Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 30 2019 - Zechariah 11:4-17 – Two shepherds

Today's passage can seem quite confusing. In it Zechariah is called to act out a parable involving two shepherds. We have come across such acted parables before in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This parable reflects the history of God's dealings with his people.

First Zechariah is called to play out the role of the good shepherd, representing the covenant of care and of blessing which God has made with his people (see v. 10 in which that covenant is then revoked). He is called to:

Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter. Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, “Praise the Lord, I am rich!” (vv. 4-5).

The picture is of shepherds who use the flock simply for their own gain – we might say that they fleece the flock. These are religious leaders who make a profession of piety but whose leadership is motivated entirely by self-interest (see 1 Timothy 6:3-10 for Paul's warning of Timothy to watch out for similar motives amongst those who seek positions of leadership within the church).

In the face of such mercenary shepherds, Zechariah is to demonstrate the care of God for his people. He is to get rid of the false shepherds and care for the flock, particularly those oppressed among them (vv. 7-8a). Zechariah is to use two staffs in the care of the flock. One is called "Favour" and represents God's gracious care for his people. The other is called "Union" and represents the unity of God's people – one flock under one shepherd. In particular, it represents the unity between the two kingdoms of God's people, Israel and Judah (v. 14). These two kingdoms had been united under the reign of David, their shepherd king. "Union" reminds the people of God that their unity with one another is dependent upon, and is to be a reflection of, their unity with God.

But despite God's great care for his people, they grew tired of him – they even detested him. So the Lord rejected his people. Zechariah broke his staff called "Favour" and later broke the staff called "Unity". Because God's people turned their back on him, the kingdom was divided and his blessing was withdrawn. Ultimately, his people were handed over to exile.

Zechariah asks for severance pay if he is no longer to act as shepherd to this flock. He is given thirty pieces of silver which he is then told to throw to the potter at the house of the Lord. Remember, in terms of the acted parable, this is the price with which these rebellious people dispense with God's gracious care for them.

Zechariah is then told to act out the role of a foolish shepherd "who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hooves" (v. 16). Having turned their back on the gracious care of the Lord, this rebellious people will find themselves again in the hands of those who exploit them and destroy them.

Here again this parable points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. He came into the world as the Good Shepherd, demonstrating God's great care for a people who were oppressed and distressed. Yet he was rejected by the very people to whom he came. He was betrayed by Judas, one of his close band of followers for 30 pieces of silver. Yet this very rejection of the Good Shepherd was part of God's plan by which he would redeem for himself a people of every nation under heaven, a people saved by God's grace (his Favour) and united in Christ and through the work of the Spirit – one flock under one shepherd.

Lord Jesus, we acknowledge you as the Good Shepherd who cared for us so well that you laid down your life for us. Help us always to hear your voice and follow you rather than turning away to the myriad voices around us. Help us not only to remain close to you but also to live in unity with one another by the power of your Spirit at work within us and among us. Help us to be a people who attract the attention and respect of a watching world.

Peter Misselbrook