Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species 88% Cocoa Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Zechariah 11
If you read through the Bible, there are at least three major themes that you’re likely to pick up on:
- God loves human beings.
- God hates it when human beings are cruel to each other.
- The Biblical region of Lebanon was well-known for its cedars, whose wood was considered among the highest quality in the ancient world.
But Zechariah 11 only briefly concerns itself with Lebanon’s cedars before turning its attention to God’s love-hate relationship with humanity. And if you couldn’t get enough of the sheep-and-shepherd stuff in Zechariah 10, are you ever in luck, because the majority of today’s chapter treats human beings’ relationships with each other and God, using the familiar pastoral analogy that so fills your sheep-metaphor-loving soul with unfathomable delight.
Zechariah himself acts out the bovid-based drama, shepherding a flock, receiving wages, and breaking two symbolic shepherds’ staffs named Favor and Union. As I read through the events, I can’t help but think of the line from Vision of Escaflowne‘s pre-episode recaps: “Was it all just a dream? Or maybe a vision? No, it was real.” But given the first six chapters of Zechariah’s angel-guided visions of talking horses, chariots, and stork-winged women, I’m not entirely certain that Zechariah wants us to understand these events as involving tangible physical sheep, shepherds and shekels. And on a certain level, given that the sheep are intended as a vehicle to convey a truth about God and man, does it really matter if they’re made of actual ungulate skeletons surrounded by lipids and proteins?
God begins the sheep-filled scene with a command. “Pasture the flock doomed to slaughter” (4), he orders, a phrase that Zechariah echoes as he complies in verse seven. God explains further: “Those who buy them slay them and go unpunished, and each of those who sell them says, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I have become rich!’ And their own shepherds have no pity on them” (5). Being a responsible and compassionate shepherd looks like a hopeless cause, as the useless shepherds and selfish buyers are going to exploit the sheep regardless and thank God for the opportunity. And in fact, Zechariah abdicates his responsibilities in verse nine, breaking his staff named Favor. But God commands shepherdship anyway, and at least as long as God requires it of him, Zechariah obeys.
But neither the deity nor the prophet are pleased with the circumstances. It’s a picture of men stumbling over each other to slay and sell one another without pity. You could try to maintain a distinction between shepherds and sheep, but you could just as easily picture the sheep acting as shepherds, selling out flocks for their own self-interest, making a dirty buck hawking mutton to any butcher who will buy. The rampant injustice strains God’s willingness to forestall justice, and he promises, “I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the land, but behold, I will cause the men to fall, each into another’s power” (6). The nation’s evil will serve as its own punishment. They will not lead satisfied lives and die peacefully; the sheep can go slaughter themselves.
Interestingly, nowhere in the passage is God explicitly identified as a shepherd. Maybe that’s the source of the problem.