Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.
Verse 1. - Open thy doors, O Lebanon. The prophet graphically portrays the punishment that is to fall upon the people. The sin that occasions this chastisement, viz. the rejection of their Shepherd and King, is denounced later (§ 9). Lebanon stood in the path of an invader from the north, whence most hostile armies entered Palestine. The "doors" of Lebanon are the mountain passes which gave access to the country. Some commentators, following an old Jewish interpretation, take Lebanon to mean the temple or Jerusalem; but we are constrained to adhere primarily to the literal signification by the difficulty of carrying on the metaphorical allusions in the following clauses. That the fire may devour thy cedars. That the invader may wantonly destroy thy trees which are thy glory and thy boast.
Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down.
Verse 2. - Howl, fir tree. A species of cypress is intended, or, as some say, the Aleppo pine. It is the tree of which Solomon made floors, doom, and ceiling in his temple (1 Kings 6:15, 34), and David harps (2 Samuel 6:5). The prophet dramatically calls on this tree to wail for the fate of the cedar, as being about to suffer the same destruction. The mighty; μεγιστᾶνες, "the chieftains" (Septuagint). Trees are being spoken of, and so the primary sense is, "the goodly" (Ezekiel 17:23) or "glorious trees." Metaphorically, the chiefs of Israel may be intended. Bashan, famous for its oaks, is next visited by the invading force, and its trees are felled for the use of the enemy. The forest of the vintage. The Authorized Version here follows, very inappropriately, the correction of the Keri. The original reading should be retained and translated, "the inaccessible forest" - an expression appropriate to Lebanon. If Lebanon is not spared, much less shall Bashan escape. LXX., ὁ δρυμὸς ὁ σύμφυτος, "the close-planted wood;" Vulgate, saltus munitus, "defenced forest."
There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds; for their glory is spoiled: a voice of the roaring of young lions; for the pride of Jordan is spoiled.
Verse 3. - There is a voice. The Hebrew is more terse and forcible, "A voice of the howling of the shepherds!" or, "Hark! a howling," etc. (Jeremiah 25:34, etc.). The destruction spreads from the north southwards along the Jordan valley. Their glory. The noble trees in whose shadow they rejoiced. Young lions. Which had their lairs in the forests now laid waste (Jeremiah 49:19). The pride of Jordan. The thickets that clothed the banks of Jordan are called its "pride" (Jeremiah 12:5). The lion is not now found in Palestine, but must have been common in earlier times, especially in such places as the brushwood and reedy coverts which line the margin of the Jordan. The prophet introduces the inanimate and animate creation - trees, men, beasts - alike deploring the calamity. And the terms in which this is depicted point to some great disaster and ruin, and, as it seems, to the final catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the punishment of the rejection of Messiah. This reference becomes plainer as we proceed. It is inadmissible to refer the passage (as some do) to the Assyrian invasions mentioned in 2 Kings 15:29 and 1 Chronicles 5:26. Holding the post-exilian origin of the prophecy, we are bound to interpret it in accordance with this view, which, indeed, presents fewer difficulties than the other.
Thus saith the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter;
Verses 4-14. - § 9. The punishment falls upon the people of Israel because they reject the good Shepherd, personified by the prophet, who rules the flock and chastises evildoers in vain, and at last flings up his office in indignation at their contumacy. Verse 4. - Thus saith the Lord. The person addressed is Zechariah himself, who in a vision is commanded to assume the office of the good Shepherd (see ver. 15), and to tend the chosen people, the sheep of the Lord's pasture. God herein designs to show his care for his people from the earliest times amid the various trials which have beset them both from external enemies and from unworthy rulers at home. The flock of the slaughter; rather, the flock of slaughter - destined for, exposed to, destruction at the hands of their present shepherds (Psalm 44:22; Jeremiah 12:3; Romans 8:36).
Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not.
