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I Became the Shepherd - Zechariah 11

Do you know how many times that in studying the Book of Zechariah, I’ve read the phrase, “This is among the most difficult passages of Old Testament Scripture to interpret”?  Is it allegory, metaphor, parable, apocalyptic, historic allusion?  Well, for sure it is a Poetic Prophetic Song with multiple interpretations available (AND I have the right one!)

à In Zechariah, we will continue to read prophetic themes of judgment and salvation and about the hope of the coming Messiah.  But whereas in chapters 9 & 10; we read of judgment of distant nations, and then a king riding lowly on a donkey, able to CONVERT the nations and to make peace with those who should be destroyed…

 

In Chapter 11, we encounter a problem for the prophet.  It is among the most disheartening problems of the Old Testament… Sure, God can convert the pagans and make them faithful.  Amen!  But will those with whom God has a unique covenant relationship, will these ever become the obedient sheep of his hand?  Will true conversion be known among the very flock of God?

 

This is a sad thought! With all that we’ve heard about God’s passion for Zion and for restoring the land of Israel, why must Zechariah address such a dark theme?  Especially with the very remnant of God who have returned to the land so fresh from a time of judgment in Babylon?!  How spiritually devoted does God expect His people to be so that the prophets can cool off a bit on all the judgment talk?  Evidently, when God is justly satisfied with every thought, word, and deed of His shepherds and sheep!!  We will conclude our message with this understanding of the Gospel.

 

So let’s start now with Zechariah 11, Which starts with another judgment passage upon the geography in the North and then swings to the east of Israel (Chapter 9, by way of reference, also started in the north at Tyre and swung down along the western coast) But this one veers east into Jordan, the entry point for the Israelites who came into the Promised Land:

11:1 Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars! 2 Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, for the glorious trees are ruined! Wail, oaks of Bashan, for the thick forest has been felled! 3 The sound of the wail of the shepherds, for their glory is ruined! The sound of the roar of the lions, for the thicket of the Jordan is ruined! 

àLook at what is being devoured by God’s fiery judgment – beautiful lands famous for cedars, cypresses, oaks, and thick vegetation.  Places where shepherds would love to graze their sheep, but the land is devastated.  The shepherds are now venerable to the attack from fierce animals.  Because of this, God will call Zechariah to play the role of a shepherd over His flock – and let’s establish something right up front, and this is a debate in interpretation… Is Zechariah a good shepherd, or is he a reflection of a poor shepherd?  Well as a fence sitter, I say both!  The first good, the second time, bad!

 

4 Thus said the LORD my God: "Become shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter.

à Well that’s an interesting calling from God, “I’d like you to watch a bunch of sheep that will be dead soon!  Not much job security there!

à Sheep were raised for sacrifices, sheep were raised for BBQing, but God’s sheep, His people, were to be tended, defended, and fed. Therefore, verse 5 is an indictment against shepherds who failed to care and nurture Israel as the spiritual flock of God…

 

 5 Those who buy them slaughter them and go unpunished, and those who sell them say, 'Blessed be the LORD, I have become rich,' and their own shepherds have no pity on them.

à What kind of shepherds are these whom God is condemning?  Well, they are the leaders of God’s flock!  Are we speaking of Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest?  That can’t be right, because they have been set apart as the ones who pre-figure the Royal Priesthood of the future Messiah!

à I am inclined to say that these “shepherds” are the leadership who are surrounding the work of rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem.  There are folks on site: foreigners, envoys, new arrivals from Babylon, who have as their objective, not the building program, but the securing of political power.  à In the future, when we read the book of Nehemiah, we will learn that people have been hired to give false prophecies to frustrate the building projects; we will learn of other governors who lived luxuriously off the funds being supplied for the building project. THESE WERE NOT the leaders who act like the good shepherd of Psalm 23; and certainly did not act like Jesus Christ who said he would lay down his life for the sheep! 

à They were the type of leaders who did not have discipleship as their goal, but who had power, comfort, and self preservation as their goal-- at the expense of the sheep. These leaders were more interested in ruling in their office to gain advantage rather than in serving the people of God in order to empower them!  In order to bless the welfare of the flock!

à These are the ones who have neglected their role to lead the people to a proper faith that would be revealed in both a devotion to truth and obedience to the Law of God. 

à So we read repeatedly in the prophets of these wicked shepherds that they do not render true judgments in the city gates, they do not defend the poor and vulnerable, and do nothing to condemn idolatry in the homes of God’s covenant people!  Whatever they DID DO, it was only to secure their positions as leaders of sheep!

à OK, we see this in politics rather clearly and regularly; but we’re talking about the Bible and applying it to our day…

à If I might bring this to a modern point of debate:  Where would we find these kind of fleecing shepherds today?  Could these be the traveling celebrities who fill giant stadiums with messages of wealth and success when at the end of their crusade, they are the only ones leaving wealthy and successful?!  Who are today’s celebrity evangelists discipling?  Event coordinators?  Marketers?  Publishers?  What about those who are truly the sheep?  Do the sheep really witness in these celebrities, faithful lives lived in obedience to God and His law?  Do they witness sacrifice and love for sheep that are lost and in need of direction?

à This is just a discussion about shepherds and sheep!  God found plenty of abuse in these relationships in times past.  Should we not be alert to the same abuses today? 

à Please ask this question of your shepherds:  Who wields the power in this church, and for what reason?  Is it about securing a position, or is it about serving the needs of the sheep who must mature into Christ-likeness?

à In our elder training series recently, we listened to a presentation from Mark Ross, who made the case that sheep will trust the voice of true shepherds.  How do you know who a true shepherd is?  It’s the one you know who cares for the integrity of the Gospel message, and it is the one who is willing to lay down their life to protect the sheep.  These are the types of shepherds who should be leaders in the church!

