1. Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. 2. Howl, fir tree, for the cedar has fallen, for the lofty are laid waste; howl ye oaks of Bashan, for the high forest has gone down. 3. There is a sound of the howling of the shepherds! For their glory is laid waste; a sound of the roaring of young lions! For the pride of Jordan is laid waste.
Lebanon is the mountain range west of the Jordan in the northern territory of Canaan. The cedars were the glory of Lebanon. At one time they were very abundant. Next to the cedars the fir trees were the choicest trees of Lebanon. Cedars and fir trees were used for Solomon in the construction of the temple. Bashan is the most northerly part of Canaan west of the Jordan. At one time it was rich in oak forests.
Lebanon is to be visited by a great fire that will devour its trees. An identical catastrophe is in store for the oaks of Bashan and its rich pastures, the glory of the shepherds. Thee fire will spread to the Jordan and consume the thickets and reeds, the glory of Jordan, which grow so luxuriantly on its banks and afford so safe and convenient a lair for the lions. Shorn of all vegetation and with the soil of thee ground blackened by the fire, the regions mentioned will be the scene of complete devastation. The voice of howling will everywhere be heard. The prophet hears the cry of shepherds over the loss of pastures. With this is mingled the roaring of the young lions driven from their haunts by the hot breath of the fire.
Viewing this representation in the light of its context, one perceives that in the final instance it is a prophecy of the overthrow of great ones in the earth, men of power and renown. Cedars, firs and oaks symbolize men as do also the lions of Jordan. Devoured by the wrath of God, they shall fall and be laid waste. And their glory shall depart from them.
It is plain from the context that the passage is prediction and not merely a description of what already has come to pass.
Of which powers is our prophet here speaking? According to one view these verses are the conclusion to the promise in chapter X that the dispersed Jews will be reestablished in Lebanon and Gilead (Zech. 10:10), for they state what will become of the present heathen occupants of the land: they will be completely annihilated. The view is then that the judgment in these verses is a judgment upon the heathen and their rulers that now occupy the territory of the dispersed covenant people. But this is not correct. These verses are rather a figurative representation of the judgments foretold in the subsequent verses (Zech. 11:4ff), and that are to come upon the kingdom of Israel. This View is firmly supported by the occurrence of the expression “flock of slaughter” in the succeeding verse (Zech. 11:4). That this flock is the kingdom and house of Israel is crystal clear from the context and is therefore disputed by no one. What is foretold by the imagery of these verses is the overthrow of Israel from the time of the utterance of this prophecy to the coming of Christ. Israel must go under, which it will through its own wickedness, the reason being that, when Christ will have come, kingdom and people will have served their purpose as a shadow of the kingdom of heaven. The typical Davidic kingdom will therefore be destroyed completely and vanish away forever. Only if it be allowed that the imagery of these verses refer to the fall of Israel will the flow of thought of the verses that follow be correctly discerned.
4. Thus saith Jehovah, my God, Feed the flock of slaughter; 5. Whose buyers slaughter them and are not guilty, and their sellers say, Blessed be Jehovah, for I am getting rich, and their shepherds spared them not. 6. For I will no more spare the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbor’s hand, and into the hand of his king. And they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them. 7. And I fed the flock of slaughter therefore, the poor sheep, and I s took to myself two staves; the one I called Beauty, the ether I called Bands, and I fed the flock. 8. Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul was grieved because of them, and their soul also abhorred fine. 9. Then said I, I will not shepherd you. That which dieth, let it die; and that which is to be cut of, let it be cut off, and let the rest eat every one the flesh of his neighbor. 10. And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. 11. And it was broken in that day. And so the afflicted of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the Lord. 12. And I said unto them, If it be good in your eyes, give me my reward; and, if not forever. So they weighed for my reward thirty pieces of silver. 13. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a noble price at which I am valued of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast it into the home of the Lord, to the potter. Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
Our prophet sets out (verse 4) with presenting Jehovah as mandating that the flock of slaughter be shepherded. He does not say that the mandate comes to him. Yet it is plain from verse 7 that it is the prophet to whom the Lord is speaking. The pronoun I in this verse, “And I fed the flock,” refers to our prophet. Thee task given him of the Lord is to shepherd the flock by which is to be understood Israel, the post-exilic covenant people. Regarding this people our prophet is commanded to perform the whole work of a shepherd, which includes besides feeding, guiding, protecting and ruling the flock. The verse gives rise to two questions: 1) why is Israel called the flock of slaughter? 2) Why must the prophet shepherd the flock?
Verses 5-6. These verses are the answers to the above questions. The thought of verse 5 is this: There are those who buy and sell the covenant people. They make merchandize of the flock or sheep especially of the poor and the defenseless among them. These traders in men slaughter their victims, that is, they shamefully ill-treat them in every way. And they are not guilty in their own eyes, that is, They piously praise the Lord. They say, “Blessed be Jehovah, for I am getting rich.” It shows that they regard their ill-begotten gain as His gracious gift to them, and that their vile imagining causes them to conclude that their act is in accord with His will, that it meet with His approval and that His blessing rests upon it. It seems that these rulers are Jews and not foreigners seeing that they take upon their lips the name of Jehovah. They say, “Blessed be Jehovah.”
The shepherds of this verse are the rulers of the covenant people. Of the rulers it is stated that they spared them not. The pronoun them looks to the flock. Evil men slaughter the flock and the rulers resist them not. What is done to the sheep is of no concern to them. That it cannot be determined whether the rulers are Jews or foreigners is of little importance. It’s their attitude toward the flock that is significant. Buyers and sellers, who must be the same people, are perhaps the powerful, rich and godless rulers in the community subject to the rulers but having nothing to fear from them seeing that rulers and nobles were alike wicked.
The argument of these verses (4-7) leaves no doubt that the subject treated in verse 5 is the same as that treated in verse 6, namely the slaughter of the covenant people. But there is this difference to be noticed. In verse 5 the slaughter of the flock is set forth solely as the act of godless men, while in verse 6 it is set before our eye as willed also of the Lord1 and as a work of His that He accomplishes through the Wicked as His agents. Thee doleful message of verse 6 is this: “For I will no longer spare . . .” The pronoun I denotes the Lord. The speaker here is He saying what He will do. He will no more spare the inhabitants of the land but will deliver them one and all into the hand of their neighbors and into the hand of their kings, and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand the Lord will not deliver them. This is doubtless the thought of this verse which reads literally, “And I will no more spare the inhabitants of the land, saith, Jehovah, but, behold, I will deliver the men each into the hand of his neighbor and into the hand of his king.” The meaning cannot be that for every individual man there is going to be a different pair of kingly hands for him to be delivered into in the sense of: as many men, so many kings; a king for each man. According to some, the expression each man denotes a distinct heathen nation, so that what, according to this view is being foretold in this verse (6) is the overthrow of the kingdoms of the world through the agency of its own kings as involved in mortal combat the one with the other. But that in this verse the prediction is that of the slaughter of Israel and not of the heathen nations is plain from he main line of thought of the verses 4-6 which is this: Shepherd the flock of slaughter (4a) . . . because I will no longer spare the inhabitants of the land (6a). Surely in this reasoning the inhabitants of the land is Israel, the flock of slaughter of verse 4. And the very reason that the covenant people are called the flock of slaughter is that it is going to be slaughtered. In the language of verse 6 the reason is that the Lord will no longer spare His covenant people but will give them up into the hands of their neighbors and of their kings. Whether these kings and neighbors are foreigners or Jews cannot be determined. It is not improbable that the reference is to the total of godless rulers and men of violence, both foreign and Jewish, by which the flock will be afflicted and killed through the years.
Statements occur in the succeeding verses forbidding the view that limits the expression “flock of slaughter” to the reprobated Israel. Denoted is the whole flock, the carnal seed and the spiritual seed alike. The sufferings in store for the flock will engulf also God’s believing people, the spiritual Israel. But they have the victory over all their enemies. (See the promises to the flock contained in the previous chapters). Them the Lord will deliver out of all their troubles. They are the little flock that will be given the kingdom. But the others will not be delivered out of the hands of their kings.
The flock of slaughter, then, contains within itself as within a shell a spiritual seed. And therefore the mandate to the prophet: Shepherd the flock of slaughter. Take oversight over it. Protect and guide it. Exhort it. Proclaim to it God’s Gospel and the promises thereof. Tell it all that the Lord will do. Withhold nothing. For the flock of slaughter houses a spiritual seed. And this seed has ears to hear and hearts to understand.
7. So the prophet, as did all the prophets before him, shepherded the flock of slaughter, therefore the afflicted sheep. So leads the italicized part of this sentence in the original text. In verse 11 the afflicted sheep are plainly the true believers in the flock, so that the meaning of the italic words seems to be: I shepherded the flock of slaughter, I shepherded therefore the afflicted sheep, that is, the true people of God in the flock. Though the prophet shepherds the whole flock of slaughter, the carnal as well as the spiritual Israel, his concern is with the true believers. They alone were capable of being shepherded. They alone have ears to hear and hearts to understand.