Verse 5. - Possessors; or, buyers. Those who claimed to be owners by right of purchase. Hold themselves not guilty. They are so blinded by self-interest that they see no sin in thus treating the flock. But the expression is better rendered, bear no blame, i.e. suffer no penalty, commit this wickedness with impunity. Septuagint, "repent not;" Vulgate, non dolebant, which Jerome explains, "did not suffer for it." Blessed be the Lord. So little compunction do they feel that they actually thank God for their ill-gotten gains. The prophet is speaking of chiefs and rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, who played into the enemies' hands, and thought of nothing but how to make a gain of the subject people. Our Lord denounces such untrustworthy shepherds (John 10:11-13). Doubtless, too, the expressions in the text refer to the foreign powers which had oppressed the Jews at various times, Egypt, Assyria, etc. Amid all such distresses, from whatever cause, God still had tender care for his people, and punished and will punish their enemies. In this verse the offenders against Israel are of three classes - buyers, sellers, shepherds (see ver. 8). "Shepherd" appears sometimes in the Assyrian inscriptions as a synonym for "prince" (see Schrader, 'Keilinschr.,' p. 453) :
For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them.
Verse 6. - The inhabitants of the land. It is a question whether by this expression is meant the Israelites, or the dwellers on earth generally. In the former ease, the verso gives the reason of the calamities depicted in ver. 5, viz. God's displeasure, and expounds the parable of the sheep as meaning men (so Cheyne). In the other case, the signification of the paragraph is that God intends to put an end to the state of things just described, by punishing the oppressing world powers who had so cruelly executed their office of being instruments of God's judgment on his people. The latter seems the correct exposition; for the people of Israel have just been called the flock of slaughter, and they were to be fed, while these "inhabitants" are to be destroyed; nor could the Israelites be said to have kings, as just below. Thus for, at the beginning of the verse, introduces the reason why Jehovah tells the shepherd to feed the flock, because he is about to punish their oppressors; and "the inhabitants of the land" should be "the inhabitants of the earth;" i.e. the nations of the world, among whom the Israelites lived. I will deliver the men, etc. God will give up the nations to intestine commotions and civil war, so that they shall fall by mutual slaughter. Into the hand of his king. Each of them shall be delivered over helpless unto their tyrant's hands, and God will not interpose to succour them.
And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock.
Verse 7. - And I will feed. Thus the Greek and Latin Versions; but it should be, So I fed. It is the account of what the prophet did in accordance with the command in ver. 4 (see the end of this verse, "and I fed"). Even you, O poor of the flock. There is difficulty about the word rendered "you" (lachen) which may be the personal pronoun, or an adverb meaning "therefore," "therewith," "truly," or a preposition, "on account of;" Vulgate, propter hoc. The best rendering is, I fed the flock therefore the poor among the flock. "Therefore" refers to the previous command. It is also rendered "in sooth." The LXX., arranging the letters differently, translates, Ποιμανῶ τὰ πρόβατα τῆς σφαγῆς εἰς τὴν Ξαναανίτιν "I will go and tend the flock of slaughter in the land of Canaan;" some render the last words, "for the merchants." This Jerome interprets to mean that the Lord will nourish the Israelites for slaughter in the land of the Gentiles (but see note on ver. 6). And I took unto me two staves. Executing in vision his commission of feeding the flock, the prophet, as the representative of the Shepherd, took two shepherd's staves. The two staves intimate the manifold care of God for his flock from the earliest days, and the two blessings which he designed to bestow (as the names of the staves show), favour and unity. Beauty; Κάλλος (Septuagint); Decorem (Vulgate); "Graciousness" (Revised Version margin). It probably means the favour and grace of God, as in Psalm 90:17. Bands; literally, Those that bind; Σχοίνισμα, "Cord;" Vulgate, Funiculum. The name is meant to express the union of all the members of the flock, especially that between Israel and Judah (see ver. 14). These make one flock under one shepherd. I fed the flock. This repetition emphasizes the beginning of the verse, and expresses God's ears in time past and in time to come also.
Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul lothed them, and their soul also abhorred me.
