Zechariah 11:1-17

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Lebanon is called upon to open its doors, making it vulnerable for the fire that would consume the cedars. In verse 10 of chapter 10, “Lebanon” either refers to all the land of Israel west of the Jordan River or to the region of the northernmost limit of the former territory of Israel. This may also be the meaning here. Possibly the prophetic words point to a future time when the land would again be desolated on account of the unfaithfulness of the people. (11:1)

If the message relates to the devastation of the land, the trees are here personified to portray the future state of ruin. With the majestic “cedar” having fallen, the less impressive beróhsh is told to “howl” or wail. One suggested meaning for beróhsh, based on the Akkadian word for burāšu is “juniper.” The corresponding Greek rendering here is “pine” (pítys) and the Latin rendering of the Vulgate is “fir” (abies). As a witness to the ruin of the majestic trees or the lofty cedars, the juniper, pine, or fir would, as if commanded to do so, give way to loud lamentation. The howling or wailing also suggests that less impressive trees would not be spared from devastation. (11:2)

Bashan, a region situated east of the Jordan River, was known for its large trees (’allón). The Hebrew noun ’allón may designate any large tree, including the oak. In the Septuagint, the corresponding Greek term is drys (“oak”), and the Latin word for “oak” (quercus) is found in the Vulgate. These large trees or oaks are told to howl or wail because the thick or dense (batsír) forest has “gone down” or been laid waste. The usual meaning of the Hebrew word batsír is “vintage,” which significance does not convey an intelligible significance. For this context, one of the meanings that lexicographers have assigned to the Hebrew word is “inaccessible.” In the Septuagint, the reference is to a thickly wooded forest, and this does fit the context. (11:2)

Not just the heights of Lebanon with their lofty cedars and the large trees or oaks on the mountain ridges of Bashan would be devastated. The low-lying regions would also be ruined, and so the directive is to “listen” for the effect this would have on shepherds and beasts of prey. Shepherds would howl or wail, “for their glory is despoiled.” This “glory,” “greatness,” or “majesty” could designate what the shepherds regarded as magnificent, and this would be lush pastures for their flocks. With the thickets (literally, the “pride” or “splendor”) along the Jordan River being laid waste, lions would roar on account of the ruin of their habitat. In the Septuagint, the greatness of the shepherds and the pride of the Jordan are portrayed as suffering misery, occasioning the sound of shepherds lamenting and the sound of lions roaring. (11:3)

Indicative of his personal relationship to God, the prophet referred to him as “YHWH my God.” The commission he received from YHWH was to “shepherd the flock” destined for “the slaughter.” In the capacity of a shepherd, the prophet would provide the sound guidance that was divinely conveyed to him — guidance that would benefit the people of Israel who would choose to follow it. At the same time, the reference to “slaughter” revealed that the time would come when the flock of Israel would experience harsh oppression and slaughter. (11:4; see the Notes section.)

As one whom YHWH had appointed, the prophet functioned representatively for him and, therefore, could also portray the circumstances that would exist when the shepherd of Israel, the promised Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ, would make his appearance among the people. (11:4)

The kind of mistreatment the people of Israel would experience is likened to their being bought like sheep that are then slaughtered. Those guilty of such cruel treatment would go unpunished. The ones represented as doing the selling of the sheep, knowing full well that they would come to a violent end, are portrayed as saying, “Blessed be YHWH, and I have become rich.” The buyers and sellers may be understood to represent the wealthy and influential ones among the people who enriched themselves at their expense. Though profiting from oppressing the people like helpless sheep, ignoring their obligation to observe God’s law that required them to be honest and just in their dealings, they would hypocritically bless YHWH, attributing to him the wealth they had amassed through unworthy means. (11:5)

Instead of looking out for the interests of the flock of Israel and rendering just decisions for the oppressed, the shepherds, leaders, or rulers had no pity for the abused people. When Jesus, the promised Messiah, labored as a shepherd among the people, he perceived them to be helpless and abused. Whereas he had compassion for the people, the leaders of the nation made their hard lot even more difficult. (11:5; Matthew 9:36; 11:28, 29; 23:4; Mark 8:2, 3; Luke 13:34)

