Woe to the Idol Shepherd

Throughout the Scriptures the justice of Yahweh is presented in a poetic fashion: “as man soweth, that shall he also reap,” and perhaps there is no more useful way for Yahweh to teach man about his failings than to reward him even as he has rewarded others.

This is the methodology which Yahweh employed in punishing Israel for their treatment of the Good Shepherd whom He sent unto them. As the pages of Zechariah declare, the nation was rejected when it failed to respond to His voice (Luke 13:34-35); it had turned from the Shepherd and rejected him. God nonetheless was not to leave the nation shepherd-less;in poetic justice they would be committed into the hands of an “idol shepherd” (Zech 11:15-17) who would not pity them. They would receive the same treatment they had meted out to the Lord.

There was to be an enormous cost which Jewry would pay for the repudiation of its shepherd. Yahweh was to raise up an idol (RV, worthless) shepherd in the land (Zech 11:17) who would now oversee their care; a man not even worth the paltry value of 30 pieces of silver with which they had assessed the Lord. This foolish shepherd had all the appearance and claims of the good shepherd, but he was a deceiver; indeed he is none other than the “false prophet” of Revelation 16:13 and the “Wicked” one of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8.

Shepherds unable to follow Yahweh’s example in visiting the flock (Zech 10:3). “I will raise up a shepherd…which shall not visit those that be cut off” (Zech 11:16).
“Their own shepherds pity them not” (Zech 11:5). “For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land” (Zech 11:6).
Rejected the Good Shepherd. Committed to an “idol shepherd” (Zech 11:17).
Jews proclaimed “We have no king but Caesar” (Zech 11:6; John 19:15). The nation was given over into the hands of Caesar (Zech 11:15).
“If ye think (Heb ayin) good, give me my price…So they weighed for my price 30 pieces of silver” (Zech 11:12). Judah is placed under the dominion of the “right eye” (Heb ayin) of the Papacy (Zech 11:17).

It behooves us to consider this principle as shortly we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, wherein the grounds of our judgment will be no different than Israel’s, for, “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful…with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward” (Psa 18:25-26). God’s dealings with us will be identical to the manner in which we have treated others (Mark 11:25-26) and if we cannot show pity and compassion, God will not do so with us (Zech 11:5-6).

The instruments of a foolish shepherd

To demonstrate the change in allegiance which the nation would undergo, Zechariah is instructed by God to return home and dress himself in a different garb: “Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd. For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land” (Zech 11:15-16).

Firstly, we must determine the identity of this new shepherd. In Zechariah 11:12-13 we find a reference to the death of Christ, followed in verse 14 with the prediction of the severance of the Jewish brotherhood and the scattering of the sheep. This transpired in AD70 as retribution for their cutting off the Messiah-Shepherd.

The next event which the prophet sees is the rise of a power “in the land” which now would assume the role of a shepherd to the Jewish nation. History reveals that this was the power of Rome. At last God gave Israel into the hand of “his king” (Zech 11:6), the king that Israel had chosen when they rejected Jesus, and said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Caesar they had asked for, and Caesar they would receive. This would usher in the period that historians refer to as “the long Jewish night,” nearly two millennia of misery and bloodshed.

Having lost their place and nationhood and being driven far away into Gentile lands, Jewry would nonetheless still have an overlord. It was first seen in the imperial might of Rome and later became manifested in the religious power of Rome, the Papacy. This brutal tyranny would rule over them as a carnal shepherd for a prolonged period of time and although the Jewish people would never admit to this fact, history testifies that this has been the precise application of Zechariah’s words.

The chapter began with the presence of the Roman armies, now it closes with the presence of the Roman Catholic church. The Papacy, whose development stemmed “in the land” from the spirit of Judaism in the early ecclesias (cp the vision of Zech 5), would now been seen in the rise of a little horn upon the head of Daniel’s fourth beast (Dan 7:7-8) whose eyes were “like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.”

Although the record does not tell us the specific instruments Zechariah donned (obviously they were not Beauty or Bands!), we do know that the Papacy has adopted the shepherd symbols of the crosier and the pallium. The crosier is the pastoral “crook” used by shepherds and is borne aloft by bishops and the like. The other key liturgical insignia of the church is the pallium made of white wool and worn only by the pope. It is a symbol of the pope as a shepherd and at the same time, of the Lamb Crucified for the salvation of the human race.

These shepherd symbols, however, became notorious instruments of authority rather than shepherding, and the power wielded by the Papacy turned into outright persecution against the Jewish people.

Through this cruel and unbearable treatment imposed over many centuries, Israel would experience firsthand the pain and agony which they by “wicked hands” (Acts 2:23) inflicted upon both Zechariah and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Zechariah delineates six things which the “Man of Sin” would enforce on the Jewish nation: he would “not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces” (Zech 11:16).

The RSV translates this verse, “For lo, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the sound, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.” Here we have a graphic figure presented of the complete dismemberment of the Jewish people.

Not visit those that are cut off To “visit” signifies to turn back one’s captivity (Zeph 2:7) however following the siege of AD70 approximately 135,000 Jews were sold into slavery by Rome. Numerous expulsions during reigns of Pope Clement VIII, Pius X and others.
Neither shall seek the young one A staggering 1.5 million children died during the Holocaust at the hands of Nazi officials and their Roman collaborators.
Nor heal that that is broken Barred from receiving medical treatment, citizenship and other ‘rights’ (Antisemitism in Medieval Europe, Brittanica.com).
Nor feed that that standeth still Jews were occasionally denied access to food and other basic necessities while under the Roman yoke (Rev 13:17).
Eat the flesh of the fat Excessive taxation and seizure of Jewish businesses, riches and possessions to furnish the coffers of Rome.
Tear their claws in pieces Widespread pogroms and inquisitions in Europe and Russia either sanctioned or ignored by the church.

