The Biblical Illustrator
That the fire may devour thy cedars, etc.
The fallen cedar
In this chapter there is an announcement of the judgment that was to come on the Jewish State and nation because of their ungodliness, and especially their contemptuous rejection of Him whom God sent to be their shepherd. The prophecy here is not in any way connected with that in the preceding chapters, except as it may be regarded as continuing the account of God’s dealings with Israel, and their behaviour towards Him consequent on the events predicted in these chapters. Hitherto the prophet has been a bearer of good tidings to Zion, tidings of deliverance from oppressors, and restoration to former privilege and felicity. But there was a dark side to the picture as well as a bright one. All trouble and conflict had not ceased with their restoration to their own land: nor was their tendency to rebellion and apostasy from Jehovah, their Shepherd and King, finally subdued. Treating Him with contempt, His favour should be withdrawn from them, and the bonds that united them should be broken. The iron hand of foreign oppression should again be laid heavily upon them, and the ruin of their State and desolation of their land should mark the greatness of their sin by the severity of the penalty it had entailed. The prophecy begins with a picture of ruin and desolation overspreading the land, and then the process is detailed by which this was brought about and the cause of it indicated. The description of the judgment commences dramatically. Lebanon is summoned to open her doors, that the fire may enter to consume her cedars; the cypress is admonished to howl or wail because the cedar is fallen, because the noble and glorious trees are destroyed; the oaks of Bashan are called upon to join in the wail, for the inaccessible forest is laid low. The cypress is here called to lament for the fall of the cedar of Lebanon, the glory of the forest, not as deploring that calamity so much as anticipating for itself a like fate. That this description is to be taken literally cannot be supposed; the language is too forcible, and the picture too vivid to be understood merely of the destruction by fire of a few trees, even though these were the finest of their kind. On the other hand, there seems no sufficient reason for regarding this description as symbolical and wholly figurative. The more simple and tenable view is that which Calvin suggested, namely, that by the places here mentioned is intended the whole land of Judea, the desolation of which is predicted by the prophet. The catastrophe thus depicted was brought about by the misconduct of the people, and especially their shepherds and rulers, towards the Great Shepherd of Israel, whom God sent forth to feed and tend the flock. This is described in what follows, where the prophet is represented as acting as the representative of another, and as such is addressed. It cannot be supposed that the person addressed is the Angel of Jehovah, or the Messiah, for the person addressed in Zechariah 11:4 is evidently the same as the person addressed in Zechariah 11:15, and what is there said does not in any way apply to the Angel of Jehovah, or the Messiah. Nor can it be supposed that the prophet is here addressed in his own person, for as it was no part of the prophetic office to act as a shepherd of Israel, it could not be to the prophet as such that the command here given was addressed. The only supposition that can tenably be made is that what is here narrated passed as a vision before the inner sense of the prophet, in which he saw himself as the representative of another, first of the good shepherd who is sent to feed the flock, and then of the evil shepherd by whom the flock was neglected, and who should be destroyed for his iniquity. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
The cedars, fir trees, and oaks of society
This chapter, it has been said, divides itself into three sections.
1. The threat of judgment (Zechariah 11:1-3).
2. The description of the Good Shepherd (verse. 4-14).
3. The sketch of the foolish shepherd (Zechariah 11:15-17).
Lebanon, here, may be regarded as a symbol of the kingdom of Judah, its cedars as denoting the chief men of the kingdom.
I. A variety of distinction. The “cedar” here, the “fir tree,” or cypress, and the “oaks,” are employed to set forth some of the distinctions that prevailed amongst the Hebrew people. Now, whilst all men have a common origin, a common nature, and common moral obligations and responsibilities, yet in every generation there prevails a large variety of striking distinctions. There are not only the cedars and fir trees, but even briars and thistles. There is almost as great a distinction between the highest type of man and the lowest, as there is between the lowest and the highest type of brute. There are intellectual giants and intellectual dwarfs, moral monarchs and spiritual serfs. This variety of distinction in the human family serves at least two important purposes.
1. To check pride in the highest and despondency in the lowest. The cedar has no cause for boasting over the fir tree, or over the humblest plant it owes its existence to the same God, and is sustained by the same common elements. And what have the greatest men--the Shakespeares, the Schillers, the Miltons, the Goethes--to be proud of? What have they that they have not received? And why should the weakest man despond? He is what God made him, and his responsibilities are limited by his capacities. This variety serves--
2. To strengthen the ties of human brotherhood. Were all men of equal capacity, it is manifest that there would be no scope for that mutual ministry of interdependence which tends to unite society together. The strong rejoices in bearing the infirmities of the weak, and the weak rejoices in gratitude and hope on account of the succour received.
II. A common calamity. “Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen.” An expression which implies that the same fate awaits the fir tree. There is one event that awaits men of every type and class and grade, the tallest cedar and the most stunted shrub, that is death.
