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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Zechariah 11

 

 

Introduction

The occurrence of a new heading, "The burden of the word of the Lord," which occurs again in Zechariah 12:1, and elsewhere only in Malachi 1:1, warns us that a new section begins here. We are no longer concerned with Joshua and Zerubbabel, the small community of Judah, and the hopes and aspirations of their time, but to a great extent with a larger Judaism which is in conflict with a world-power described as Greek, whose strongholds are not Babylon, but Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, and the Philistine towns. No Jewish king or governor is mentioned, and the High Priest appears to be the head of the subject Jewish community. At the same time there is a sharp cleavage in the Jewish community itself; Judah and Jerusalem are opposed to one another, and the greatest Jewish families are regarded as blameworthy. The post-exilic date of Zechariah 9-14 is certain, not merely from the absence of any reference to a king, but also from the widespread dispersion of the Jews, from the mention of Greeks, and from the utter difference in tone between this section and the utterances of the pre-exilic prophets. The mention of Egypt and Assyria side by side is not in itself evidence for a pre-exilic date, since in Ezra 6:22, which can scarcely be earlier than the Greek period, "Assyria" denotes the great empire of W. Asia, which, having originally been Assyrian, passed successively to the Chaldeans, the Persians, and the Greeks (Numbers 24:22 f.*, Isaiah 11:11*, Isaiah 27:13). A late date is also suggested by the obvious use of other passages of Scripture, particularly Ezek. Here, as in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, we have compositions saturated with Biblical terms, evidently emanating from "the people of a book." There are likewise numerous agreements with late Pss. and late post-exilic sections of Is. Like many of the Pss., these chapters appear to have been composed in a time of storm and stress, when the Jews were oppressed by the heathen, and disunited among themselves; and of such a time we have no record before the second century B.C. That they are written in classical Heb. as distinct from the Heb. of the Midrash is no proof to the contrary; for not only did Ben Sira (c. 180 B.C.) write in the older language, but many of the Pss. are as late as the Maccabean age. Space forbids at this point a detailed examination of these six chapters. It must suffice to state what will afterwards be shown in detail that, apart from some points as yet unexplained on any theory of date, every section of these chapters is quite consistent with the known history of the second century B.C. It is scarcely conceivable that a number of compositions dealing both with internal and external affairs should be equally applicable to two or more distinct periods.

These chapters fall into two main divisions (note the new heading in Zechariah 12:1, though the divisions are not necessarily homogeneous). Hebrew methods of arrangement, being based originally on oral rather than on written tradition, are fundamentally different from English; catchwords and prominent phrases being considered rather than logical arrangement. The analytical study of the Synoptic Gospels has shown that an apparently continuous section may be made up of many disjointed fragments, and this fact must be kept in view in the criticism of prophetical literature.

Of the two sections into which. Zechariah 9-14 falls, the first (Zechariah 9-11) is in the main poetical or based upon poetical prophecies, the second (Zechariah 12-14) is entirely prose. In Zechariah 9-11, however, there are some evident divisions, and perhaps we have hero the work of several authors. The mere fact that two poems are composed in a somewhat unusual metre does not prove, apart from subject-matter, that they are from the same hand, for a poet who produced a great impression by a novel form of verse may well have had imitators. If the date given above is correct (the second century B.C.), we may assume that the prophecies were first published in synagogues, and that, after the triumph of the Maccaban party, they passed to Jerusalem and became incorporated in the Scriptures. Sirach 49:10 tells us nothing as to the contents of the books of the twelve, the Minor Prophets, as we call them. A new edition of the Heb. text of Jeremiah, enlarged and rearranged, was issued after the Gr. translation had been made from an earlier edition; and though no new name would have been received as canonical, it was evidently possible for some time after the fixing of the list of canonical prophets to enlarge a canonical book by the incorporation of additional matter.


