They weighed for my price 30 pieces of silver

Zechariah the prophet was one of the many faithful servants Yahweh sent into his vineyard for the benefit and nurture of His people; a shepherd who had given his life in service to his sheep, being one who was instrumental in the rebuilding of the house of God in troublous times. With the eye of his God upon him, he steadfastly encouraged the nation against Samaritan opposition (Ezra 5:1; 6:14) and even after faithful companions had fallen asleep, he continued to minister alone, suffering rejection in the house of his friends and particularly from the ruling class.

The final question he was to pose to the nation that denied him was plain: “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So, they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” (Zech 11:12). Zechariah was not seeking compensation for his labours but in one last-ditch effort sought a response from his sheep by asking, ‘What value do you place on my work as your shepherd?’

Frankly, they would have been better off giving him nothing at all, or at the very least they could have acknowledged his tireless endeavours on their behalf. But instead they chose to carefully weigh out thirty pieces of silver as an affront to the man and his work, because this sum of money was the compensation due to a slave who had been gored by an ox (Exod 21:32). This contemptuous action by the leaders of Judah demonstrated that Zechariah meant nothing more to them than hired help!

Though grossly insulting both to the prophet and to God, Zechariah is further established as a great type of the Good Shepherd, who in order to effect atonement for the poor of the flock “took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). In his death Christ was figuratively gored by a bull—a fitting symbol of the leaders of Jewry in Psalm 22:12-13. Like Zechariah, they lightly esteemed him, mocking his claim to be the Son of God, and while for a time there was a great popularity with the crowd, the real estimation of Jesus by Jewry is manifested in their rejection of him.

The dramatic events of that day were to cast a giant shadow forward to the very night in which our Lord was betrayed when the Jews paid this precise amount to Judas (Matt 26:15). How marvellous it is to know that as carefully concealed as Judas’ intrigue was; as secret as he thought the secluded receipt of his thirty pieces of silver may have been; the Scriptures had foretold his deception hundreds of years earlier, right down to the exact amount! How comforting to know of Yahweh’s foreknowledge and infinite control despite the best attempts of man’s freewill to do otherwise!

When we consider that the chief priests controlled the entire revenue of the temple, including many tens of thousands of pieces of silver, thirty pieces of silver was a paltry sum indeed for an extremely greedy man with so much bargaining power; and at first glance, the gospel records appear at variance on this point.

Matthew is the only writer that records the exact amount and states that the thirty pieces of silver were given to him (Matt 26:15), for clearly Judas had them to give back (Matt 27:3); whereas Mark and Luke seem clear that he was merely promised money (Mark 14:11) or they “covenanted” (same word as “promised” in Mark 14:11) to give him money (Luke 22:5).

The solution to this enigma is that the thirty pieces of silver was merely a token gesture, a down payment to show good faith, and the real money would arrive later following a successful delivery of the prize they sought. After all, the high priest and his class were savvy Sadducean businessmen, and Judas a traitorous thief. It was not likely that they would be so generous as to give the full amount up front to a man of such an obviously dubious character.

In silent prayer, Zechariah would have come before his God seeking counsel and God instructed him to take the thirty pieces of silver and “Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of Yahweh” (Zech 11:13). Yahweh’s words “a goodly price” are bitterly ironic, illustrating the divine view of their valuation, even though he was the shepherd whom God identified with Himself. Undeterred, Zechariah was compliant with God’s will to the end, and cast the silver down in the courts of the temple, which he had helped build with his own hands that the potter might have them. By this act he anticipated another action of Judas (Matt 27:5).

That which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet

Another difficulty presented is Matthew’s citation of these events in his gospel record where he attributes the words not to Zechariah but to Jeremiah: “Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy 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 did value; and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me” (Matt 27:9-10).

The answer lies in the fact that Matthew is combining two prophecies, one from Jeremiah, and one from Zechariah. The words from Matthew aren’t directly taken from Zechariah (or anywhere else). Instead they deliberately paraphrase Zechariah’s words to include a reference to the potter’s field, mentioned (as Matthew indicates) in a prophecy of Jeremiah. Zechariah 11:13 refers to a potter, but not to a potter’s field.

This matter of the potter’s field is drawn from Jeremiah 19:2, “And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee.” When noting the number of connections between Jeremiah 19 and Judas’ field of blood we ascertain the reason for Matthew’s mention of Jeremiah.

 

Jeremiah stood by the East Gate (Jer 19:2). The word “east” signifies “potsherd” (Strong’s). The potter’s (Zech 11:13) field (Matt 27:7).
Jeremiah breaks a potter’s vessel in this field as a symbol of the breaking (Heb burst asunder) of the people (Jer 19:6,11). Judas also “burst asunder” in this field, like a broken pot emptying its contents (the Greek for “burst asunder” is used in Acts 1:18 of the rupturing of Judas’ bowels).
The field is renamed “Tophet” or the “Valley of the son of Hinnom” to “The Valley of slaughter” and designated a burial place (Jer 19:6). This is the function given to the potter’s field (Matt 27:7), tying in with Peter’s commentary on “The field of blood” in Acts 1:20 where he quotes from Psalm 69:25, “Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man live therein.” The New Testament descriptions of the potter’s field have their counterpart in Jeremiah 19.
Like a defiled temple vessel that had to be smashed (Lev 15:12), the nation was likewise unclean because they had “filled this place with the blood of innocents” (Jer 19:4). Judas proclaimed, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matt 27:4).
Jeremiah’s actions were performed before the “ancients (Heb elders) of the priests and the ancients of the people” (Jer 19:1). Judas brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the “chief priests and elders” (Matt 27:3).
Jeremiah said of the potter’s field (19:3) “Behold I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle.” Judas was to come to an end here, which Acts records as going “to his own place” (Acts 1:25).
Jeremiah’s response to the hardhearted nation was to “deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword” (Jer 18:21). A citation from Psalm 109:9-10. Psalm 109 concerns Judas (Acts 1:20).