1. This common calamity levels all distinctions. “Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish forever.”
2. This common calamity should dematerialise all souls. Since we are only here on this earth for a few short years at most, why should we live to the flesh, and thus materialise our souls?
III. A natural alarm. “Howl, fir tree.” The howl, not of rage, not of sympathy, but of alarm. When the higher falls, the lower may well take the alarm. If the cedar gives way, let the cypress look out. This principle may apply to--
1. Communities. Amongst the kingdoms of the earth there are the “cedar” and the “fir tree.” The same may be said of markets. There are the cedars of the commercial world; great houses regulating almost the merchandise of the world.
2. Individuals. When men who are physically strong fall, let weaker men beware. When men who are moral cedars--majestic in character, and mighty in beneficent influences--fall, let the less useful take the alarm, and still more the useless. (Homilist.)
Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen--
The cedar and the fir
The prophecy, of which these words are a part, had its fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. The text would become applicable at a time of great national calamity. By the cedar tree the chief men of a country are represented, those who occupy the more prominent positions, and are, conspicuous by station and influence. When the cedar tree falls, when the princes of a land are brought down by disaster and death, men of inferior rank who, in comparison with these princes, are but as the fir tree compared with the cedar, may well tremble and fear, as knowing that their own day of trial must be rapidly approaching. These words, then, are universally applicable whenever calamity falls on those better or more exalted than ourselves, and such calamity may serve as a warning, teaching us to expect our own share of trouble. “Howl, fir tree”--tremble, and be afraid, ye sinful and careless ones, who, though planted in the garden of the Lord, bring not forth the fruits of righteousness. “The cedar is fallen,”--shall, then, the fir tree escape? “If judgment first begin at the house of God, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of Christ?” Take the text as setting forth the sufferings of the righteous as an evidence or token of the far greater which, in due time, must be the portion of the wicked. If the wicked were to ponder God’s dealings with the righteous, if the fir tree would observe what was done to the cedar, it could hardly be that future and everlasting punishment would be denied by any, or by any be practically disregarded. Let our blessed Saviour Himself be the first cedar tree on which we gaze. “Smitten of God and afflicted.” “A Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” His sufferings only then assume their most striking character when they are seen as demonstrations of the evil of sin. The atonement alone shows me what sin is in God’s sight. The Captain of our salvation was “made perfect through sufferings,” but the same discipline has been employed, from the first, in regard of all those whom God has conducted to glory. Under all dispensations affliction is an instrument of purification. The nearer we approach the times of the Gospel, the intenser becomes the discipline of suffering; as though God has designed to prepare men for an increase in tribulation, with an increase of privilege. The fact is undisputed, that, through much tribulation, men enter the kingdom of heaven. No fact should be more startling to those who are living without God, and perhaps secretly hoping for impunity at the last. They cannot deny that the cedar has been bent and blighted by the hurricane, whilst, comparatively, sunshine and calm have been around the fir. And from this they are bound to conclude the great fact of a judgment to come. Suppose it to be for purposes of discipline that God employs suffering--what does this prove but that human nature is thoroughly corrupt, requiring to be purged so as by fire, ere it can be fitted for happiness? And if there must be this fiery purification, what is the inference which ungodly men should draw, if not that they will be given up hereafter to the unquenchable flame, given up to it when that flame can neither annihilate their being, nor eradicate their corruption? It is probable enough that the wicked may be disposed to congratulate themselves on their superior prosperity, and to look with pity, if not with contempt, on the righteous, as the God whom they serve seems to reward them with nothing but trouble. But this can only be through want of consideration. It may certainly be inferred from these words, when applied in the modes indicated, that the present afflictions of the righteous shall be vastly exceeded by the future of the wicked. The “cedar is fallen,” and the fir tree is called upon to “howl,” as though it were about to be rent and shivered, as by the tempest and the thunder. The sufferings of the righteous might save the wicked from future torments, and that which prepares a good man for heaven might snatch a bad one from hell. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
This word “cedar” applies to Jerusalem, to the temple, to Lebanon. It is a general and symbolic term. It applies to all great characters, to all noble institutions, all sublime purposes. There was an abundance of cedar wood in the temple, so the temple was often called The Cedar, and what the temple was Jerusalem was. One element sometimes gives its character to everything into which it enters. The eternal doctrine of the text is that when the strong go down the weak should lay that significant circumstance to heart. How can the fir tree stand when the cedar is blown down? How can the weak defend the city when the mighty men have failed? What can the poor do after the kings of wealth? And if God can smite the mighty, can He not overwhelm the weak and the little? if He can rend the stars, and hurl the constellations out of their places, what about our clay walls and huts of dust?--surely He could sweep them away as with the tempestuous wind. And yet the weak have a place of their own. Trees have been blown down whilst daisies have been left undisturbed. There is a strength of littleness, there is a majesty of weakness, there is a charter of immunity granted to things that are very frail. The whirlwind does not destroy the flower that bends before its fury, but it often destroys the mighty tree that dares it to wrestle. How much we depend upon the cedar in all life, in all society, in all institutions! What is done by one man may be comparatively insignificant and may never be heard of, and that self-same thing done by another quality of man fills the world with amazement. How is that? Simply because of the quality. There are people who burrow in the earth, and what they do no man cares for, no man inquires; there are persons who have lived themselves down to the vanishing point of influence, that it is of no consequence whatsoever what they think or do. Other men can hardly breathe without the fact being noted and commented upon; the pulse cannot be unsteady without the whole journalism of the empire being filled with the tidings. The difference is the difference between the cedar and the fir tree. What is impossible in nature is possible in humanity: the fir tree can become the cedar, and the cedar can become the fir tree, and these continual changes constitute the very tragedy of human experience. Let it be known that some person has committed a theft in the city, and the theft will be reported in very small type, it is really of no consequence to cruel society what that person has done; but let a man of another sort do that very self-same thing, and there is no type large enough in which to announce the fact. It is not always so with the good deeds--“the good is oft interred with men’s bones.” There is no printer that cares to report charity, nobleness, meekness, forgiveness, great exercises of patience and forbearance. The printer was not made to intermeddle with that sacred fame. Such reputation is registered in heaven, is watched and guarded by the angels, and carries with itself its own guarantee of immortality. Yet this doctrine might easily be abused. A man might be fool enough to say that it is of no consequence what he does. But it is in reality of consequence, according to the circle within which he moves. Every man can make his home unhappy, every man can lay a burden upon the back of his child which the child is unable to sustain. That is the consummation of cruelty. If the man could but put a dagger into himself, and cause his own life continual agony, he might be doing an act of justice, he might be trying to compensate for the wrongs he has done to others: but when it is felt that everything that man does tells upon the child to the third and fourth generation, so that the child cannot get rid of the blood which the great-grandfather shed, then every man becomes of importance in his own sphere and in relation to the line of life which he touches. We apply this text personally and nationally, founding upon it our lamentations over fallen greatness. The great statesman dies, and the Church at once becomes filled with the eloquence of this text--“Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen,”--the lesson being, that the great man has gone, the great strength has vanished, and now weakness is exposed to a thousand attacks; weakness feels its defencelessness. Nor ought such eulogy be limited. Sentiment has to play a very serious part and a very useful part in the education of life. When men cease to revere greatness they cease to cultivate it. There is a philistinism that is near akin to impiety and profanity. All men are not alike, all men are not of one value; some men have the genius of insight and foresight, and some have it not; and when men who can see the coming time, and interpret the time that now is into its largest significances, are taken away from us, then those of us who occupy positions of commonplace may well feel that some tremendous bankruptcy has supervened in history, and the world is made poor forever. Yet this is not the spirit of the Gospel, which is always a spirit of good cheer and stimulus and hopefulness. We are not dependent now upon men, except in a secondary sense; we are dependent upon God alone:--The battle is not yours, but God’s; they that be for us are more than all that can be against us; our cedar is the Cross, and the Cross has never failed. Rome boasted that it had obliterated the Christian name but Rome boasted too soon. Ten persecutions followed one another in rapid and devastating succession; yet there were Christians still praying in secret, temples unknown and unnamed were frequented by ardent and passionate worshippers. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The death of great men
Mr. Jay was generally chaste and dignified in his composition, but occasionally used a quaintness of expression which in our day would be called “sensational.” The selection of his texts was sometimes ingenious--e.g., on two occasions, after the death of Robert Hall and Rowland Hill, his text was, “Howl, fir tree, for the cedar is fallen.” He always took advantage of public events, and thus brought nature and providence to his aid in instructing the people.
The cedar useful after it is fallen
The cedar is the most useful when dead. It is the most productive when its place knows it no more. There is no timber like it. Firm in grain, and capable of the finest polish, the tooth of no insect will touch it, and time himself can hardly destroy it. Diffusing a perpetual fragrance through the chamber which it ceils, the worm will not corrode the book which it protects, nor the moth corrupt the garment which it guards--all but immortal itself, it transfuses its amaranthine qualities into the objects around it. Every Christian is useful in his fife, but the goodly cedars are the most useful afterwards. Luther is dead, but the Reformation fives.
For their glory is spoiled
Bad men in high office
The men here reffered to called “shepherds,” which is a designation of men in power, men who politically and ecclesiastically presided over the people, the leaders. The “shepherds” have sometimes reached their positrons irrespective of the will of the people. The “shepherds” referred to here had an ambitious character. Likened to “young lions.”
1. That a man in high office who has a bad character is of all men the most contemptible A bad character in a pauper makes him contemptible; but a bad character in a king makes him ten times the more contemptible.
