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Message: What God has done / What God will do
What God has done / What God will do
I wish now that I had steered our trek ‘Thru the Bible’ more in accordance with actual history, though there have been some genuine benefits to approaching it slightly out of order as we have.
I think that while it might have kept you a little disoriented as to what time period we are in, it has at the same time offered you more of a global understanding of this time period in Israel’s history. You pretty much have already seen where they have come from as well as where they are going, so as we study you can concentrate more on where each prophet’s words fit in a story with which you are already familiar.
As you know, Zechariah is following the Babylonian exile which ended with the conquering of Babylon by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus’ reign was followed by the two short reigns of Cambyses (530-522B.C.) and Smerdis (522 B.C.) one of which stopped the progress of the temple restoration.
The next king was Darius I who ordered the work to continue and Zechariah’s ministry was under this king. This all happened BEFORE Xerxes who was married to Esther and therefore also before Nehemiah and Ezra conducted their ministry work during the subsequent reign of Artaxerxes I (465-425 B.C.).
As I mentioned to you in our last teaching, prophecy has to make sense. It follows a certain logic, even though much of it is predictive in nature.
As I have looked back over all the prophecies we have studied since Genesis, it never appears to be the practice of God to have a prophet simply speak into the air about matters which have no immediate connection to those to whom they were prophesying. This proves true even when what was being said would not occur for some time in the future. There was always some immediate way in which the message applied to them.
Prophecy always seemed to serve the purpose of correction regarding sin, or warning of judgment if they failed to repent or informing them of things to come so as to prepare them and encourage them that their God really does know the future as clearly as He knows the past. One way or another – prophecy always made sense to each given audience. If this had not been true then their words would make no sense because they were literally irrelevant to them and their lives.
This is something I had to remind myself of time and again over the past two weeks in examining chapters 11 and 12 in Zechariah and it provided stern parameters from which I could not stray in seeking to grasp what was being said.
Many commentators couldn’t seem to resist reading into the passage things which were predictive of Jesus, but which would have made no sense and honestly served no purpose to those Zechariah was speaking to.
Our generation finds it very hard not to read Jesus and the church age into prophetic passages since we know that is where Israel and the world are headed. We know that ALL prophecy is a testimony of Jesus, so this is quite natural for us to do this, but it can lead to error.
So it is very good practice when seeking to grasp the meaning of any Old Testament prophecy to ask ourselves,
“Would God have just arbitrarily made predictive statements about Messiah which bore zero relevance to what He was doing and expecting out of the Israelites at the moment of this prophecy?”
God is NOT the author of confusion so I say NO He would not!
We DO see God weave truths about Messiah Jesus into things He is speaking to Israel at the time of the prophetic word, but not in a way which bore no connection with Israel at the time the prophecy was given.
Using these parameters as my standard for interpretation it eliminated MUCH of what commentators said as well as things I had considered.
The imagery of this prophecy could easily be accounted for in multiple ways, but when you step back and look at your interpretation and the group to whom the prophecy was given it was all over the place and made no sense.
So, I literally spent days asking God mostly about “Who are these 3 shepherds and who or what are the staffs?”
So with that preamble let’s dive into this passage.
What we witness here at the beginning of Zechariah 11 is not uncommon, in fact it is sort of a soft tradition in prophecy. Before the actual word of the Lord is given, a type of brief introduction or summary of what is about to be said is often offered.
In this case it is both, though more of an introduction.
“(1) Open your gates, Lebanon, and fire will consume your cedars. (2) Wail, cypress, for the cedar has fallen; the glorious trees are destroyed! Wail, oaks of Bashan, for the stately forest has fallen!”
One thing you have to be careful about in prophecy is tenses. Just because something is stated as going to happen doesn’t mean it isn’t pointing back to something that HAS happened. This is a difficulty to be sure, but in most cases, the words obviously point to only one time in history making it a little less troublesome.
Here you have the gates of Lebanon opening and fire consuming its cedars.
There are I believe two possible meanings, both of which point to the exact same event so which interpretation is right makes little difference. In fact, it could be God said it this way with that intention. Knowing it could lead people down one of two mental paths – both of which would arrive at the same ultimate conclusion.
In this case, this introductory statement is pointing BACK to Nebuchadnezzar’s plundering of the temple.
What led my thoughts in this direction was the belief that this was talking about the doors to the temple which were made of cedar from Lebanon and its floors from cypress.
If you remember, back when we read of Solomon’s succession of his father David, the first major project he undertook was the building of the temple. Solomon wisely built upon the relationships his father had with neighboring kings to supply the materials for the temple.
In keeping with this, King Hiram had a good relationship with David and Solomon built upon it.
Lebanon was and is famous for its Cedars and it was the place Solomon received his timber for the Temple. He specifically contracted with King Hiram of Tyre to purchase both Cedar and Cypress from him. This is recorded in 2 Chronicles 2:8-12,
“(8) Also, send me cedar, cypress, and algum logs from Lebanon, for I know that your servants know how to cut the trees of Lebanon. Note that my servants will be with your servants (9) to prepare logs for me in abundance because the temple I am building will be great and wonderful. (10) I will give your servants, the woodcutters who cut the trees, 100,000 bushels of wheat flour, 100,000 bushels of barley, 110,000 gallons of wine, and 110,000 gallons of oil.
(11) Then King Hiram of Tyre wrote a letter and sent it to Solomon: Because the LORD loves His people, He set you over them as king. (12) Hiram also said: May the LORD God of Israel, who made the heavens and the earth, be praised! He gave King David a wise son with insight and understanding, who will build a temple for the LORD and a royal palace for himself.”
If you recall this was no small undertaking and was very costly. So it would make sense that they would symbolize the temple itself in this prophetic word.
However, others believe this is a statement “describes the coming of destructive armies of judgment from the north, through Lebanon. The doors of Lebanon are the mountain passes between Lebanon and Israel.” – Guzik
In either case, the result is the same – this is a reference back to the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadezzar which has immediate connection with ALL the Jews in Judah at the moment of this prophecy. All these years later they are still cleaning up the destruction and working on the restoration of their temple. I don’t imagine there were too many days when those working on the temple did not remember Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, nor the sins of their fathers which opened the doors for this destruction in the first place!
Now as for the Oaks of Bashan, they were not used in the construction of the temple, but because the imagery of timber was already being employed oaks were used as a symbolic reference. Oaks are used in scripture allegorically to symbolize strength, dignity and stability. These were attributes of the temple Solomon had built which made it a source of ongoing pride in Israel’s eyes.
If you remember, Ezekiel was set forth as a predictive example of this and it teaches us many things on many levels.
Ezekiel 24:15-23, “(15)Then the word of the LORD came to me: (16) “Son of man, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a fatal blow. But you must not lament or weep or let your tears flow. (17) Groan quietly; do not observe mourning rites for the dead. Put on your turban and strap your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache or eat the bread of mourners.”
(18) I spoke to the people in the morning, and my wife died in the evening. The next morning I did just as I was commanded.
(19) Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things you are doing mean for us?”
(20) So I answered them: “The word of the LORD came to me: (21) ‘Say to the house of Israel: This is what the Lord GOD says: I am about to desecrate My sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the desire of your heart. Also, the sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. (22) Then you will do just as I have done: You will not cover your mustache or eat the bread of mourners. (23) Your turbans will remain on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not lament or weep but will waste away because of your sins and will groan to one another.”
So now you know what these first 2 verses were a reminder of.
“(1) Open your gates, Lebanon, and fire will consume your cedars. (2) Wail, cypress, for the cedar has fallen; the glorious trees are destroyed! Wail, oaks of Bashan, for the stately forest has fallen!” – Zechariah 11:1-17,
The next verse builds upon this…
“(3) Listen to the wail of the shepherds, for their glory is destroyed. Listen to the roar of young lions, for the thickets of the Jordan are destroyed.
Shepherds were used in reference to leaders – both national and religious, though both under the Old Covenant it was most fittingly used of Kings.
Lions, on the other hand, were often used as symbols for the progeny of Kings. They referred to princes.
Jordan is likely put forth as representing the whole land of Judah now lying in waste so that its former pride and glory are gone. The thickets of the Jordan were hiding places for lions which is how this whole verse comes full circle.
That is the end of the introduction, the actual prophecy begins now in verse 4. However, with the foregoing imagery in place, you can see how that helps guide the interpretation of what follows.
“(4) The LORD my God says this: “Shepherd the flock intended for slaughter.
So immediately you can see that this is referring to at least one king who was over Judah before or during the deportations of Judah into Babylonian exile. Hopefully you will remember how all of this was during the life and ministry of Jeremiah who prophesied to both the people and kings throughout this terrible time of judgment.
Remember that it was God who sold them into bondage and that it follows that it was God who rose Nebuchadnezzar to power in order to tailor the exile of His people according to His intentions for them. Therefore, far from it being sin for Nebuchadnezzar to take Jerusalem, it was both by the power and direction of God that he did so. That is why the next verse says that these actions provoked no punishment!
“(5) Those who buy them slaughter them but are not punished. Those who sell them say: Praise the LORD because I have become rich! Even their own shepherds have no compassion for them.”
