The Care of the Lord, Our Shepherd
Passage: Zechariah 10:3– 11:3
Sermon from Zechariah 10:3-11:3 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Zechariah: Return & Restoration (Part 16)
Delivered on January 24, 2016
Zechariah 10. We’ll start in verse 3 and read all the way to 11:3. Before we read, though, let me pray for our time in the word...
10:3My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the LORD of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah, and will make them like his majestic steed in battle. 4From him shall come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler—all of them together. 5They shall be like mighty men in battle, trampling the foe in the mud of the streets; they shall fight because the LORD is with them, and they shall put to shame the riders on horses. 6I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them. 7Then Ephraim shall become like a mighty warrior, and their hearts shall be glad as with wine. Their children shall see it and be glad; their hearts shall rejoice in the LORD. 8I will whistle for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as they were before. 9Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return. 10I will bring them home from the land of Egypt, and gather them from Assyria, and I will bring them to the land of Gilead and to Lebanon, till there is no room for them. 11He shall pass through the sea of troubles and strike down the waves of the sea, and all the depths of the Nile shall be dried up. The pride of Assyria shall be laid low, and the scepter of Egypt shall depart. 12I will make them strong in the LORD, and they shall walk in his name,” declares the LORD. 11:1Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars! 2Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, for the glorious trees are ruined! Wail, oaks of Bashan, for the thick forest has been felled! 3The sound of the wail of the shepherds, for their glory is ruined! The sound of the roar of the lions, for the thicket of the Jordan is ruined!
God’s Gracious Rescue & Provision
Our passage recalls a huge problem in Israel—namely, false leadership, leadership that wasn’t living up to what it was supposed to be. In the Old Testament, the metaphor of a shepherd with his flock was used to depict God’s relationship with his people. But sometimes this metaphor gets applied to the leaders of God’s people. And there’s good reason for that: the leaders should’ve reflected the same concern that God himself had for his people. Insofar as a leader failed to represent the Lord’s care, he was false.
Just prior to the exile, most of Israel’s leaders were false. In places like Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23, God rebukes the false shepherds in Israel for not caring for his sheep: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them” (Ezek 34:4).
One further way that these leaders weren’t caring for the sheep is mentioned in Zechariah 10:2. These false shepherds were leading them according to their own idols. As a result, this false leadership led to a host of problems. False leadership eventually led to a divided kingdom. False leadership spread idolatry and sexual immorality. With each generation the problems only increased, such that even the massive reforms under the good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah couldn’t turn things around.
Finally, God had enough; and just like he said he would, he removes his people from their land and scatters them, as if they’ve been rejected altogether. And throughout the exile, Israel wandered around under the boot of different shepherds from the nations. False leadership, idolatry, a divided kingdom, a scattered people without a land, a people rejected, a covenant relationship with God broken—it’s no wonder that God describes his people as wandering sheep and afflicted for lack of a shepherd (10:2).
Chapter 10, however, is the answer to all these problems—it’s an announcement of God’s gracious rescue and provision. So, for instance, Israel once had a problem with false leadership, but verses 3-4 tells us that God will judge them and replace them with his own leadership. Israel once was a divided kingdom, but verse 6 says that God will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph.
Israel was once afflicted and weak, but now verses 5 and 7 say that God will make them strong. Israel was once a scattered people without a land, but verses 8-10 explain how God would gather them from the nations and give them a new land. Israel was once rejected by God, but verse 6 informs us that God will mend that relationship too. Israel had at one time followed its leaders into idolatry, but now verse 12 says that they would walk in the Lord’s name.
In other words, chapter 10 gives us a bit of a collage of God’s future grace rescuing his helpless people. Whatever the problem they had, God willingly comes to them in compassion and promises them his grace. And I want every person in this room to understand that he will do the same for you. Where you have been led astray, he can lead you home. Where you have been afflicted, he can protect you. Where you have followed others into idolatry, he can make you walk in his ways. Where you are trapped in sin, he can get you out. Grace is available to you this morning, just as it was available to Israel. And the one who brings it is a compassionate Shepherd.