Verse 8. - In executing the office of feeding the flock, three shepherds also I out off in one month; Septuagint, "And I will take away the three shepherds in one month." The article in the Hebrew and Greek seems to point to some known shepherds, three in number, unless we take it as "threes of the shepherds." Hence expositors have sought to find historical personages to whom the term might apply. Those who assert a pre-exilian origin for this part of the prophecy, suggest the three kings, Zachariah, Shallum, and Menahem; or, as Menahem reigned ten years, some unrecorded pretender, who started up at the time. Others see some Syrian monarchs in Maccabean times; or the three offices, king, prophet, priest; or the three dynasties that oppressed Israel, viz. the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Macedonian. All these interpretations fail in some point; and we are reduced to see herein a reference, as Cheyne says, to "the prompt and vigorous action of Jehovah's Shepherd in dealing with the evil shepherds, as well as in feeding the flock;" the number three being used indefinitely. Or we may find in this number an allusion to the three classes in ver. 5 - the buyers, the sellers, and the pitiless shepherds. The oppressors, external and internal, are removed and cut off in one month. To the prophet's eye all this seemed to take place in that short space of time. If anything more is intended, we may, with Keil and others, taking the month as consisting of thirty days, assume that ten days are assigned to the destruction of each shepherd, after each had fulfilled his allotted period - the number ten expressing perfection or completion. And my soul loathed them; literally, but my soul was straitened for them; i.e. was impatient, weary of them. These words begin a new paragraph, and refer, not to the three shepherds, but to the sheep, the Israelites. The prophet now shows how ill the people had responded to God's manifold care, and mingles with the past a view of their future ingratitude and disobedience which will bring upon them final ruin. God, as it were, was weary of their continual backslidings and obstinate perseverance in evil. (For the phrase, see Numbers 21:4; Judges 16:16; Job 21:4.) It is the opposite to long suffering. Their soul also abhorred me. They showed their abhorrence by their devotion to idols and their disinclination for all goodness.
Then said I, 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.
Verse 9. - I will not feed you. In consequence of their contumacy, the shepherd abandons the flock to their fate, as God threatened (Deuteronomy 31:17; comp. the very similar passage in Jeremiah 15:1-3). Three scourges are intimated in the succeeding words - plague, war, famine, combined with civil strife. Eat every one the flesh of another (comp. Isaiah 9:20). Many see here a reference to the awful scenes enacted when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans, and intestine feuds filled the city with bloodshed and added to the horrors of famine.
And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.
Verse 10. - Cut it asunder. The breaking of the staff "Beauty" indicates that God withdraws his grace and protection; he will no longer shield the people from the attack of foes, as the following words express. My covenant which I had made with all the people; rather, with all the peoples. God calls the restriction which he had laid on foreign nations to prevent them from afflicting Israel, "a covenant." Similar "covenants," i.e. restraints imposed by God, are found in Job 5:23; Hosea 2:20 (Hosea 2:18, Authorized Version); Ezekiel 34:25, etc. The restraint being removed, there ensued war, exile, the destruction of the kingdom and theocracy, the subjection of Israel to Gentile nations.
And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD.
Verse 11. - It was broken. The covenant just mentioned (ver. 10) was broken. And so the poor of the flock that waited upon me (that gave heed unto me) know. The punishment inflicted on the withdrawal of God's protection had some good result. Though the bulk of the nation took no heed, learned no lesson, yet the humble and the suffering among them, who paid respect to his words, recognized that what happened was according to God's Word, and knew that all the rest would be fulfilled in due season. This was the effect of the Captivity; it forced the Israelites to see the hand of the Lord in the calamities that had befallen them, and it drove the thoughtful among them to repentance and amendment (Jeremiah 3:13, 23; Daniel 9:8, etc.). The breaking asunder of the first staff refers primarily to the time of the exile, and not to the absolute relinquishment of the flock. One staff is left, and for a time utter destruction is postponed. For "the poor," the LXX. reads, as in ver. 7, "the Cananeans," meaning probably "merchants." Ewald and others, who hold the pre-exilian date of this prophecy, see here an allusion to the invasion of the Assyrians under Pul (2 Kings 15:19).
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.
