The Potter and The Shepherd

Zechariah 11

Open your doors, O Lebanon, That a fire may feed on your cedars. Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, Because the glorious trees have been destroyed; Wail, O oaks of Bashan, For the impenetrable forest has come down. There is a sound of the shepherds’ wail, For their glory is ruined; There is a sound of the young lions’ roar, For the pride of the Jordan is ruined. Thus says the LORD my God, “Pasture the flock doomed to slaughter. Those who buy them slay them and go unpunished, and each of those who sell them says, ‘Blessed be the LORD, for I have become rich!’ And their own shepherds have no pity on them. For I shall no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the land,” declares the LORD; “but behold, I shall cause the men to fall, each into another’s power and into the power of his king [“We have no King but Caesar!”]; and they will strike the land, and I shall not deliver them from their power.” So I pastured the flock doomed to slaughter, hence the afflicted of the flock. And I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Favor, and the other I called Union; so I pastured the flock. Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul also was weary of me. Then I said, “I will not pasture you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be annihilated, let it be annihilated; and let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.” And I took my staff, Favor, and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. So it was broken on that day, and thus the afflicted of the flock who were watching me realized that it was the word of the LORD. And I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!” So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD. Then I cut my second staff, Union, in pieces, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. And the LORD said to me, “Take again for yourself the equipment of a foolish shepherd. For behold, I am going to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs. Woe to the worthless shepherd Who leaves the flock! A sword will be on his arm And on his right eye! His arm will be totally withered, And his right eye will be blind.”

Matthew recorded the following: “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?’ And they weighed out to him thirty pieces of silver. And from then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Him…Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, “I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.” But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’ But Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you shall deny Me three times.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.’ All the disciples said the same thing too…And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, ‘Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him.’ And immediately he went to Jesus and said, ‘Hail, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you have come for.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?’ At that time Jesus said to the multitudes, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples left Him and fled…And the high priest stood up and said to Him, ‘Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’ But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.’ Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses’…Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’ And they counseled together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER’S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME.'”

Jeremiah reordered this: “The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, ‘Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I shall announce My words to you.’ Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.”‘ But they will say, “It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” Therefore thus says the LORD, “Ask now among the nations, Who ever heard the like of this? The virgin of Israel Has done a most appalling thing. Does the snow of Lebanon forsake the rock of the open country? Or is the cold flowing water from a foreign land ever snatched away? For My people have forgotten Me, They burn incense to worthless gods And they have stumbled from their ways, From the ancient paths, To walk in bypaths, Not on a highway, To make their land a desolation, An object of perpetual hissing; Everyone who passes by it will be astonished And shake his head. Like an east wind I will scatter them Before the enemy; I will show them My back and not My face In the day of their calamity.” Thus says the LORD, ‘Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate; and proclaim there the words that I shall tell you, and say, “Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; therefore, behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter. And I shall make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I shall cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I shall give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. I shall also make this city a desolation and an object of hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its ddisasters. And I shall make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them.”‘ Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. This is how I shall treat this place and its inhabitants,’ declares the LORD, ‘so as to make this city like Topheth. And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods.'”‘”

Matthew proclaimed that the following passage pertained to the last passover: “‘And it will come about in that day,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. And it will come about that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who gave birth to him will say to him, “You shall not live, for you have spoken falsely in the name of the LORD;” and his father and mother who gave birth to him will pierce him through when he prophesies. Also it will come about in that day that the prophets will each be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies, and they will not put on a hairy robe in order to deceive; but he will say, “I am not a prophet; I am a tiller of the ground, for a man sold me as a slave in my youth.” And one will say to him, “What are these wounds between your arms?” Then he will say, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,’ Declares the LORD of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones. And it will come about in all the land,’ Declares the LORD,’ That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it.”

This is a copious amount of context to consider, considering our current cultural climate of soundbites and headlines but therein lies the problem. Rather than read the Bible for all of its worth, we listen to mega-church pastors preach peace and prosperity, ripping  verses out of context, as the prophecy pundits proclaim doom and gloom in the same way, while our people are persecuted and perish for nothing other than believing Jesus is Lord. Nevertheless we need the Scripture and not my words. We need to see what the Bible says and not the words of the headlines and prophecy pundits. We have to take a long view and study for ourselves rather than let others teach us. We have to take the time to learn for ourselves or we will be the products of prosperity preachers and prophecy pundits.

I have lost weight. I fasted a few weeks ago and after I broke the fast I was careful with what I ate. My bread intake has been cut by 95 percent as well as most other carbohydrates. My intake of leafy greens and vegetables has increased but not by the same percentage as as my carbohydrates have been reduced. Therefore my intake is not only healthier but less. I also exercise a little more than before the fast and have been working hard for two weeks– I lost weight and it was extremely simple. However while the formula is extremely simple–eat less and exercise more–the execution is extremely difficult. I’m always hungry and I don’t like to exercise. All this is to illustrate that while something may be simple, it doesn’t mean that it is easy. Like fishing or playing the piano, in order to study the Bible one has to put in time and effort.

In the same way studying the Bible is simple but difficult to execute because it takes time and discipline. Take what we have read today, it’s two hundred times what Twitter would allow and yet it is less than 1/1000th of the Bible. It is of little wonder then that we would rather buy books which “explain” and summarize the Scripture than read it for ourselves. But how do we know who to trust? Remembering the Lord said that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” and not prophecy pundits or mega-church pastors, we have some reading to do.

Nevertheless we have to put aside preconceived notions and presuppositions and let the Scripture interpret Scripture. We can use a hermeneutical tool such as the CAGED method, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. What we have read today begs us to utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, only with a twist. We will come back to this very soon. That is, we are looking at an Old Testament promise that was fulfilled in the New Testament, “allegedly.” While today’s missive has started slow, it is about to speed up, which may mean that it’s hard to follow. I will be brief but I believe that brevity will ultimately hinder our understanding. We have to see the context and unlike the prophecy pundits, I don’t want to say things like, “this is the Antichrist” without Scriptural sources. Because 999 times out of a thousand, the prophecy pundits point to the “beast from the sea” and say, “this is the Antichrist.” I assure you that the Beast is the Beast and not the Antichrist. John described the Antichrist in his epistles, and he is clearly not the Beast. But I digress. The point is to consider the context.

To understand Zechariah we have to understand Matthew’s aspirations to his audience, made up of first century Jewish people. Notice again what Matthew wrote about the night in which Jesus was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by his almost-apostles.

“Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER’S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME.'”

Problem: for the prophecy pundits and the secular scholars but not for us; Zechariah prophesied about this and not Jeremiah. But we consider the context and understand that Matthew makes no mistake about the prophecy. We have already read the prophecies in both Zechariah and Jeremiah and considering the continuing context we clearly see that Matthew envoked both Jeremiah and Zechariah. Let’s hit the highlights of the betrayal of Jesus and see how both Jeremiah and Zechariah unfolded before their very eyes, in an abridged version, for time’s sake.

“Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?’ And they weighed out to him thirty pieces of silver. And from then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Him…Then Jesus said to them [the remaining disciples], ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, “I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.” But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’ But Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you shall deny Me three times.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.’ All the disciples said the same thing too…And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, ‘Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him.’ And immediately he went to Jesus and said, ‘Hail, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you have come for.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him… Then all the disciples left Him and fled…And the high priest stood up and said to Him, ‘Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’ But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.’ Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses’…Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’ And they counseled together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER’S FIELD, AS THE LORD DIRECTED ME.'”

Context is king! Clearly Matthew makes mention of Zechariah but changes some of the words and clearly Matthew makes mention of Jeremiah. How do we know this? By contrast and comparison as we consider the context. Matthew names Jeremiah therefore we must consider Jeremiah and Matthew also clearly quotes Zechariah. And when we examine both, we see the similarities and the sublime string of the potter and the shepherd. And as we continue to consider how Jesus fulfilled multiple prophecies in one night, we are left wondering, why he has waited almost two thousand years to fulfill the rest? Especially considering that the prophecy pundits proclaim a parenthetical period of a “church” but Jesus neither promised nor proclaimed a parenthetical period but rather promised and proclaimed that everything was happening exactly as he had planned.

Notice how Jesus spoke to not only his disciples but to the worthless shepherds of his day. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, “I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.” But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.'” And to the worthless shepherd Jesus said, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.'”

We take a long view of Scripture and remember the flying scroll of Zechariah. We remember that the Messiah came with a curse. Jesus is cursing the worthless shepherd and sub-shepherds of the high priest and other religious leaders, respectively–make no mistake. But beyond that we see that the betrayal, deliverance and death of the Lord were all part of the plan mentioned in multiple prophecies. How many prophecies were fulfilled on the night Jesus was betrayed? According to Matthew, more than a dozen. But many  don’t see them because they don’t carefully consider the context. Jesus predicted his betrayal and then predicted it to be at the hands of one of the twelve and then pointed to Judas–there is three fulfillments that night right there. Jesus also tells the disciples of their desertion by pointing to Zechariah and as Matthew wrote, the disciples deserted Jesus as twice promised by Zechariah and then Jesus. We see two more prophecies fulfilled. This is what happens when we let the Scripture interpret the Scripture; we see a sublime string of progression pointing to Jesus and his first coming and his coming on the clouds to his generation in judgment. Now he reigns in heaven until his enemies are done away with, the last being death, not the first as the prophecy pundits proclaim. This is found throughout Scripture but highlighted in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in chapter 15.

The point is that everything was going perfectly as planned and not down an emergency, parenthetical path. Much of what we see was predicted in Zechariah, such as the sheep scattering and the worthless shepherds as Matthew clearly conveyed. The former from Zechariah 13 and the latter from today’s text. “For behold, I am going to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs. Woe to the worthless shepherd Who leaves the flock! A sword will be on his arm And on his right eye! His arm will be totally withered, And his right eye will be blind.”

But what’s the context and the back story? The poor prophets; not only were they to deliver the word of God to an obstinate people but they were also instructed to live as God desired. Sound familiar? Nevertheless God had some seemingly strange and random tasks for his prophets. Pop quiz: which prophet was told to be naked? However the sundry, seemingly strange activities of which the Lord demanded from his prophets were to illustrate the condition of Israel and the coming king. Zechariah is told to be a shepherd.

“Thus says the LORD my God, ‘Pasture the flock doomed to slaughter. Those who buy them slay them and go unpunished, and each of those who sell them says, “Blessed be the LORD, for I have become rich!” And their own shepherds have no pity on them. For I shall no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the land,'”

This correlates to the flying scroll of judgement. But unlike the prophecy pundits I am not pointing to the Beast and saying “Antichrist!” The continuing context confirms this as we take the long view of Scripture and its interpretation by Jesus. We don’t have to interpret prophecy because Jesus interpreted it for us and especially for them; and they killed him for it. However that was all part of the plan.

Zechariah does what he was told to do. “So I pastured the flock doomed to slaughter, hence the afflicted of the flock. And I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Favor, and the other I called Union; so I pastured the flock. Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul also was weary of me. Then I said, ‘I will not pasture you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be annihilated, let it be annihilated; and let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.’ And I took my staff, Favor, and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. So it was broken on that day, and thus the afflicted of the flock who were watching me realized that it was the word of the LORD. And I said to them, ‘If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!’ So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the LORD said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.’ So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD. Then I cut my second staff, Union, in pieces, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.”

Placing aside our preconceived notions and presuppositions–what warrant, what cause, what indication is given that the actions of Zechariah refer to our future rather than the betrayal and illegal, lawless trial of Jesus? Why would Zechariah break the two staffs and throw his wages to the potter? Even without Matthew’s explanation and his aspiration to his audience, the reader clearly sees the literary language and imagery used. Nevertheless our taught traditions and teachings say something different than the original irony of the aspirations of the author; a double irony as it were.

Notice that the wage was thirty shekels of silver and that the wage was mocked by the Lord, calling it a “magnificent price,” quite sarcastically. Notice also that the worthless shepherds rejected the Lord but it was the Lord who broke the Union and Favor. Also notice  that Zechariah, as a type of the Messiah was weary of the people but the people were also weary of Zechariah. Yes, Israel rejected her Messiah, asking for a divorce and God granted said divorce, even though they didn’t realize that they were asking for a divorce. They thought that they were doing the Lord’s work by putting the Lord to death, and they were, but not in the way of which they thought.

The plan was for Jesus to be betrayed and die but they did it contrary to the Law and admit it by buying the potter’s field. Which ties all of these prophecies together. I could go on and on but the proof is in the prophecy and fulfillment. Read Zechariah and see the sublime string in Matthew and understand the history of the first century where Jerusalem was under siege and then destroyed. Where people were at war with each other and ate each other, literally.

Therefore when Paul, Peter, John and James refer to the last days, they were speaking of the last days of the Old Covenant, of which Hebrews states was about to disappear in the first century. Consider the context of Paul warning and writing to Timothy, literally, and not to prophecy pundits. Consider the context of James warning the diaspora, literally, and not the dogmatic dispensationalists. Consider Jeremiah writing to those in captivity, proclaiming prosperity but tribulation to those in Jerusalem. I hate to be the one to emphatically state the truth but the Bible was not written to you. Nevertheless it is the story of God and his dealings with people and it is how we know God. Rather than rip verses out of context like the Sadducees and Pharisees, prophecy pundits and dogmatic dispensationalists, mega-church pastors and prosperity preachers, read the Bible for all its worth and let the Scripture interpret the Scripture. Unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught.

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