One of the most famous symbols associated with our Lord Jesus Christ is that of a shepherd. As the good shepherd, he has laid down his life for us (John 10:11) thereby leaving us an example that we should walk in his steps (1 Pet 1:22-25). Furthermore, as a shepherd he goes before us (John 10:4), putting us forth (Gk “casting us out,” cp John 9:34) into the storms of life, yet skilfully guiding us with the gentleness of his hands.

What a shame it was that his own people saw in him “no beauty to be desired” (Isa 53:2). This ought not to have been so, for their own prophets spoke eloquently of this aspect of the work of Messiah. Thus in the blessing placed upon Joseph, Jacob anticipated the coming of “the shepherd, the stone of Israel” (Gen 49:24) who would spring from Yahweh himself and would produce the living stones of the house of God.

Similarly, Micah the country prophet added his testimony, that he that would be ruler in Israel (Mic 5:2) would “stand and feed [Heb “shepherd”] in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth” (Mic 5:4).

But perhaps the most compelling and descriptive Old Testament prophecy of the work of the Good Shepherd is found in Zechariah 11. Here Zechariah becomes a man of sign depicting in great detail the rejection of the Good Shepherd by the very nation he was sent to save.

Zechariah 9–11

We note from the context that chapter 11 forms part of a triplet of chapters beginning in chapter 9. Following the initial seven night visions (chapters 1–6) and the enacted parables (chapters 7–8), there is an unspecified gap of time before the opening of chapter 9.

We can view the prophecy of Zechariah in the following overview:

The Seven Night Visions

Ch 1:1–6:8 – Introduction and encouragement to those building the house of God

The Enacted Parables

Ch 6:9-15 – The Coronation of the King-Priest

Ch 7 – Deputation from Bethel

Ch 8 – The Restoration of Jerusalem

The Shepherd King

Ch 9 – The Human Conqueror in contrast to Messiah

Ch 10 – The Good Shepherd

Ch 11 – The Scattering of the Flock

The Day of Yahweh

Ch 12 – Israel to seek the Good Shepherd

Ch 13 – Israel cleaned and restored

Ch 14 – The Day of Yahweh cometh

The earlier prophecies of the book are all anchored by dates (e.g. 1:1,7; 7:1 etc) but not so from chapter 9 onwards. In chapter 9:1 we simply read, “The burden of the word of Yahweh.” The same phrase next appears in chapter 12:1, “The burden of the word of Yahweh for Israel.” Hence chapters 9–11 flow together in one great sweep – most likely a number of years after the foundation was laid and the house was built. This section of the prophecy builds to a crescendo culminating in the rejection of the Shepherd King and the scattering of God’s flock.

If we were to further break down this sweep of chapters, we would see the following:

9:1-8 – The Human Conqueror

9:9-12 – Zion’s True King

9:13-17 – The Ultimate Triumph of Zion over Greece

10:1 – The Appeal: Turn unto God

10:2-4 – The Problem and the Solution: The Shepherds of the Flock

10:5-7 – The Victory of the Flock

10:8-12 – The Regathering of the Flock

11:1-6 – The Judgment on the Evil Shepherds (AD70)

11:7-14 – The Rejection of the Good Shepherd

11:15-17 – The Rise of the Idol Shepherd

If the people of Christ’s time could receive it, these chapters served as an important warning to that generation. God, in His foreknowledge, knew that the nation would have an obsession with a military deliverer who could potentially throw off the Roman overlord. On occasions, they attempted by force to take Jesus and make him king (John 6:15). Even his own disciples believed the kingdom “would immediately appear” (Luke 19:11). Zechariah 9 is here to impress the Jews with what really makes us a king – meekness, lowliness, and above all the power to offer salvation to all mankind through his own sacrifice.

Alexander and Christ

For this reason, chapter 9 paints an eloquent contrast between two great kings, both of which would shape the course of world history—Alexander the Great (9:1-8) and the Lord Jesus Christ (9:9-12). One man came riding into Jerusalem upon a mighty steed, his war horse Bucephalus, the other came riding upon a humble ass.