YHWH revealed that he would no longer have pity for those inhabiting the land. The implied reason is that they would not respond to his care as represented by the good shepherd his prophet would portray. Ultimately, this divinely commissioned shepherd would be the promised Messiah whom the flock of Israel, with few exceptions, would reject. (Matthew 23:37) The consequence for not wanting YHWH’s appointed shepherd would be mutual ruin. Because YHWH would permit this to happen, he is represented as saying that he would cause the people (adhám, “earthling,” a collective singular designating the men or the people), each “man,” or each one of them, to fall “into the hand of his companion and into the hand of his king” (one exercising authority over him). They would then be dealt with severely. Those gaining the upper hand would “crush the land,” indicating that the people who would come under their control would experience great suffering. YHWH would then not deliver them from the “hand” or power of those who would afflict them. In the final days of Jerusalem, a faction within the city engaged in ruthless slaughter, and those who were trapped inside the city during the Roman siege looked in vain for divine deliverance from their distress. (11:6)

In keeping with his commission, the prophet began shepherding the “flock” destined for “slaughter,” with his primary concern being for the “poor” or the afflicted ones “of the flock.” (See the Notes section.) To discharge his responsibilities as a shepherd, he took two staffs for himself. One of these he called “Pleasantness,” which may have served to represent the essential guidance he would be providing for the flock. The other staff he called “Binders,” representing the action he would need to take to protect the flock and to keep it bound together, with none straying. He then went about shepherding the sheep. For members of the flock to stray from what he would be doing for them as YHWH’s appointed shepherd would prove to be harmful to them, just as sheep that stray from the flock become vulnerable for injury or attack. (11:7)

The Septuagint refers to the staffs as “Beauty” and “Line.” The Greek word translated “Line” is schoínisma and designates an area of land measured with a line or cord. In the context of shepherding, the thought could be that the shepherd would use the staff to keep the flock together within the confines of a certain area. According to the Septuagint rendering, YHWH is the one who would be pasturing the sheep with the two staffs.(11:7)

Apparently acting for YHWH and in the interests of the flock, the prophet eliminated “three shepherds in one month.” How he did this is not revealed nor are the shepherds identified. It is also not possible to be definitive as to whether “three” is a literal number or is representative of a complete number and as to whether the one month is literal or denotes a comparatively short time. (11:8)

The prophet appears to have reached the limit of his toleration with the shepherds. This seemingly is the sense of the form of the Hebrew verb qatsár that describes how he felt and, in other contexts, commonly means “be short.” Whereas the shepherds tried his patience, they “loathed” him. (11:8)

The Septuagint does not refer to the prophet but continues to represent God as the one speaking. His “soul,” or he himself, would be “weighed down by them” (the shepherds). They would be like a burden to him. Their “souls,” or they themselves, “roared” against him, not wanting to follow his direction. (11:8)

The developments pertaining to the shepherds find a parallel in the case of Jesus, the promised Messiah and caring shepherd. By his example, actions, and words, he exposed the shepherds or leaders as hypocrites who had no concern for the people, and he finally silenced them. (Matthew 22:15-46; 23:13-39; John 10:1-15) These men detested Jesus, maligning him as one who was an impostor and in league with the powers of darkness. (11:8; Matthew 12:23, 24; 27:62-64; John 7:45-52)

The implication is that the prophet’s shepherding was neither valued nor wanted, prompting him to say, “I will not shepherd you.” In Hebrew, the pronoun “you” is a masculine plural and may be understood to refer to the people. Without the benefit of his protection and care as a shepherd, the people (represented as sheep) would perish. The one “dying” or facing death, “let her [the sheep (feminine gender)] die.” And the one “being eliminated” (“failing” [LXX]) or about to be destroyed, “let her [the sheep (feminine gender)] be eliminated [let it fail (LXX)].” As to those remaining, “let them devour, each one the flesh of her companion [the sheep’s companion].” The end would thus come through mutual destruction. (11:9; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

When these words are applied to Jesus in his role as shepherd, they pointed to his ceasing to shepherd the unbelieving people, abandoning those who refused to accept him as the promised Messiah to the ruin that would befall them. At the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the majority who were trapped in the city looked in vain for deliverance and perished from starvation, were slain by a faction in the city, or were slaughtered by the Roman soldiers. (11:9; Matthew 23:37, 38; Luke 19:41-44; 23:28-31)