2. That it is the duty of all peoples to promote those alone to high office who have a high moral character.
II. Bad men in high office greatly distressed. “There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds,” etc. “The glory of these shepherds being spoiled,” says Wardlaw, “signifies the bringing down of all their honour and power and the wealth and luxury which, by the abuse of their power, they had acquired, all becoming a prey to the sacking and pillaging besiegers. The pride of Jordan lay in its evergreens and brushwood with which its banks were enriched and adorned; and these being the covert and habitation of the young lions, the two parts of the figure are appropriate. As the lions howl and roar in dismay and fury when dislodged from their refuges and dwelling places, whether by the swelling flood sweeping over their lairs, or from the cutting down or the burning of their habitations, so should the priests and rulers of Jerusalem be alarmed and struck with desperation and rage, when they found their city, within whose walls they had counted themselves secure from the very possibility of hostile entrance, laid open to the outrage of an exasperated enemy, and all its resources given up to plunder and destruction--country as well as city thrown into confusion and desolation!” Such rulers may well be distressed--
1. Because all the keen-sighted and honest men over whom they preside despise them.
2. Because the Righteous Governor of the world has denounced them. (Homilist.)
Feed the flock of the slaughter
Oppressed people and their opressors
A duty enjoined towards oppressed peoples. “Feed the flock (sheep) of the slaughter.” These shepherds, these rulers of the Hebrew people, “slaughtered” the people. Their rights, energies, liberties and independency are “slaughtered,” their means of subsistence and advancement are “slaughtered.” People “slaughtered” in these respects abound in every state and place in Europe. “Feed” them--
1. With the knowledge of their rights as men.
2. With the knowledge of the true methods to obtain these rights. Not by violence and spoliation but by moral means, by skilful industry, by temperate habits, by economic management, by moral suasion.
3. With the knowledge of worthy motives by which to obtain these rights.
II. Here is a sketch of the authors of oppression.
1. They are cruel. “Whose possessors slay them.”
2. They are impious. In all their cruelties they “hold themselves not guilty.” The greatest despots of the world have ever been ready to justify themselves to their own consciences.
3. They are avaricious. “And they that sell them, say, Blessed be the Lord; for I am rich.” A miserable greed was their inspiration. (Homilist.)
A good shepherd
I would give my life for these poor people of the Soudan. How can I help feeling for them? All the time I was there, every night I used to pray that God would lay upon me the burden of their sins, and crush me with it instead of these poor sheep. I really wished it and longed for it. (General Gordon.)
I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land
A terrible doom, and an invaluable privilege
A terrible doom. “For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land.” What is the doom? The abandonment of God.
1. This abandonment came after great kindness. For long centuries He had manifested the greatest kindness to the Hebrew people. From their rescue from Egypt down to this hour He had been merciful to them. “My Spirit will not always strive with man.”
2. This abandonment involved inexpressible ruin. They were given up to the heathen cruelty of one another and to the violence of foreigners. If God abandon us, what are we? This will be the doom of the finally impenitent. “Depart from Me.”
II. An invaluable privlege. “I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” “When He saw the multitudes He wast moved with compassion towards them, because, they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. ”I am the Good Shepherd,” said Christ. Conclusion--Thank God, we are not abandoned yet. God is with us as a shepherd. He is seeking the lost and feeding those who are in His fold. (Homilist.)
The saddest spectacle earth can show is a shipwrecked life--the terrible loss of all the possibilities humanity involves. If a man quenches the light God gives him, and by self-indulgence and unfaithfulness so debauches his spirit that at last he is deserted by every angel of purity and goodness, and becomes unvisited by even the desire for any spiritual attainment, then there is a lost soul in the most awful sense, whether here or in the world to come. (Dr. Macleod.)
And I took unto Me two staves--
Two shepherd’s staves
In the next place is represented Christ’s undertaking of this charge, and His going diligently about it, signified by two shepherds’ staves the first whereof, called Beauty, holds forth the sweet and beautiful order of His Covenant, and the doctrine thereof, whereby the Church is directed in faith, worship, and obedience of God. The second, called Bands, signifies that policy in Church and State whereby they are kept one, and without schisms among themselves.
1. Christ the Mediator became as obedient servant, and is willing, and takes pleasure to be employed for His Church’s good; and will have a tender consideration of their case.
2. Christ in His care over the visible Church, bath an especial eye to His elect, and the regenerate in it, how abject-like soever they seem in the eyes of men, or in their outward condition.
3. Christ is a faithful shepherd, singular and incomparable in His care and diligence about His people for, saith He, “I took unto Me two staves,” whereas other shepherds use but one.
4. The Covenant and doctrine revealed by Christ unto His Church, as it sets forth the beauty and excellency of God, so it is beautiful and sweetly ordered in itself, so as faith and obedience sweetly work to others’ hands, and make the followers thereof to be beautiful and excellent above all people; for “the one staff I called Beauty.”
5. As unity and concord in a Church is a fruit of Christ’s feeding His flock, so policy and order, whereby unity is preserved, is a rich blessing. “The other I called Bands.”
6. Christ’s performances are answerable to His undertakings: what He saith He doth; and His practice will never give His promise the lie: for unto His promise, “I will feed,” is subjoined, “And I fed the flock.” (George Hutcheson.)
The staves of Beauty and Bands broken
I. Unity from union with God is national beauty. It is the union of the members of the body with the head which gives to the entire frame its dignity and beauty. A headless trunk has no beauty, but when body and limbs are fitly framed together, that symmetry is attained which God intended. The beauty of a tree consists in the union of branches by union with the trunk. The unity of the Hebrew nation was destroyed by their wilful severance of them selves from their Divine Head. Lack of union with God brought discord into the nation and destroyed their national beauty (Psalms 133:1-3.).
II. Men must have a soul shepherd, and when God is rejected they must have a bad one. If a road is known to one person only, any other man who offers to guide the traveller must be his enemy. If a man is deeply wounded, he must have help from some one outside himself, and the quack who undertakes to heal him, and is ignorant of the proper way to treat him, will be likely to be his murderer. There is but one Being who is acquainted with the soul’s needs; if He is rejected, any other must harm the soul. God claims to be the only Saviour. “There is none beside Me” (Isaiah 45:21). Christ warned Israel against false shepherds, yet, as a nation, they chose them and rejected Him, and as He only could really lead and feed them, their choice necessarily issued in their ruin.
III. Sin disinherits men and nations of their God-given portion. (Outlines by London Minister.)
Beauty and Bands the two staves of the Divine Shepherd
As long as sin will be in the world the oppressor and the oppressed are sure to be here; for it is in the nature of sin to make men hard, cruel, and oppressive. The exaltation of a man above his fellow men in wealth, honour, authority, and power is no reason whatever why he should despise and oppress them, but, on the contrary, it should be a reason for him to deal kindly towards them. The wealth of the rich man should be an inducement to him to remember the poor, and the strength of the strong should be an inducement to him to help the weak. For a consolation to the oppressed in their sufferings and a warning to the oppressor, the Bible teaches in a clear manner that God will surely visit the one in mercy and the other in judgment; the same hand that bestows favours graciously and tenderly upon the oppressed holds the sword of vengeance above the oppressor. In this chapter God said that He was going to visit the rulers of His people in judgment because they were oppressing them. “Thus said the Lord my God: Feed the flock of slaughter; 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.” How abominable this must have been in the sight of God! After accumulating wealth through cruelty and oppression they sanctimoniously praised God for prospering them. But while these unjust and oppressive rulers were thus justifying themselves, destruction overtook them. “For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord,” etc. But when God visits the oppressor in judgment He does not forget the oppressed in their poverty, sufferings, and misery, for He said, “So I fed the flock of slaughter, verily the poor of the flock.” So in the text we have a striking and beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus as the Great Shepherd of souls. It has been truly observed by an able commentator, that no image of Christ has so deeply impressed itself upon the mind of the Church as that of a shepherd, as is shown by Christian literature and art, and our hymns and prayers. The Eastern shepherd would never be seen without his staff or crook. But reference is made here to two staves, and David says of the Lord as his Shepherd, “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” In our text there are names given to the two staves; one is called “Beauty,” and the other “Bands,” which are to be taken emblematically to show that the Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Shepherd will lead, protect, beautify, and unite His people as one great and glorious flock.
I. The Lord Jesus Christ feeding His people, “Lo, I fed the flock of the slaughter, verily the poor of the flock.” When their own shepherds pity them not, the Divine Shepherd makes them to lie down in peace and security in the green pastures of spiritual blessings, and leads them beside the still waters of heavenly influences. He lives for the sake of His sheep, and so they find in Him their true Shepherd. Naturally the objects of our greatest care and anxiety will have the largest place in our affections, and it is not easy for us to conceive the tender affection and close attachment that would gradually grow between the Eastern shepherd and his sheep.
II. The Lord Jesus Christ protecting and guiding His people. With the staves the shepherd rules, protects, and guides his sheep. He uses the crook to prevent them from going astray, and to pull them back from dangerous places. God’s people, like sheep, are very prone to go astray. He very often draws them by His crook from temptations and dangers which they are not in the least aware of. Think of a promising young man, who has been brought up in a religious family, enticed by bad companions into the forbidden paths of sinful pleasures; but before he falls over the precipice of destruction, the Good Shepherd, through sickness, or the death of a companion or a near relation, mercifully draws him back by His crook. The apostle Peter wandered far astray, but Christ followed him faithfully, and gently brought him back. The Divine Shepherd dealt in a similar manner with Thomas, who had wandered far into the wilderness of doubt and unbelief. And we do not know from how many dangers and temptations we have been rescued by the Divine Shepherd with His crook.
