Omens of Destruction | Zechariah 11

Forty years before the destruction of the Temple … the doors of the Temple used to open of their own accord, until Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai rebuked them saying, “O Sanctuary, Sanctuary! why dost thou terrify thyself? I know well that thine end is to be destroyed, for Zechariah the son of Iddo prophesied concerning thee long since: ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars’ (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39b).

The portion quoted from Zechariah in Yoma 39b (‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars’) commences a detailed prophecy about the events that would lead to the destruction of the Second Temple.

Cedars of Lebanon are a symbol for the Sanctuary because these were the timbers from which both the First and Second Temples were built (see 1 Kings 5:6 and Ezra 3:7).

In the verses that follow immediately after this prophecy, Zechariah foretells his nation’s tragic future, taking on the role of Shepherd of Israel as he is moved by the Spirit of Prophecy to play out the events that would culminate in the fiery destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple about 500 years later.

Thus saith the LORD my God; shepherd the flock marked for slaughter. Their buyers slay them without guilt: and those that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds do not pity them. For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the Land, saith the LORD: but lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour’s hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them (Zech 11:4-6).

The allegory of shepherd and flock is often used in scripture to describe the relationship between God and Israel. The prophet Isaiah describes the Lord’s ingathering of his people after the exile in this way:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd: he will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:11).

King David typified the good shepherd as a lover and protector of his flock. He testified before King Saul:

Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him (1 Samuel 17:34-35).

At the same time the flock takes comfort in the discipline and protection that comes from the shepherd’s hand, as King David also experienced:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want … thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalms 23:1-4).

A change of attitude takes place once a flock has been marked for slaughter. The good shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep as long as they are in his care, and anyone who tries to take them from his hand will be fought off and chased away. But once the sheep are marked for slaughter, the same shepherd will willingly surrender them to their fate. Those who buy the sheep for this purpose will not be punished for the harm they do to them. The owner is no longer concerned with the well-being of the sheep, only with the payment he receives from the transaction. In the narrative of Zechariah 11, the God of Israel is thus demonstrating how He could deliver the flock He once nurtured and cared for into fratricide and oppression.

For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the Land, saith the LORD: but lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour’s hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them (Zech 11:6).

In the subsequent verses, the Prophet takes up two staffs which represent two components of the LORD’S former dealings with the flock of Israel.

The first staff symbolised the favour which Israel enjoyed as a “peculiar treasure above all people” and a holy nation unto the LORD. This relationship was founded in a covenant whereby the people of Israel enjoyed God’s unique protection, being established under His law and for His glory. Consequently, Israel was kept by the Divine Hand as a distinct people with its own land – by which Hand foreign powers were also restrained from subjugating the holy people.

The second staff symbolised the unity or brotherhood that existed between Judah and Israel (the southern and northern tribes) during the post-exilic period.

By breaking these staffs, the Shepherd of Israel relinquishes his former roles.

And I will feed the flock of slaughter along with the humble of the flock. And I took to me two staffs; the one I called Favour, and the other I called Bonds; and I fed the flock … Then I said, I will not feed you: those that die, let them die; and those that are to be cut off, let them be cut off; and let the remainder eat each other’s flesh. And I took my staff, Favour, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. And it was broken in that day: and so the humble of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD (Zech 11:7-11).

A time would come, according to this prophecy, when God would cease His protection over Israel. By breaking His covenant of Favour with the nation collectively, Israel would forfeit its special status and protection and would henceforth be exposed and left vulnerable to the tides of history.

The covenant is described as broken not because God would fail to perform any of His covenant duties. God’s promise to protect Israel had always been conditional upon its obedience and this obedience had not been forthcoming. The covenant is described as broken because God would make it impossible for any future generation of Abraham’s descendants to be restored to His favour under the terms of the old covenant. (After the Temple’s destruction, two thirds of the Sinai covenant could no longer be observed, confining the Jews to perpetual disobedience).

The fulfilment of this prophecy started at the beginning of the Christian Era, when John the Baptist went about the Judean wilderness calling sinners to repentance and denouncing the prevailing religious order of Jewish society.

Do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:9-12).

The one who came after him was Jesus of Nazareth who warned the people:

I have come to bring fire on the land, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. He said to the crowd: When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? (Luke 12:49-56)

In Zechariah’s prophecy, the humble of the flock are distinguished from the rest of the sheep, and singled out as those who would recognize the fulfilment of God’s word.

And it [the covenant] was broken in that day: and so the humble of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD (Zech 11:11).

The humble of the flock would be able to read the signs of that age and recognize in the Messiah’s denunciation of Israel and its subsequent loss of the Divine protection the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy. They would be divided from the rest of the flock (their family and brothers) and spared the fate that awaited the rest of Israel.

The LORD spoke of the same event through the prophet Ezekiel:

Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. (Ezekiel 34:22-23)

From the outset of his ministry, Jesus paid special attention to the poor and humble:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3).

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all (Mark 9:35).

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12: 32-34).

Jesus prophesied to those who believed in him:

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written (Luke 21:20-22).

The humble of the flock, i.e. those who recognized the Shepherd and listened to his voice would thus evade the punishment that would later come upon Jerusalem.

The remainder of the flock would respond with great indignation to the Messiah’s announcement of the Divine punishment whereby Israel would lose its unique status and protection against the nations. This would lead it to betray its God by ascribing to Him the value of a dead slave (see Exodus 21:32).

And I said to them, If ye think good, give me my dues; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my dues thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, Cast it to the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD (Zech 11:12-13).

God demands a tribute from those He created, and particularly from the nation that He had entrusted over many generations with His true revelation. The tribute which God demanded of Israel was this:

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29).

In defiance of this demand, the chief priests offered Judas Iscariot 30 pieces of silver to betray the Messiah into their hands.

Jesus told a parable of a man who planted a vineyard:

“A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do?” (Mark 12: 1-11)

Scripture records a curious but remarkable fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day (Matthew 27:3-8).

As a consequence of this betrayal the second staff was broken, the one called Bonds, thereby destroying the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

Then I cut asunder my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel (Zech 11:14).

In so doing, the outcome described in verses 6 and 9 of Zechariah’s prophecy would now come to pass.

I will deliver the men every one into his neighbour’s hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them … that which dieth, let it die; and that which is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat, every one the flesh of another.

An eyewitness account of the conditions that prevailed in Jerusalem prior to and during the Roman siege, gives us the following synopsis:

NOW the warlike men that were in the city, and the multitude of the seditious that were with Simon, were ten thousand, besides the Idumeans. Those ten thousand had fifty commanders, over whom this Simon was supreme. The Idumeans that paid him homage were five thousand, and had eight commanders, among whom those of greatest fame were Jacob the son of Sosas, and Simon the son of Cathlas. Jotre, who had seized upon the temple, had six thousand armed men under twenty commanders; the zealots also that had come over to him, and left off their opposition, were two thousand four hundred, and had the same commander that they had formerly, Eleazar, together with Simon the son of Arinus. Now, while these factions fought one against another, the people were their prey on both sides, as we have said already; and that part of the people who would not join with them in their wicked practices were plundered by both factions. Simon held the upper city, and the great wall as far as Cedron, and as much of the old wall as bent from Siloam to the east, and which went down to the palace of Monobazus, who was king of the Adiabeni, beyond Euphrates; he also held that fountain, and the Acra, which was no other than the lower city; he also held all that reached to the palace of queen Helena, the mother of Monobazus. But John held the temple, and the parts thereto adjoining, for a great way, as also Ophla, and the valley called “the Valley of Cedron;” and when the parts that were interposed between their possessions were burnt by them, they left a space wherein they might fight with each other; for this internal sedition did not cease even when the Romans were encamped near their very wall. But although they had grown wiser at the first onset the Romans made upon them, this lasted but a while; for they returned to their former madness, and separated one from another, and fought it out, and did everything that the besiegers could desire them to do; for they never suffered any thing that was worse from the Romans than they made each other suffer; nor was there any misery endured by the city after these men’s actions that could be esteemed new. But it was most of all unhappy before it was overthrown, while those that took it did it a greater kindness for I venture to affirm that the sedition destroyed the city, and the Romans destroyed the sedition, which it was a much harder thing to do than to destroy the walls; so that we may justly ascribe our misfortunes to our own people, and the just vengeance taken on them to the Romans; as to which matter let every one determine by the actions on both sides (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, book 5, chapter 6).

The betrayal and crucifixion of the Messiah in 30CE coincided with the commencement of Rabbi ben Zakkai’s mysterious omen – whereby the doors of the Temple started opening of their own accord. On the 9th of Av, AD70, the building was destroyed by fire. No amount of money or effort over the past 2000 years has been able to negate this act of Divine judgment, or to obliterate the name and memory of the One who was vindicated by its destruction.

The 11th chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy concludes with the appointment of a surrogate leader – the foolish shepherd – who would henceforth control the destiny of the Land. These would be those whom Jesus called “the blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14) and their spiritual heirs – a sect of apostates who would be wanting of their right arm and right eye.

And the LORD said to me, Take to thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd. For lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, who shall not visit those that are cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that which is broken, nor feed that which standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces. Woe to the idle shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be wholly dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened (Zech 11:15-17).

Although the physical disabilities described here can be understood as “unable to see” and “unable to lead”, and be applied to those that assumed control over the spiritual destiny of the surviving Jews after 70 CE, it is yet significant that both the Freemasons and most of the false religions that have united in defiance of God judgments and in their efforts to rebuild a Temple structure in Jerusalem – have adopted the left eye as one of their distinguishing symbols.

Is this perhaps a further omen of destruction as the world prepares for its final and fatal rebellion?