Verses 1-3

Zechariah 11:1-3. The strongholds of the Syro-Greek empire are taunted with the failure of their power. The cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan are a constant metaphor for that which is lofty and powerful (cf. Isaiah 2:13). For "the strong forest" a probable correction is "the forest of Bozrah," i.e. not the Edomite town but the Bosora of 1 Maccabees 5:26, the modern Buṣrâ, 22 miles SE. of Edrei. The shepherds and, with a change of metaphor, the young lions are the heathen rulers. "The pride of Jordan" here and elsewhere means the luxuriant vegetation of the Jordan valley which afforded cover for the wild beasts. The passage means that the heathen rulers may howl in sorrow and anguish, since their strongholds can no longer protect them.


Verses 4-17

Zechariah 11:4-17. An Historical Sketch in Figurative Language.—The author here assumes the rôle of the chief actor in the events he is describing, and speaks in the first person. Unlike Zechariah, but in accordance with the custom of the later apocalyptic school, he does not mention by name the personages to whom he refers. They must, however, have been easily recognisable by his readers. We have here a soliloquy spoken by one who plays the part of the chief "shepherd," i.e. ruler of Israel. This ruler is not, however, supreme, for he mentions those who buy and sell the sheep, and also the sheep's "own shepherds," who are evidently Jews like himself. Unfortunately the text is not only corrupt, but also mutilated; for "the three shepherds" are mentioned as though they had been previously described; while some reference to the sheep must originally have stood between Zechariah 11:8 a and Zechariah 11:8 b. Since the speaker is clearly neither the Lord nor the supreme ruler of Israel, viz. the Syro-Greek king, it is evident that the three shepherds referred to in Zechariah 11:8 cannot be High Priests, for there was no Jewish layman who got rid of three High Priests, but must be subordinate Jewish nobles such as Simon the Benjamite and his satellites (cf. 2 Maccabees 3:4; 2 Maccabees 4:3). But if the "three shepherds" are not High Priests, there is no difficulty in supposing that a High Priest is the speaker; and in that case the chief actor in this apocalyptic, dramatic monologue may be identified with the Onias who was High Priest in the reign of Seleucus IV (2 Maccabees 3 f.). If Josephus confused Onias the High Priest with Onias the founder of the Temple at Leontopolis (Isaiah 19:18*), which is in itself probable, the "three shepherds" may well be the sons of Tobias, who according to Josephus (Wars, 11) were expelled from Jerusalem by Onias. Notwithstanding the doubts which have been cast on the trustworthiness of the accounts of Onias in 2 Mac, it is certain that the language of Zechariah 11 is entirely applicable to him on the assumption that the course of events was as follows: By his expulsion from Jerusalem of the unscrupulous sons of Tobias, Onias incurred the hostility of the great Jewish families; whereupon, being slandered to Seleucus by Simon, he was compelled to leave Jerusalem in order to defend himself before the king, Seleucus IV, at Antioch. Upon the accession of Antiochus Epiphanes immediately afterwards, Onias was deprived of the High Priesthood, which was conferred first upon Jason, then upon Menelaus, who contrived to have Onias murdered at Antioch, a crime which in the opinion of many required expiation before national restoration could come. If, therefore, the author of this section speaks in the rôle of Onias, we can explain the details. Onias had received a commission as High Priest to shepherd the helpless Jewish people, whose position was like that of a flock sold to butchers for slaughter. The "buyers" are the Jewish nobles who farmed the taxes for the Syro-Greek government, and whose extortion was unpunished (render "are not held guilty"); the "seller" (read the sing.) of the sheep is the Syro-Greek king, who has no respect for the law of Israel and says, "Cursed be the Lord, and (not ‘for') let me be rich" ("blessed" is a euphemism for "cursed," cf. 1 Kings 21:10; 1 Kings 21:13, Job 1:5; Job 1:11; Job 2:5; Job 2:9), The sheep's "own shepherds" are the Jewish nobles and apparently are not distinguished from their buyers. In Zechariah 11:6 the apocalyptist describes from a past standpoint the horrors decreed by the Lord upon the land, which, when he wrote, had actually come to pass. It must be kept in mind that during the persecution of Antiochus and the years preceding it, the poorer Jews were persecuted by their fellow Jews. For "verily the poor of the flock" we must read with a different pointing "for the Canaanites" (i.e. merchants, cf. Isaiah 23:8, here and Zechariah 14:21 used contemptuously = hucksters) "of the flock." The chief shepherd, i.e. the High Priest, represents his aims for his people by giving names to his two shepherd's staves (cf. Psalms 23:4), much as a modern cartoonist represents Cabinet Ministers as carrying parcels inscribed with the names of the measures which they are promoting. The one staff is called "Beauty," or more correctly "Pleasantness," and denotes the bearer's aim to promote the welfare of his people by cultivating happy relations with the surrounding peoples, Philistines, Edomites, etc., on whose friendliness the peace of the Jews largely depended. The second staff, denominated "Bands," represents the High Priest's aim to promote unity among his own people. But in spite of all his efforts to promote peace and to protect his people from the extortionate nobles who were Jews only in name, he failed to secure support. He despaired of the sheep he had tried to shepherd, and they for their part wished to get rid of him. At last he felt that his position was untenable, and that he must give up his attempt to maintain peaceful relations with the neighbouring peoples. (N. B.—In Zechariah 11:9 the Heb. is not necessarily as peevish as EV implies.) Although his action could be misrepresented, it was understood to have been dictated by conscientious motives: "the sheep merchants that watched me knew that it was the word of the Lord."

