Of all the great men who depicted the sufferings of Christ, Zechariah the prophet is not normally a name that comes to the top of the list. The spectacular visions of the prophecy have been a source of comfort and edification for saints down through the ages but tucked away in the eleventh chapter of his prophecy is an experience that corresponds identically with that of the Lord himself, and specifically the rejection that he would face from his own people.

As our Lord reclined on the quiet hills of Nazareth with the vast plain of Esdraelon below, there was graphically unfolding before his eyes in the pages of Zechariah a man despised and rejected; a man whose mission was neither understood nor appreciated by the people he came to save. He, like Zechariah, would encounter loneliness and emptiness: “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psa 69:20).

Zechariah 11 belongs to a triplet of chapters outlining the theme of the Shepherd King rejected:

The Shepherd King

Ch 9 – The Human Conqueror in contrast to Messiah

Ch 10 – The Good Shepherd

Ch 11 – The Rejection of the Shepherd and the Scattering of the Flock

Our Lord would be acutely aware from this section of Scripture of the challenges that awaited him from a nation languishing beneath the iron heel of Rome, with even his own disciples believing the “kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11). The nation was looking to fall in line behind another Alexander (John 6:15; 12:13), but refused to focus on their own personal need for a saviour who would bring forgiveness and restoration with God.

The consequence of this sentiment was that most of the nation rejected him, knowing not the time of their visitation (Luke 19:44). Tragically, not even a 31⁄2 year ministry of the son of God Himself who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) could alter the impending fate of God’s people.

As this chapter will also reveal, God’s mercy and compassion does have a limit in the lives of all His children and there will come a point when there will be “time no longer” (Rev 10:6). How much time do we take out of each day to hear the Shepherd’s voice? How much time is left for us to assiduously work in the ecclesia of God, building it up in works great and small?

Zechariah 11 breaks down as follows:

The Judgment of AD70

11:1-6 – The invasion of AD70

The Cause of AD 70

11:7-14 – The rejection of the good shepherd

The Result of AD 70

11:15-17 – The rise of the idol shepherd

The geographic meaning

In the opening verses of the chapter we find the prophet summoning an invader into the land along a specific geographic route (11:1).

Hence the call is made for the opening of the doors of Lebanon, a term which describes the towering peaks of the Lebanese and anti-Lebanese ranges and the wide al-Biqa Valley between. This vast area was ‘opened’ by Yahweh to a nation who came “as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue [Judah] shalt not understand” (Deut 28:49) and it was from the direction of the north and specifically Lebanon that the Roman armies, led by Titus, made their way into Eretz Israel in a campaign beginning in AD63.

The first few verses portray a great forest fire beginning just to the north of Israel. The cedars of Lebanon are the first to catch fire, and by their contagion, ignite fir trees close by. A little further south the oaks of Bashan explode into flame, as fire licks across the forest and then the inferno races onwards into Galilee and finally winds its way down into the Jordan Valley where it consumes the lush undergrowth along the banks of the river. Lions and shepherds alike are described as howling in the face of this fiery onslaught.

The fire at last spreads to the gates of the city of God itself, consuming the “forest of the vintage” or the “impenetrable forest” as The Jerusalem Bible translates it (v2). The impenetrable or defenced (AV margin) forest is an apt description of that which seems invincible and permanent and is a fit symbol of Jerusalem and the temple as they appeared in the eyes of the Jewish people.

Historians argue that Jerusalem ought never to have fallen in AD70, for both the topographical barriers, particularly in the hills and valleys on Jerusalem’s northern side, as well as its ingenious bulwarks and defences, should have made it impervious to attack.

It was Titus’ own declaration that when he entered Jerusalem, “he marveled at the strength of the city and its towers, which the tyrants in frenzy had abandoned. When then he had beheld their solid strength and the greatness of each rock, and how accurately they were fit in, and how great their length and breadth, he said, ‘by the help of God we have warred: and God it was who brought down the Jews from these bulwarks: for what avail the hands of man or his engines against such towers?’” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6:9:1).

But even the defenced forest—that which in the mind of the Jews was so permanent—would “come down” (v2) or, in the words of Jesus, would be “thrown down” (Matt 24:2). A call to Rome had been made.

The religious meaning

Trees and animals often have a symbolic meaning in Scripture and this is the case before us as they describe the classes in the nation responsible for feeding the flock.

The cedar treeEzek17:1-3,12-13The kings and rulers of the nation
The fir treesIsa 37:24Those in lesser authority who look up to the cedar
LionsEzek 19:1-9 (Jehoiachin)Evil rulers
ShepherdsJer 25:34-36Religious leaders

Each of these groups would feel the scorching effects of God’s judgments in AD70 with their so-called “glory” (11:3) going up in flames. The cedars of Lebanon (11:1) were especially symbolic of the glory of the land and the nation, and by an easy transfer of ideas came to stand for the temple itself because cedar wood was used predominantly in the inner construction of the temple (2 Chron 2:8).

The magnificence of the Sadducees’ office, the pomp and prestige of the priesthood, the lush Jordan undergrowth of the temple in Jerusalem in all its dazzling beauty, with which even the disciples were taken (Matt 24:1) would be torched. All the rulers would crawl out from their opulent homes and that which seemed like an impregnable forest would vanish away like smoke (Isa 51:6).

The apostle Peter likewise refers to this fire when speaking of the heavens and earth, which existed in his day (Judah’s Commonwealth which are “now”). He wrote that they are “kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men”, adding that these elements would “melt with fervent heat” (2 Pet 3:7,12).

We may well ask the question as to why God’s anger and wrath was so viciously manifested in these judgments. What merits such awful treatment of His people? The answer lies in the context of Zechariah where God has previously declared “mine anger is kindled [Heb “blazing”, i.e. as a fire] against the shepherds” (10:3). God’s shepherds, both in Zechariah’s day and the Lord’s, abused the flock, caring little for their spiritual welfare and only seeking to serve their own interests.

Zechariah builds on this point by detailing three classes of people (11:5) all of whom had an interest in the flock of Israel:

(Roth. buyers)
The Romans who would take over the land
SellersThe priestly class of Annas and Caiaphas who profited from the people and ‘sold’ them for personal profit—the tables of the money changers placed in the Court of the Gentiles known as “The shambles of Annas”
ShepherdsPharisees and Leaders who had no regard for the welfare of the flock (Matt 23:13-15)

Here was the marketplace of Israel which existed in Zechariah’s time and later was so aptly styled by Christ “a den of thieves” (Matt 21:13). The Roman buyers came to possess the land and in doing so regarded themselves as blameless as they washed their hands over the destruction of the city.

The sellers were those who exploited the poor of the flock that they might fill their own coffers, and justified their deceit by saying “blessed be Yahweh”. In addition, there were the shepherds or the religious leaders of the day, namely the scribes and Pharisees ( John 10:14), who had oversight of the flock but in fact could not have cared less. Their priority was to preserve their station in life.

Let us take heed of the lessons underscored by the prophet, lest we fall after the same example of unbelief. The relationships that we share together as brothers and sisters in the unity of the Truth ought to be treasured. At this time in the world’s history, with many of us being forced apart by circumstance, we need to realise the value of our fellowship one with another. But if we begin to abuse that relationship by sowing discord amongst one another and by putting ourselves and our own interests above the welfare of the ecclesia, we will incur the same wrath as God brought upon Judah in the Lord’s day.

Brethren, we should learn the rather, having been called upon to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who in contrast to the false pity displayed by the false shepherds (11:5), was “moved with compassion [Gk “bowels of pity”] on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matt 9:36).

Lastly, he sent unto them his own son

It is likely that many of the great leaders (Joshua, Zerubbabel, Haggai) had passed off the scene and, like our Lord, Zechariah in his day was the last of the true shepherds whom Yahweh sent into the vineyard to try one last time to save a flock destined for slaughter (11:4).

In this we find a marvellous testimony to the character and mercy of our God. Judah was about to be destroyed. The Romans had been given their invitation (11:1-3) to arise and invade the land, yet God was deliberately keeping these armies at bay, affording the nation a final opportunity to repent.

