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Zechariah 11:15, 16

15. And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd.

15. Et dixit Iehova mihi, Adhuc sume tibi vas patoris stulti. 147147     Rendered “[ἄπειρος], inexperienced,” by Septuagint, “[ἄφρονος], unwise,” by Aq., Sym., and Theod., and “stupid,” or “stolid,” by the Targum. The word means gross, stupid, foolish; but as Henderson justly observes, foolish often means wicked in Scripture; and what is said of this shepherd, proves that his folly was his wickedness. Dathius renders it “mali, evil,” or wicked. — Ed

16. 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.

16. Quia ecce ego constituo pastorem in terra; quod excisum est no visitabit, quod juvenile est no requieret, quod confractum est non sanabit, quod stat non pascet; et carnem pinguis comedet, et ungulas eorum confringet.


Here the Prophet teaches us, that when God shall renounce the care of his people there will be some weak form of government; but it is evident that God would no longer perform the office of a shepherd; as though he had said, that the people would be so deserted, that they would yet think themselves to be still under the protection of God, as we see to be the case among the Papists, who proudly make a boasting of this kind — “The Church is never forsaken by God.” Though the truth of God has been long ago completely buried, they yet hold that it is still the true Church, a Church filled with impious superstitions! As then the Papists glory in the title only, and are content with it, so the Jews, we know, boasted of their privileges; and these were their weapons when they sought to oppose and contend with the Apostles — “What! are not we the heritage of God? has he not promised that his sanctuary would be perpetual among us? is not the sacerdotal unction a sure and infallible proof of his favor?” As then the Jews made use of these foolish boastings against the Apostles, so also at this day the Papists hide all infamy under the title of Church. The same thing Zechariah here means by saying that he by God’s command took the instrument of a foolish shepherd 148148     This part determines the character of the whole vision; for the whole chapter is a vision, the first part being a denunciation of judgment executed in the final overthrow of the nation, and the remainder, from verse 4th to the end, being a symbolical vision, representing the dealings of God with the Jews in the interval, from the time referred to in the last chapter to the coming of the Messiah, or to the destruction of the Jewish polity by the Romans. Henderson seems disposed to regard Herod as “the foolish shepherd;” in that case the vision extends only to the advent of Christ; but if we regard this shepherd, as Blayney does, as denoting a succession of tyrannical rulers, then the vision extends to the very overthrow predicted in the three first verses of the chapter.
   This view, which is that of Calvin, removes all difficulties, and affords a proof of the falsity of the opinion advanced by Mede — that this portion of Zechariah belongs to Jeremiah. That the Prophet personates God here, or the Messiah, as the ruler of the Jewish nation, previous to his appearance in the flesh, is evident from the fact that God identifies, as it were, himself with the Prophet. (verse 8 and 10.) God’s dealings with the Jews are symbolized in this vision in a way similar to what is done, as to the history of the Church, in the visions granted to John; the sticks, the breaking of them, the cutting off of three shepherds, the price or reward, and the foolish shepherd, are symbolical, setting forth the various dealings of God with their people, and their conduct towards him. As to the price, the very symbol was afterwards strikingly exemplified in the history of the Messiah. The Prohet is made to represent God in his two characters — as a beneficial ruler, producing order and unity, and as a judicial ruler, employing wicked and cruel tyrants to punish a refractory and rebellious people.

   “God commanded him (the Prophet) to perform a real action, and in a waking state, which was to be an intimation and a sign of that which was to happen in God’s dealings with Israel.” Abarbanel, quoted by M‘Caul, in his translation of Kimchi on Zechariah.

The word כלי, cali, means in Hebrew any kind of instrument. Some regard it to be a bag with holes, but this is an unsuitable interpretation. By instrument, Zechariah, I have no doubt, means the implements of a shepherds by which he proves himself to be in that office. But he calls him at the same time a foolish shepherd, that we may allow that he was a shepherd only in disguise. The term shepherd is given here by way of concession, according to the usual manner of scripture; and we also at this day concede sometimes the name of Church to the Papists; and we farther concede the name of pastors to their milted bishops, but improperly. So also does Zechariah in this place; though he speaks of a shadow and thing of nought, yet he says that there would be shepherds in Judea; and he adds the reason — Because God would thus punish that wicked and ungrateful people: —

Behold, he says, I will set a shepherd in the land. God had now, as we have said, renounced the office of a shepherd; but he afterwards set over them wolves, and thieves, and robbers, instead of shepherds, that is, when he executed his dreadful judgment on the Jews: and he shows at the same time what sort of shepherds they would be who in future should possess power over them.

They were to be such as would not look after what had been cut off. Some consider the word הנכחדות, enecachedut, as signifying the sick sheep; but they are in my judgment mistaken; for careful shepherds seek what is lost, or what has disappeared from the flock; and this is what Zechariah means, for he says, he will not visit, that is, he will look after what has been cut off from the flock. Then he says, he will not seek הנער, enor, the young. Some explain this of fat lambs; but others more correctly of those which are tender, not as yet accustomed to follow the shepherd; for sheep by long use keep from going astray, but lambs are more apt to wander from the flock, and are easily scattered here and there. This is the reason why Zechariah makes it one of the duties of a good shepherd to seek what is yet young. He adds in the third place, the sick, What is wounded, he says, he will not heal: and lastly, he will not feed what stands, that is, what is sound. The word literally is, to stand; but it means full vigor or strength. What then is vigorous and sound he will not feed. He then says, The flesh, of the fat he will devour, yea, he will break their hoofs. By these words he amplifies the cruelty of the shepherd; for he will not be satisfied with the fat flesh, without breaking also the bones and the hoofs, as though his barbarity would exceed that of wolves and wild beasts.

We now then see the import of this prophecy: and it seems to have been added, that the Jews might not flatter themselves with an external and evanescent form of government, after having departed from God, and after the covenant which he had made with that nation, having been also renounced by him, so that he should be no longer their Father, or Guardian, or Shepherd. Hypocrites, we know, do not easily put off their obstinacy; though God’s vengeance should be manifest, yet we see how they harden themselves, especially when they can cover their wickedness under some false pretense, a striking example of which we observe among the Papists. We now then perceive the design of the Holy Spirit, when the Prophet is bid to assume the character, and take the implements, of a foolish shepherd.

If any one objects, and says that this was not suitable to a true Prophet of God, the answer is plain — the Prophet deviated not from the right course of his calling, though he assumed the character of a foolish shepherd, an instance of which we have already seen in Hosea, who was commanded to take a harlot, and to beget spurious children from one who had been infamous in her character. (Hosea 1:2.) As this was a vision presented to Hosea, it does not follow that he did anything disgraceful, so as to prevent him from exercising the office of a holy teacher. So also now, God simply shows to us what would be the fixture condition of that reprobate people.

It must further be noticed, that when anything of a right and good government remains in the external form, there is no reason to conclude from this that God is the ruler, for, as we have already said, it is a ridiculous and senseless glorying when men are inflated and take pride in mere titles or names of distinction. Let us then take heed, that those who bear rule be rightly called by God, and let them afterwards discharge their office faithfully, otherwise they may be a hundred times called pastors, after having attained this degree of honor, and be after all no better than wolves and robbers; for no one is a true pastor whom the Lord does not rule by his Spirit, and who is not his minister, and no ungodly pastors, however they may assume the title, can be called the ministers of God, when he has already, as we see here, forsaken the people.

It must at the same time be observed, that it happens not except through the just judgment of God, that things grow worse and worse, and at length become wholly degenerated; and those who loudly boast and seek to be esteemed by all as pastors, are altogether senseless, for God has not appointed them, and the whole filth of the Papal clergy is at this day a manifest evidence of God’s wrath and indignation, for he thus justly punishes the contempt of his word, and that perverseness by which the world thus awfully provoked him. Though God has been graciously calling the whole world to himself, we yet see how his favor has been rejected, and we also see how almost all have gone on in their obstinacy. God had indeed in his great goodness borne for some ages with this great wickedness, and when he began to punish the ungrateful, he did not break out to extreme vengeance, for he added to scourges heavier scourges, but at length he was constrained to make his wrath to flow like a deluge. Hence has arisen that dreadful confusion which is seen under the Papacy; and this is what the words of the Prophet mean when God declares here that foolish pastors would be set up by his command and through his power, as he would thus execute his judgment on the ungodly.

Now as the Prophet enumerates here those things which are inconsistent with the duty of a good shepherd, we may hence learn, on the other hand, what it is to rule the Church rightly and according to God’s will, and also what are the attributes or marks of a good pastor. Whosoever then would be owned as a good pastor in the Church, must visit those who have been cut off, seek the young, strive to heal the wounded, and feed well the sound and the vigorous; and he must also abstain from every kind of cruelty, and he must not be given to the indulgence of his appetite, nor regard gain, nor exercise any tyranny. Whosoever will thus conduct himself, will prove that he is really a true pastor. But what can be more preposterous than for those to be called pastors who have no flock under their care? who plunder, and gather, and accumulate what they afterward spend in dissipation?

As then it is quite evident, that all those under the Papacy who are called bishops, seek the office for no other end but that they may live sumptuously, without any care or labor, and indulge in pleasures, and also spend in the gratification of their lust what is unjustly got, — as then they are known to be idlers and cruel tyrants, such as the Prophet here describes, do we not clearly see how childishly they boast of their hierarchy, and at the same time declare that they derive their origin from the Apostles? For what sort of successor to Peter or to Paul, is he who exercises the most barbarous tyranny, and who thinks himself not bound to take care of the flock? We then see that there is at this day under the Papacy a striking representation of what the Prophet says here; there is a certain form of government, but God is wholly separated from such a mask or phantom. But we must also bear in mind, that the world suffers merited punishment on account of its ingratitude, when it is thus cruelly and shamefully treated; for it is but just that they who will not bear the easy yoke of Christ, should be made subject to the power of the Devil, and be trodden under foot and disgracefully oppressed by tyrants. This is God’s righteous judgment. The Church, we know, would not have been turned upside down had not the greater part rejected the doctrine of salvation, and shaken off all religion; hence God is in a manner constrained by so great and by such unbridled wantonness to renounce his office of a shepherd. It then follows —

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