The prophet had a covenant relationship with the people, which suggests that at the time YHWH called him to shepherd the flock he concluded a personal covenant with them to function in their interests. To illustrate that this covenant was broken, the prophet cut the staff “Pleasantness” in two. According to the Septuagint, God is represented as throwing his staff, the “beautiful one,” away to annul the covenant he had concluded with “all the peoples.” (11:10)

The action with reference to the staff appears to point to the future development when Jesus, the Promised Messiah, would cease to be in any covenant relationship with those who did not want him as their shepherd, ending any benefits to them from his guidance and care. (11:11)

“In that day,” at the time of the breaking of the staff, the covenant was annulled. The poor of the flock, the ones watching the prophet, knew or recognized that “it was the word of YHWH.” They realized that he had acted at YHWH’s direction to indicate tangibly that the covenant had been canceled. (11:11; see the Notes section.)

Although the covenant had been annulled, the prophet would have been entitled to wages for the shepherding service that he had rendered prior thereto. Probably to the representatives of the people, he extended the opportunity to make payment, saying to them, “If [it seems] good in your eyes, give [me] my wage; and if not, hold back [from doing so].” They “weighed out” his wage —“thirty shekels of silver.” Thirty shekels was the price for a slave (Exodus 21:32), and this payment reflected the low esteem in which they held the prophet’s shepherding and, therefore, also YHWH who had commissioned him. (11:12)

In the Septuagint, YHWH is the one represented as saying, “If it is good in your sight [literally, before you], give [me] my wage [after] having determined [it], or refuse [to pay].” According to this rendering, those who determined the wage to be “thirty silver pieces” showed how little they valued YHWH and his shepherding. (11:12)

In the case of Jesus, the promised Messiah and the divinely appointed shepherd, the leaders of the nation likewise made a low evaluation. For the betrayal, they prearranged to pay Judas “thirty silver pieces.” (11:12; Matthew 26:15)

The Hebrew participial form of the word yatsár preceded by the definite article may be defined as “the potter,” one who forms or fashions. Many have considered the Hebrew participle to be an error in the text. A footnote in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia suggests that the probable reading is ha-’ohtsár (“the treasury”). (11:13)

The significance “treasury” does not have the support of the Septuagint, which contains the word choneutérion, meaning “smelting furnace” or “smelter.” According to the Septuagint, the reason for casting the silver into the smelter was so that God might see whether it was pure. Thus the silver would be proved in the manner that YHWH had been “proved for them” (the people, particularly the leaders). Whereas smelting can be linked to things that are formed or fashioned, the designation “smelter” becomes problematic when the reference is to the prophet’s tossing the thirty silver pieces “into the house of the Lord, into the smelter.” No smelter would have been in operation on the temple grounds. One possible explanation for the words would be that the silver pieces that were tossed into the temple were later taken to a smelter. (11:13)

The Vulgate reads ad statuarium, which may be rendered “to the statuary,” a place where representations are made. This Latin translation reflects an underlying meaning of forming or fashioning, but does not fit any activity that would be associated with the temple. (11:13)

If the Hebrew text is regarded as elliptical, one may conclude that the potter ultimately received the silver pieces. The payment of thirty silver pieces, the price of a slave, was an insult to YHWH in whose service the prophet labored, and this wage is ironically referred to as the “lordly value” at which YHWH had been “valued” by them (the leaders of the people). As an insult to YHWH, the silver would not have been acceptable for the sacred temple treasury. Therefore, the silver pieces would more appropriately be tossed to the potter as being of no great worth. (11:13)

As the prophetic portrayal relates to Jesus, the Messiah and divinely appointed shepherd, the thirty silver pieces did pass to the “potter.” Judas, the betrayer, threw down the thirty silver pieces somewhere in the temple precincts. Because blood money was involved, the chief priests considered themselves legally bound not to put the silver pieces into the temple treasury. After conferring, they decided to use the money to buy a potter’s field (a property having little value) for use as a place to bury foreigners. (11:13; Matthew 27:5-7)

