While engaging in my normal Passover reading, I thought to reflect upon the prophecies concerning shepherds and the wages of Judas found in Zechariah, and a close examination of the verses found it eerily applicable. Therefore, I would like to make a commentary on how Zechariah 11 and its prophecy is applicable to some of the wicked and foolish shepherds that now exist, so that they may be warned and (hopefully) repent, and so that the misguided sheep who follow them may repent as well so they will not be fed for the slaughter but rather protected as part of God’s flock.
An Opening Prophecy Of Wailing Shepherds
Zechariah 11:1-3 opens with a very gloomy picture of divine judgment: “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that fire may devour your cedars. Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, because the mighty trees are ruined. Wail, O oaks of Bashan, for the thick forest has come down. There is the sound of wailing shepherds! For their glory is in ruins. There is the sound of roaring lions! For the pride of the Jordan is in ruins.”
This prophecy has a wide variety of prophetic applicability–the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD when the trees of the countryside were torn down–as well as historical reference to the destruction of the cedars of Lebanon and the forests of Bashan by such armies as Assyria and Babylon spring to mind as well. Let us today view this passage in light of a spiritual prognosis of the state of the Church of God today. The glorious buildings are no more, and many of those within the Church of God community who fancied themselves to be great trees (leaders) have been shown to have feet of clay, corrupt attitudes towards authority (by establishing hierarchial models within their organizations), which demonstrates unworthiness to lead God’s people. So the shepherds wail because their wicked character is revealed and their gravy train of wealth and status through corrupt leadership  is threatened and removed.
Feeding The Flock For Slaughter
In Zechariah 11:4-12, we read about a curious symbolic action by which Zechariah fed the flock (symbol of physical and spiritual Israel) for slaughter: “Thus says the Lord my God, “Feed the flock for slaughter, whose owners slaughter them and feel no guilt; those who sell them say, ‘Blessed by the Lord, for I am rich’; and their shepherds do not pity them. For I will no longer pity the inhabitants of the land,” says the Lord. “But indeed I will give everyone into his neighbor’s hand and into the hand of his king. They shall attack the land, and I will not deliver them from their hand.” So I fed the flock for slaughter, in particular the poor of the flock. I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Beauty [or Grace], and the other I called Bonds [or Unity]; and I fed the flock. I dismissed the three shepherds in one month. My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. Then I said, “I will not feed you. Let what is dying die, and what is perishing perish. Let those that are left eat each other’s flesh.” And I took my staff, Beauty [or Grace], and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples. So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the Lord. Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.”
This passage is obscure, partly because it appears to be speaking about so many different matters at the same time, gliding over them and connecting them, such that it is difficult for those who read this passage to understand even a sense of its rich and deep meaning. I will only attempt here to sketch some of that rich layered meaning here. For one, Zechariah was commanded by God to feed the sheep for slaughter. Several times in this passage, Zechariah mocks a “prosperity theology” that views God as provident because they are wealthy. This view was popular in the age of Jeroboam II of Israel shortly before the Assyrian captivity, was popular in Judah before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and is popular in the United States right now. Let us profit by the example. The exploitation of the poor (notice how Zechariah’s gives special attention to them) is an aspect of this prophecy.
There is a lot of social statements about both church and state shown here. For one, it appears as if, in part, the rebellion of the common people towards obedience to God leads to God placing unworthy and exploitative leaders over them. One-man rule and rigid hierarchies are a punishment for sin (see 1 Samuel 8) and the refusal of Israel and Judah to accept personal responsibility, to grow as leaders and models of righteous behavior themselves, and to obey and devote themselves to a study to the laws of God. Therefore God gives them cruel leaders, whether distant kings or emperors or the exploitation of their neighbors and local leadership, in punishment for their rebellion against Him.
In a like manner, some of the “blessings” that God provides in terms of wealth also serves as a sign of future judgment, in that God raises up the proud and unworthy so that He may decisively tear them down and destroy them, bringing them from their arrogant heights to the depths of humiliation. The reference to “eating one another’s flesh” refers to the horrors of cannibalism promised to an unfaithful Israel and Judah in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 that was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 and will be fulfilled yet again.
