Thirty Pieces of SilverBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Zechariah tells the nations to open their gates and fire will consume their kings. (Lebanon is used as the example of these nations and the kings are compared to Lebanon’s renowned cedar trees.) The cypress (the officers) and the oak (the servants) will cry that the cedar (their king) has fallen. Listen to the mourning of shepherds (kings) and young lions (princes) upon their loss. (Rashi cites the Talmud in Yoma 39b that this refers to the destruction of the second Temple, as “Lebanon” was also used as a name for the Temple.)
G-d says to prepare shepherds (leaders) for the flock (Israel), whose earlier leaders misled them to destruction. The nations of exile bought, sold and slaughtered them with impunity, praising G-d for delivering the Jews into their hands. G-d will not take it easy on them unless they improve their ways He will let them destroy one another and He will not intervene.
G-d told Zechariah that He personally tended the flock of Israel, back in the day. He used two staffs to guide them, one of pleasantness and one of destruction. He cut off three rulers in one month because He could not tolerate their ways. (The referent is difficult. Rashi applies it to the slaughter in II Kings 10-11. The Radak suggests Yehoachaz, Yehoyakim and Tzidkiyahu in II Kings 24-25.) At that time, G-d refused to tend to the people. He got rid of the staff of pleasantness, saying that whatever happens, happens. The righteous understood that the bad times that followed came from G-d. He gave the last kings of Judah one final chance to return to Him. There were thirty righteous people, compared to pieces of silver, and G-d said He would put them “in the treasury,” i.e., He would preserve them throughout the seventy years of exile until the Temple is rebuilt. (These righteous people included the likes of Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about whom we will read more in the Book of Daniel.) G-d said that He broke the second staff, that of destruction, when He exiled King Tzidkiyahu of Judah, because that nation followed the example of the northern kingdom when it came to idolatry.
G-d told Zechariah to tend to this flock, which would ultimately fall into the hands of Edom (Rome). The shepherd (possibly Herod) will not go after stray sheep and he won’t care for the weak and sick of his flock. He will just devour the resources of the wealthy until they are depleted. It is a poor example of a shepherd, who watches his flock merely to see what he can exploit from them! G-d will remove his ability to harm the people.
It should be mentioned, as we said at the beginning of the book, that the prophecies of Zechariah are some of the hardest chapters in the entire Bible.