Remember the last good king of Judah was King Josiah. After his death, his son Jehoahaz took his place in about 609B.C. His reign didn’t last a year before Pharaoh Neco took Jehoahaz captive and placed Eliakim, his brother in his place and renamed him Jehoiakim.
Pharaoh Neco also imposed a levy on Judah, which Jehoiakim paid by placing a burdensome tax on the people. This is part of the way in which these words took place. Through exploitation and heavy taxes Jehoiakim “sold” the Israelites and had no compassion on them.
During his reign, King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and he placed Jehoiakim as his vassal for three years. After these three years Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, in response to which, the Babylonians attacked Judah, and with the help of God they took over. This also was a way in which the kings of Judah did not care for the people and sold them. Remember that time and again Jeremiah told the kings to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar since God had given Israel over into his power. If they would comply without resistance, it would go well for them in exile. Jeremiah was nearly hated for these warnings and even punished for them.
Later Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin in about 598B.C., but his rule lasted only a year when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege against Jerusalem and deported young Jehoiachin, along with his mother and the royal officials to Babylon (2 Kings 24:10–12). This was the second of three deportation to Babylon during which Nebuchadnezzar also took ten thousand others into exile, leaving only the poorest of the people behind. These poor are mentioned a little later here by Zechariah.
The book of Ezekiel which we have already covered began 5 years after King Jehoiachin and his family were deported. Nebuchadnezzar placed Zedekiah as king, which was really a type of vassal king over Jerusalem in his Jejoiachin’s place.
It was at this time when Nebuchadnezzar raided the temple (2 Kings 24:13–14; 2 Chronicles 36:10) of its treasures which King Hezekiah had shown a former king of Babylon.
Zedekiah was an evil king and rebelled against God and eventually against King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 36:12–13) as well. It was during this time that Jeremiah, who was still in Jerusalem was persecuted and largely silenced by King Zedekiah.
After eleven years of Zedekiah’s rule, Jerusalem fully fell to Nebuchadnezzar which instituted the third and final deportation of Jewish exiles to Babylon. That is when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem’s walls and burned the temple and the palaces (2 Kings 25:9–10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Jeremiah 52:13–14). That is also what is being recalled here in this prophetic recollection of that past which is being used as a bridge between what happened then and what God will do in Messiah Jesus when He comes.
“(6) Indeed, I will no longer have compassion on the inhabitants of the land”–the LORD’s declaration. “Instead, I will turn everyone over to his neighbor and his king. They will devastate the land, and I will not deliver it from them.”
(7) So I shepherded the flock intended for slaughter, the afflicted of the flock.”
The word afflicted can mean poor as well.
Now we have introduced to us the two staffs which I struggled with for days.
One is called Favor and the other Union. With such names as these you can imagine the veritable cornucopia of possible interpretations they might conjure.
“I took two staffs, calling one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock.
(8) In one month I got rid of three shepherds. I became impatient with them, and they also detested me.
(9) Then I said, “I will no longer shepherd you. Let what is dying die, and let what is going astray go astray; let the rest devour each other’s flesh.”
These are references not only to these Jews factual past but also of the prophetic prediction of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. God said, “I will no longer shepherd”. The last rejection of the Jews is foretold, and predictive of Nebuchadnezzar’s power given to him by God to judge His people in Judah. See if in these references you can hear very similar words to what we just read…
“(1)Then the LORD said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people.
Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth. (2) And it shall be, if they say to you,
‘Where should we go?’ then you shall tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD:
“Such as are for death, to death; And such as are for the sword, to the sword; And such as are for the famine, to the famine; And such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.” ‘
(3) “And I will appoint over them four forms of destruction,” says the LORD: “the sword to slay, the dogs to drag, the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. (4) I will hand them over to trouble, to all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.
(5) “For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan you? Or who will turn aside to ask how you are doing?
(6) You have forsaken Me,” says the LORD, “You have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of relenting! (7) And I will winnow them with a winnowing fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children; I will destroy My people, Since they do not return from their ways.”
Jeremiah 43:10-11, “(10) and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will send and bring Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden. And he will spread his royal pavilion over them. (11) When he comes, he shall strike the land of Egypt and deliver to death those appointed for death, and to captivity those appointed for captivity, and to the sword those appointed for the sword.”
