Awake, O sword, against the shepherd; and against a man, my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd and the sleep shall be scattered, and I will stretch out my hand upon the little ones.
Here again there is an abrupt change of subjects. The prophet at once passes from recounting the evasions of a false prophet interrogated regarding wounds between his hands to another representation of the good shepherd. It is this shepherd’s fourth appearance in this discourse. In the 9th chapter he is the lowly king of Zion who comes to his people, as riding upon the colt of an ass. In the 11th chapter he is set forth as an object of abhorrence to the flock of slaughter. Here there is a distinct allusion to his suffering. The implication of Zech. 12:10 is that he is pierced by the covenant people. In the verse now under consideration he is brought into focus as Smitten of God through men’s agency. That the good shepherd is Christ has already been established on the basis of the New Testament Scriptures. Attention may yet be called to the fact that the words, “Smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered,” were quoted by Christ in. a somewhat modified form to show that all His disciples would be offended because of Him that night because it was written (Matt. 26:31). Hereby He again identified Himself with the good shepherd of our prophet’s vision.
The verses 7-9 form a distinct passage closely connected with the 14th chapter, the final section of this prophecy. The predictions and promises are the same, with this difference that in the 14th chapter they receive a fuller treatment. The good shepherd will be smitten—the church, centrally Christ, will come in the crucible of affliction. A way of escape will be opened for the surviving remnant, which will be further refined and ultimately given the victory. Christ will reign over the whole earth, and Jerusalem will be exalted. These are here the promises, the germ of which was the protevangel that was proclamated in the first days of paradise. These promises, therefore, are not new in the sense that they were now being proclaimed for the first time. They form the themes of all the prophets upon which each of them as God’s organ shed a new light, and in the totality of whose discourses they continued to unfold through the ages of the old dispensation.
The first part of verse 7 is a command, the speaker of which can be none other than God. The command is addressed to the sword, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd . . . smite the shepherd.” Actually addressed are the persons appointed to take up the sword against the shepherd, which does not mean that they are, being mandated by an audible voice from heaven. In the context these persons are the inhabitants of Jerusalem including the people who later as God’s penitent ones will mourn for him whom they have pierced. According to the counsel of God they must slay His shepherd at a time appointed of God in His counsel. And as this time is now at hand, God speaks, “Slay my shepherd,” and it is done. For it is God who speaks—God whose word—the word of His power—never returns to Him void but always accomplishes what it says. Not that He can be charged with being the creator or author and in this sense the cause of the great sin that the smiting of the shepherd involves the smiters. God is not the creator of sin. Sin has not its origin in Him. But He did create the smiters, when He created the first man in His image. And, therefore, being His creatures, they exist solely by His power. In Him do they live and move. They have in Him their very being. What, therefore, could be easier for Him than by the word of His power turn the hearts of the smiters to hate and smite the shepherd without implicating Himself in their great sin or destroying their accountability to Him, as once by the same word of His power He had turned the hearts of the Egyptians to hate and oppress His people (Ps. 105:25)? Surely the good shepherd was given over by the word of God’s power in accordance with the counsel of His will, which is sovereign. It was God who reigned at Christ’s cross and not men and devils. The cross, therefore, was not an accident. How, if it were, could it be true that He was wounded for our transgressions? If by the word of God the sword was wakened to smite the shepherd, it is correct to say that it was God who smote Him and not men except as His responsible agents.
The sword is bidden to awake against “my shepherd,” and “against a man, my fellow.” This shepherd is God’s. He is God’s in a sense and for reasons that no other shepherd is God’s. Of all men He alone as man was not begotten by another man but was born of a virgin overshadowed by God’s Spirit. Also in His humanity, therefore, He is the only begotten Son of God. He is God’s as the Lamb that took away the sin of the world, for the human nature in which He bore the penalty of our sins was prepared for Him of God in the womb of the virgin. He is God’s as the Christ, for He was anointed of God. He is God’s as our sanctification, justification, wisdom, and redemption, for so He was made of God unto us. He is God’s as the resurrection, for God raised Him up. He is God’s as our life, for the fullness of the godhead dwells in Him bodily. He is God’s as head over all things in the church. For God gave him for this purpose. He is God’s as one who reigns over the whole earth, for God exalted Him. He is God’s as one with a name above every name, for God gave Him this name. He is God’s as the mediator of an eternal covenant, for the covenant is God’s. He is God’s shepherd and as such the shepherd of Israel, the good shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.
