God Himself became a Man to shepherd His people, Israel, expressing the beauty of God in a poor lowly servant of a man, rejected by the leaders of His people, but received and believed in by the poor and lowly among them. God caused Him to be put to death, betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, by which death He consummated the new covenant for all peoples, and resurrected, creating the new covenant people of God.
Brief overview: I believe this is the most negative prophecy concerning Israel in the whole Bible. It speaks of terrible things in this life, as do other prophecies, but also foretells something much worse: the apparent loss of 2 great spiritual birthrights, the new covenant and the brotherhood of God's people. Actually these are not lost to the Jewish people, but they have lost the new covenant being exclusively to them, and their being the only chosen people of God.
The basic message of the prophecy is: God would send a Shepherd to spiritually feed Israel at a time when Israel's leaders were religious hypocrites (v.5; Isaiah 9:16). This leadership rejects the Shepherd sent to them by God(v.8), but “the truly poor of the flock” received and believed in Him (v. 7 & 11).
The result of rejecting this Shepherd is far worse than anything that previously happened to Israel. They would be slaughtered (v.4,6,7,9) and God would not deliver or pity them. This is similar to what is mentioned in other passages such as Leviticus 26. Much worse than that, God would not spiritually feed them (v.9), and they would perish, which is much worse than physical death. But far, far worse than even these are the broken covenant (v.10) and the broken brotherhood (v.14), the top spiritual birthrights which God has given Israel.
There is another thing that you can see in this passage: This Shepherd is not like any previous prophet who spoke for God. This Shepherd, whom God sends to feed Israel, is none other than God Himself. In v.4 God sends the Shepherd to feed the flock, but in v.7, God Himself feeds the flock. This Shepherd speaks things that only God has the authority to say (v.8-9).
Questions or Puzzles
The closer you look at the details of this prophesy, the more marvelous it is.
1. What are the staffs Beauty & Bonds?
2. Who are “the truly poor of the flock?”
3. Who are the three shepherds of Israel whom the Shepherd causes to perish?
4. What does it mean to break the staffs Beauty & Bonds?
5. What are the 30 pieces of silver thrown into the temple? And who threw them?
6. What are the broken covenant and the broken brotherhood?
7. Can God break a covenant?
Answers to all these questions are in the New Testament Gospels. They fit like a divine glove, yet they fit in such a way, that it would have been impossible for anyone to have fabricated the four Gospels to fit this prophecy.
For the details read the verse by verse interpretation, or skip to the end to read a gospel tract on this chapter.
The coming of the Roman army in 70 AD. As in many other prophecies (Isa 52:13), God tells the end from the beginning.
The flock of slaughter is Israel.
Their possessors who slay them are the Romans.
Those who sell them are those Jews who sold out to the Romans in exchange for a religious or political position. We know they are religious Jews because they say, "Blessed be the LORD, for I am rich". That is the epitome of religious hypocrisy. They seem religious but are as far as one can get from the spirit of the Old Testament.
Their own shepherds are the leaders that the Jews chose for themselves, Rabbis, Scribes, Elders, Doctors of the Law. They were cold and judgmental to the people they were supposed to serve.
This is God talking.
This was fulfilled after the Lord's death and resurrection in 70 AD when the Jews rebelled against the Romans, but destroyed themselves through infighting between various factions favoring different leaders. The "they shall smite the land" is the Romans.
In verse 4 God sent a shepherd to feed the flock, Israel. Now in verse 7 God says that He Himself fed the flock. God Himself is the Shepherd Whom He sent.
The truly poor of the flock are those who are poor in spirit, lowly, meek, not proud. Most are losers, despised by the secular and religious world. (Matt. 5:3-11) These are the ones of the flock who received the Shepherd's feeding.
The Shepherd shepherded Israel with the 2 staffs, Beauty and Bonds. The same word for beauty is used in Psalm 27:4. If you ask anyone who has read the four Gospels what impressed him, He will tell you it is the beauty of the man Jesus. In an interview Albert Einstein said, “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.” When the interviewer then asked, “You accept the historical existence of Jesus?" Einstein responded, "Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.” The most beautiful thing in the universe is God expressed in man. Jesus was the very God become a human being in every way except sin. Jesus’ life and words declared God to man (John 1:18). This Beauty was the Divine Attributes expressed in Jesus’ human virtues (1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:2-3). With this Beauty, God shepherded Israel as a Man!
God named the other staff Bonds. Jesus had no outward beauty. He was born in a stable to poor parents. He grew up as a root out of dry ground. He took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7-8). He received the punishment for the sins of the whole world (Isaiah 53:2-10). He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). His beauty was hidden by His bonds. What a wonder of wonders! The Creator of the universe become a man! Look at what kind of man He became. Not a king, nor a celebrity, nor a rich man, nor even a well-off man. But a poor man, a servant to all! A bond slave! Can anyone come up with a better summary of Jesus’ earthly ministry to Israel than the two words, Beauty and Bonds?