Ezekiel 6:11-13, “(11) ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Pound your fists and stamp your feet, and say, ‘Alas, for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. (12) He who is far off shall die by the pestilence, he who is near shall fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged shall die by the famine. Thus will I spend My fury upon them. (13) Then you shall know that I am the LORD…”
All of this Solomon included in his prayer at the dedication of this very same temple very 400 years prior. Pestilence, famine & war were all part of the predicted outcomes of rebellion and idolatry and which could be rectified by repentance and praying towards this temple. God had signified His promise to respond to erring Israel by “healing their land” when He sent fire from heaven to devour the burnt sacrifices that day! [See – If My people – Where Solomon got his prayer]
The last part of the verse in Zechariah 11:9 says, “let the rest devour each other’s flesh.” This is just one of many things the Jewish historian JOSEPHUS attests the fulfillment of regarding this prophecy of calamity.
“(10) Next I took my staff called Favor and cut it in two, annulling the covenant I had made with all the peoples. (11) It was annulled on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew that it was the word of the LORD.”
There are many who see this staff as referring to the death of Jesus, along with the other staff, but that doesn’t seem to fit the narrative.
In my view, God said both of the staffs were what He shepherded the people with, so it has to directly connect to the past though it can also include a reference to the future, which we will see that it does.
This first staff named “favor” is a tricky word which can also be translated as “beauty” or even “pleasantness”. It clearly represented the Old Covenant in some way, since it’s being cut into annulled the Covenant.
Now the fact that it mentions the Covenant between God and Israel, we are inclined to assume it means the entirety of the Old Covenant. Covenants however also include agreements, promises and alliances so we have to be careful. That having been said, Zechariah is still in the middle of a description which included the destruction of the temple. As such I believe this is in reference to the Ark of the Covenant which was taken at this point and NEVER returned!
The Ark of the Covenant was the symbol and reality of God being in His temple and among His people. In a sense, it also represents that by which God shepherded His people. The notion of shepherding includes leading. You certainly remember that God had the Ark of the Covenant go before the people as He led them many times, not only in the wilderness but also into battle. This most important of national symbols and treasures in which God had chosen to reside in one fashion or another, was lost to all of Israel that day and it was never returned! In a way, the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem probably seemed a hollow task since there was no Ark of the Covenant to place in the Holy of Holies!
Consider what this meant! Israel could go through ALL of the motions required of them in the law, but at the end of the year there was NO Ark to place the blood of Atonement upon. No meeting with God by the High Priest and thus no national atonement could be made.
This was indeed the beginning of the end for the Old Covenant and it would be hard to capture the full impact such had upon God’s people who were really watching and paying attention.
That’s why verse 11 ended by saying, “The Covenant was annulled on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching Me knew that it was the word of the LORD.”
In typical fashion however, God had something to say about that! Aren’t we glad we serve a God Who is NOT silent and distant, but always speaks into our world – either to bruise or to heal, to convict or forgive. As Hosea prophesied in Hosea 6…
“(1) Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, and He will heal us; He has wounded us, and He will bind up our wounds. (2) He will revive us after two days, and on the third day He will raise us up so we can live in His presence.
(3) Let us strive to know the LORD. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land.”
“(12) Then I said to them, “If it seems right to you, give Me My wages; but if not, keep them.”
So they weighed My wages, 30 pieces of silver.
(13) “Throw it to the potter,” the LORD said to me–this magnificent price I was valued by them.
So I took the 30 pieces of silver and threw it into the house of the LORD, to the potter.
“(14) Then I cut in two my second staff, Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.”
We all know this to refer to Jesus who was sold by Judas into the hands of priests who almost certainly are the foolish shepherds about to be mentioned.
Mark 14:10-11, “(10) Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to hand Him over to them. (11) And when they heard this, they were glad and promised to give him silver. So he started looking for a good opportunity to betray Him.”
Matthew 27:3-10, “(3) Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.
(4) “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
(5) So he threw the silver into the sanctuary and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.
(6) The chief priests took the silver and said, “It’s not lawful to put it into the temple treasury, since it is blood money.” (7) So they conferred together and bought the potter’s field with it as a burial place for foreigners.
(8) Therefore that field has been called “Blood Field” to this day.
(9) Then what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: They took the 30 pieces of silver, the price of Him whose price was set by the sons of Israel, (10) and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
“(15) The LORD also said to me:
“Take the equipment of a foolish shepherd. (16) I am about to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are going astray, and he will not seek the lost or heal the broken. He will not sustain the healthy, but he will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hooves.
(17) Woe to the worthless shepherd who deserts the flock!
May a sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm wither away and his right eye go completely blind!”
This last shepherd is called a foolish one. Though some see it as referring to the next captivity being Grecian and possibly referring specifically to Antiochus Epiphanes, I do not agree. The wording says this shepherd deserts the flock. This would indicate that at one time they were present and tending them on some level or there would be nothing to forsake.
It is quite likely that this stands in reference to the Sadducees who took over the priesthood following the Maccabean revolt and were in fact still in that position when Jesus was betrayed.