The Lord, Our Compassionate Shepherd
The message of God’s grace in this passage is seasoned with the metaphor of a shepherd with his sheep. Verse 3, “he cares for his flock;” verse 8, “I will whistle for them and gather them in”—these kinds of metaphors depict God acting as the true Shepherd of his people in contrast to the false shepherds of his people. How does this true Shepherd, the Lord himself, act on behalf of his people? Four ways…
1. He protects his people from their enemies
First of all, as the true Shepherd, he protects his people from their enemies. Chapter 10, verse 3 says, “My anger is hot against the shepherds [meaning the false shepherds], and I will punish the leaders [which you see in footnote 2 of the ESV is, literally, I will punish the male goats].” This isn’t very nice. It’s like calling them punkish bullies (cf. Ezek 34:17). They get in there with their horns and shove people out of their way. What will God do to them? He will punish them.
And then again in 11:1-3, we get a short poem saying the same thing. Various figures of speech come together in the form of a lament that announces judgment on the false shepherds. Often times in Scripture, the trees of a forest will represent the pride of man, or the pride of a nation. God then comes in and destroys that forest for its pride (e.g., Isa 2:13; 10:34; 35:2; 37:24; 60:13). The same happens here, but in relation to the false shepherds. The different forests represent the false shepherds, and God is telling them that the day of their wailing has come. He’s about to cut them down and burn them.
And notice something about these false shepherds in 11:3. They do not wail because of the way they treated the sheep. They wail over the loss of their own glory—which further reveals why God must get them away from his people: these false shepherds are consumed with their own glory. They’re caring for the people as a means to gaining glory for themselves. And one way that God shows his care for the sheep is that he promises to protect them from those kinds of shepherds. He will punish them.
That should be a sobering warning to anybody who desires to lead God’s people from selfish motives. It should be a sobering warning to anybody who’s already in leadership that begins to enjoy the compliments a little too much, or who begins to fish for those pats on the back when they don’t come often enough. Brothers, some of you may desire to lead the church one day. Some of you are studying with this goal in mind. Take heed to these words, and pray for the Lord to keep you from such pride.
First Peter 5:2 tells pastors, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” God will punish the leaders who choose to do otherwise. By judging the false shepherds, the Lord protects his people.
2. He strengthens them with his presence
Second, as the true Shepherd, the Lord also strengthens his people with his presence. Many of us are familiar with Psalm 23—“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures…,” and so on. What is the one thing that strengthens David as he walks through the valley of the shadow of death? It’s the Lord’s presence. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? “For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
What happens here is similar. God replaces the false shepherds with his own presence; and with his own presence, the people are strengthened. His presence so strengthens them that—according to the end of verse 3—the afflicted sheep become like his majestic steed in battle. This is like turning a school-boy into a Navy Seal, or a hang-glider into an F-35. The weak are made strong. They’re totally transformed.
We’ll come back to verse 4 in a minute but look with me again at verses 5-6. “They shall be like mighty men in battle, trampling the foe in the mud of the streets; they shall fight [Get this!] because the Lord is with them, and they shall put to shame the riders on horses [a picture of their enemies]. I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back.” That is, back into a covenant relationship with the Lord (cf. Jer 31:33; Ezek 11:20; 34:30; Zech 8:8). Why? “Because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them.”
So this renewed covenant relationship with the once-straying-and-afflicted sheep—this reconciliation of them to God, where the Lord is now dwelling with his people again—it strengthens his flock into a victorious army. And this army of people even has new leadership. Let’s go back now to verse 4.
And you’ll see in verse 4 several metaphors for leadership piled up. The Lord will provide “the cornerstone,” “the peg,” and “the battle bow.” The cornerstone commonly refers to the corner of a foundation. Every once in a while, though, it was used as a metaphor for leadership—and in particular, leadership that would play a key role in the life of a community (Judg 20:2; 1 Sam 14:38; Isa 19:13). Interestingly enough, both Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 use the same metaphor to describe the Messiah.
Next we get “the peg.” The ESV calls it a tent peg. But it can also describe the peg on a wall on which to hang something. Isaiah 22:22-25 provides the best example, where the Lord fastens Eliakim like a peg in a secure place. And then that becomes a metaphor for his dependable leadership. People can hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house—he’s dependable. So, it’s important leadership; it’s dependable leadership; and then lastly—with the metaphor of a “battle bow”—we see that it’s leadership with military strength (Zech 9:13; cf. Gen 49:22-25; Rev 6:2).
Now, there’s a debate over whether these metaphors refer to the Messiah in particular, or to a more general group of leaders in Judah. In my judgment, the very next words do suggest that it’s a general group of leaders—“every ruler, all of them together.”
At the same time, though, we shouldn’t forget chapter 9 while we’re reading chapter 10. And chapter 9 does tell us very plainly that God also has a Messiah, a King for Zion, who will rule from sea to sea (Zech 9:9-10). The emphasis here just happens to fall on what happens when that King takes over: when he takes over—when he brings the presence of God near to his people—all kinds of new leadership grows out of his people, and God’s people become strong under their care.
Sounds very similar to what happens when Jesus brings the presence of God to us in the church. He is Immanuel—God with us—and when he dwells among us, we not only get new leadership; we become strengthened under his care (Matt 1:18). Part of the way Jesus’ rule works itself out in the church is by the Spirit gifting men to lead God’s people (Rom 12:8; Eph 4:12). It started with the Twelve (Matt 10:1); but now it’s worked outward to many leaders (Eph 4:11-12). But another way Jesus’ rule works itself out in the church is by strengthening us with the presence of God. The Holy Spirit comes and he dwells in us (1 Cor 3:16) and he unites us (Eph 4:1-4) and he empowers us with various gifts and services and activities (1 Cor 12:7)—and in this way, Jesus builds the church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against us (Matt 16:19-20).
3. He gathers his people into his kingdom
Third, as the true Shepherd, the Lord also gathers his people into his kingdom. This is a bit different than raising sheep, but when I was a kid, my grandpa raised cattle. And every so often I got to help feed the cattle. But before he fed the cattle, he’d call them all up—something like this… Some of them were near; others were still hidden in the brush. But whenever he started calling, they’d come running. You see, they knew his voice. They had witnessed his care over time.
Something similar is going on here in verses 8-10: “I will whistle for them,” God says, “and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as they were before. Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return. I will bring them home from the land of Egypt, and gather them from Assyria, and I will bring them to the land of Gilead and to Lebanon, till there’s no room for them.”
When it says he scattered them among the nations—that’s not the usual Hebrew word for scattering. It’s actually the word used for sowing seed to produce a crop (cf. 8:12). Meaning, when God sent them into exile he had a greater purpose than mere discipline; he meant to multiply them for a future gathering. And there’d be so many people on that day, that the land as they knew it wouldn’t even contain them.
This is part of the reason why I said he gathers them into his kingdom. Egypt and Assyria stand as symbols for the kingdom of man, as types for all the nations who oppose God and oppress God’s people. Why else would he use Assyria, when, historically speaking, they had ceased to exist two centuries earlier? The point is that Assyria is a type for all the oppressive nations of the north; and Egypt is a type for all the oppressive nations in the south (cf. also Isa 11:10-16; Ezek 39:27-29; Hos 11:1-2).
So God intends to gather his people out of the kingdom of man—wherever they are in the north or south—and bring them into the kingdom of God, which is here represented by Gilead and Lebanon. Gilead was the mountainous region just east of the Jordan (Deut 34:1-4). Lebanon was the northernmost part of the land of Canaan, with its lush pasturelands and big cedars (Deut 11:24).
But once we get to the prophets, both of these places begin to symbolize more than just a chunk of property. New realities begin to fill them—such as when God will satisfy his people on the hills in Gilead and no sin will be found in them anymore (Jer 50:19-20); or in Micah 7:11-14, when the boundary will have to be far extended because of all the nations coming in and God will shepherd all his flock in Gilead; or where there’s a divine reversal in Isaiah 29:17 and the humble in Lebanon are exalted (cf. also Hos 14:5-7; Obad 19-21). Obadiah 19-21 even numbers Gilead among the places that his people will possess, and then says, “and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
So, part of what God does as the true Shepherd is gather his people out of the kingdom of man and into the kingdom of God, which seems to be one that needs to expand beyond the borders of Israel in order to contain all the people. And our fourth point today is going to tell us how God goes about accomplishing that.
4. He leads his people out of bondage through a new exodus
So, fourth, as the true Shepherd, the Lord leads his people out of bondage through a new exodus. Many of you are familiar with the great exodus deliverance. God’s people were held captive in Egypt. They couldn’t deliver themselves. Then God steps in and he delivers them with a mighty outstretched arm. He kills the firstborn in Egypt; he spares Israel at the cost of a lamb; and then he leads them through the Red Sea and gets victory over their enemies so Israel can be his people.
Well, that first exodus deliverance becomes a pattern for God’s future saving work as well (e.g., Isa 40:3; Jer 23:7-8; Hos 11:1). And that’s what we get in verses 11-12: God speaks of his people’s future deliverance in terms of another exodus. Verse 11, “He [the Lord] shall pass through the sea of troubles and strike down the waves of the sea.” Reminds us of when he led Israel through the Red Sea, but now it’s symbolized as the “sea of troubles.” God will enter the sea of all that troubles his people, and lead them out.
Then he says, “and all the depths of the Nile shall be dried up.” Why choose the Nile over the Red Sea or the Jordan? Because it didn’t matter where his people were held captive. No obstacle, wherever they were, would stand in God’s way…including their enemies. Keep reading: “The pride of Assyria shall be laid low, and the scepter of Egypt shall depart.” They would no longer have the power, in other words. And what’s the result? A free people walking in the name of the Lord.
Folks, please recognize that this promise of a new exodus comes to Israel after they’ve already returned from exile. Which means that this new exodus is pointing beyond Zechariah’s day, and I’d submit to you that it has begun to find it’s fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Many times over the New Testament envisions the new exodus deliverance finding it’s fulfillment in Jesus. This is why Joseph and Mary took Jesus into Egypt as a child. Just as God called his son, Israel, out of Egypt in the past; God was calling his Son, Jesus, out of Egypt too, but for a much greater deliverance. Jesus is the true Israel and he would lead us out of our bondage to sin and death (Matt 2:13-15; cf. Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1).
Then at the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John go up with Jesus on the mountain. And they see Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah. And Luke 9:31 says that Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke to Jesus about his departure [or literally, his exodus], which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Meaning, the cross would be where Jesus accomplished the new and greater exodus.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). That’s why the soldiers didn’t break his legs on the cross (John 19:36). And as the Passover lamb, Jesus delivers us from our slavery to sin and from the penalty of eternal death (cf. John 8:34-35). At the cost of this Lamb, Jesus, we go free. Our Shepherd entered our sea of troubles—all the troubles caused by our sin—at the cross, and then led us out of bondage when he took up his life again three days later.
And you know what that means? We are free to walk in God’s name. In the cross we find deliverance from our bondage at the cost of God’s only Son, so that we might then live for God, and live for God while rejoicing. Notice the two-fold goal in Zechariah 10—the two-fold goal of joy and holiness. Zechariah 10:7 speaks of the people’s hearts full of gladness; and the gladness will carry on from generation to generation. God’s rescue produces lasting joy in the people.
Then verse 12 says that “they will walk in his name.” God’s name represents God’s character. To walk in his name is to live in ways that reflect God’s character. Sometimes we call this the pursuit of holiness. So, joy and holiness are the goal of the true Shepherd’s work to redeem his people.
He protects us from our enemies; he strengthens us with his presence; he gathers us into his kingdom; he leads us out of our bondage through a new exodus. And the result is joy and holiness—two things that the apostles applied to the church again and again. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice…” and “Since we have these promises…let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (Phil 4:4; 2 Cor 7:1). We rejoice and we walk in God’s name, because we’ve been set free through Christ…
Wherever you are, return to the true Shepherd
One thing I love about this passage is that it speaks to numerous kinds of sheep. In verse 2 there are wandering sheep and afflicted sheep. In verse 3 there are sheep that need strengthening. In verse 6 there are lost sheep that need saving, divided sheep that need uniting, rejected sheep that need compassion. In verse 8 and following there are scattered sheep that need to be gathered, enslaved sheep that need redemption, forgetful sheep that need to remember their Shepherd, sheep that are endangered but need protection, and on the list could go.
Yet in every case, the Lord is their only hope. It’s not that each of these sheep need different saviors for different things, but that they all need the one Savior who does everything. It’s not that they need a little bit of Jesus to save them from this, and then other saviors that work for that. No, they need Jesus for everything, period. He alone leads the wandering, heals the afflicted, strengthens the weak, saves the lost, unites the divided, shows compassion to the rejected, gathers the scattered, redeems the enslaved, summons the forgetful, and protects the endangered. There’s no other Shepherd that will do except the Lord Jesus Christ.
And his care is available to every one of us today, if we trust in him and in what he’s done for us. All of our hopes in life must ultimately depend on him. Wherever you may be this morning, the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is the answer to your problems—especially your biggest problem, sin. Do not let self and human concerns push back his call to you this morning. He gave his life for you on the cross, and rose from the dead to lead you out of bondage. He knows you by name and is calling you home through these words. Return to him. Leave your chains and return to him. You can because he’s broken them. Return and then rejoice in what he’s accomplished for you. Find your strength in him. And walk in his name.
Keep your hopes in the ultimate Shepherd
Some of you may still have deep wounds from false shepherds in your past. Whether because of false teaching or false leading, you were not cared for. Others of you have difficulty shaking bitterness and fears that rise over shepherds who’ve gone astray and fallen into public sins that’ve led to their resignation. Men you’ve respected, men who’ve written books that turned your life around—and something got exposed that left you feeling somewhat betrayed. Others of you have hurts from, maybe, true shepherds, but true shepherds who’ve stumbled in caring for you.
Hear me say this: no matter what kind of wounds you carry, you have a true Shepherd in the Lord and his Son Jesus Christ, and he will never fail you. In Ezekiel 34:16, God even says, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” If you belong to God’s flock by faith in Jesus Christ, God knows your injuries and promises to bind them up. Keep your hopes in the ultimate Shepherd and not in feeble men.
Brothers, reflect the true Shepherd’s character
And to my fellow brothers, let’s reflect the true Shepherd’s character. If we’ve been freed from sin to walk in God’s name, then, brothers, hear me: we must reflect the character of this great Shepherd of the sheep. Don’t forget, my fellow elders, that we’re called “shepherds” in the New Testament, because God wants our lives to reflect his shepherdly care for the sheep. And if you’re a husband or a father, consider that much of God’s care for his bride or for his children comes across in the metaphor of a shepherd. And if you’re a single man, there are ways that you too can reflect God’s compassionate, shepherdly care for others.
We cannot be this Shepherd; but because of this Shepherd, we can be men who reflect his care for the sheep. We cannot imitate his great new exodus deliverance, but we can imitate the compassion that took him there. Other people should be able to look at our care for others, and see it as a picture of God’s care for his people.
Brothers, how are you reflecting the way God protects his sheep from their enemies? Does the word of God saturate your mind, so that you’re able to discern Satan’s schemes and protect those around you? Does your counsel seek to protect your children in this broken and fallen world? What does your leadership look like? Are you leading the sheep that God has entrusted to your care? Do you know them well enough to lead them? Are you going after them when they’re lost? How are your words regularly strengthening your wife in the truths of the gospel? Men, how would you say that you promote the protection and prosperity of women and children in society?
I’m not asking you to pretend like you’re the Savior of the church or of your wife or of your children. But I am asking whether they see the Shepherd in you? Where you may fall short in this, brothers—as I have this week—look again to the true Shepherd this morning. Where you find yourself guilty for not reflecting him, where you find yourself despairing over all that needs to change, where you find yourself lost in how to even go about this change—look again to the Shepherd who enters your sea of troubles, to bring you out of bondage, to strengthen you, and to make you walk in his name.
This all comes for you in Christ, including good leaders that he’s provided to equip you in this shepherding. Mike Branch is planning to equip the men in shepherding at our next men’s breakfast. So come and learn more from this brother. He is a gift to this church for our building up; and so don’t miss this opportunity to grow. I might also recommend a couple of books. If you’re a husband or father, you might pick up, The Shepherd Leader at Home, by Timothy Witmer. Parents, a great place to start with parenting is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp.
Church, play your part in gathering the sheep
And finally, how could I not say something about the church’s mission from a passage like this? Church, play your part in gathering the sheep. The new exodus has begun in Jesus Christ. His cross has broken the power of sin. His blood paid the price to ransom people from all nations. He rose from the dead to lead a countless multitude out of their sins. And he’s gathering them into his kingdom as you and I preach the gospel.
It started with Twelve and then a 120 more. At Pentecost it jumped to 3,000, and ever since then God has been leading his remnant home. From Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth, God is gathering his sheep into his kingdom. And one day at the resurrection we will return as a mighty army, arrayed in fine linen, and coming with our King to trample the enemies beneath our feet (Rev 2:26-27; 19-20). But until that day comes, we must gather the sheep.
This is how God ‘whistles’ for his remnant to come home—through you and me preaching the word to others. Be mindful of our visitors on Sunday morning. Have compassion on the poor and on the suffering in this city. Seek out the lost and find them. Use your gifts to strengthen the church in her mission, not just to the nations far away but also to our neighbors close by.
And if you start thinking, “Me? How could I ever be a part of preaching the gospel to others? I’m too quiet and introverted and have all kinds of fears…” Remember that God is in the business of making weak people strong. He strengthens you with his presence. Just walk with him. Walk with him, pray to him, depend on him, and you will find yourself strengthened to share with and care for others. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). Let’s find them.