Let us also note the staffs of Zechariah. Just as the tyrannical false god Baal had two clubs named “Driver” and “Chaser” to drive away the anarchic spirits of the sea and lead his heathen peoples in an authoritarian dictatorship, Zechariah has two staffs of the loving shepherd, following in the example of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, providing grace and unity to His people. By breaking the staff of Beauty (or Grace), Zechariah shows that once the time of judgment has come, grace is broken so that a faithless and rebellious people may be judged by God for their sins, which they have refused to repent of. Let us not find ourselves in that judgment by virtue of the hardness of our hearts and our refusal to grow in grace and knowledge and obedience to God.
Likewise, this passage ends with a very ominous hint of the judgment of God in that Zechariah was given the wages of iniquity as a false shepherd, thirty pieces of silver that were later the price of the betrayal of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, by a son of perdition, Judas Iscariot. This ominous hint that evil shepherds in church and state are connected with the treachery of Judas and with his evil fate ought to be a solemn warning for all of us.
Woe To The Worthless Shepherd
Zechariah 11:12-17 provides a further elaboration of the wicked shepherds such as we see in the world around us and in our corrupt governments and churches: “Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”–that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter. Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds [or Unity], that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. And the Lord said to me, “Next, take up the implements of a foolish shepherd. 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 who are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces. “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who leaves the flock! A sword shall be against his arm and against his right eye; his arm shall completely wither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded.”
There is clear judgment in these verses for us today, and therefore let us be sober and repentant so that we may avoid being foolish shepherds or suffering the judgment of one of them, Judas Iscariot. Let us therefore examine what these verses say about us. For one, the wages of the thirty pieces of silver for Judas Iscariot were a princely price for betraying the prince of piece. But what one has done to the least of the brethren of God one has done to Jesus Christ themselves–so by betraying the flock, abusing authority for decades without remorse or mercy, and by abandoning one’s charge in pursuit of selfish politics, one has betrayed and abused the very Lord of Lord and King of Kings who will judge all flesh. I do not wish to be in that company.
Of interest in the general social themes of this prophecy, despite the fact that God is the master potter, molding our characters like clay into His image and likeness, the payment of the thirty pieces to the house of the potter was a way in which obscure and poor people might be buried in the potters field (where holes were dug up with the clay for making pottery) who might otherwise be unburied on account that they had no one to look after the proper burial of their bodies. Therefore what is payment for an act of treachery becomes a merciful act towards the most poor and little regarded members of society.
Likewise, the cutting of the staff Bonds [or Unity] meant that the sins of the people and the selfish and political behavior of worthless and foolish shepherds (in the judgment of God) has led to the division of God’s people. And so it has, time and time again, in realms of church and state both, in God’s family as well as human families. There have been many leaders who care more about their own salaries than feeding the flock or proclaiming the Gospel to the world, who make grand statements about how they will use the money the people of God have provided only to prove themselves unfaithful to the word on account of a lack of accountability for keeping their promises to God and man. These wicked and worthless shepherds have been put into place by God for His judgment, that all may learn from their example and avoid repeating their errors.
As God promises judgment to these wicked and worthless shepherds, let us refuse to be like them ourselves, and repent if we have found ourselves to be following that trail, lest we be found to rebel and strike against Jesus Christ Himself, put ourselves under His judgment, and be proven unworthy to lead and subject to His vengeance and our office taken from us (as it was from Judas, see Acts 1:10) and given to another. Let us learn the lessons of the foolish and worthless shepherds of Zechariah 11, in the hope that there remains time for us to escape the horrible punishment for rebellion against God and in abusing and exploiting the very people of God, present and future, whom we have been placed on this earth to serve and to help. For let us be good shepherds in the image and likeness of our Lord and King and Savior, our elder brother Jesus Christ. Let us not be wolves devouring the flock, hirelings seeking only after our own pay and prestige, and wicked and false shepherds appointed for the judgment of God.