Summary: The failure of the leaders God has placed over his people will result in the nation suffering as well as the leaders being judged.
If you were here last week you may remember that ch 10 of Zechariah talks about God the Shepherd, who promises to care for his flock. The reason he has to do that himself is because the leaders of Israel have failed. Well, Zechariah continues that theme in ch11 as he talks about this failure of leadership and what it’ll result in.
Now before we get into looking at this chapter in detail it’s worth reflecting on the fact that again this is a very contemporary issue. Everywhere you look in our world today you discover leadership crises. In the political arena, in business, in our schools, in our churches. It’s been said that opposition parties don’t win elections in Australia, governments lose them. We know that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As you look around the world at the leaders of various nations what you discover is that these leaders are either incompetent or self-serving, weaklings or tyrants, or simply corrupt. It’s very rare to find good leaders at the highest level. And it’s no better when we look closer to home. Even in our churches we have a crisis of leadership. One of the findings of the Diocesan Task Group on Church Health was that church health depends on good leadership. Yet we find so many churches that are in decline. Is that because of poor leadership perhaps? On the other hand it’s been said by one of our bishops, that churches tend to get the leaders they deserve. I take that to mean that churches who want good leadership go looking for good leaders, while those who don’t want leadership actually choose vicars who won’t lead. In fact one of the reasons we have poor leadership in the world is the level of indifference among those who choose leaders. Someone has said that the problem with the world is that the worst act with passionate intensity, while the best lack all conviction.
The sad thing about all this is that one of the main tasks God gave us when he put us here on earth was to function as his stewards in caring for the earth. We were given dominion over the creation. In other words we were put here to exercise leadership over the earth. Yet as you read the account of the creation it isn’t long before that leadership falls down. It’s argued by some commentators that at the heart of the fall in Gen 3 was a failure of leadership. It wasn’t just that Adam & Eve wanted to be like God, it wasn’t just the sin of pride, though that was certainly the case. It was also that they failed the test of leadership over the creation.
So what did God do about that? He chose a people for himself who would follow him and do as he said. He would be their leader and they would follow where he led. The picture that’s used is of God being their shepherd. So Psalm 80 begins: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth." He would lead them and care for them.
As the nation grew, God appointed leaders to stand in his place, under-shepherds to act on his behalf. Moses and Aaron, Joshua, the judges. The classic example of course was David. As Psalm 70 says: "He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds; 71from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance." So David and those who came after him were to shepherd the nation. But what happened with these shepherds, these leaders of the flock? Well, like leaders everywhere, they failed. And as we’ll see in a moment, the people also failed to accept the leadership of their leaders.
In fact what we have here in Zechariah 11 is almost like a potted version of the history of Israel. Here Zechariah is called to act out what has been happening, and what will continue to happen in Israel if they don’t change their ways. He’s to take the part of God as shepherd of his people.
Like so many prophecies of this type, it’s difficult to work out exactly what period of history is being referred to. There are elements that point to the past, and there are elements that point to the future. There’s a sense in which the things that are described here are repeated mistakes that happen over and over in the history of God’s people and in fact continue to happen from place to place and from time to time.
He begins by foreshadowing God’s judgement on the surrounding nations of Lebanon and Bashan and then focuses in on the leaders of Israel. God tells him in v4 to be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter. Because of the failure of it’s leaders, the nation is doomed. The people are doomed to slaughter because it’s leaders have been more interested in their own welfare and prosperity than in the welfare of the flock. They even make hypocritical pretensions to piety as they thank God for making them rich. But just as their shepherds, their leaders have no pity on the people, so God is going to stop having pity on them.