The Hebrew word for “perish” here and in verse 9 is worse than death and is to go to hell. It was by these ancient Jewish leaders’ treatment of Jesus that they caused themselves to perish. Despite witnessing Jesus’ miracles, words and life, which matched the Old Testament, they hired false witnesses against Jesus and even bribed the Roman soldiers to lie about Jesus’ resurrection. (Matthew 28:11-15)
The Hebrew word for "perish" here is causative, hence I translated it "caused to perish". Most translate it, "I cut off 3 shepherds", but this is different. Jesus did not cut off anyone, but He caused these to perish when they unrighteously accused Him and had Him put to death when no cause of death was in Him.
It took one month rather than one day, because God, not willing that any should perish, gave them time to repent. It is the same today.
The month would be the month up to just after the Lord's resurrection, including the bribing of the Roman guards. After the Lord's resurrection, the disciples were in Galillee for 40 days, so there would be no offenses for the month following the Lord's resurrection.
This is the Shepherd talking. But who could say this except God Himself? Even Moses could not say, "I will not feed you ..." This Shepherd must be God Himself. This is similar to what God said in verse 6.
God's taking up the two staffs was one act, His incarnation, but He broke the staffs in two separate acts with something occurring in between.
The breaking of the staff beauty is the death of the God-man, Jesus. The Shepherd, who is God Himself, is the One who broke the staff. It was actually God and Jesus, not any man, who broke His beloved staff that He named Beauty. God says that He Himself did it. He used evil men, but ultimately it was God Himself who killed Jesus to pay the price for the sins of all mankind (Isaiah 53:10; John 10:15-18).
This verse is my only important translation change from KJV in Zechariah 11. All versions that I have seen translate as KJV, "that I might break My covenant which I had made with all the peoples," using the past perfect tense, "which I had made". There is no past perfect in Hebrew. Any time you see past perfect in the Old Testament, it is the translator's judgment. It should be translated "that I might break My covenant, which I then made with all the peoples." God says that He broke His staff Beauty in order that He might break His covenant and then make it with all the peoples (v. 10).
The Shepherd is the One who made the covenant. Another proof that the Shepherd is God.
How could God break His covenant? This is a big problem. The Bible assures us that when God makes a covenant, even He cannot change it (New Testament - Galatians 3:15,17; Romans 11:29; Hebrews 6:16-19). God said that if Israel did not keep their side of the covenant, He would punish them severely, but He would never break His covenant with them (Leviticus 26:44-45). Because God can never break His covenant, we have full assurance that what He has promised, He will do.
In the Bible, "all the peoples" always means all the peoples of the earth, both Jews and Gentiles. Thus, "My covenant" here cannot refer to the old covenant which God made with the children of Israel through Moses, because that covenant was not made with "all the peoples."
The New Covenant, which is not like the Old Covenant, was promised to Israel alone (Jeremiah 31:31-34;Isaiah 42:6). Jesus said that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24-28). By Jesus' death, God righteously EXPANDED the New Covenant to include all the nations. It was thus in this sense that God “broke” His New Covenant: What He had promised Israel He now also opened to all nations. How marvelous!
This is illustrated by the parable of the vineyard told by Jesus in Matthew 20: 1-16. A householder, early in the morning, contracted workmen to work in his vineyard. Then he hired more workers later in the day and even some just before the day was done. At the end of the day he paid all the workmen the same amount that he had contracted the first workmen for. The first workers were understandably indignant, but the householder had done no wrong. He had fulfilled his contract with them, and graciously expanded the same payment to the other workers. (Matthew 8:11-12; 21:41-43; Romans 10:12; 11:11-12, 15, 25)
"it was broken" refers to both to the breaking of the staff Beauty, which was the Lord's death, and the breaking of the exclusivity of the New Covenant to the Jews only. Both happened at the same time, on the day of the Lord's death.
For "the poor of the flock" see v. 7.
The "word of the Lord" refers to the numerous prophecies of the Messiah's rejection by Israel and His death in the Old Testament. It does not take a scholar to see it. In fact the scholars were and still are blind to it. The Bible is written so that the poor and lowly can see it and understand it. (Isa 53:6-10; Psalm 118:22-23; 22:6-18; Dan. 9:26; Zech 12:10-13:1,5-7). It also includes this prophesy, Zechariah 11. The early believers knew that this chapter applied to the Lord's death, and it is quoted in the book of Matthew.
After Jesus was delivered to death, Judas received his cheap wages for betraying Jesus, that is, for his role in breaking the staff Beauty.