Verse 12. - I said. The prophet is speaking in the person of the great Shepherd. Unto them. Unto the whole flock. Give me my price; my wages. He asks his hire of the flock, because the flock represents men. Acting far differently from the wicked shepherds, he used no violence or threats. He gives them this last opportunity of showing their gratitude for all the care bestowed upon them, and their appreciation of his tenderness and love. The wages God looked for were repentance, faith, obedience, or, in another view, themselves, their life and soul. It was for their sake he required these, not for his own. If not, forbear. He speaks with indignation, as conscious of their ungrateful contempt. Pay me what is due, or pay me not. I leave it to you to decide. I put no constraint upon you. So God has given us free will; and we can receive or reject his offers, as we are minded. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. This paltry remuneration displayed the people's ingratitude and contempt. It was the compensation offered by the Law to a master for the loss of a slave that had been killed (Exodus 21:82). It was, perhaps, double the pries of a female slave (Hosea 3:2); and the very offer of such a sum was an insult, and, says Dr. Alexander, "suggested an intention to compass his death. They despised his goodness; they would have none of his service; they sought to cut him off; and they were ready to pay the penalty which the Law prescribed for the murder of one of so mean a condition." The word "weigh" was used in money transactions even after the use of coined money rendered weighing unnecessary.
And the LORD said unto me, 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 the LORD.
Verse 13. - The Lord said unto me. The Lord takes the insult as offered to himself in the person of his representative. Cast it unto the potter; Κάθες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ χωνευ τήριον, "Lay them in the foundry, and I will see if it is approved;" Vulgate; Projice illud ad statuarium; the Syriac and Targum have, "Put it into the treasury" (Malachi 3:10). This involves an alteration of the text, and is in itself an improbable reading, as God could not be made to tell the prophet to throw this despicable wage into his treasury, unless, perchance, it is said ironically. There may be an undesigned coincidence here. In Matthew 27:5 the council discuss the propriety of putting the thirty pieces of silver into the treasury. But taking our present text as genuine, commentators usually consider the phrase as a proverbial expression for contemptuous treatment; as the Greeks said, ἐς κόρακας, as the Germans say, "zum Schinder," "to the knacker," and we, "to the dogs." There is, however, no trace elsewhere of any such proverb, nor do we know how it could have arisen; it likewise does not very well suit the last clause of the verse, "I cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord." If we substitute the supposed analogous expression, "I threw them to the dogs," we see how unseemly would be the proverb in this connection. The rendering of the Jews in old time, adopted recently by Knabenbauer, "Cast them to the Creator," is considered by Dr. Pusey to be unidiomatic, and involves great difficulties. It seems simpler to consider that the command, "cast it to the potter," implies contemptuous rejection of the sum, and at the same time intimates the ultimate destination to which, in the sight of Omniscience, it was directed. The potter is named as the workman who makes the meanest utensils out of the vilest material. That this was ordered and executed in vision is plain; how much the prophet understood we cannot tell. The ambiguous and highly typical order was explained and fulfilled to the letter by the action of Judas Iscariot, as the evangelist testifies (Matthew 27:5-10). A (the) goodly price, etc. This is ironical, of course. Such was the price at which they estimated the good Shepherd's services. Cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord. This rejection of the paltry wage took place in the house of the Lord (in the vision), because the insult had been really offered to him, and this was the natural place where oblations would be made; thus the transaction was represented as formal and national. Whether the potter was seen in the temple we know not. The prophet was made to connect him in some way with the business; and we learn from the fulfilment that the potter did in the end receive the money, which was paid for his field applied to an unclean purpose. In Matthew 27:9 the two verses, 12, 13, with some variations, are quoted as "spoken by Jeremy the prophet." Hence some attribute this part of Zechariah to Jeremiah; and others think that in St. Matthew the present name is a mistake. The probability is that the evangelist did not name any prophet, but that some early transcriber, remembering the purchase of the field in Jeremiah 32:6-12, attributed the quotation to that prophet. Or we may suppose that inspiration did not extend to all minor details, nor save the writers from unimportant errors.
Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
Verse 14. - I eat asunder mine other staff. As the flock, by their contemptuous payment, showed their alienation from the Shepherd, so he now, by his symbolical action, shows his rejection of them, and his surrender of them to anarchy, confusion, and ruin. The breaking of the first staff indicated that God withdrew his defensive care; the breaking of the staff called "Bands" signifies the utter dissolution of all the bends that held the nation together, the civil and social disunion that paved the way for the victory of the Romans, and issued in the final disruption which sent the Jews wandering through the world. This in the vision is represented as the breaking of the brotherhood between Judah and Israel, the component parts of the nation. Thus was hinted the ultimate rejection of the Jews in consequence of their treatment of Christ, the good Shepherd, who came unto his own, and his own received him not (comp. Matthew 23:36-38). This doom is declared more fully in the next section.
