The Flock Doomed to Slaughter

April 2, 2000

Did you know that there is a prophecy in the Bible that foreshadows both Jesus' rejection, and the Jewish Holocaust? This single prophecy contains the following:
  • The Shepherd of Israel, the Messiah, would be detested by many of His "sheep"
  • The Shepherd would be valued at 30 pieces of silver
  • This money would be thrown into the Temple
  • It would be given "to the potter"
  • Because of this rejection, the Shepherd would temporarily remove His favor and care from them
  • The Jews would be sold and slaughtered with impunity
  • God would seem to be unconcerned about these horrible events
  • He would not rescue them from their plight
  • Those who slaughtered them would also plunder them and acquire great wealth
  • Those who plundered them would say their gain was caused by God

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 from their hands." 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. 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 all 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 It was revoked on that day, and so the afflicted of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the LORD. 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. And the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"--the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter. (Zechariah 11:4-13 NIV)

When the Lord showed me a glimpse of the pain in His heart, expressed in this prophecy, there was a profound grieving in my soul. This prophecy is about a shepherd who was detested by His flock. He was given a directive to pasture the flock, to tenderly care for them. Though they were hostile to Him, and provoked Him, still He pastured them, for He was a good and obedient shepherd. Strangely enough, despite His continuous compassion and care for the flock, they detested him. But still He loved them intensely.

Eventually, however, the flock had so thoroughly rejected Him as shepherd that He wearied of His duties, and abandoned them to the predators. He began to abhor the flock, and said in disdain, "I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish." In anger, He broke the staff the He had used to tend for them, shattering the symbol of His care and favor. In doing so, He annulled the covenant He had made with the nations, the one that commanded that the nations would not be able to touch and molest His flock. Then the flock was marked for slaughter, and He sold them for a pittance to cruel and heartless tyrants. The buyers were gleeful about their sudden riches. They slaughtered the flock with impunity, yet went unpunished. They even attributed their good fortune to the Lord. The shepherd who had sold them observed the slaughter, with no apparent signs of concern for the flock He had once cared for.

Jesus came to earth as the Messiah who would shepherd Israel. In the famous prophecy of Micah regarding Bethlehem and the birth of the Messiah, it also says, "He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God." (Micah 5: NIV) However, they were not willing to have Him as shepherd; they rejected Him. John says, "He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him." (John 1:11 NASB) Jesus Himself described the reception He received: they "hated him... saying, we do not want this man to rule over us." (Luke 19:14)

According to Zechariah, when the flock detested Him and the Shepherd was terminated by the flock, He allegorically asked them whether He was going to get any back wages for His shepherding efforts. He said, "If you think it best, give me my pay, but if not, keep it." (v. 12) What, if any, was the amount He had earned by faithfully tending them for so many years, through so many precarious situations? They decided that the amount was 30 pieces of silver. What bitterness we hear in his voice as He throws the money back at them, into the temple. "This is the 'handsome price' at which you have valued me? This is what I am worth after all of those years of taking care of you?"

Jesus foretold that the result of this rejection would be, among other things, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. "For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:33-34 NASB) He also prophesied this in a parable about the Father's response to those who spurned the invitation for the wedding banquet of the Son: "The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city." (Matthew 22:7 NIV)

This prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled about four decades later. The slaughter of the Jews commenced in 70 AD, when Titus besieged and conquered Jerusalem in a horrific bloodbath. The Jews were cast out, and for the next 19 centuries suffered banishment from the land God had promised them. He had warned them many times that their situation would be bleak if they continued to reject Him, and that is what has happened throughout history. "Wherever I banish them, all the survivors of this evil nation will prefer death to life, declares the LORD Almighty." (Jeremiah 8:3 NIV)

In Deuteronomy 32, the LORD had given Israel a picture of what would happen if they deserted Him: "You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. "I will hide my face from them," he said, "and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful. They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding. For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap calamities upon them and spend my arrows against them....They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them. If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be! How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, unless the LORD had given them up?"