A man beset by powerful enemies, however, knew that his case was hopeless, if he had no other claim to acquittal than innocence, and was unable to offer a substantial bribe. The shepherd's appeal to the sheep to give him his wages is a curious instance of the Hebrew disregard of consistency in metaphor when the meaning is plain. Probably Onias, before leaving Jerusalem for Antioch, appealed to his sympathisers to provide him with funds. The result was utterly inadequate, since the wealthier Jews were mostly inclined to Hellenism. The sum was so miserably small, that it is symbolically represented as "thirty pieces of silver," i.e. according to Exodus 21:32 the piece to be paid as compensation for injury to a slave. It was insufficient to aid Onias, and he accordingly cast it—not to the potter, who would be the last person likely to be working in the house of the Lord—but into the treasury (see mg.). Despairing of maintaining any longer the unity of his nation, the High Priest breaks in pieces the staff which symbolises his aim in this respect. Probably "Jerusalem" should be read for "Israel" in Zechariah 11:14, since the breach was between the Hellenisera of Jerusalem and the Hasidæans who were mostly to be found in the country districts.


Verses 15-17

Zechariah 11:15-17. The author does not pursue further the history of the good shepherd, but proceeds to desoribe in similar terms an evil successor. Whether he has in view Jason, the immediate successor of Onias, or Menelaus who succeeded Jason, cannot be determined; probably the latter is meant. Zechariah 11:15, which is somewhat tersely worded, means "Take again the gear"—i.e. the staves symbolical of the aims—"of a shepherd," but this time, of a foolish, i.e. a morally bad one. The curse on the bad shepherd is perhaps suggested by 1 Samuel 2:31. (See 2 Maccabees 13.) It is thought by some scholars that the fragment Zechariah 11:15-17 is continued in Zechariah 13:7-9, but more probably the latter is an independent composition of the same period. Its position in the third collection of prophecies supports this hypothesis.

Zechariah 11:12-14. A Collection of Prophecies Composed throughout in Prose in the Apocalyptic Style.—The writers adopt a past standpoint from which they describe, as if they were still future, events already past at the moment of writing, as well as their anticipations for the actual future. They are thus able to show the connexion between the recent distress and the peace and prosperity which they anticipate in the near future. Zechariah 12-14 is often described as "eschatological," allowably so if "eschatology" be understood merely as the ideas concerning the end of an existing political situation and the coming of another. But the conditions which the writers expect in the future are not essentially different from those which already exist. What they describe is not a material heaven, but a peaceful, and, consequently, glorified earth. Those passages which seem to imply the passing away or radical alteration of the physical universe are seen on a closer examination to be merely metaphorical. The language of the apocalyptists is largely derived from the older Scriptures, and is intelligible only to those who read those Scriptures sympathetically. How far some of the paragraphs in Zechariah 12-14 are homogeneous cannot be determined. The repetitions may be due to a combination of fragments of different authorship. In sense, however, Zechariah 12, Zechariah 13:1-6 may be regarded as forming one continuous passage.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Zechariah 11:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/zechariah-11.html. 1919.

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