And He is God’s fellow, friend, companion. With God He walks. With God is His fellowship. He is of the party of God and so He takes God’s side always. The zeal of God’s house consumes Him. To do the will of His Father is His meat and drink. To fight the good fight is His only ambition, to love God and run the, way of His commands His only delight. And He knows no sin at ah. He is holy, undefiled and separated from sinners and, therefore, capable of a perfect devotion. Such a one is God’s shepherd. Surely He is God’s fellow, He alone of all men. That the Lord should waken the sword against Him! Surely, yes. For He is Jehovah’s shepherd and as such the shepherd of a flock ill-deserving and condemnable in itself for whose sins it pleases God to make His soul an offering. Unjust? No. For the good shepherd Himself is God, so that, in being smitten, it is God in the assumed humanity being smitten of God, or rather God smiting Himself for the sins of the sheep. Amazing? Yes, amazing love.
But if the shepherd is to be smitten, what is to become of the sheep? They will be scattered. Also for the fulfillment of this prophecy we must go to the Gospel narratives. When the multitude, with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the elders of the people is come and lay hold on Jesus, all His disciples forsake Him and flee. So is the shepherd smitten and are the sheep scattered. They are scattered. They forsake Jesus and flee.
Yet these men, the disciples of the Lord, are not cowards. Nor are they lacking in devotion to their Master. They are resolved to fight for Jesus to the death. Peter gives the signal, for the attack. He begins swinging his sword and neatly shaves off the ear of one of them in the multitude. Doubtless the stroke was meant to split the scalp of the victim. But the zeal of Peter draws from Christ the sternest rebuke, “Put up thy sword into the sheath,” says Jesus to him, “the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” Presently Christ is taken, bound, and led away. So it goes with Him because He allows not His followers to fight for Him and refuses to call in the help of His Father, which He could have done and the Father would have responded by giving Him more than twelve legions of angels. Or He, Himself, could have vanquished the adversary simply by the breath of His mouth. But He forbears and voluntarily gives Himself over into their hands. Said He not to the soldiers who came to take Him captive, “If it is me that ye seek, it is I.” What can be plainer than that He wants them to lay hold on Him? To the disciples His behavior is soul-agonizing. It confounds and grieves them. For He has blasted by His behavior all their hopes and made all their expectations to perish. This throwing Himself into the hands of His enemies, what can it mean for His cause but that it perishes with Him. And doubtless they also fear for their own lives. So they all forsake Him and flee. The sheep are scattered.
The root of all their troubles is their misconception of His calling. They imagined that He was come to restore Israel’s earthly kingdom with its headquarters in the earthly Jerusalem where, they fondly had imagined, He would reign as Israel’s king with them at His side as His chief ministers, and with all His and their enemies His footstool. How they would bask in the light of His glory. They understood not that this earthly kingdom, seeing that it was but shadow, had served its purpose now that Christ was come, and that, therefore, it was cm the verge of vanishing away together with the rest of the shadows of the law. They understood not that the real kingdom is heavenly—the kingdom that Christ was now about to establish by His sufferings and death upon the cross. That Christ ought to suffer these things and to enter His glory was not in all their thoughts.
The shepherd is smitten and the sheep are scattered. Surely, the sheep are scattered. This is true in the first instance of the eleven disciples. It is true of them in the hour that Jesus gives Himself over into the hands of His enemies. Then are the sheep scattered. But it continues to be true of them also in the hour of Jesus’ trial in the courts of His earthly judges. Then, too, are the sheep scattered. It continues to be true of them in the hour of Christ’s crucifixion and in, the hour that He lies in the tomb. Then, too, are the sheep scattered. If so, their being scattered must mean something more than that they locally forsake Jesus and flee in the hour that” the enemies lay hands on Him. As was pointed out, Christ sees in their being offended because of Him the fulfillment of the prophecy, “And the sheep shall be scattered.” This tells us wherein their being scattered really consisted. It reveals to us what it really means that they be scattered. It does not mean that in the dark hours that intervene between their laying hands on Jesus and His resurrection His disciples are locally separated from one another. Surely also during these hours they seek each other’s presence. That in these hours they are scattered means, according to Christ’s own words, that they are offended because of Him. And this in turn means first that, when they see Jesus delivering Himself into the hands of the adversary, and that especially when they see Him hanging on a cross, they are amazed, confounded and troubled in their hearts. This is what it means that they be scattered. That they be scattered means, further, that doubt rises in their minds as to whether He really is the Messiah. Once more, that they be scattered means that their faith nearly ceases. That it does not cease is only owing to the fact that Christ prays for them. Again, that they be scattered means that in these terrible hours they walk in thick darkness. The Scriptures plainly foretell that Jesus must suffer and die for the sins of His people. The sufferings and death of Christ, His resurrection and glorification and the resurrection and glorification of His church with Him is the very theme of all prophecy. Besides, they have the instruction of Jesus. And He has spoken plainly. “Behold,” he said to them at the close of His public ministry, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him, and the third day he shall rise again” (Matt. 29:18-19).
