), the King/Priest (6:13), the cornerstone (10:4), the Good Shepherd who is rejected and sold for thirty shekels of silver, the price of a slave (11:4-13), the smitten Shepherd who is abandoned (13:7), the humble King (9:9-10), the pierced one (12:10), the cleansing fountain (13:1), the coming Judge and righteous King (chapter 14). Dr. Jack P. Lewis has correctly observed, “Zechariah has exercised a greater influence upon the Messianic picture of the NT than any other minor prophet.”

Rejection and Consequences

One of the great burdens of the prophet Zechariah was over the fact that his people had largely rejected the Lord as their Shepherd. They, by their own choice, had become a scattered, afflicted flock fed upon by worthless shepherds. God was willing to bless His people with abundance in all areas of life, but they were not willing to turn to Him as their Great Shepherd. In Zechariah 11 we perceive the consequences of that choice; consequences dramatically conveyed in a series of compelling figures. This chapter is highly symbolic in its literary presentation, however the message couldn’t be clearer — when a people reject the leadership of the Good Shepherd, they are doomed to suffer under the tyranny of worthless shepherds. When the people of God shun Him, He turns them over to the consequences of their choice.

The worthless owners and shepherds, to whom God had given over His rebellious flock, are not described in very flattering terms. These “owners slaughter them and feel no guilt … and their shepherds do not pity them” (Zech. 11:5). This is quite similar to the horrid attitudes and actions of false shepherds enumerated in Ezekiel 34, who had been feeding themselves rather than the sheep, growing fat off the flock, “dominating them with force and severity” (vs. 2-4). Such, sadly, is the fate of a flock who rejects the Good Shepherd — they are doomed to suffer under a series of severe shepherds. These false shepherds are so callous of heart and “so blinded by self-interest that they see no sin in thus treating the flock” (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 14). Indeed, “so little compunction do they feel that they actually thank God for their ill-gotten gains” (ibid). After feeding off the flock, they say, “Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich!” (Zech. 11:5). These little lords actually praise God for blessing them with a flock to fleece!! Such despots have truly sunk to the very depths of depravity!

In the midst of this afflicted flock, God calls Zechariah to “stand in” as the Good Shepherd, and, in that symbolic capacity, to convey a dramatic object lesson to His people. “Thus says the Lord my God, ‘Pasture the flock doomed for slaughter'” (Zech. 11:4). “So I pastured the flock doomed to slaughter” (vs. 7). In one final, gracious act of loving-kindness, God, through the prophet Zechariah, brings about the removal of those who are afflicting the flock. The sheep of His pasture are shown His mercy and grace, and given a chance to return to His benevolent care. “I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me” (vs. 8). To symbolize the gracious bringing together of His scattered sheep, we see Zechariah taking two shepherd’s staffs and naming them — “The one I called Favor, and the other I called Union; and so I pastured the flock” (vs. 7). God had favored His flock, He had united them once again, and He had removed the tyrants who afflicted them. He pastured and shepherded them with His favor, resulting in their union.

The prophet Ezekiel had given a somewhat similar prophecy prior to this time. In Ezek. 37:15ff we find the prophecy of the two sticks. Ezekiel was to take two sticks (representing His scattered people), “then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand” (vs. 17). They would thus become one people, and they would “all have one shepherd” (vs. 24). Then God declared, “My dwelling place will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (vs. 27). They would all be one people; they would be a flock united under One Shepherd. This, of course, would find its ultimate fulfillment in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein ALL are made one, and all dividing walls are brought down, thus uniting the people of God. “And they shall become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16).

One would think that having God’s favor bestowed upon His flock, bringing them back into joyous union with Him and with their fellow sheep, would thrill the people. Sadly, however, it did not. In fact, when they were asked what this was all worth in their sight, “they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12), the price of a gored slave (Ex. 21:32). Time and again, throughout God’s historical dealings with His people, they shun His favor and seek out union with the world about them. Thus, time and again God is forced to turn them over to the consequences of their rebellion. These will result from the breaking of the two shepherd’s staffs previously mentioned. If the people would allow the Lord to be their Shepherd, as David did (“The Lord is my shepherd” — Psalm 23:1), then they too would experience the blessings of God’s divine care. “I shall not want … Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1, 4). However, when the people reject the shepherding of the Lord, He breaks His two staffs, which results in untold horror for the rebellious flock.

“Then I said, ‘I will not pasture you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be annihilated, let it be annihilated; and let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.’ And I took my staff, Favor, and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples” (Zech. 11:9-10). Most translations render this word as “Favor” (New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New English Bible, New American Bible, St. Joseph edition, Easy-to-Read Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible), although there are a few translations that favor a different rendering — “Beauty” (King James Version and New King James Version) …. “Mercy” (Contemporary English Version) …. “Grace” (Revised Standard Version, Living Bible — a footnote in the NKJV also has the alternative reading “Grace”).