The rejection of the shepherding by the prophet whom YHWH had commissioned would have serious consequences for the people as a whole. This was tangibly represented when the prophet broke his second staff, the one he called “Binders” (“Line” [LXX]). (See the comments on verse 7 regarding the staffs.) His action served to indicate the annulling of the “brotherhood between Judah and Israel.” The people would be divided into factions and would come to be in the helpless and unprotected state of sheep that had no shepherd to care for them. The divisiveness that would come to exist among them would be like the rift that resulted when the ten northern tribes of Israel revolted against King Rehoboam, the grandson of David, and formed an independent kingdom with Jeroboam as their monarch. (11:14; 1 Kings 12:12-20)

According to the Septuagint, the prophet threw away the second staff (the one he called “Line”). This signified the dissolving of the binding tie between Judah and Israel. The people would not be like a united flock that a caring shepherd tends, a flock that is protected as if pasturing within the limits of an area established by a measuring line. (11:14)

When Jesus, the promised Messiah and the divinely appointed shepherd, was rejected, this proved to be calamitous for the flock of Israel. Whereas they could have been a united people benefiting from his care and guidance, they became like helpless sheep. The rod “Binders” was broken, and so there was nothing to keep them together safely as one flock under him as the one shepherd. This became especially evident when the Romans came against Jerusalem. A faction within the city engaged in vicious acts of violence, killing many. The majority perished either from famine or were slaughtered when the Romans entered the city. (11:14)

YHWH told the prophet yet again to take the equipment of a shepherd, but in this case the role would be that of a “foolish” or worthless shepherd. The personal equipment could include a bag for a supply of food (1 Samuel 17:40), an extra garment for wrapping himself during cold nights (Jeremiah 43:12), and possibly a tent for shelter. (Isaiah 38:12) To protect the flock, a shepherd would be prepared to use a sling and a rod and would guide his flock with a long curved staff. (1 Samuel 17:40; Psalm 23:4) For sick or injured sheep, he would need olive oil and bandaging material. (11:15)

As the verses that follow indicate, the emphasis is on the folly or worthlessness of the shepherd because of his failure to use what is available to him to care for and to protect the flock. The Septuagint refers to the shepherd as “inexperienced” or “unskilled” (ápeiros). While similar in meaning to “foolish” or ignorant, the word ápeiros applies primarily to the lack of ability to perform the essential work of a shepherd. The prophet’s portrayal of a “foolish” shepherd served to reveal the result from rejecting the shepherd of YHWH’s choosing and, ultimately, also YHWH who had appointed him. With foolish shepherds or leaders who had no concern for the flock of Israel, the people would suffer greatly. (11:15)

YHWH would permit the flock of Israel to experience mistreatment and oppression. For this reason, he is represented as saying that he would be “raising up a shepherd in the land,” a shepherd who cared nothing about the people. The actions of this shepherd are described in terms that express serious neglect and abuse of sheep. (11:16)

He would give no attention to the sheep about to perish nor would he search for the “young one” (ná‘ar). A young sheep was more likely to stray or to get separated from the flock, making it vulnerable for injury or attack by predators. The Septuagint rendering of ná‘ar here is the participial form of diaskorpízo (“scatter”) and refers to a sheep that has been scattered or has strayed. In the Septuagint, the shepherd’s failure to search for the vulnerable sheep is emphasized with two words for “not” and may be rendered “by no means.” (11:16)

The “foolish” shepherd would do nothing to heal the “broken” or injured sheep. He would not apply olive oil to injuries nor bandage broken limbs. (11:16; Ezekiel 34:4)

There is uncertainty about the significance of the participial form of the Hebrew word natsáv (“to stand,” “to be stationed,” or “to remain in position”), which describes a sheep that the foolish shepherd does not sustain or support. In view of the context that depicts sheep in need of the shepherd’s care and attention, it does not appear that the sheep is being designated as a “standing one” because of being in a sound or healthy state. There is a greater likelihood that the sheep is not moving because of being trapped, injured, sickly, or exhausted. Based on the Arabic word nasiba, the participial form of natsáv could here designate a weak, sick, or exhausted sheep that the foolish shepherd would ignore, providing no support or help. The Septuagint rendering, however, does provide a basis for the meaning “sound one,” for it says that the shepherd would “by no means guide” or lead a “whole one.” (11:16)

