Zechariah is a prophet of hope. In chapters 9 and 10, the hopeful themes are discussed of the judgements upon Israel’s surrounding enemies, as well as the assurance that they would be protected to see both the first coming of their King (9:9) and His second coming (9:10), while the remnant will also experience the blessings and victory that the Messiah will bring to Jerusalem and to His people (9:11–10:12).
But suddenly, in this dark chapter, we are confronted with the fact that Zechariah does not only proclaim hope and victory like the false prophets, but also divine wrath and judgement. The false prophets have prophesied concerning Jerusalem visions of peace when there is no peace (Ezek. 13:16; cf. Jer. 8:11). Zechariah was not guilty of giving people false hope when they were spiritually in error. He warned them about the dire consequences for the entire nation of rejecting the good Shepherd and accepting the worthless shepherd (the false messiah).
The first warning about the consequences of Israel’s spiritual blindness and rebellion against God was that the land and its vegetation would be devastated. Trees would be ruined and thick forests come down. The lush thicket of the Jordan would vanish. Even lions who lived in the thick woods around the Jordan River would roar because of the destruction of their natural habitat (11:1-3). That has indeed happened and Israel became a wilderness.
Zechariah was directed by God to portray Israel’s true Shepherd-Messiah, then he was required to portray the wicked shepherd, pointing to the end-time Antichrist. This passage focuses attention on Israel’s spiritual condition at the time of Christ’s ministry, and the consequences of rejecting the true Shepherd.
The command, “Feed the flock for slaughter” (11:4) implies the action of directing the flock for something, thereby preparing them for what was lying ahead. Various prophets warned Israel about the coming wrath of God to ensure that they would be fully aware of what would happen to them should they turn their backs on God. The last two prophets, or shepherds, who warned them were John the Baptist (Matt. 3:7) and Jesus the Messiah (Matt. 23:13-39). Jesus said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44).
God had designated Israel for slaughter by the Romans because of rejecting their Messiah-King, Jesus, and instead preferring to serve a heathen king. Pilate said to the Jews: “Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him! Pilate said to them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priest answered, We have no king but Caesar! So he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away” (John 19:14-16).
The destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of Israel’s international dispersion happened in the year 70 AD. During the siege and conquering of the city 1,1 million Jews died and the remaining 97 000 were taken away as captives of wars. Many of them were sold on slave markets and the others became dispersed to various countries. Because this judgement was specifically intended for the Jews who rejected their Messiah, the disciples of Jesus were warned in advanced to leave the city. Jesus said to them:
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled… There will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24). The Messianic Jews evacuated Jerusalem after its first siege in 66 AD, ahead of the final Roman siege in 70 AD.
The devastating slaughter of the wayward flock occurred exactly as prophesied. Their King who came as a lowly Person riding on a donkey, was rejected and crucified. They did not heed His invitation to salvation, neither His warnings on impending disaster. Who deceived them into contemplating their own downfall? This was the work of false shepherds. The spiritual leaders of Israel were blind and ignorant. They were bad shepherds who did not pity the flock but sold them to the forces of darkness (11:5). The evil shepherds had the devil as father (John 8:44) and were unconcerned on what they did to their own people. Because of their deliberate decision to reject the good Shepherd, God said: “I will no longer pity the inhabitants of the land” (11:6).
The flock would be fed for slaughter by using two staffs, called Beauty (grace) and Bonds (union). The good Shepherd proclaimed His grace (forgivingness) to the flock while stressing the survival of a united Israeli nation (the union of the houses of Israel and Judah) even despite the judgements that would befall them (11:7). “The poor of the flock” refers to the Messianic Jews who heeded the words of the Shepherd.
In 11:8 the Lord says: “I dismissed the three shepherds in one month. My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred Me.” The three evil shepherds probably refer to the three political and religious leaders that Israel had because of not obeying God and accepting the authority of their Priest-King, the Shepherd. The three evil shepherds that ruled over them at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus were the high priest, Caiaphas (Matt. 26:57-68) who misguided the Jewish Council and the whole nation into rejecting Jesus as Messiah; Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who represented unacceptable Gentile rule over Israel, and wrongfully handed Jesus over to be crucified (Matt. 27:11-31); and king Herod who treated the true King of Israel with utter contempt and returned Him to His executioners without questioning the verdict against Him (Luke 23:7-11). None of the three “shepherds” acted on sound evidence, and Jesus dismissed their false accusations by not even responding to them. Caiaphas was later dismissed by a Syrian governor of the Roman Empire, Pilate was dismissed and banished because of corruption and ended his life by suicide, while Herod Antipas was dismissed and exiled until his death. They all sealed their fate in the same month when they betrayed Jesus.
The internal Jewish leaders who were basically responsible for the conspiracy against the Messiah were the chief priests, the elders, the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matt. 16:6; 21:45-46; 26:57; 27:12, 62-63). They instigated the whole nation against Jesus, even to the point of opposing Pilate when he wanted to acquit Jesus. They responded by saying: “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:22-25). The whole flock, therefore, brought a curse upon themselves and handed themselves over to be slaughtered.
