God’s People Cleansed
Open Your Bible
Zechariah 13:1-9, Matthew 26:26-35, 1 John 2:1-2
BY Guest Writer
As you read this chapter, do you notice a radical shift part way through? First, the esteemed person of the prophet comes under fire. Then the focus swivels back to the enigmatic figure of the shepherd. Zechariah pronounced judgment on the prophets with just about the same contemptuous tone as he treated idols. Why take prophets to task in the first place? These, after all, were the men and women who were called to preach God’s revealed Word to the people, both to warn and to encourage them. It seems, however, something had gone awry.
To help us process this, we can easily look to our own contemporary churches. No, it’s not my intention to pummel the church with criticism. Instead, I’m just curious to discover good aspects of ministry that can go off track for one reason or another. Taking a closer look might just help us to be on guard in our home churches.
Two things come to mind. First, is music ministry, which has a long tradition of well-trained practitioners that can be traced back all the way to the excellent preparation of the Levites in ministry (1 Chronicles 25:1–7). The second is preaching, which carries on the same prophetic tradition mentioned above.
Sadly, lots of “stuff” often gets in the way of accomplishing good and noble goals—stuff that tends to revolve around egos and crowd-pleasing. Of course, we all suffer from these same kinds of human pitfalls in one way or another, so please know that I’m not trying to hunt down specks in the eyes of sisters and brothers in ministry while remaining blind to my own sin.
But back to the point: Do you see the connection, how these same nagging traits contributed to the rejection of the prophetic ministry we encounter in Zechariah? The prophets’ bad reputation was a carry-over from the steady stream of deceit uttered by false prophets in Jeremiah’s day, lulling the people to sleep instead of issuing wake-up calls. These false prophets told the people what they wanted to hear, which undermined Jeremiah’s warnings and pleas for repentance. At this point, you could say that parts of Jeremiah 23 sound a lot like Zechariah. Seventy years later, following a brutal exile, God’s people were still trying to put their lives back together. (May God spare us all from the sober consequences of crowd-pleasing preaching!)
With the dismissal of the prophets, the shepherd surfaces again. No longer called “worthless,” he is now close to the Lord Almighty. The next words from the Lord are the command to strike the shepherd, followed by the observation that the sheep would scatter, and the warning that God’s hand would be turned against those little ones (see Matthew 26:31).
This is difficult to read. Nevertheless, two allusions restore our hope. First, from our New Testament perspective, we know that the Good Shepherd promised to lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11–18); Jesus said it four times. Second, even though the final image of the refining fire is terrifying, the end products are purified silver and gold. And through it all, we are God’s people, and He is our God (Zechariah 13:9).
Elaine A. Phillips received a BA in social psychology from Cornell University, an MDiv from Biblical Theological Seminary, and an MA in Hebrew from the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, where she and her husband, Perry, studied and taught from 1976–79. She holds a PhD in rabbinic literature, and teaches Biblical Studies at Gordon College. She also serves as a historical geography field instructor for Jerusalem University College. She has published a commentary on Esther in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; a devotional book, With God, Nothing Is Impossible; and, most recently, An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts.