The shepherding of the flock of slaughter
Let us briefly pass in review the thought of the verses in this section already treated (4-11). The prophet is commanded to shepherd the flock of slaughter by which must be understood the Israel of the old dispensation both according to its reprobated husk and elect kernel. It is called the flock Of slaughter because according to the good pleasure of His will God will give its men each into the hand of his neighbor and into the hand of his king who through the years will, afflict and kill it until it be destroyed as an organized nation. Surely it will perish because of its unwill to repent of its wickedness. But this unwill will enter in only as the secondary reason of its fall and ruin. Time and again in the centuries of the past it was covered with the cloud of God’s anger. Then war and pestilence or famine was its portion or it was sold into the hand of its enemies. Once it was transplanted to a foreign country. But always the cloud was lifted and the old condition returned. But now it approaches a judgment that will be final, so that in it the nation as a typical kingdom will disappear from the stage of history forever. The prophet must shepherd the flock of slaughter that the spiritual Israel may be instructed and comforted and the carnal Israel hardened and thereby prepared for the final judgment. So he takes to himself two staves and calls the one beauty and the other bands. Jointly they signify the Gospel in its beauty and pleasantness and the oneness of the ideal flock as this is effected by the Gospel as sanctified to the hearts of the redeemed sheep by Christ’s Spirit. As equipped with these staves, the Gospel of God—another equipment there is not the prophet shepherds, the flock of slaughter. The shepherd must soon experience the wrath of the carnal Israel. In one month he cuts off three unworthy shepherds and for this they abhor him. Deeply grieved he lets it be known that he will no longer shepherd them and forthwith breaks with them the covenant.
12. All is now over. But before the shepherd takes leave of the flock of slaughter, he confronts them with a request. If it seemeth good in your eyes, give me my wages; if not, forbear, is now his word to them. Surely the flock is under the obligation to provide in the material necessities of its shepherds. But this is not what this shepherd means. He is asking them to set a price upon him as shepherd and thereby indicate what in their estimation he is worth. He does not command them. If they prefer not to commit themselves, it e is well. There is purpose in his allowing them to decide. Then they will be revealing the inward man in evaluating him, and it will become evident how intensely they hate God. For then they will be acting solely from subjective compulsion. And therefore, If it seemeth good in. your eyes. And so it does. For their hatred of the good shepherd is too bitter to allow them to pass by the opportunity to show in what low esteem they hold him. They weigh out his wages, thirty pieces of silver. A piece or shekel of silver is equivalent to about 60 cents; thirty pieces to about $18. This was the price of a slave in Israel. If an ox killed a manservant or a maidservant, the owner of the ox had to make restitution by giving to the master of the servant that was killed thirty, shekels of silver.
13. Surely the doing of the apostate Israel bespeaks utter contempt for the good shepherd. It is an insult to the Lord and was also so intended. The Lord does not keep silence. Says He to the shepherd, Cast it to the potter. This is a much discussed phrase. It is not necessary to assume the presence of a potter in the temple, be it for the purpose of repairing or selling dishes. The form of the words of the phrase—cast, violently throw to the potter strongly suggests that it was a proverbial expression for contemptuous treatment like the expression, Throw it to the dogs. If this is correct, the expression discloses how the next statement of the Lord is to be understood, “a goodly price that I was prized of them.” This has the sound of being irony. Doubtless the implication of the utterance is the opposite from the literal sense of its words. What the Lord means is that the price at which He was prized at of them was ignoble, insulting.
What wickedness! what folly! Certainly the shepherds of the section of the scriptures with which we are now occupied is in the first instance Zechariah as representative of all the prophets and the apostles and all the pastors and teachers in the church of the past, present and future. But secondarily this shepherd is God indeed: God is the good shepherd of the flock, the sheep. He chose the sheep in Christ unto everlasting life. And according to His abundant mercy He has begotten them again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an incorruptible inheritance. But the shepherd of these verses is also God revealed in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the good shepherd. For His sheep He laid down His life. That the shepherd of this vision is God and the Christ of God is clear from its language. Who but God may say, “I will not shepherd you, that which dieth, let it die” (Verse 9). And of the works that some of these verses make mention God alone is capable. Who but God can break the covenant; take it away (verse 10), and break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel (verse 14)? It is God and His Christ and not a mere man that the apostates belittle and deride in weighing out their thirty pieces of silver. How can the worth of God be expressed in terms of dollars and cents anyway? It would be blasphemy to weigh out for God’s price the whole world and its treasures multiplied by a countless number of worlds. Can the creature serve as a standard for evaluating God? How can His worth be measured at all, if His good ness be infinite? Appraising Him rightly can only be done by saying that He is the incomparable God, that He is God and none else. And this is to praise and adore Him as the God of our salvation. To think then that these apostates should weigh out for His price thirty pieces of silver. Thirty shekels as their price for God, the Christ of God, His salvation, His covenant, His heavenly kingdom. For this is here the question precisely. What price are they setting upon the Heavenly. They have given their answer: Thirty pieces of silver.
The prophet does as instructed of the Lord. He takes the thirty pieces of silver and Casts them to the potter in the house of the Lord. He may have cast the money away before the eyes of the worshippers in the temple, or may have flung it violently on the floor of the temple and trampled upon it. Whatever he did with it was to shew the Lord’s indignation and to be token that the flock of slaughter was now forsaken of Him. The action with the money had to be performed before the eyes of the leaders and the people. It was done therefore in the temple. For here is where leaders and people congregated.
14. The weighing out of the money as the price for God was the crowning act of insolence. The shepherd therefore does one more thing. It is his final act. He cuts asunder the other staff even bands that, in his own words, I may destroy the brotherhood between Israel and Judah. The two will be divided, separated, Israel from Judah and Judah from Israel. The symbolical action with the staff bands, its being cut asunder, indicates that the separation is to be effected through the breaking of the spiritual ties by which Israel and Judah are bound together to form one brotherhood in Christ. Since Christ is in the loins of Judah, what this means for Israel is that it is to be cut off from Christ. Not that there is to be a falling away of saints, a losing of the new life and the living faith that was once given and falling back into the old state of spiritual death. This is not possible. No saint will be cut off. Surely once a believer always a believer. What is to be cut off is the Israel according to its reprobated husk, the unfruitful branch. Not that this branch as such is in Christ. Yet it will surely be cut off. Every branch in Christ that bears not fruit the Father, the divine husbandman, takes away (John 6:1). However not the individual reprobate but the reprobated family of men is the branch. The Israel to which our prophet in this section of his discourse has reference was such a family. It was the Israel in the point of view of its reprobated husk. The shepherd will cut it off through his taking out of it the last and only surviving believers that are still found in it, the only and very spiritual element—the elect—through which as a family it may be said to be in Christ. The ties of faith and love by which as a family it is in Christ are established with this elect and believing element. Hence when this element is removed, the reprobated family is thereby cut off. With the brotherhood between Judah and Israel destroyed, the carnal Israel will rise up in rebellion against Judah, that is, Christ, as if yore and will end in crucifying Him. Then will it have filled up its measure of iniquity and be ripe for the final judgment.
The character of this entire section, especially the rapidity with which the transactions reported in this section follow each other, warrants the assumption that it confronts us with a revelation that was communicated to the prophet in the form of a vision the scenes of which again meet the eye in the Gospel narratives of the new testament Bible. Only here they confront us as actualities. The Word becomes flesh; Christ, God’s only begotten Son assume the flesh and blood of His brethren in the womb of Mary and is born. As sent by the Father He comes to His own, Israel, His brethren according to the flesh and shepherds the flock. It is the same flock of slaughter. And they loathe and abhor Him, and His soul is grieved on account of them as of yore. Just before His crucifixion, on the night of betrayal, He mandates Judas, What thou doest, do it quickly. For the carnal Israel must give Him His wages. And so they covenant with the traitor for thirty pieces of silver. This is their price for Him. So is He so long a time after marvelously and horribly insulted and belittled in a manner identical to that in which they had insulted and belittled Him in the vision. Contrary to all reason, unbelief will say that it was a hap ascribable to some unknown power, or they will end with this particular and amazing element in His humiliation in the will of man, in the hatred of His enemies. But every one to whom it is given by His mercy to believe says with the evangelist, “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy (Zechariah) the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel set a price on.” Surely in this exhibiting their low esteem of Him, they were moved by unspeakable hatred of Him. But we may not put the period here. It’s a question of the deepest, primary and sovereign reason. In this instance and in every other instance they were fulfilling the Scriptures. For the Scriptures had spoken, the prophet; nay, God had spoken, willed, determined in His counsel, that they weigh that amount of money for His price, and in accordance therewith He hardened them, gave them up through the lusts of their own heart thus to dishonor His only begotten Son. God reigned at the cross of the Savior and not men and devils. And therefore alone it is and can be gloriously true that God was bruising Him, putting Him to grief, making His soul an offering for sin, that He might see His seed.
The Foolish Shepherd, 15-17
15. And the Lord said unto me, Take again the implements of a foolish shepherd.
16. For, behold, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, who shall not visit those that be hidden, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that which is broken, nor feed that which standeth still, but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and the hoofs he shall break off.
17. Woe to the vain shepherd that forsaketh the flock! A Sword shall be upon his arm and upon his right eye. His arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.
Having disclosed the reason of the calamities in store for Israel, the flock of slaughter—Israel despises God, the Christ of God and His salvation—the prophet briefly returns to the subject of Israel’s oppressions by his godless rulers.