The good Shepherd then cut His staff Beauty in two, which indicates the breaking of His covenant with the evil people who had rejected Him (cf. Matt. 21:33-45). He then surrendered them to starvation, even to the extent of eating one another’s flesh, and to perishing (11:9-10). These calamities came upon the generation of people who were contemporaries of the good Shepherd (Matt. 23:34-36). These dark days couldn’t have overtaken them completely by surprise as they were described in detail by Moses: “If you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God… all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar… They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down… you shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you” (Deut. 28:15,49,52-53). These prophecies were literally fulfilled in AD 70 during the capture and fall of Jerusalem by the Roman armies.
The poor among the flock (the believing remnant in Israel) understood the warnings of the Messiah and heeded them (11:11). They escaped the impending disasters (Luke. 21:20-21) because of not following false prophets and bowing the knee to Baal.
The selling of the Messiah by the leaders of Israel is described as follows by Zechariah: “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” (11:12-13). Israel’s appraisal of the true Shepherd’s worth was 30 pieces of silver, the compensation price for a slave gored by an ox (Ex. 21:32). The choice of the slave price was intended as an insult to the Shepherd, worse than a direct refusal to pay Him any wage. This prophecy was literally fulfilled: “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you? And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver” (Matt. 26:14-15). Later, when Judas returned the money, it was used to buy the potter’s field (Matt. 27:3-10).
The other staff of the Shepherd (Bonds) was also cut in two (11:14), and pictures the dissolving of the national solidarity of Israel. Discord within the nation was one of the important factors that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, followed by their worldwide dispersion.
After rejecting the true Shepherd, the flock of Israel would not only be killed, driven from their land and dispersed among the nations, but they would perpetuate their spiritual blindness and continue to heed false shepherds. In the end-time, they would be restored to their land by God to endure further afflictions and divine wrath for being just as blind and rebellious as their deceived ancestors who betrayed the Messiah (cf. Ezek. 22:19-22; Jer. 30:7). Their spiritual blindness and lack of discernment will lead to concluding a covenant with the false messiah, the Antichrist. The true Shepherd said: “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (John 5:43). In their utter foolishness, being estranged from God, from His Word and from His Son, they will embrace the false messiah:
“And the Lord said… 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. 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 whither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded” (11:16-17).
Israel will accept this foolish and worthless shepherd who will do the very opposite of the Messiah, the true Shepherd. The Hebrew word rendered “foolish” suggests a person who is a coarse, hardened fool. This shepherd will have no concern for the flock and its needs; he will be interested only in his own gluttony. Instead of defending the flock, the foolish shepherd will destroy it. The arm indicates his strength and the eye his intelligence. His strength will be broken and his foolishness fully revealed when the true Shepherd returns. The false shepherd and his co-ruler, the false prophet, will be condemned to the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).
This chapter in Zechariah clearly underscores the fact that there are, spiritually speaking, only two groups of people in Israel and the world – the unsaved who are children of the devil (John 8:44) and the saved who are children of God (Phil. 2:15). “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). There is no middle way; you either follow the true Shepherd or you will be following one or other false shepherd who prepares the way for the end-time false messiah, the Antichrist. As a follower of the true Shepherd you will inherit eternal life and the abundant blessings of the Lord, but the followers of the evil shepherd will reap the judgements of God and eternal death in the lake of fire.
All people have a free will and need to make a definite choice to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Being a member of the Chosen People (Israel) or a member of a Christian church does not automatically qualify you as a follower of the Messiah. All people were born in sin and need to make a life-changing commitment to the only Saviour of the world – Jesus Christ. He was destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (Luke 2:34). David prayed: “O LORD my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Ps. 13:3). Have you arisen to a new life in Him? “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5:14). To ignore or reject Him by accepting unsubstantiated arguments that He is not really the promised Messiah and Son of God, amounts to walking in darkness and promoting your eternal ruin.
The spiritual blinding that was brought upon Israel by false shepherds will be removed during the Second coming of the Messiah. That is the subject of the next two chapters in Zechariah. Daniel confirms the fact that Israel’s transgressions will be finished and their sins brought to an end at the completion of their 70th year-week of divine history after the Babylonian captivity (Dan. 9:24). That is the coming tribulation period of seven years. Take into account that the church dispensation, or times of the Gentiles, was fitted in after the 69th year-week when Israel rejected their Messiah-King. When the false messiah comes after the church dispensation they will conclude a covenant with him for seven years (Dan. 9:27), and at the end of this period the Messiah will come again. Then, during a national repentance, Israel’s sins will be forgiven and reconciliation will be made for their iniquity. The nation will be spiritually revived to serve the Lord with pure hearts. Everlasting righteousness will dawn for Israel during the Messiah’s subsequent reign of peace.