Friday, November 14, 2008

Zechariah 11

The previous chapters have been building to a climax. God is promising to remove external powers and to reunify Israel, even though this will take a divine intervention of the scale of the Exodus event.

And these expectations look like they will be fulfilled in the first 3 verses. The cedar evokes a majestic ruler—perhaps Babylon, though I'm more and more persuaded it may be Persia—and this means his subordinate rulers in Bashan and, more importantly, Jerusalem mourn their loss. While they are called shepherds, this strong association with a northern ruler supports the thought they are not faithful Israelite leaders. There's something wrong with them.

But where the whole game is revealed is in 11:4-11. Not only are the shepherds revealed to be self-interested and selfish just as in Ezekiel 34, but the people are described as 'sheep for slaughter'.With Ezekiel in mind they sound like victims . But turning to Jeremiah 12:3, the sheep of the slaughter are those marked for judgment because, in Jer 12:4, they defile the land. The problem introduced in the first half of Zechariah (Zech 6;8)! And in Zechariah the frustration with the shepherds quickly becomes frustration with the sheep. The people were supposed to be waiting for Yahweh's intervention, but neither they nor the people are at all willing to be led by the prophet Zechariah. And so, using imagery from Ezekiel 37, the hope of reunification is shattered. Yahweh was for the people. He was prepared to reunite them. But when the time came, they were unwilling despite his benevolent leadership and their leaders were rebellious, just like in the days of Jeremiah. In 11:12-16 we discover the contempt is even from the "buyers" (is this a shift in metaphor?) who pay a paltry amount for his shepherding—something Yahweh considers an assessment of his leadership. (Again, Jeremiah is evoked.) And so the people are abandoned. Worse, they are given poor leadership, manifest in a particular leader who is cursed even though he is God's chosen leader. The restoration promised in Ezekiel 36 HAS NOT COME. If it is to come, it is not through this political turmoil. Why? Because of the enduring rebellion of the people.

This message is not that surprising when we consider the wider message of Ezekiel, for there it was not just leadership that needed repairing, but the heart of the people. And Zechariah finds this problem is not resolved. Though the temple is built, though the people are returned to the land a remnant, the essential transformation to godliness has not yet happened. Contrary to many readings of these books, its concern is not merely re-establishing cultic activity but also the faithfulness to God that should accompany it.

New Testament implications generally are that the people of Christ's day are still expecting the exilic promises to be fulfilled. The return was not complete. Its fulfilment fell short (because of the people's sins). And so there is every context established for Jesus' coming. And yet, it is 30 pieces of silver that Jesus is sold for. Where the shepherd was paid in Zechariah, an ironic twist sees the shepherd sold 'like a sheep for slaughter.' Like Zechariah, the New Testament authors see a complex of expectations fulfilled as Christ is crucified. But important for our passage, their fulfilment witnesses to the rejection of God's chosen leader by the people and their leaders. Whatever solution Zechariah has in store must deal with an entrenched problem. For now, we are warned of the danger of rejecting God's shepherd. We also may exclude ourselves from receiving his promises.

No comments: