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Today's Study

Zechariah 11:12-13: Thirty Pieces of Silver--A Confused Prophecy?

Two difficulties appear when Zechariah's prophetic actions are compared with their fulfillment recorded in Matthew 27:7-10. First, certain details of Zechariah's prophetic symbolism do not seem to fit the historical account. Second, Matthew ascribes these words to Jeremiah, but he clearly is quoting Zechariah.

Zechariah's prophetic parable followed his prophecy of the Good Shepherd's relations to the flock. In Zechariah 11:11 the people reacted to Zechariah's breaking his staff. They realized that God was annulling the covenant of protection over them. Some terrible acts of judgment were ahead!

In Zechariah 11:12 the prophet requested payment for his services and for alerting the people. He posed his request delicately, assuming that they might not wish to pay him because they had treated their Shepherd so contemptibly. In effect, he said, "If you don't care to pay me, fine; don't bother!" However, the people did not realize that Zechariah's abrupt termination of his pastoral role reflected more their own abandonment of their Shepherd than his choice to end his service.

Their reply insulted him and the cause he represented. They paid him thirty pieces of silver, the same price fetched by a slave gored by an ox (Ex 21:32). Zechariah, here impersonating the Messiah, was then advised to take this most "handsome" (surely said in irony and sarcasm) price and cast it to the potter in the house of the Lord. The expression "to cast it to the potter" usually was an idiomatic proverb approximately meaning "Throw it to the dogs" or "Get rid of it." But its connection with the house of the Lord makes that solution unlikely. Moreover, it is doubtful that the potter would have been in the house of the Lord. Rather, this phrase could be a cryptic description of his casting the money into the temple where it was taken up and used to purchase a field of the potter, since tainted money was unwelcome in the temple (Deut 23:18).

But what of Matthew's use of this acted-out parable? Matthew probably attributed the text to Jeremiah because Jeremiah, in many Hebrew manuscripts, headed up the collection of the prophets and his name was used to designate all in the collection. Our book titles with their chapter and verse divisions are a fairly recent innovation. Also Matthew may have attributed this quotation to Jeremiah because this text was paired with Jeremiah 18:1-4, 32:6-9. Thus he cited the name of the better-known and more prominent prophet. In fact, in not one of the four other places where the New Testament quotes from Zechariah does it mention his name (Mt 21:4-5; 26:31; Jn 12:14; 19:37).

On the second problem, Matthew's use of this text, we counter by arguing that the New Testament citings of the Old very much agree with the meaning found in the Old Testament. Judas did receive thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus of Nazareth. Because these wages represented blood money, with stricken conscience Judas took the money and threw it into the temple. However, because this money was unfit for temple service, it was used to buy a potter's field as a burial place for strangers (Mt 27:6-10).

Certainly these actions follow the pattern set by the prophet, even though there are a few slight differences, such as "I threw" being rendered in the Gospel as "and they used them" (Mt 27:10), and "I took the thirty pieces of silver" becoming "they took the thirty silver coins" (Mt 27:9), and "at which they priced me" becoming "the price set on him by the people of Israel" (Mt 27:9). But these changes are required by the position of the narrator, his use of his own tenses and the place where he introduced this text into his story.

Zechariah, we may conclude, accurately saw the tragic events connected with the betrayal of our Lord and warned Judah long before the events took place. What a fantastic prophecy!