 

By these parallels we recognize that Matthew sources Jeremiah but skilfully combines Jeremiah’s prophecy with Zechariah’s. This matter of a ‘combined citation’ is not an isolated example; in Mark 1:2-3, two prophecies (Isaiah and Malachi) are quoted yet only Isaiah is mentioned.

The repudiation of the work of Zechariah by the false shepherds of his day found its ultimate counterpart in one man, Judas, who epitomized the overall spirit of the nation in their rejection of Messiah and in their insulting evaluation of his credentials. Despite the extensive efforts of Christ over 3½ years to save him, he was as unsuccessful with Judas as he was with the nation as a whole. They were like a marred potter’s vessel refusing to yield to the Shepherd’s voice, tripping over that stumbling stone (Isa 8:14).

Let us never lose sight of the fact that we can be a Judas. It can readily happen to us! It is easy to be impervious to divine correction, to sit through exhortations and study classes and remain unchanged or think that our sins are far too great for even Yahweh to forgive! There is nothing that anyone has done that cannot be forgiven by the Creator of the world. We just need to have the faith that Judas lacked. If we have just as much as a grain of mustard seed, God is able to take the immovable mountain of our sins and cast them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-20).

The penetrating question we must ask ourselves in view of Zechariah’s words is this: What value do we place on our Lord Jesus Christ? What is he worth to us?

In order that this critical point may not be lost upon us, Matthew and Mark utilize the context of Zechariah to paint an eloquent contrast between two differing assessments of the value of the Lord, the first being from Mary and the other from Judas.

According to John, the famous anointing of Jesus in the house in Bethany occurred six days before the Passover (John 12:1), yet Matthew and Mark appear to record the anointing as taking place two days before the Passover (Matt 26:2; Mark 14:1-3). However, Matthew is careful to state that he is not setting the events in proper chronological sequence, prefacing his account by stating, “Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper” (Matt 26:6).

Evidently Matthew and Mark place the action by Mary out of chronological order to link it with the betrayal of Judas, both to highlight that the anointing culminated in his decision to betray the Lord, and to provide a powerful contrast between their varying attitudes concerning Christ.

As a member of the “poor of the flock” (Zech 11:11), Mary capitalized on her fleeting opportunities before the Lord’s death by breaking an alabaster jar full of highly valuable ointment of spikenard and anointed the feet (John 12:3), body (Matt 26:12) and head (Matt 26:7) of Jesus—an action representing her supreme love and honour of him.

Unlike Judas, her motives were entirely pure, in fact nard (Mark 14:3, Gk pistikos) in this passage is the basic word for faith! This was not a random or unplanned emotional act on Mary’s part but a faithful discernment of what few in the nation (Luke 18:31-34, Judas especially!) realized concerning what shortly lay ahead for the Lord in his death and burial. She therefore desired to demonstrate that her heart and mind were with him as the shadow of a cross was to appear a few days hence.

This act prompted a wretched chide from Judas: “To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor” (Matt 26:8-9; Mark 14:4-5, cp John 12:5). Even the disciples shared this sentiment and murmured against her, bringing a sharp rebuke from Jesus: “Why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good (Gk beautiful) work on me” (Mark 14:6). A beautiful and good work (Eph 2:10) it was indeed, for Mary had done “what she could” when she could do it.

30 pieces of silver or 300 pence?

Fittingly, it was the avaricious Judas who appraised the value of Mary’s ointment at three hundred pence (Mark 14:5), equivalent to 300 working days (Matt 20:2) or roughly a year’s wages! This would not include the value of the jar itself, plus the immense effort required to bring such a costly ointment from far away to the land of Israel. This lavish devotion by Mary revealed the inestimable price (Eph 3:8) she considered the Lord to be worth. It was so great, and such an inspiration to him, that the Lord, whose compliments in the gospel records are few and far between, proclaimed, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matt 26:13).

But what price would we pay for him? What is the truth really worth to us? The answer to this question is not so much determined in monetary contributions, but by the amount of time and energy we expend each day in our Master’s service. Do we view the Truth and its responsibilities as an encumbrance, a mere thirty pieces of silver as it were which prevents us from doing other things we’d rather do? Or do we, like Mary, esteem our Lord as far more valuable than even a year’s worth of wages, doing what man may regard as impractical in order to pay proper homage to him?

Paul’s words are noteworthy in this regard: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ (Phil 3:8).

No sooner had Mary’s action been completed than the record places her spirit in juxtaposition with Judas: “then…Judas…went unto the chief priests…And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver” (Matt 26:14-15). It seems that Judas had purchased the potter’s field with this covenant money, which Luke aptly terms the “reward of iniquity” (Acts 1:18). Yet overwhelmed with regret and self-loathing, realizing now that he should have remained with Christ, Judas cast down the pieces of silver in the temple as Zechariah had prefigured, and went out and hanged himself (Matt 27:5).

He who had complained so miserably about waste (Matt 26:8; John 12:5) had ended up wasting his own life (John 17:12 – “lost” is the same word as “waste” in Matt 26:8).

Let us learn from Mary and allow the striving, urgency and strong feeling of a positive approach to the Truth to become paramount. There can be no wavering or indifference, no putting off of responsibility, for there are only two choices so far as Christ is concerned—complete commitment, or none at all. This alone will be our answer to the question the Lord will soon ask us: What value did you place on my love for you?