The prophet is now requested of the Lord to take again the implements of a foolish shepherd, that is, he again is told to take to himself the implements of a shepherd bit this time those of a foolish shepherd. The articles of a shepherd included a staff; a bag, a pipe, a knife. These other implements are not specified but they must have been designated for a use injurious to the flock. The word fool in its scriptural meaning denotes one spiritually and morally depraved. The fool is without spiritual understanding. His mind is so darkened, warped, by his sinful biases that he can’t see the kingdom of heaven, much less desire it. He says in his heart that there is no God, builds his house upon sand, and wraps himself in deep slumber though he knows that the bridegroom comes. And if the fool is also shepherd behaves toward the flock as does the foolish shepherd in these verses. The prophet must refrain surely from impersonating the foolish shepherd beyond the point of taking to himself his implements. The foolish shepherd will neglect his flock. He will pay no attention to his sheep. The hidden ones, the sheep ill and dying, will not be visited. The young one, the lamb straying from the flock and lost and undone, will not be sought. The wounds of the broken will not be healed. Then there are the standing ones, the lambs that cannot keep pace with the rest of the flock. A good Shepherd carries them in his bosom. Not so this foolish shepherd, but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, that is, the fatlings of the flock. How it fares with the flock is of no concern to him hut he thinks only of his own well-being and to satisfy his own appetite he sacrifices his sheep. The phrase, and the hoofs he shall break, has received various interpretations. Some have thought that the reference is to the cruel practice of driving the flocks over rough roads; some have interpreted it of the intense greed of the shepherd that manifests itself in the tearing to pieces of the hoofs, so as to secure the last morsel of flesh or fat. Others have thought of the tearing of the hoofs, that the sheep might not wander to far, and thus give the shepherd trouble. The first and third interpretations are possible. In either case the picture is that of extreme cruelty. What a contrast his treatment of the flock forms with what Christ is represented as doing in Isaiah 40:11, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
This is the kind of shepherd that the Lord will raise up in the land, because the good shepherd was loathed and rejected. The foolish shepherd is not alone but is representative of the whole body of evil rulers. They will be the scourge of the nation. So God has decreed. As oppressors of His people they serve His counsel and the cause of His covenant. But they mean it not so, but it is in their heart to cut off and destroy Israel. And they shall be held fully accountable. The Lord shall cut them off when they have done serving His purpose.
17. Woe to the vain shepherd that leaveth the flock!
The Lord will give His people into his hands and use him as His rod to lay His strokes upon His people. Yet the Lord’s will for the foolish shepherd is that he be a good shepherd to the flock, the sheep, feeding, leading, and protecting them and, if need be, giving his life for the sheep. But he afflicts and destroys the flock in his foolishness. For he is a hireling, and not the shepherd. The sheep are not his. And so, seeing the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf catches them and scatters the sheep. He is a hireling and cares not for the sheep. The Lord will reward him according to his works. The sword shall be upon his arm. These and the succeeding words should be translated as a curse, A sword upon his arm, and upon his right eye. Let his arm which should have shepherded the flock be cut off, and let the eyes which should have selected good pastures for the flock and watched against peril be destroyed. The concluding sentences give assurance that the imprecations shall materialize. His arm shall be dried up and his eyes hall be darkened. The one cursing is the Lord whose word never returns to Him void. Woe to the vain shepherd! The prediction of his destruction is Gospel to the spiritual seed, seeing that this overthrow spells out their deliverance. The Lord will break His covenant with Israel. He shall be cut off from Judah. Once again the Lord will cover Israel with the cloud of His anger. But only the chaff will be consumed. The remnant will be saved and pass over into the New Testament church.
The good shepherd destroys three shepherds in one month. They must have been godless, profane, desecraters of the covenant. They were cut off through death from the congregation of the Lord. The extermination of all such sinners was required by Israel’s law, Ex. 15:15, 30:33, 31:14; Lev. 7:20, etc. It is not improbable that the reference is not to three distinct individuals but to the three classes of rulers—civil authorities, priests and prophets with the scribes and the Pharisees as the successors of the last named. The three orders are mentioned in Jer. 2:8, where it is stated that the priests said not, Where is the Lord? and the shepherds transgressed against the Lord and the prophets prophesied by Baal. The extermination of the three shepherds must then be regarded as an act repeated over and over. The pronoun I in the phrase “I cut off” signifies Jehovah. He is the destroyer. This divine working was revealed to the prophet in the form of a vision of the cutting off of the three shepherds in one month. “And my soul was grieved on account of them and their soul also abhorred me.” Also the pronouns my and me indicate the Lord, so that the prophet could have written: Thus saith the Lord, Three shepherds I cut off . . I and my soul was grieved . . . The pronoun them looks to the carnal Israel. Over and over it is reported in the Scriptures that the soul of the Lord is grieved with this people. For it is a people that always err in their hearts and that do not know His ways and hear not His voice. It is a people that abhor God and for whom the heavenly is without any worth. The covenant will be taken from them and the kingdom. They will be cut off from the congregation of the Lord.