à I say this all in order to publicly admonish myself to recall my priorities as a shepherd of God’s people – and to pray for more faithful shepherds to help to lead the flock of God! (And because we’ve had several weeks of Elder training and I needed an outlet to share what I’m learning!)

à Having said that, what do we say about the thousands of people filling stadiums to listen to celebrity shepherds?  Are they really hearing the voice of the true shepherd?  I pray somehow they are!  Listen, they’re only sheep, after all!  But if their supposed shepherd doesn’t even know they are wandering from the flock, if the sheep are lost and in need of help, if the mega-shepherd (OR ANY SHEPHERD) is not tending to the care of individual sheep – are they truly shepherds?  Lord have mercy on me!

 

6 For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of this land, declares the LORD.

à We’ve swung down from the north to the east of Judah, and so now we know that God is speaking specifically about the land where Zion dwells.

…6 Behold, I will cause each of them to fall into the hand of his neighbor, and each into the hand of his king, and they shall crush the land, and I will deliver none from their hand."

à Zechariah is saying, “If we don’t have the right kind of shepherds, the flock is going to disintegrate!”

à So where judgment was outlined for the pagan cities in chapter 9, with their eventual CONVERSION in mind at the work of the donkey riding Messiah; here, the judgment lands smack dab in the middle of the remnant land of Judah.  SCARY.  It’s a very, very sad thing for the sheep to suffer the consequences of poor shepherding; but that’s what happens in real life!

à So Zechariah is now very motivated to do something in order to preserve the sheep doomed for judgment…

7 So I became the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep traders. And I took two staffs, one I named Favor, the other I named Union. And I tended the sheep. 8 In one month I destroyed the three shepherds.

à So Zechariah enacts a program to save the sheep.  He takes two staffs and names them what he intends to accomplish for the flock – they are a contract for him to be gracious to them and to keep them united; and finally, he eliminates 3 shepherds because he doesn’t trust their leadership.

à But catch the language here… THE SHEEP BEGIN TO REBEL!  Zechariah is attempting to tend to them; but the sheep become unruly…

But I became impatient with them, and they also detested me. 9 So I 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." 10 And I took my staff Favor, and I broke it, annulling the covenant that I had made with all the peoples. 11 So it was annulled on that day, and the sheep traders, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD.

à So IN his frustration over the situation of out-of-control sheep, Zechariah breaks the covenant agreement to protect the sheep and says, “Fine, if you want to die, I’ll let you die.”  He gives them over to their rebellious desires – and the other shepherds witnessing this, recognize it as God’s judgment.

à This episode does not speak well of the prophet and his faithfulness to protect the sheep!  But It’s similar language to the message of Jeremiah 18.  Jeremiah says to Israel, “God can destroy you like a potter fashions clay,” but the people respond, “We will follow our own plans…”  Well we know what that will get stubborn sheep!

à So Zechariah goes back to the useless shepherds, and since he’s thrown in the towel, he seeks some remuneration for the time he spent trying to care for the sheep, he was at it for at least a month…

 12 Then I said to them, "If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.

à Famous amount of exchange!  It is the amount required to pay the owner of a slave who had been gored by a bull in exchange for the slave’s life.  It’s as though the shepherds said to Zechariah – you got gored by sheep! So this is all you are worth: 30 pieces of silver, one sheckle a day…

13 Then the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"- the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD, to the potter.

à There is a lot of interesting things going on in this passage (SS)

à But offense is taken in the value of Zechariah’s shepherding.  The Lord directs Zechariah to discard the money, and he throws it into God’s house.

à There is also a New Testament offense at this price offered for the true shepherd of Israel, Jesus Christ.  Some of these details were read in our Gospel reading today.

à It is again the most fitting way to interpret Zechariah – just as the New Testament Apostles did – by finding Christ in the passage!  (SS)

14 Then I broke my second staff Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

à So Zechariah as shepherd had two staffs, one would represent the pleasant and gracious way he would care for the sheep.  The second would represent how he would unite the long divided tribes of Israel and Judah and make them one – but both the shepherds and sheep of this prophecy reject Zechariah, who is actually a representative of God Himself as Israel’s shepherd.  Therefore, an awful punishment shall come upon the covenant people of God…

 15 Then the LORD said to me, "Take once more the equipment of a foolish shepherd.

à Now the Lord wants Zechariah to play shepherd again; but this time, one who really does not care for the sheep.

 16 For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

à How to interpret this?  FIRST of all, we read directly from God the priorities of a true shepherd – so we must mark this as the qualities of true church leader!  SECONDLY, I think it is best to say that Israel’s consistent rejection of God’s true shepherding would bring about the rule of other kings and nations over them, such as Babylon and Persia, and the whole cycle of domination by foreign powers, such as we find in the book of Judges, will come upon God’s flock.

à But God will not permit that kind of treatment of His flock to go on for ever, the Lord truly loves even His rebellious sheep and He is zealous to lead them.  So even though He has temporarily ordained cruel shepherds from other nations to rule over Israel, vs. 17, reveals for whom FINAL Judgment is reserved:

17 "Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!"

à This is the judgment of foreign and wicked shepherds who care not for the flock of God.

à In Zechariah 13, we will read of another shepherd who is stricken; in Zechariah 12, we will read of a son who is pierced.  But this will not be a “WORTHLESS” shepherd, it will be the shepherd king who will lay down his life for God’s sheep, and will take on their rebellion and their destined slaughter upon himself.  In a most amazing passage, Zechariah prepares us again for the Messiah who would be betrayed by Judas at the price of 30 sheckles.  He would be betrayed by His own Father, in a manner of speaking, at the price of his blood.  But in the end, he would finally shepherd a people of favor, united to him, eternally loved, and protected!

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