"I will heap calamities upon them," said the Lord, and that is what has happened. The woeful tale of the history of the Jews is heaped with calamities. There is a portion of Psalm 44 that could have been written by any historian to describe the treatment of the Jews in the lands were they were scattered. It is a complaint of the people to the Lord regarding His treatment of them: "You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale. You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us." (Psalm 44:11-14 NIV) Indeed, He had threatened them that He would do all of those things: "I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, an object of ridicule and cursing, wherever I banish them." (Jeremiah 24:9 NIV)

The fulfillment of these dreadful promises has made the history of the Jews a legacy of horror. However, those who inflicted the horrors upon them are very guilty before God. Just as He judged Babylon for carrying out His orders in 586 B.C., so too all of the nations to whom the Jews were made "abhorrent" will be judged for their treatment of them. The shocking history of the mistreatment of the Jews, consisting of pogroms, massacres, banishments, and oppression, was foretold in the Scriptures, but the agents who carried those out are culpable before God. Yes, God allowed these things to happen, and did not step in to stop it; but He is not the originator of evil. God is not the one who inspired Hitler to dream up "the final solution." Hitler was heavily involved in the occult, and his demented schemes were a product of this dark ideology.

The culmination of the persecutions, the Holocaust, was foretold in this prophecy by Zechariah. While the horrific and unthinkable slaughter of the Jews continued unabated in Europe, God seemed unconcerned. Those who were in league with the Nazis acquired vast wealth as they slaughtered millions of Jews. Zechariah prophesied about the monetary gains of the Nazis and others, who took over Jewish possessions and businesses and became incredibly wealthy. They even did it in the name of the Lord, using "Christian" terminology to rationalize it, fulfilling another grotesque portion of that prophecy. In an incredibly perverse distortion of Christian teaching, they justified their murders by saying the Jews deserved it for killing their Christ. That is a sickening distortion of the Scriptures - no genuine Christian would condone such atrocities.

Anyone that has done much reading about the Holocaust knows that the Jews are haunted and obsessed by this question: "Why did the Lord abandon us to this horrible slaughter? Why did He not intervene? Doesn't He care about us?" This is so sad to contemplate, but the Lord given them ample warning. Speaking through Zechariah, He informed them in advance of His response to their rejection of the Lord of glory: "I will no longer have pity... I will not rescue them." (v. 6) The cry of many in Europe in the 1940s, and indeed throughout the many centuries has been, "Lord, why do you not pity us? Why do you not rescue us?" But the Shepherd did not answer.

There was no answer because the covenant of "favor" had been shattered. What covenant was Zechariah referring to? On Sinai, the Lord told Moses "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites." (Exodus 19:3-6 NIV)

In Leviticus 26, the LORD reiterated this covenant, reassuring them of His care for them, and giving a series of stern warnings to Israel. He said " (You will) live in safety in your land. 'I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid.... I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people." But in a progression of warnings with increasingly stern consequences, he states, "If after all this you will not listen to me, then..." Five times he says that, each time increasing the consequences if they do not listen and keep the covenant. Finally He says, "If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.... I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I will abhor you....I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you.... You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers' sins they will waste away."

The prophet Jeremiah saw a vision of the dreadful future treatment of the Jews as they languished among the nations. This sounds like it was written by a modern historian looking at the Jew's suffering in Europe through the centuries: "Away! Unclean!" people shouted at them; "Away! Away! Do not touch!" So they became fugitives and wanderers; it was said among the nations, "They shall stay here no longer." The LORD himself has scattered them, he will regard them no more; no honor was shown to the priests, no favor to the elders. Our eyes failed, ever watching vainly for help; we were watching eagerly for a nation that could not save. They dogged our steps so that we could not walk in our streets; our end drew near; our days were numbered; for our end had come. Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles in the heavens; they chased us on the mountains, they lay in wait for us in the wilderness." (Lamentations 4:15-19 NRSV)

The Scriptures are full of the prophetic plaintive pleadings of Jewish people, pleadings that start with the question "Why?" Here is a sample from Psalm 44: "Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love." Here is another from Lamentations: "Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure." (Lamentations 5:20-22 NIV) God certainly hears, and will hear, these pleas, and has not "utterly rejected" them. The prophecy of the "flocked destined for slaughter" is not the end of they story. God's "unfailing love" to Israel will prevail, and He will rise up and help them.

After the severe warnings cited above from Leviticus 26, He gave them this reassuring promise: "'But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers--their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies--then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the LORD their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the LORD.'" (Leviticus 26:40-45 NIV)

The declarations of the Lord that He will once again regard Israel with favor are numerous and undeniable. "I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them." (Zechariah 10:6 NIV) In a Messianic passage announcing the appearance and rule of the Lord Jesus, He says through Zechariah, "This very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you." (Zechariah 9:12 NASB) At that time, the answers to these questions that have haunted the Jews will be answered with a resounding "No!": "Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?" (Psalm 77:7-9 NIV) As we approach the day of the next "visitation" of the Shepherd, He is speaking tenderly to the flock once again, saying, "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:7-8 NIV)

Bob Westbrook 4/2/00