Faithless Shepherds Condemned

My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the LORD of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah, and will make them like his majestic steed in battle” (v. 3).

- Zechariah 10

Post-exilic Judah continued to have problems maintaining its faithfulness to the Lord at the end of the sixth century BC. Although history tells us that the Jews, by and large, did not practice the same rank paganism that characterized the nations of Israel and Judah before their exiles, the Judahites after the exile still fell prey to superstition. We see in today’s passage, for example, that the prophet Zechariah had to tell the people to ask the Lord for rain and to stop trusting the fortune-tellers and household idols for guidance (Zech. 10:1–2).

Actually, it seems that the leaders of the people were those most guilty of this sin, for Zechariah refers in the same context to shepherds for God’s people, who in truth were no shepherds at all (vv. 2–3). The initial leadership of post-exilic Judah was relatively competent, if not perfect, as both Haggai and Zechariah have some things to say about Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest (Hag. 1–2; Zech. 3). However, this would not last. We do not know whether Zerubbabel and Joshua fell into the sins Zechariah describes in today’s passage. Yet even if those two leaders maintained their righteousness and Zechariah refers only to other authority figures in the community, the people’s leadership in general was clearly not living up to its high calling, explaining why the sufferings of exile, if not banishment from the land itself, continued. As the New Testament tells us, this suffering would continue right up until the first century, although the leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ day treated their non-biblical traditions as idols, not other deities (Matt. 2:16–18; 15:1–9).

Consequently, Zechariah indicates that the return from exile in the sixth century BC was not the return and restoration promised by the earlier prophets (Isa. 25; Jer. 31:31–40). At best it was a meager beginning—almost a false start—to what God had in store for His own. We see this in Zechariah’s reference to a return that was yet to come in his day. The full ingathering was yet future, for though many Jews had come back to the Promised Land from Babylon, the prophet foresaw a still greater return. Using Egypt and Assyria as metaphors for subjugation and captivity, Zechariah 10:10 says the house of Judah and the house of Joseph will be strengthened and brought back to Gilead and Lebanon, which are metaphors for fertility and blessing (Song 4:1; Ezek. 31:16). By including Judah and Joseph (the father of Ephraim, the chief tribe of the northern kingdom of Israel), Zechariah shows that the entire company of God’s chosen nation—Judah and Israel—would experience this salvation.

Coram Deo

Daniel 9 had said the conditions of exile would be extended, and Zechariah’s prophecy in today’s passage confirms this. We should also see in Zechariah 10 that when God’s people do not respond in faith and obedience, their rescue may be—from our perspective—delayed. Of course, the Lord always knows exactly when His people will fulfill the conditions He has given to us. However, let us know that if we want blessing, we must obey today.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 11
Proverbs 8
Malachi 2:2
John 15:10

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