III. The Lord Jesus Christ beautifying His people. He will bring out to its highest perfection the beautiful individuality of each one of His followers. This is taught by the symbolic name of one of the two staves, which is called “Beauty.” God, under the old dispensation, through various means and ministrations, aimed at ennobling and beautifying His people; and notwithstanding all their faults, they looked beautiful compared to the idolatrous nations by which they were surrounded. In the Book of the prophet Jeremiah they are called a “beautiful flock.” Their God, who is called the Shepherd of Israel, had made them beautiful by saving, protecting, and guiding them, and richly bestowing His blessings upon them. So does the Lord Jesus Christ in a similar way sanctify and beautify His people; from His love, gentleness, care, faithfulness, and self-sacrificing Spirit there goes forth a mighty influence silently to purify their nature and ennoble and beautify their character. He washes them in His own blood, and beautifies and adorns them with His own heavenly Spirit. This is the beauty of holiness, “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” They are changed into the image of Christ from glory to glory by the influence of His Spirit dwelling in them. We can say that the Great Shepherd is perfectly impartial in the bestowal of His sanctifying and beautifying influences upon all God’s erring children, whom He strives to gather together into one beautiful flock. The sun is perfectly impartial in the distribution of its heat and light, which bring out the beauty of the flowers and the trees. One flower cannot say to another, The sun has taken more trouble to beautify and adorn you than me, for it shines equally the same for all. So Christ the Sun of Righteousness distributes its purifying and beautifying influences equally impartially to all
IV. The Lord Jesus Christ uniting His people. In the union of the human and the Divine in the person of the Good Shepherd all men are virtually united in Him, and He will not rest satisfied until all are actually made one in Him. This blessed truth is implied by the name of the other staff, which is called “Bands,” which teaches that the Divine Shepherd not only sanctifies and beautifies His people individually, but also unites them socially into one great and glorious company. As the shepherd carefully gathers his sheep together into the fold, so Goes Christ gather all men together. Moses, Socrates, Plato, Gautama, Zoroaster, John, Peter, Paul, Mohammed, Luther, Wesley, and others are all His under-shepherds, and ultimately He will bring all their flocks together. He has died for all, seeks all, and will save all. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw an men unto Myself.” The shepherd feels restless and uneasy if one sheep is waning, in the fold. So Christ the Good Shepherd will not feel satisfied until the last erring sheep has been safely brought into the heavenly fold, and He will not leave the wilderness as long as there is one wandering sheep to be brought home. (Z. Mather.)
My soul lothed them, and their soul also abhorred Me
A mutual dislike between God and man
This mutual moral antagonism is manifestly abnormal. It is not conceivable that the all-wise and all-loving Maker of the universe would create beings whom He would loathe and who would abhor Him. Such an idea is opposed at once to our intuitions and our conclusions. In the pristine state of humanity, God loved man, and man loved God.
II. This mutual moral antagonism implies wrong on man’s part. For Infinite Purity and Righteousness to loathe the corrupt and the wrong is not only right, but a necessity of the Divine character. He abhorreth sin; it is the “abominable thing” which He hates. This is His glory. But for man to abhor Him, this is the great sin, the fontal sin, the source of all other sins.
III. This mutual moral antagonism explains the sin and wretchedness of the world. Why does the world abound with falsehoods, dishonesties and oppressions, unchastities, cruelties, and impieties? Because human souls are not in supreme sympathy with the supremely good, because they are at enmity with God, because God loathes sin.
IV. This mutual moral antagonism argues the necessity for a reconciliation. The great want of the world is the reconciliation of man to the character and the friendship of God. Such a reconciliation requires no change on God’s part. His loathing is the loathing of love, love loathing the wrong and the miserable. The change must be on man’s part. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. (Homilist.)
A time comes in the history of incorrigible nations and incorrigible individuals when they are rejected of heaven.
I. The cause of this lamentable event. “My soul loatheth them.”
II. The result. The results here are threefold.
1. The cessation of Divine mercy. “I will not feed you.”
2. Abandonment to self-ruin. “That that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off.” “The wages of sin is death.” “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
3. Deliverance to mutual tormentors. “And let the rest eat everyone the flesh of another.” All these results were realised in a material sense in the rejection of the Jewish people. Josephus tells us that in the destruction of Jerusalem, pestilence, famine, and intestine discord ran riot amongst the God-rejected people. These material evils are but faint emblems of the spiritual evils that must be realised by every God-rejected soul.
III. The sign. “And I took My staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break My convenant which I had made with all the people.” The Divine Shepherd is represented as having two staves, or crooks; ordinary shepherds have only one. Expositors in their interpretation of these staves differ here as in most places elsewhere in this book. Some say they indicate the double care that the Divine Shepherd takes of his people; some, the different methods of treatment pursued by the Almighty Shepherd towards His people; some, that they refer to the house of of Judah and to the house of Israel, indicating that neither was to be left out in the mission of the work of the Good Shepherd; and some, that the one called “Beauty”--which means grace--represents the merciful dispensation, under which the Hebrew people had been placed; and the other staff called “Bands,” the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. One thing seems clear, that the cutting of the staff called “Beauty” asunder was a symbol of their rejection from all future grace and mercy. It may be stated as a general truth, that all heaven-rejected souls have signs of their miserable condition. What are the general signs?
