“I am about to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are perishing, and he will not seek the lost or heal the broken. He will not sustain the healthy, but he will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hooves.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
History matters. An adage that has become a cliché over time is if we do not study history, then we are doomed to repeat it. The idea is that if we do not make ourselves conspicuously aware of the mistakes we have made in the past, then we are likely to make the same ones again when given the chance. That may be a cliché, but it’s still true. This kind of thing is what God seems to have in mind here.
This chapter is a challenging one to understand. The harsh language Zechariah uses here stands at odds with the context. Chapters 9 and 10 are about God’s restoration of the people. He speaks of judging the nations around them and of the king who is coming to rule over them. This imagined king is the Messiah Himself. He speaks of the restoration that will happen under the good leadership of this king. In chapter 12, he looks forward again to the restoration of the people.
Chapter 11, though, uses highly judgmental language aimed at the people. What have they done wrong this time? That’s the natural question to ask first. But, when you read a bit more closely, you realize that this isn’t about something Zechariah’s contemporaries have necessarily done. Instead, God is looking back with them to encourage them to look forward with clear sight. He wants them to avoid doing as they did before so that He doesn’t have to bring judgment to them as He did before.
This chapter is set specifically in the context of leadership. You see, sometimes God gives us the leaders we need for a particular season. I think of men like Winston Churchill. When he was made Prime Minister of England in the early days of World War II, he was the leader that England and really all the world needed to take up the charge against the evil of Hitler and his Nazi ideology.
Other times, though, God gives us the leaders we deserve. He gives us leaders who reflect our sins back to us rather than calling us forward to be something more. While the first type of leader may be a blessing, this second type is an act of judgment. Even if the leader is democratically elected by the people, God’s failure to prevent this type of leader is the exercising of His judgment.
That’s what God is telling the people here. In the past, they had been insistent on going their own way, so God gave them leaders who reflected their disobedient spirit and things went about like we might expect them to go. That is to say, they went badly. Very badly.
This is what the people had done and faced in the past. If Zechariah’s contemporaries followed the bad example their forebears had set, then they would receive the same judgment their forebears had received. God would send a leader who didn’t care about the people, who used them to advance his own interests at the expense of theirs. He would not care for those who were perishing or seek the lost or heal the broken or sustain the healthy. He would instead consume them for himself. It’s not a pretty picture.
The same is true today for us. If we will not follow the path of life God has laid out for us, we will eventually pay the price for that. We’ll pay the price by finding ourselves being led by leaders who lead us astray rather than back in a direction that leads to life. The challenge is that we won’t necessarily understand this is happening in the moment. Often, these leaders are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They lead us to a place where they can devour us and we don’t see it until too late.
So, what do we do? We recommit ourselves to knowing the path of life. We recommit ourselves to following the path of life. We find what we need for this in the Scriptures. So, we dive into them. We dive deeply and intentionally. We engage with them daily. And we put what we find into practice. Then we will be able to see where we go and what we need to do when we get there. Let us learn from the past, not repeat it. Life is waiting for us in the future.