Volumes have been written on the Papal persecution against the Jews. Certainly, the saints have suffered at the hands of the Papacy, but that has been nothing in comparison to the treatment of the Jewish people and we are only too familiar with the ghastly examples from history. Inquisitions, crusades, confiscations, expulsions, ghettoes, desecrations of synagogues, desecrations of cemeteries, burning of books, forced baptisms, forced slavery, no intermarriage, yellow hats, yellow badges, no jobs or medical treatment—all are chilling applications of Zechariah’s words.

During the period of the Crusades, Popes would instruct their followers, “kill as many Jews as possible on the way to the holy land, and the more Jews you murder, the larger your reward will be in heaven” (A History of Catholic Antisemitism, Robert Michael).

Between the 6th and the 20th centuries the Vatican issued over 100 anti-Semitic publications and bulls and even in the darkest hour when the horrors of the Nazi atrocity were being carried out upon Jews in Europe, Pope Pius XII maintained and affirmed Vatican ‘neutrality,’ despite being fully aware of Hitler’s crimes.

Furthermore, in another fulfillment of Zechariah’s words, the Papacy regarded itself as blameless (Zech 11:5) for the crimes executed against Jewry. Roman aggressors showed no compunction of conscience in their brutal treatment of Jewry, alleging that they were simply executing the divine punishment due for the murder of Christ (cp Jer 50:6).

Even Martin Luther, perhaps the most notable Protestant, contended: “There is no other explanation for this than the one cited earlier from Moses, namely, that God has struck them (the Jews) with ‘madness and blindness and confusion of mind’ (Deut 28:28). So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them” (On the Jews and Their Lies, Martin Luther).

Woe to the idol shepherd!

But as dreadful as the acts of the worthless shepherd would be, he was merely a pawn in God’s hands, raised up for the purpose of humbling Jewry. Ultimately, however, he will be destroyed by the brightness of the Lord’s coming (2 Thess 2:7-8). In due time and in poetic justice, the Roman power itself would absorb the effects of the sword it had wielded against Jewry: “Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! The sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened” (Zech 11:17).

This sword is to be exerted by the saints under the leadership of Christ against the worthless shepherd (Psa 149:6-9; Rev 19:15). When the Lord cuts off his arm, the Papacy shall be rendered powerless to fight. The arm is the biblical symbol for strength and power (Jer 17:5) and here represents the secular and military authority of Rome, which for centuries has ravaged the Jewish people but is to be “cut off” through 40 years of conquest by the saints, appropriately riding astride the mighty battle horse of Judah (Zech 10:3; Rev 14:18-20).

The “right eye” of Rome is its ecclesiastical power, known as the Holy See, which secretly examines the events in society, and reports back to the Papacy. It is significant that previously in Zechariah a prophecy was made of an apostasy that establishes its house, or temple, in Shinar or Rome, where it is stated that “this is their resemblance (Heb ayin, eye) through all the earth (Zech 5:6). In the Septuagint version the word “eye” is episcope—the New Testament word frequently rendered “bishop” (1 Tim 3:1).

The eyes of the “Holy Father” are not those of God, though the Pope may claim them to be so. His universal influence is to be “utterly darkened,” so that Roman Catholicism in both its military (arm) and ecclesiastical departments (right eye) will be completely overthrown.

The ultimate contrast

Though the Papacy purports to be the representation of “God on earth,” or in the words of Tetzel, “the Lord our God, no longer reigns, he has resigned all power to the Pope,” in reality, the shepherd is “worthless” and is indicted for “leaving the flock” (Zech 11:17), caring little for the welfare of the sheep, only seeking to dominate and control.

Standing in stark contrast is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the good shepherd: there is nothing worthless or wicked in him; he is noble and beautiful in thought and act, which is seen in the laying down of his life for the sheep (John 10:11).

In his famous exposition in John 10, in which he proclaimed himself as the “good shepherd,” the Lord fittingly borrowed a phrase from Zechariah to contrast himself with the worthless shepherd: “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep (a phrase from Zech 11:17), and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:12-13).

The hireling is a man even worse than a thief, because he values his own life above that of the flock under his care. With him, profession is belied by act: he is a wolf clad as a sheep; a false teacher who does not defend the truth when personal interests are involved (Acts 20:29-30). But the Lord gives his life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Where is there a man who will go out into the pastures of the world and give his life for one of his sheep? There would surely not be one shepherd alive who would not consider his life more valuable than that of one sheep. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ gave his life for his sheep! There is a care which the Lord has for we his sheep, which goes beyond human understanding.

What are we doing to demonstrate how much we value his love for us? What should our attitude be towards other sheep in the ecclesia? The Apostle John provides the answer: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

Christ has provided the perfect example; what he did literally, we should do figuratively. We should sacrifice our own interests in order to help others. The word “ought” signifies a moral obligation, or debt, that we should repay.

When was the last time we mentally scrolled through the ecclesial roll and prayed for individual brothers and sisters? Or are we so consumed with our own lives and pieces of technology that we are unaware of their spiritual needs? At a time when many brothers and sisters are struggling, are we going to leave them or seek them out? Will we heal the broken, or crush? Will we nourish, or devour?

He gave his life for the sheep. Ought we do any less?