Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Zechariah is a fun and busy book. Imagine the crazy parts of Ezekiel, the writing style of Jeremiah, and the Jesus references of Isaiah all crammed into 14 chapters: that’s basically the book of Zechariah. In chapter 11, the Lord speaks out against Israel’s leadership using the metaphor of shepherds. We read,
This is what the Lord my God says: “Pasture the flock marked for slaughter. Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the Lord, I am rich!’ Their own shepherds do not spare them. For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,” declares the Lord. “I will hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king. They will oppress the land, and I will not rescue them for their hands (Zechariah 11:4-6).
After delivering this prophecy, though, Zechariah does something odd: he puts away his prophet’s clothes and takes up a shepherd’s staff.
First though, I want to give a little background to this story. God comparing leaders to shepherds is nothing new in Israel. Being a shepherd was a pretty common job amongst the Israelites, so it was a metaphor that they’d be able to understand easily and react quickly to. In fact, in Jeremiah, the Lord makes basically the same message. Scripture records,
My people have been lost sheep;
Their shepherds have led them astray
And caused them to roam on the mountains.
They wandered over mountain and hill
And forgot their own resting place (Jeremiah 50:6).
The situation presented in Jeremiah is the same as that mentioned in Zechariah, the leadership has led the flock of Israel astray (probably to foreign Gods and wacky superstitions) and it needs to be fixed. Jeremiah spoke these words to the people, after that he kept speaking more words to the people because his job was a prophet and so he was trying to steer Israel right through the Word of God.
Zechariah however, took a different approach. After receiving word from God that the shepherds of Israel were leading the flock astray, he decided to do something about it. I love this story. Today’s prophet responds, “So I pastured the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I pastured the flock” (Zechariah 11:7). I had to read this passage a few times to make sure I read it correctly, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got the Holy Spirit with me on this one. Zechariah took up the shepherd’s crook (actually two, which he named) and took over a flock of sheep, trying to do a better job of leading them. Not only does he tackle this new job, but he also tries to do it alone. You see, Zechariah also got the three other shepherds who were watching this flock fired within a month. This does not go well. Our hero continues,
In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.
The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them and said, “I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.”
Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord (Zechariah 11:8-11).
Zechariah got the other shepherds fired, was hated by the flock, quit, and in a final act against the sheep he prophesized to them. Wow, Zech, that’s pretty impressive.
So what went wrong? Zechariah stepped out of his bounds. The Lord called him to be a prophet, not a leader (and certainly not a shepherd). Because he was working outside of his God-given talents, Zechariah had a miserable time and failed horribly as a shepherd, and then automatically did what he does best, speak the Word of God (in this case to a flock of sheep). Paul reminds us that we’re all called to different roles in the body of Christ. He writes,
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
Each one of us is called to a specific place in the body of Christ. God has a plan for every believer’s life and wants us to follow along that track without getting upset at our place because the Holy Spirit has gifted us all uniquely for our roles in Christ. For it is written,
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
Since each of us fill a unique place in the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit has given us all special talents to fulfill our role. Each and every person has different gifts in varying amounts in accordance to what the Lord has planned out for them. Paul mentions some of the various gifts we may find among believers,
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
We’re all built differently, with different functions in the body of Christ. As much fun as it might be for us all to be televangelists or rich philanthropists, that’s simply not how a body works. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12:15-17,
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
So after receiving revelation as to the poor leadership in Israel, Zechariah left his post as a prophet and tried to do something about this problem, alone. This means that he was leaving his part in the body and trying to be something he wasn’t. This was compounded by trying to do it all by himself, causing Zechariah to become overworked. He should have listened to Solomon’s advice,
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good return for their work;
If one falls down,
His friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
And has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
Two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Solomon suggests that two or three people can make a project go a whole lot better. However, Zechariah got the other shepherds fired; and according to the passage, the sheep ended up hating him and he them.
All of us want to make a positive change in the world. However, we have to keep in mind at the same time that God is the only one-man show (and even the Lord lets us help him). We need to understand our limits and not encroach into other’s territory, because just like you they have a calling from the Lord and their place is theirs, not yours. The experience of being a shepherd was miserable for Zechariah and in the end he didn’t even care if he got paid for it because he wanted to be free of shepherding. We read, “I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’ So they paid me thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12). And promptly after being paid, God told him to throw the money away, so he didn’t even get to enjoy the rewards for the job anyway. Luckily, this adventure wasn’t a total waste. The Lord later called Zechariah to put on his shepherd suit again…to be the example of a bad shepherd,
Then the Lord said to me, “Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd. For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hoofs.
“Woe to the worthless shepherd,
Who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
May his arm be completely withered,
His right eye totally blinded!” (Zechariah 11:15-17).
Oh well, prophets of his time were used to doing embarrassing things anyway (just take a look through Jeremiah or Ezekiel).
If you really want to help the Kingdom of God or even the world we live in then seek The Lord out. The first step is of course coming to Jesus Christ through repentance and faith that he died for your sins. Without salvation through Christ you have no Holy Spirit, and as such your talents have not been blessed by the Lord and your official mission is still waiting. After coming to Christ, ask the Lord to help illuminate your God-given strengths. Read the Bible and see how God starts acting in your life (and he most certainly will start acting and guiding you). But don’t take my word for it, check out what the Bible has to say on the matter,
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord
And he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
Trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
The justice of your cause like the noonday sun (Psalms 37:3-6).
Trust in God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and you’ll be shown what you’re called to do, and the Lord will bless your calling and keep you from failing hilariously (like Zechariah).