In Alexander we have the epitome of human greatness and achievement. A man of unbounded determination who was everything that mankind rejoices in. In ten short years he conquered the then known world. The conquest of a territory that was about 1.5 million square miles taking in all the territories of countries that we know today as Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, and parts of India and Russia.

But for all his prowess, there was one enemy he could never defeat: death itself. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own life,” asked the Lord Jesus (Mark 8:36).

We should all be familiar with the many points of contrast between Christ and Alexander. But chapter 9 is not simply a contrast between two world monarchs. Alexander the Great shed blood all through the world to conquer the enemy, but of the Lord we are told “by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zech 9:11).

Jesus, like Alexander, shed blood, but in his case it was his own blood. He released the prisoners from the grave, not by conquering them as Alexander did, but by sacrificing himself. This man lost his life but gained the world.

At this point of the prophecy the mood changes. Whereas Messiah has been depicted in glory and splendour (Zech 6:13) as a king upon his throne in previous chapters, now suddenly the vision reveals that he must die. The blood which he spills is the only way to release men and women from sin and death.

Chapter 11 identifies for us the work that the Lord was performing on behalf of the nation and the ‘other sheep’ who he would bring into the fold. He was enacting the work of a shepherd and thereby was to lay down his life for the sheep. It portrays very graphically the conflict that this “seed of the woman” would encounter with a “generation of vipers” who opposed him.

The flock

The dominating theme of these chapters concerns the flock. The idea commences in Zechariah 9:16 and reoccurs throughout chapters 10 and 11 (10:2,3; 11:3,4,5,7,8,11,15,17). In fact, it marks another shift in the focus of the prophecy. Until now, Zechariah has accentuated the themes of building and constructing. He saw walls, foundations, temples, and cornerstones. Now he sees a flock, and we ask why this theme of saving the flock is so prominent. The answer must surely be that although God seeks to rebuild the walls of His city, He seeks more to build the hearts and characters of His people. The development and guidance of the flock through the vicissitudes of life—these are the matters which must also take precedence in ecclesias today.

There was a critical need for this focus at this point in Zechariah’s prophecy as the nation had entered yet another tumultuous point in its history. Zechariah 10:1-2 adds a critical piece of information giving us the possible timing of these events: “Ask ye of Yahweh rain in the time of the latter rain; so Yahweh shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to everyone grass in the field. For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd.”

Note that the subject of verse 2 is all in the present tense—the idols were speaking vanity, the diviners were seeing lies, the flock was troubled because there was no shepherd.

The final phrase of 10:2 clearly implies that leaders like Haggai, Joshua and Zerubbabel had either passed off the scene or were no longer effective. We know that Haggai was already an old man when the exile began. But whatever the reason, the health of the nation was in jeopardy because there was no shepherd (Zech 10:2). This confirms our suggestion that chapters 9–11 were written sometime after the temple had been completed.

Zechariah was perhaps the last one left who was seeking to turn the nation back to God. This point will become a key factor in the subsequent chapter. Gone were the leaders and pioneers; the flock was wandering around like lost sheep and some leaders were even appealing to idols, so soon after the return from Babylon. How tragic! For this reason God says, “Mine anger is kindled [present tense] against the shepherds” (Zech 10:3). They were false shepherds leading the flock astray. In fact, they were doing the very opposite of what God had done for the nation. Yahweh had redeemed and visited His flock, bringing them all the way back from Babylon, and now these shepherds were returning the nation to elements of Babylonian worship, neglecting to provide the proper example and direction for the sheep.

Leadership

Is there a parallel to today? Our pioneers who laboured faithfully to revitalise the truth have fallen asleep; where are the leaders and the shepherds of today? Speaking in a context of shepherding the flock, Peter exhorts the elders “to feed the flock of God [Roth: “to shepherd the beloved flock of God”] which is among you [not under you], taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre [personal aggrandizement], but of a ready mind” (1 Pet 5:2).