Despite the fact that the nation was on death row, God nonetheless desired to save some. Like Zechariah, He sent His son into that nation knowing full well the treatment that he would receive given the disposition of the majority, but he did so because the will of God was that none be lost ( John 6:39).

We come together each Sunday morning to remember the sacrifice of Christ, and rightly so, but do we also contemplate the sacrifice of the Father, who also paid an enormous price in witnessing His son being put to death that His will might be fulfilled that men and women might be saved by a Good Shepherd?

The prophet was about to enter into the very feelings of Messiah himself and identify with “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil 3:10). Note the exact parallels between Zechariah’s mission and the Lord’s:

Zechariah 11The Lord Jesus Christ
Feed the flock destined for slaughter (NASB, 11:4)Roman desolation approaching yet still time to repent
I will feed the flock (11:7)The Lord goes forth on his ministry
I have fed the flock (11:7)The Lord completes his ministry (John 17:4)
I cast out three shepherds in one month (11:8)Scribe, Pharisee, & Sadducee whom the Lord soundly defeated in his final month and no man "durst...ask him any more questions" (Matt 22:46)
I will not feed you any more (11:9)Your house is left unto you desolate (Matt 23:38)
They weighed for my price 30 pieces of silver (11:12)Fulfilled in the covenant money received by Judas for his betrayal of Jesus (Matt 26:15)
The poor of the flock that waited upon me knew it was the word of Yahweh (11:11)Anna and Simeon, publicans and sinners, disciples and women that followed etc (John 19:25; Luke 7:29; 8:2-3) - the poor in this world but rich in faith who knew and appreciated his work

The flock of Israel was destined for slaughter (11:4), and since the flock is so designated it suggests that the shepherds’ efforts constituted God’s final appeal. As Jesus says in the parable, God has sent servants into His vineyard, but the husbandmen had ill-treated them; then God sent his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But while recognising the son as the heir, the husbandmen took and slew the son; and as a consequence, God miserably destroyed those wicked men (Matt 21:33-41).

The final opportunity to change has passed. In fact, it appears that Zechariah was told by God to cease his efforts on the nation’s behalf: “I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die, and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another” (11:9). The nation was rejected when it did not respond; it had turned from the Shepherd, and the Shepherd could do nothing more for it.

God, nonetheless, was not to leave the nation shepherdless; they would be committed into the hands of an “idol shepherd” (11:15-17)-one who would not pity them after the same manner which they had treated the son of God.

These chilling words (11:9) saw their fulfilment in the siege of AD70 where famine and want were so much in evidence, mothers in their extreme privation ate their children (Deut 28:53). Furthermore, internecine feuds (11:6) filled the city with bloodshed adding to the horrors of the siege.

At last God gave Israel into the hand of “his king” (11:6), the king that Israel had chosen when they rejected Jesus and said “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). The Romans “smote the land”; mounting a prolonged war of sieges, as town after town was taken. Their campaigns brought desolation to a fruitful land and resulted in the deaths of 1.1 million Jews.

But whilst the high and mighty, the powerful and the great did not welcome Jesus’ ministrations, and even his own ‘received him not’ (John 1:11), the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37). From this group emerged a small company of followers who were drawn to their shepherd. They were the poor and the meek, the lowly of heart who “waited upon” Jesus (11:1). They used their time of opportunity wisely by hearing the shepherd’s voice and following him, doing “what [they] could” (Mark 14:8, note context, 14:11).

We are living on borrowed time; life is very short and misspent time can never be regained. Now is the time to take initiative and throw ourselves into the work of God and into understanding His Word. Where Israel failed, let us heed the warning and succeed. In speaking of “redeeming the time” (Col 4:5), Paul borrowed the idea from the marketplace, “making your market to the full from the opportunity of this life” (Ramsay). We need to “buy up [our] opportunities” (Weymouth). As the alert shopper is ready to use every opportunity to secure the things she needs, so the believer seizes every passing moment as an opportunity for serving God.

“To day”, Yahweh once spoke to Israel, “if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart” (Isa 95: is 7-8). Now is the time of opportunity. Let us redeem the time because one day there will be time no longer to act.