This verse is Judas talking. It may seem strange that Zechariah would take the roles of both Jesus and also of Judas, but see verse 15, where the Lord God tells Zechariah to take again the role of a foolish shepherd.
God exclaims sarcastically , “Oh see how My people appreciate Me, valuing Me at 30 pieces of silver!” This is the price a man would have to pay a slave's master if he accidentally killed the other man's slave (Exodus 21:32). This shows how the 3 shepherds, not only hated Him, but also despised Him, counting Him as nothing! They not only hired Judas to betray Jesus, but they even paid Judas minimum wage to do so.
The 30 pieces of silver were Judas' wages, and they were also the price on the head of the Shepherd. Here the Lord God is talking, and says that the price was what He Himself was prized at by the 3 shepherds. This also proves that the Shepherd is Jehovah Himself.
The New Testament tells us that Judas threw the money on the floor in the temple and the chief priests used the money to buy the Potter's Field (Matthew 27:3-10). Therefore "me" and "I" in vv. 12-13 is Judas, outside of the quote spoken by the LORD.
Matthew quoted these verses from Zechariah, but said that they were spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. It may have been that Jeremiah spoke them, but Zechariah wrote them (Witness Lee footnote on Matt 27:9). I believe the reason Matthew gave the name of Jeremiah is because Jeremiah explains Zechariah. The Jews believed that Zechariah had the spirit of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is straightforward, not hard to understand, while Zechariah is one of the 4 mysterious books of the Old Testament. (The others are Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.) In this chapter, the covenant, which the Shepherd broke and then made with all the peoples, is the New Covenant, which is defined by Jeremiah. Apart from Jeremiah's definition of the New Covenant, it is impossible to understand the details of this chapter.
The broken brotherhood refers to the difference in life between God's New Covenant people, who are the continuation of Israel (Gal 6:16; 3:29; Rom 9:6; Phil 3:3; Col. 2:11), and God's Old Covenant people who rejected the Messiah, and thus could not receive the New Covenant. God's Old Covenant people who did not receive the Messiah, are still Jews (in Hebrew, Judah), and are still "Israel according to the flesh" (1 Cor 10:18), but are no longer the Israel of God .
When He resurrected, Jesus became the life-giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). When we receive the life-giving Spirit into our spirit, we are born again with the life of God (1 Peter 1:3; John 3:3-8). This makes us Jesus’ brothers and brothers of each other (Hebrews 2:11-13). When Jesus was on earth, He called His followers His “friends.” But immediately after His resurrection, He called them His brothers (John 20:17)! So by breaking the staff Bonds, God actually created the New Covenant brotherhood of believers in Jesus. In this way, God broke the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. By Jesus’ resurrection, God has created a new brotherhood, and the only way to join this brotherhood is to believe into Jesus. Those Jews who did not believe in Jesus are no longer the Israel of God.
The breaking of the brotherhood between Judah and Israel is pictured in the New Testament in Romans 11:17-25. Israel is likened to God's cultivated olive tree, and the Gentile nations to wild olive trees. The unbelieving Jewish branches were broken off of God's olive tree, Israel, and the believing Gentile branches were grafted into it. Christians cannot boast against the Jews, (Zech 12:7) but fear and learn from God's dealing with them: “They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be high-minded, but fear: for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but on you, the kindness of God, if you continue in His kindness: otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Romans 11:20-23)
I believe this definition of Judah and Israel is a key to interpreting other prophesies. The word "Israel", unmodified, when it refers to a time between Christ's resurrection and His return, refers to Christians. More on this when I get to cover Zech 12-14, the burden of the word of the Lord for Israel.
The prophecy now skips approx. 2,000 years to the end of the age. This 2,000 year gap is in all Old Testament prophecies. The Old Testament does not see the church age from the destruction of the temple in 70 AD to a short time before Daniel's 70th week, which is the seven years before the Lord's 2nd coming.
The foolish shepherd is the false prophet, the 2nd beast in Revelation 13.
The vessel (Rom. 9:21) of the foolish shepherd, which Zechariah took yet again, may be the spirit of Judas Iscariot, whom Zechariah impersonated previously in vv.12-13. The false prophet may have the spirit of Judas Iscariot, just like the antichrist, the 1st beast in Revelation 13, has the spirit of Caesar Nero. Acts 1:25 says that after Judas committed suicide he went to his own place, indicating that he still has a special role reserved for him.
Most translations translate the Hebrew word for "vessel" as "instruments". The word is used 325 times in the Old Testament, 166 of which KJV translated as "vessel" and 39 times as "instrument". The Hebrew word here is singular.
You can print the above message in tract form by clicking the image below. It is formatted to print as a booklet on legal-size paper.