The shepherd is in need of a stave. So the first act of the prophet is his taking to himself not one but two staves to which he gives names. The one he callsBeauty and the other Bands. They are not therefore ordinary staves such as any shepherd might bear but staves with as special significance such as for example the bread of holy communion. Jointly they signify the office of spiritual shepherd, the duties that belong thereto, the right to perform these duties and the spiritual qualifications that go with this right. But more must be said. With the names given them of the prophet imposed upon them—Beauty and Bands—they jointly symbolize, as appears from the succeeding verses, the spiritual beauty and unity of the redeemed and glorified flock of God. They also stand for the functioning of our prophet in his office of spiritual shepherd of the flock of God. For the very next statement the prophet makes, after having taken to himself these two staves, is, “And so I shepherded the flock of slaughter.”
8. The only act of his as shepherd to which .the prophet points is his cutting off in one month three worthless shepherds of the flock. He tells us that his soul had been sorely grieved by these rulers. This is cited to shed light on the character of the prophet’s rule as shepherd. He was fearless in his devotion to the cause of his God. But it is also cited to explain the attitude of the reprobated Israel, the carnal sheep, toward the prophet. They abhorred and despised him, so we read in this verse. It may well imply that they tried to do away with him. That it is not revealed who those three cut off shepherds were, makes no essential difference. And therefore it is futile trying to make out who they were. It is also more than likely that the three shepherds were cut off not actually before the eyes of men hut that the events and actions of which these verses speak took place in vision, as was the case with the prophesying of Ezekiel and the resultant shaking and coming together of the dead bones in the midst of the valley (Ezekiel 37:1ff). What is important is that it be understood why the doings reported in the verses under consideration were made to take place be it perhaps in vision. The purpose was to expose the house of Israel in its loathing and hatred of God as revealed in the face of all the prophets and finally in the face of Christ in order that it might be seen that God was fully justified in destroying this house. There will be for the house of Israel a final judgment in which it will pass away as an organized nation. The house of the Jerusalem that kills the prophets and stones them that are sent unto her will be left desolate unto her (Luke 13:34, 35).
9. Such being the reaction of the flock, the carnal Israel, to His ministry, the prophet resolves no longer to shepherd the flock, and gives it over to destruction. “I will not shepherd you,” he says to them, and further, “That which dieth, let it die; and that which is cut off, let it be cut off, and let every one eat the flesh of his neighbor.” This is not an idle wish that originated in the sinful flesh of the prophet and to which he gives utterance moved by carnal anger that was kindled by the reaction of wicked men to his ministry. The prophet curses because he must curse. The Spirit of prophecy is upon him demanding and foretelling through him as His organ the destruction of the haters of God and the despisers of His name. God’s Word is here being spoken, a word, therefore, that always accomplishes what it says.
10. The prophet now takes his staff of Beauty and breaks it in halves. This action with the staff is symbolical. It denotes the Lord’s breaking, annulling His covenant with all the people. As the Lord made no covenant with the heathen, the expression, “all the people,” denotes Israel. But how can the verse speak of the Lords annulling His covenant with Israel? The covenant is the Lord’s. He establishes it in the hearts of His people by a grace that is irresistible. And He keeps covenant trust forever. Never will He become unfaithful to His promises. What therefore the prophet means is that when the Lord will have drawn all His elect out of the carnal house of Israel of the old dispensation, He will take His covenant away from that house. This He will do, because His covenant is only with His elect. It includes only them. Unto them alone are all its promises. And in their hearts alone is it established. This was told this house by Christ, namely, that the kingdom of God is taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (Matt. 21:43).
11. This verse states, “And it was broken in that day.” The reference is to the covenant. It was not already in that day broken actually. It was broken figuratively by the action of the prophet whereby he cut asunder His staff of beauty. To say that this staff with the name beauty imposed upon it symbolized the beauty of the redeemed flock of God is but to say that it symbolized the beauty of God’s covenant with the flock. Therefore the breaking of the staff symbolized the annulling of the covenant in the sense just explained.
In this verse mention is made of the afflicted of the flock that gave heed to the Lord and His prophet. The reference is to God’s believing people in the flock. They knew, spiritually discerned that it was the Word of the Lord, all that the prophet spake, and foretold, made known to them by word and symbol.