1. Practical ignorance of God.
2. Utter subjection to the senses.
3. Complete devotion to selfish aims.
4. Insensibility of conscience. (Homilist.)
Abhorring the name of God
“For the last ten years I (Gambetta) have made a pledge with myself to entirely avoid introducing the name of God into any speech of mine. You can hardly believe how difficult it has been, but I have succeeded, thank God!” (Dieu merci!) Thus the name so sternly tabooed rose unconsciously to his lips at the very moment when he was congratulating himself on having overcome the habit of using it. (E. D. Pressense.)
So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver
The goodly price of Jesus
Satan’s dealings with the human family may be truthfully described as one gigantic system of bribery and corruption.
He has bribes of all sorts, and of different kinds and characters, and he knows how to apply them. He takes care to suit his bribe to the person who is being bribed. With some of us wealth is no particular object. But even while we spurn that bribe we are open to others. Before one man Satan puts the possibility of revelling in pleasure, before another a dream of ambition, before another literary distinction, before another domestic happiness. This system of bribery and corruption was fully shown when Satan entered the lists against the Saviour of the world. When the Son of God, made man, stood before the tempter in the wilderness, it was after this fashion that he dared to proceed. On that occasion Satan presented to the view of our blessed Master the very highest bribe that was ever offered. Of all the assaults which he made on our blessed Lord, this seems to have been the least successful. On other occasions he was very subtle; he approached our Lord very cautiously, but he made no headway; on each occasion he was met with wisdom and firmness. Satan is very frugal with his bribes. What is all his bribery and corruption for? How comes it to pass that Satan thus exerts his malignant skill in endeavouring to gain an influence over us? Satan’s prime object is, to carry out his rebellious purposes in the very face of the everlasting purposes of Jehovah. We, Christians, believe that in the end God will manifest His own wisdom by triumphing completely over Satan’s malignant skill, but that for the time being appearances are otherwise. There is no class of persons in human history for whom we feel a greater contempt than for traitors. We all despise a traitor. Who is there that can have any respect for a man like Judas Iscariot? And yet the sin that Judas committed is the sin that is being committed by the slaves of Satan still. We have not, indeed, the power of doing what Judas did. But as it is possible for us to “crucify” our Lord afresh, so it is possible to betray Him afresh into the hands of His enemies. How can this be done? This nature of ours, what is it? It is a citadel of the living God; it should be an abode of the Eternal Spirit. Every one of you belongs to God. If we refuse to recognise His right it is simply because we are already in our own hearts traitors against His love. The Lord is aware of his enticements. So He says to us: “If it seem good unto you, give Me My price.” If you are going to barter My rights for that which Satan offers you; if you are going to play the part of a base and perfidious traitor, make up your mind what your bargain is to be; look your own act in the face. If men and women were to sit down and ask themselves the question: “What price have I accepted for Jesus; for how great a consideration have I agreed with Satan to make over my soul to his influences, and to live the life that he would have me lead?” they would soon repent of their bribe. Little do you think that when you are selling the rights of Jesus you are actually selling your own interests. The man that sells Jesus sells his own soul, and there is no man that makes so bad a bargain as the man who accepts the devil’s bribes for the betrayal of Jesus. Look at this miserable man Judas. Can you fancy how he crept down that dark street? He felt already as if he were standing on the very verge of hell. The bargain was struck. And what a bargain it was! It did not seem much to get for Jesus--thirty pieces of silver. Then the end for Judas. It is the way the devil’s bribe will always end. He makes you fair promises; he takes you by the hand; he pleads with you; he lays all tempting things before you; but behind them all he has got the hangman’s rope ready, and the scaffold is prepared, and the awful moment of doom is drawing nearer and nearer. By and by come the agonies of remorse, the terrors of despair, and the awful horrors of a lost eternity. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
A model spiritual teacher
Why these words should have been referred to by Matthew, and applied to Christ and Judas, I cannot explain. They may fairly be employed to illustrate a model spiritual teacher in relation to secular acknowledgments of His teachings.
I. He leaves the secular acknowledgment to the free choice of those to whom His services have been rendered. “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give Me My price; and if not, forbear.” He does not exact anything, nor does he even suggest any amount.
II. His spiritual services are sometimes shamefully underrated. “So they weighed for My price thirty pieces of silver.” Thirty shekels. An amount in our money of about £3, 2s. 6d. This was the price they put on His services, just the price paid to a bond servant (Exodus 31:1-18).
1. Do not determine the real worth of a spiritual teacher by the amount of his stipend.
2. Deplore the inappreciativeness of the world of the highest services.
III. His independent soul repudiates inadequate secular acknowledgments, “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 east them to the potter in the house of the Lord.” He felt the insult of being offered such a miserable sum. “Cut it unto the potter,” a proverbial expression, meaning, throw it to the temple potter. “The most suitable person to whom to cast the despicable sum, plying the trade, as he did, in the polluted valley of Hinnom, because it furnished him with the most suitable clay.” A true teacher would starve rather than accept such a miserable acknowledgment for his services. Your money perish with you! (Homilist.)