And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd.
Verses 15-17. - § 10. In retribution for their rejection of the good Shepherd the people are given over to a foolish shepherd, who shall destroy them, but shall himself, in turn, perish miserably. Verse 15. - Take unto thee yet (yet again) the instruments of a foolish shepherd (comp. Hosea 3:1). The prophet, in vision, is directed to do as he had done before (ver. 4, etc,), and enact the part of a shepherd, taking the dress, scrip, and crook, which were appropriate to the character; but this time he was to represent "a foolish," i.e. an evil, shepherd; for sin is constantly denoted by "folly" in the Old Testament; e.g. Job 5:2, 3; Psalm 14:1; Psalm 107:17; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 7:22; Proverbs 14:9, etc. (comp. ver. 17).
For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall 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.
Verse 16. - I will raise up a shepherd in the land. God explains the reason of the symbolical character which he directed the prophet to assume. He was going to allow the people to be chastised by an instrument whom he would permit to work his will upon them. As this evil shepherd was to arise to punish them for their rejection of Messiah, he must represent some person or power that existed subsequent to Christ's death. Many consider that he symbolizes the Romans; but these people could not be deemed to exercise pastoral care over the Israelites, nor could their neglect of this (ver. 17) be attributed to them as a sin; nor, again, did their destruction follow upon the overthrow of the Jewish polity (ver. 18). Others see here a prediction of the coming of antichrist; but the character of "shepherd" does not suit his attributes as given elsewhere; at any rate. this cannot be the primary reference of the symbol, though all evil powers that oppose the Church of Christ are in some sense images and anticipations of antichrist. The genuine reference here is to the native chiefs and rulers ("in the land") who arose in the later times of the nation - monsters like Herod, false Christs and false prophets (Matthew 24:5, 11, 12, 24; Mark 13:22), hirelings who made merchandise of the flock, teachers who came in their own name (John 5:43), and deceived the people to their destruction. Which shall not visit those that be cut off; or, those that are perishing. This foolish shepherd shall perform none of the offices of a good shepherd; he will not care for and tend those that are in danger of death (Jeremiah 23:2). The young one; rather, those that are scattered; Septuagint, τὸ ἐσκορπισμένον: Vulgate, dispersum (Matthew 18:12). That that is broken. Bruised, or with limb fractured. Feed that that standeth still; literally, that standeth; i.e. is sound and healthy. This shepherd attended neither to the diseased nor to the healthy sheep. Septuagint, τὸ δλόκληρον, "that which is whole." He shall eat the flesh of the fat. He thinks only how to get personal advantage from the flock (comp. Ezekiel 34:2-8). Tear their claws (hoofs) in pieces, as some say, by making them traverse rough places, and not caring where he led them; but as such travelling would not specially injure sheep, and as the immediate context is concerned with their treatment as food, it is better to see here a picture of a greedy and voracious man who tears asunder the very hoofs to suck out all the nourishment he can find, or one who mutilates the fattest of his flock, that they may not stray, and that he may always have a dainty morsel at hand.
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.
Verse 17. - Woe to the idol shepherd! rather, woe to the worthless shepherd! literally, shepherd of vanity, or nothingness, as Job 13:4, "physicians of no value." The LXX., recognizing that no special shepherd is signified, renders, Ω οἱ ποιμαίνοντες τὰ μάταια, "Alas for those who tend vanities!" St. Jerome, expounding the verse of antichrist, "O pastor, et idolum!" That leaveth the flock. Thus Christ speaks of the hireling (John 10:12). The sword shall be upon his arm, etc. The punishment denounced is in accordance with the neglect of the shepherd's duties. The sword represents the instrument of punishment, whatever it he; the right eye, the severity of the retribution (1 Samuel 11:2). The arm that ought to have defended the flock shall be withered up as by catalepsy; the eye that should have watched for their safety shall be blinded. This is the judgment on the foolish shepherd. Ewald thinks that the passage Zechariah 13:7-9 is out of place there, and belonged originally to the end of the, present chapter.