Instead of seeing to it that the sheep under his care are well fed by leading them to good pastures, the useless shepherd would feed himself. He would slaughter a fat sheep and consume its flesh (the “flesh of the choice ones” [LXX]). Perhaps for use as game pieces, the valueless shepherd would tear off the hoofs of sheep. According to the Septuagint rendering, he would dislocate the vertebrae of the animals. (11:16)

YHWH would be fully aware of any leaders of the people who conducted themselves like one whom he designated as “my shepherd of worthlessness.” This would be a leader who should have been in his service as one devoted to him and to the interests of the flock of Israel but who proved to be useless and a shepherd who abandoned the flock. Woe or calamity is pronounced upon this worthless shepherd. In the Septuagint, such worthless shepherds are described as the ones tending idle things and forsaking the sheep. (11:17)

The worthless shepherd is one who did not use his “arm” or his strength to benefit the sheep but used it to mistreat them, and his “eye” was not focused on them so as to see and then to provide what they needed. Therefore, YHWH decreed that a “sword” would be upon his “arm,” depriving him of all power. This sword would also be on his “right eye, his best eye that should have been watching out for the interests of the sheep. Thus the eye that was not used for a beneficial purpose would be completely deprived of sight. To emphasize that the strength would totally fail, the arm is described as withering to wither. The complete loss of sight in the right eye is highlighted by referring to it as being blinded to blind. (11:17)


In verse 4, the Septuagint does not include the reference to “my God” but opens with the words, “Thus says the Lord Almighty.”

The Hebrew words of verse 7 that may be translated “poor of the flock” are preceded by the Hebrew expression la-khen and may here mean “namely therefore,” which could then indicate that the “poor,” afflicted, or oppressed ones of the flock are the ones on whom the shepherding would be concentrated. A number of translations render the Hebrew text according to this significance. “So I pastured the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock.” (NIV) “So I shepherded the flock intended for slaughter, the afflicted of the flock.” (HCSB) “So I cared for the flock intended for slaughter — the flock that was oppressed.” (NLT) “So I fed the flock about to be killed, particularly the weakest ones.” (NCV)

The Septuagint translator (in verse 7) appears to have combined the letters of the Hebrew expression la-khen and the plural form of the adjective for “poor,” “afflicted,” or “oppressed” (‘aniy) differently, resulting in the rendering “in the Chanaanitis” or “in Canaan” (“And I will shepherd the sheep of slaughter in Canaan”). In certain contexts, Canaanite can designate a trader or merchant. A number of modern translations reflect this significance in their renderings. “So I became the shepherd of the flock to be slaughtered for the sheep merchants.” (NAB) “So I became a shepherd to the flock destined to be slaughtered by the dealers.” (REB) “Then I pastured for slaughter the sheep belonging to the sheep-dealers.” (NJB) “So I became a shepherd of those sheep doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep dealers.” (CEV) The renderings “sheep merchants,” “dealers,” or “sheep dealers” do not have the support of the Vulgate, which contains the words pauperes gregis, which may be rendered “poor of the flock.”

The wording of verse 9 in the Septuagint is much like that of the extant Hebrew text, but the one continuing to speak in the first person is YHWH, not the prophet.

As in verse 7, the plural form of the adjective for “poor,” “afflicted,” or “oppressed” (‘aniy) is found in verse 11. Translators who followed the Septuagint and regarded the designation Canaanite to mean “dealer,” “sheep dealer,” or “sheep merchant” in verse 7 have also done so in this verse. “That day it was broken off. The sheep merchants who were watching me understood that this was the word of the LORD.” (NAB) “So it was annulled that day, and the dealers who were watching me knew that this was a word from the LORD.” (REB) “When it was broken, that day the sheep-dealers, who were watching me, realized that this had been a word of Yahweh.” (NJB) “The sheep dealers who saw me knew right away that this was the message from the LORD.” (CEV) According to the Septuagint, the Canaanites (Chananites) would “know the sheep, the ones being watched, because it is a word of the Lord.”