The book of Zechariah has two major divisions. The first section (Chapters 1 – 8) deals with matters of rebuilding the Temple and revival, while the second section (Chapters 9 – 14) deals with the coming Messianic age and the future Kingdom of God. Our text falls under the second section.
Zechariah 11:4-17 constitutes a Prophetic sign-act of the shepherd and the sheep. Typically, sign-acts consist of three sections: first is the exhortation where God commands an action of the Prophet. This is followed by compliance where the Prophet describes the execution of that action. The last thing we see in the sequence is God explaining the meaning and significance of the sign-act.
Our text is peculiar and complex because it has three sign acts: v4-12,14; v13; v15,16. You will see an intertwining of the acts especially the second incorporating itself into the execution part of the first. The clear message in this text is how it presents a good shepherd on one hand and a foolish shepherd on the other (Boda;461-462,2004)
The passage opens with an exhortation from the Lord asking the prophet to take up the role of a shepherd. It is unusual to observe the prophets take up a leadership office. This must be understood in light of the sign-act. IT is interesting to note that Zechariah was from the priestly family before being called into the prophetic ministry. Now in this sign-act, he is asked to be a shepherd projecting before us a type of Jesus who occupied all these offices; priest, prophet and shepherd.
The flock which the prophet is to shepherd are marked for slaughter. There is something deep here that we must unearth. No doubt, sheep are raised for food. You cannot eat them if they are not slaughtered. But the word used for slaughter here suggests a different situation. The picture captured is found in Jeremiah 7:32; 19:6. It speaks of God’s judgment and destruction of Jerusalem as Jeremiah speaks against Israel’s idolatrous practices.
Jeremiah made his prophetic declarations before the community went into exile. The exile was a fulfilment of his prophecy. The problem with the statement coming to the children of Israel at this point is because they had just returned from exile. What then is the problem? Remember, the language used is a reference to judgment.
Another key question is; why will God ask the prophet to shepherd His flock v5? “Their own shepherds do not spare them” v5c. We see shepherds here who do not care about the safety and welfare of the sheep. What they are concerned with is making profit; “praise the Lord I am rich” they said v5b. John 10:11ff tells us that a good shepherd cares and protects their sheep at the expense of their own lives. These shepherds are only interested in monetary gain hence they connived with the butchers to exploit the sheep. It clearly shows them to be bad shepherds who neglect their duties at the detriment of the welfare of the sheep. This aligns with Jesus’ statement in John 10:12 that hired shepherds will always abandon the sheep at the slightest opportunity.
We see the Prophet taking up the responsibility of shepherding the flock as instructed by God v7. Although three other shepherds were there, this good shepherd focused more on the weak and wounded. He led them to places they could find good food and rest. He used the correct tools to execute his duties. The two staffs he used; Favour and Union connect with Psalm 23, “your rod and your staff they comfort me”. Within a short time, the prophet got rid of the three bad shepherds v8a. good will always displace evil.
We can clearly see a community dealing with bad leadership whose interest is personal aggrandizement. They exploit the people for their own personal gains. But the Lord rescued them and brought good leadership which can be clearly seen in the leader’s focus on caring for the downtrodden, protection and provision for the entire community.
This text condemns leadership for the purpose of financial gains or quest for power and control. Service to God and the improvement of wellbeing of man and society should be the centre. We must be honest, truthful and a people of integrity.
Godly leaders by themselves will never be enough. We equally need godly followers (disciple). You must be a good follower before you can be a good leader. Both parties must be rebuked anytime they are going off course. Jesus will not spare the sheep if we stray, there are consequences. Man’s leadership will clearly fail us. We must learn to entrust our lives and total being into the hands of the Good Shepherd; Jesus.
Photo by Wojciech Portnicki on Unsplash