The beauty of our God’s matchless grace, favor and mercy have been terminated. These were spurned by the flock of God, and thus the Good Shepherd “abandons the flock to their fate … He withdraws His grace and protection” (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 14). The breaking of this first shepherd’s staff “indicates the withdrawal of God’s favor from His people” (Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The OT, vol. 2, p. 715). With the grace of God removed, the flock is left exposed to the wolves that continually circle the fold. Thus, they become a “flock doomed to slaughter” once again (Zech. 11:4, 7). What is going to die, will just have to die (vs. 9), “for I shall no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the land,” declares the Lord God (vs. 6). His grace (favor) has been broken into pieces. The people didn’t want it; thus, it was removed. The consequence is death and destruction.
Following the fracturing of Favor, the second shepherd’s staff was also taken and broken into pieces. “Then I cut my second staff, Union, in pieces, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel” (Zech. 11:14). Most translations render this word “Union” (NASB, E-to-R Version, HCSB, NWT, RSV, LB, NIV, NEB), although a few have chosen the following instead — “Bonds” (NKJV, NAB) ….. “Bands” (KJV) ….. “Unity” (CEV, and a footnote in the NKJV). The “bonds” or “bands” would be those “cords” which tied together the people into one nation. These “bands” or “bonds” would be broken, thus causing them to scatter. The idea of “unity” and “union,” however, is really intended here. That unity and union, oneness and harmony, was going to be shattered.

When God’s abundant FAVOR is withdrawn from a people, the UNITY of that people quickly disintegrates. NOTE: Here is a major message of this chapter — When people refuse to live under God’s grace, they will fuss, fight and fragment, rather than enjoy the peace and harmony that comes from brotherly union with one another. As Zech. 11:14 clearly declares, when the second staff was broken into pieces, brotherhood was broken. Brethren, look about you!! If you see brother fighting brother in the family of God, then you may be sure that our UNION is broken, and this is a sure sign that we are NOT living under GRACE, but rather have shunned the Good Shepherd in favor of worthless shepherds and watchdogs who merely feed off the flock. “Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh” (Zech. 11:9). Not a pleasant thought, is it? Brethren devouring brethren!! But, it does happen when we do not live in grace and reject union with one another.

When you reject the Good Shepherd, you end up only with worthless ones!! “For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces” (Zech. 11:16). Where grace is removed, strife and dissension reign. As the wise old maxim states, “Where grace is ne’er spoken, brotherhood is broken!”

Conclusion

“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14-15). Whether the advice comes from the writings of the Old Covenant or the New, the wisdom for the people of God remains constant — It is better to live under the umbrella of God’s GRACE, than to fall from it! When we lose our union with Christ, we also have lost our tie with His favor (Gal. 5:4).

Brethren, we are the One Flock of the Good Shepherd. Let’s act like it!! As His sheep, it matters not whether our folds are exactly the same, what matters is that we are part of the One Flock under the leadership of the One Shepherd. Our Lord has many folds, but only one flock (John 10:16), and the sooner His sheep grasp this concept of grace the sooner we’ll begin behaving as a single flock, not as feuding folds. A sure sign that those who profess to be the sheep of His flock are NOT is when they shun grace in favor of law, and break union with their brethren. When lambs in the flock are killing other lambs in the flock, we know for a certainty that the Good Shepherd has been replaced with worthless shepherds who could care less …. and, indeed, who probably applaud such carnage, as it gives them more meat for the table and more fleece for their garments.

Where grace abounds, so does love and union! And where all of these are in evidence, the Good Shepherd is visibly leading the flock, and His many folds accept one another as fellow sheep in the One Flock of God. Zechariah 11 is a message of warning for Christendom today! Our Lord seeks to be the Shepherd of His sheep. That is a truth never in doubt. The question is: do we desire to be His sheep? If so, the worthless little lords who would tyrannize the flock, and their mangy watchdogs, must be driven out … and quickly. The folds must tear down their barriers of exclusion and isolation, and they must begin acknowledging and accepting their fellow sheep. We must learn to love, glory in our freedom, appreciate His grace, and unite with one another. When we do so, He will dwell among us; when we won’t, He will deliver us over to the consequences of our choice. And, frankly, brethren, we have been suffering under those horrid consequences long enough. Fellow sheep, beloved lambs, come to the One Shepherd, and let us enjoy together the blessings of Favor and Union. Those two shepherd’s staffs have been broken long enough. It’s time to put the pieces back together!

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