Mean treatment of an old prophet by his people
Here is an old Jewish prophet honourably putting himself in the hands of his congregation, who is dismissing himself with thirty pieces of silver.
I. An old prophet’s manly offer to his congregation. If you think good, give me my price. If you are weary of me, pay me off and discharge me. If you be willing to continue me longer in your service, I will continue; or turn me off without wages--I am content. His spirit is
II. The Church’s miserable acceptance of his offer. “So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.” They accepted the offer--
1. Immediately. They took no time for consideration. The money was ready for dismissal.
2. Despicably. Thirty shekels.
3. Dishonourably. Dismissing an old pastor with such a paltry sum. Parting with the man of God with a sham testimonial. An old prophet, after a long service of usefulness, cast upon the world with thirty pieces of silver.
4. Studiously mean. “They weighed thirty pieces of silver.” They shamefully put the lowest possible value on his ministry. See the extreme want of appreciation of good pastoral service. Zechariah’s ministry was Divine. What wretchedness of dealing with the prophetic shepherd of Israel. Salary is no test of a good ministry. Some of the best are badly paid: The geniuses are frequently unworthily recognised by their congregations. Jonathan Edwards was too poor to get paper to pen down his superhuman thoughts in the ministry.
III. The prophet’s manly disdain of his people’s meanness. “And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter,” etc. The act was--
1. Divine. “And the Lord said unto me.”
2. Manfully done.
3. A proof of their meanness.
IV. An old prophet robbed of his just claim.
1. Scriptural claim. “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth the corn.”
2. Social. For the “workman is worthy of his hire.”
3. Equitable. Every class of, people have power to claim their due, why not the ministry?
4. Divine. “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.” “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? And who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit,” etc. It is nothing but right for the ministry to get and have their due, for the credit of the Church and the good of their successors. Honesty is virtue everywhere. Conclusion--God frequently punishes publicly mean churches by presenting them with shepherds of extreme barbarity and cruelty. Meanness will be punished. (J. Morlais Jones.)
The price of our redemption
The exact agreement of this prophecy with the event it predicts would be sufficient to render this chapter more than ordinarily interesting. But it has a still greater claim on our regard, since it contains the passage which I have chosen as the subject of this discourse, than which no prophecy is more clear, no prediction more close and circumstantial. To whichever prophet or to what particular book the passage before us may be attributed, its circumstantial and prophetic description of an extraordinary event connected with man’s redemption cannot be denied. How trifling was the sum for which Judas sold his immortal soul. What could be his motive we at this distant hour can scarcely conceive. It has been said to have been avarice. But the sum of two or three pounds is surely too small a temptation even for the most covetous of mankind to betray and deliver to certain death his kindest friend and benefactor. The Gospel expressly tells us the crime originated at the instigation of Satan. Man’s salvation was bought with a price. What that price was, let the service of the Church at this season describe. Not even for a moment can a sincere disciple of Christ forget the words of the Apostle: “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (John Nance, D. D.)
Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd
The instruments of a foolish shepherd
The command addressed to the prophet was, “to take unto him yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd.
” “Yet” means “again,” “once more.” “Beauty” and “bands” were also instruments of a foolish shepherd. He was to take other instruments so as to manifest more visibly and strikingly what a foolish shepherd is. By “foolish” understand ungodly, unregenerate, destitute of heavenly imparted wisdom, and therefore in God’s account a fool. The “foolish shepherd” is therefore a natural man lifted up by education, pride, covetousness, or presumption into a pulpit, and devoid of spiritual illumination and heavenly wisdom. He has certain instruments which the prophet was to take as emblems of his character. What they were the Holy Ghost has not here informed us, but as we may gather them from other parts of Scripture I shall take the liberty to put them into his hand.
1. A mask. The thing it represents, namely, deceit and imposture, is as old as the times of Jannes and Jambres. To wear a mask is to play a false part, to assume a fictitious character, to be a stage player; for in ancient times the actors never appeared but in masks, the features of which imitated the persons they represented. Thus the foolish shepherd makes the people his stage, his holy countenance being his mask, and his false zeal loud speech, and impassioned rant his wardrobe; and thus by craft and cunning he entangles the simple in his net.
2. A sceptre. The badge of authority and power.
3. A pair of sharp shears; for we read that “they clothe themselves with the wool,” and of course must have something to get the wool off with. To receive what is voluntarily given is a different thing from clipping off as much wool as possible, or cutting so close as to fetch blood, and take off a bit of the skin.
4. A long whip that shall reach every corner of the pen, to flog all that stir up the enmity of his carnal mind, by what he calls a discontented mind.
5. A bow, and a quiver full of arrows; to reach those at a distance who are beyond the lash of the whip. Come now to his character, which the Holy Ghost has here drawn, and as we learn much from contraries, it will afford us an opportunity of seeing from the contrast what the wise shepherd is..
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25