In an age where leadership is discouraged, each ecclesia needs brethren to willingly stand up and accept the responsibility of caring for the flock, doing so with an eager mind. There must be a readiness to spend and be spent in the service of the Truth (2 Cor 12:14-15). The word for “feed” that Peter uses in 5:2 is poimanata, meaning “to tend or pasture.” In fact, it is the same word Jesus used to Peter himself when he charged him to “feed [poimaine] my sheep.” Peter exhorts that these gentle qualities so clearly seen in the life of the Lord (Mark 9:36; John 13:25), be shown by those who lead the ecclesias. Leaders must not stand apart or be aloof from those they serve, but work with and amongst the flock of God.

But elders are not the only members who have this key responsibility. Peter continues by counselling the younger sheep to submit themselves unto the elders (1 Pet 5:5). “Younger” does not denote merely age but youth in training or experience. In an age where independent thinking is encouraged, it is the divine injunction that those who are younger in the ecclesia should be subject unto the will and judgment of the elders. Generally, they have a better understanding of the Word, and wider experience in its practical outworking of life and therefore are to be given “double honour” (1 Cor 16:15-16; 1 Thess 5:12,13; 1 Tim 5:17-19; Heb 13:7,17,24).

The healthy growth of the body of Christ is contingent upon all doing their part. Elders, as shepherds, must care and watch for the flock (Heb 13:17). Sheep should accept the guidance and direction of elders who give the lead. Ecclesial life, frankly, cannot work when selfishness from either shepherds or sheep enters into the sheepfold.

This was the problem in Zechariah’s time. Yahweh’s answer to this self-centred group of leaders was to outline the care that He will undertake for His flock as their Shepherd. Beginning with chapter 10:4 and climaxing with the giving of his own Son in chapter 11, a stark contrast is presented between Yahweh and the shepherds of Israel.

This is epitomised in the following statements from chapter 10 delineating Yahweh’s care for the flock: 

10:6 – I will strengthen

10:6 – I will save

10:6 – I will bring them again

10:8 – I will hiss [Heb ‘whistle or pipe’ i.e. as a shepherd] for them

10:10 – I will bring them again

10:12 – I will strengthen them in Yahweh

This indeed is the work of a great shepherd who regathers the flock of Israel (whom the elders despised) which had been scattered into the four corners of the earth. Over the course of 40 years (Ezek 20:36; Mic 7:14-15) Christ will use Elijah and the Saints as pastors, according to his own heart, who will feed Israel with knowledge and understanding (Jer 3:15). Slowly but surely they will come one of a city and two of a family unto Zion (Jer 3:14) that they might be redeemed (Zech 10:8).

Yahweh’s indictment against the false shepherds who were derelict in their duty ought to come as a profound warning. Ecclesial tasks in whatever capacity ought not to be taken flippantly or lightly. Where we underperform or fail to give the proper effort, we will surely be held accountable for our actions.

What was Yahweh to do with His flock? The opening verses of chapter 10 imply that once more the land was experiencing drought, but the leaders were returning to idolatry and the nation was scattered like sheep without a shepherd. This drought was a type of their own spiritual barrenness (cp Deut 11:17). So what would God do to save His flock? The answer is seen in chapter 11. He will graciously send forth his own servant, giving the nation a final chance to turn to Him.

How similar are the circumstances of the Lord’s first advent to Zechariah’s time. The priesthood was corrupt (Luke 3:2), the leadership had failed (Matt 15:14), and the nation was described as the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). Only a remnant remained who were holding steadfastly to the truth. It is for this reason that God now makes Zechariah a wonderful type of the Lord. As Joshua and Zerubbabel were both “men of sign” (Zech 3:8, margin), so too Zechariah falls into the same category. He portrays the Good Shepherd of Israel.

What more could be done for God’s vineyard? Lastly, he would send unto them his own Son; surely they will reverence Him! What treatment would he receive? Zechariah 11 is a chapter all about relationships. The relationship between the Lord as the Good Shepherd and the sheep who he was sent to save.

In considering this, we cannot help but ponder our own relationship with our Lord. Is he a reality in our lives? Do we hear his voice and follow him? Above all, Zechariah 11 will pose this question: what price do we place on his love for us?