They have then, the sure word of prophecy that, as a light, shines in a dark place. But they do not take heed unto it. As blinded by their unbelief and carnal prejudices, they do not comprehend the light. And not comprehending the light, they walk in total darkness in those first hours. It need not be doubted that they are together locally. But though together; they have no true and conscious fellowship with God and with one another. For characteristic of the darkness is that it separates. How can their fellowship be with God and with one another as long as they be offended because of Jesus. Walking in darkness, each of them walks alone, silent as the grave. For what have they subjectively in common to rejoice in and to speak about? Not the Christ about to rise again with His people from the dead. For they believe not that He will rise again. Not the Father as the God of their redemption. For they have no understanding of the meaning of the shedding of Christ’s blood. All they have in common is a great grief that each of them nurses in silence. If any of them does open his mouth to speak, it is for voicing thoughts of unbelief and despair. To see how true this is we need but listen to the unbelief of Thomas, “Except I see in his hands the print of his nails and put my finger into the print of his nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” This is his reply to the glad tidings that Christ is risen. Indeed the sheep are scattered. And yet, certainly, they are reborn men with a genuine and imperishable, love of the Savior. But they are woefully lacking in understanding. For the Spirit is not yet. And they are sinful men. And oh, that terrible cross! But seeing that they have the word of prophecy, how is this amazing unbelief and ignorance on their part, particularly in these first hours, to be accounted for? We must end also with this unbelief and ignorance of the disciples in God. He willed it. And doubtless His principal purpose was to show us how needful it was that the crucified, resurrected and glorified Christ receive the promise of the Holy Spirit and pour out His Spirit on the church that she might be led of Him in all truth.
Surely the sheep are scattered. And the scattered sheep must be thought of as including all the people of God that were living during that dreadful hour when Christ was on the cross. The sight of the crucified Savior amazed, confused and confounded them all. All were just as bewildered, and just as profoundly grieved and disappointed. For Christ was being cut off in the midst of His days, and the earthy kingdom of Israel had still to be restored. And that, they all believed, was to be the task of the Messiah, when He should have come. So He could not be the Messiah after all, as they all had so hoped. That these were the cogitations of all of them is plain from the communications of the wayfarers to the village of Emmaus. Said they to Jesus, “The chief priests and rulers delivered him to be condemned toe death, and have crucified him, but we trusted that it had been he which should deliver Israel.” The proof that the redemption of Israel by is the reply of Jesus, His blood was not in their thoughts “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
The sheep are scattered. Should not the scattered sheep be thought of as including all the people of God, the elect that were still to be born through the ages to come? Thus be thought of as including also us? For had we been living in the hour of His crucifixion, Tour reaction would have been identical to that of the disciples. We would have been just as offended because of Christ, just as amazed, confounded; disappointed and grieved, just as unbelieving and scattered. Is not saying this just as right as the teaching of the apostle to the effect that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us?
And may the saints that were already in heaven at that hour be counted among the spectators of the crucified Christ? If so, were they, too, amazed but without sinning? Or had they attained to a perfect knowledge? This is not likely seeing that the Holy Spirit still had to be poured also on the church in heaven. It is not likely also in view of the following: Of the salvation that Christ by His suffering and death on the cross was preparing for His people, the prophets of the old dispensation inquired and searched diligently. They searched what the Spirit of God that was in them did signify, when He, the Spirit, testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. In this same connection it is stated that the angels desired to look into these things (I Pet. 1:10ff).
The shepherd is smitten and the sheep are scattered. But this is by no means the end of it. For the verse with which we are now occupied contains a promise. It is this: But I will stretch out my hand upon the little ones. If it is the Lord who smites the shepherd and who scatters the sheep, it is also He and none other who gathers them again. He gathers them by stretching out upon them His hand. This hand of the Lord is the crucified, resurrected and glorified Christ. He made a beginning of gathering His scattered sheep immediately after His resurrection. He did so by assuring them in their hearts through His appearances that He was risen indeed from the dead and that He, therefore, is the Messiah indeed, who by His sufferings and death on the cross truly did redeem Israel from all his sins. And through the ages He continued to gather His scattered sheep by that same Gospel as sanctified unto their hearts by His Spirit that as the glorified Christ He poured out upon His church when the day of Pentecost was fully come. And the scattered sheep, as gathered, are one by a conscious and flowering and common faith, in Him their risen Lord. And walking in the light, they have fellowship with God through the risen Christ and with one another. And they are no longer offended because of Him but in His cross alone they now glory.
They are called the “little ones” and with reason. The pride of their hearts has been thawed out by His grace. In Christ’s God alone, therefore, do they put all their confidence and from Him alone do they expect all their salvation.
But also this prophecy will not be finally fulfilled until the church appears with Christ in glory.