The Field of Blood

Covenant Structure in Zechariah 11

“The meek will eventually inherit the earth but the wicked will always have to buy it.”

Reading the book of Zechariah, like most Bible prophecies, is like tuning in to Season 3 of any good TV series without watching Seasons 1 and 2. Our problem today is not that we haven’t actually read the books of Moses (well, I hope we have) but that we haven’t been taught to read them into the prophets and the New Testament. We treat them like we’ve now switched channels, or shows, and the authors are starting with a blank canvas! However, the canvas isn’t blank. The prophets were God’s repo men, and their messages were all framed in the context of the Covenant contract. What amazes me is how inventive the prophets are (or the Spirit is) in coming up with something new and surprising using the patterns laid down in Moses.

Another strange habit we have is tracing Old Testament quotations in the Gospels and sticking a “Messianic prophecy” label on them without much attempt to understand what those verses meant in their original context. It used to bother me that nobody seemed interested in what they meant and why on earth a particular verse would come to the author’s mind in the first place in support of his case for Jesus. The answer is that God does not work in “snapshots” but in stories, through processes, and within architectures.

One of the more complex references is the mention of “the potter” in Zechariah 11 and Matthew 27:7. Not only is the reference intriguing but the original passage is just as confusing. Zechariah 11 is just plain weird to us, because we think like the viewer who has only just tuned in. If we take the structure into account, it may answer some burning questions.

Firstly, it seems to me that the ‘cycle’ in Zechariah 11 actually starts in v. 4, so vv. 1-3 belong to the previous section. Why do I say this? It concerns the destruction of the “cedars” of the Temple, as an ironic cloudy Tabernacles! (The other name for the feast is Booths, which is more literally “clouds.”) So those verses are the end of the previous cycle.

TRANSCENDENCE – Creation (Genesis)

So verses 4-5 begin the cycle. It begins with a new Initiation. The Lord asks Zechariah to “lead” the flock of God. He condemns the kings who have exalted themselves against the Law. So we have the Call, and also a reference to Divine Authority (the tablets in the Ark of the Covenant).

HIERARCHY – Division (Exodus)

After Initiation comes Delegation, or in sacrificial terms, the cutting of the sacrifice. In verse 6, the Lord pronounces a “Passover,” but one from which no one will escape. The “king” has become a king like Pharaoh, murdering God’s “firstborn”, Israel, so the Lord Himself will not intervene. However, He has commissioned Zechariah for an ironic “tour of duty”: he would lead the flock, not to green pastures, but to slaughter.

ETHICS 1 – Ascension (Leviticus/Priesthood) – Law given

In 7-9, Zechariah becomes the blameless “firstfruits” with two staffs, Favor (Church) and Union (State). Staffs are an extension of a man’s reach, and are “legal” tools. The left and right “hands” of the Tabernacle are the Table and the Lampstand, priesthood and kingdom. Once united in a Man they lead to prophecy, true legal witness.

Zechariah tends the sheep. He destroys the “three shepherds” in “one month”, which is possibly a reference to Numbers 18:15-16:

Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.

The subject is the redemption of the firstborn, and if we notice that the price was specified in sanctuary silver, it will help us with what comes later on in the passage.

The word “destroyed” is the word used in Exodus 9:15, in the words Moses is to speak to Pharaoh before the seventh plague, because he has exalted himself:

For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.

The theme is “Levitical,” the tithe. Festally-speaking, it is the Feast of Firstfruits, pointing to the Ascension of Christ. But who are the three shepherds? When Jesus appears as the ‘firstfruits lamb” in Revelation 5, He is a union of priest (lamb – forming), king (seven eyes – filling) and prophet (seven horns – future), or in architectural terms, a combination of the three pieces of furniture in the Holy Place. So it would seem the “triune office” is in Zechariah’s cross hairs. Many commentators believe these shepherds are those rulers upon whom Christ pronounced Covenantal “woes.” Instead of being advocates for the people, they were legal accusers, just like their true father, Satan. They had exalted themselves as kings and they would be thrown down. The difference was that Satan knew he only had a short time. From Barnes’ notes:

And I cut off three shepherds in one month – Jerome: “I have read in some one’s commentary, that the shepherds, cut off in the indignation of the Lord, are to be understood of priests and false prophets and kings of the Jews, who, after the passion of Christ, were all cut off in one time, of whom Jeremiah speaketh, “The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew Me not; the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things which do not profit” Jeremiah 2:8, and again, “As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests and their prophets” Jeremiah 2:26; and “they said, Come, let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet” Jeremiah 18:18.

Based on what follows in the text, this “disempowerment” refers to Jesus’ ministry to the Jews. In each case He was the “firstborn” son who received the Father’s blessing: 1) circumcised as a Priestly Lamb and baptized as a Priest; 2) anointed as a Shepherd King after His baptism and received as the Son of David in Jerusalem; 3) commissioned as Divine Prophet at His transfiguration (just prior to the triumphal entry, which explains the “Hear ye Him” in Matthew 17:5) and authorized to speak the Father’s words to the rulers of the city. At each stage, His qualification disqualified the leaders of Israel, just as David’s anointing disqualified Saul.

However, the three stages of qualification would be “fractally” replicated in Israel. The process of destruction here is Ethical, Social, Physical, a reverse of Genesis 1-3.

ETHICS 2 – Testing (Numbers/Kingdom) – Law Opened

At the centre of the cycle (vv. 10-11), Israel’s Covenantal Favor is broken. The kingdom comes and her priesthood is no longer effectual. The priesthood and kingdom (forming and filling), are like the two bronze pillars of Solomon’s Temple.: they will be broken up. We saw the same action when Moses broke the first set of stone tablets. What is interesting is that these are not Mosaic tablets but Davidic staffs. The Word of the Lord is vindicated among the “peoples,” in this case, the tribes of Israel. The feast here is Pentecost, when many Jews believed. Revelation presents them as saints “sealed and numbered” (only Jews are numbered, and one of the themes here is the book of Numbers). The Covenant has been de-formed, but Israel would be given a chance to “fill up” her sins or her sufferings before the future age arrived..

ETHICS 3 – Maturity (Deuteronomy/Prophethood) – Law Received

This next stage corresponds to the feast of Trumpets, where Israel’s warriors are mustered and “redeemed.” Trumpets are silver. They summon Israel and they warn God’s enemies. It was at this point in Genesis 23 that Abraham purchased a cave and field from Ephron with “bridal” silver, and also at this point in Joshua 7 where Achan revealed his plunder, including silver, was hidden “in the earth” under his tent. Again, something to take note of for later.

The redemption price comes from Exodus 21:32. It is the price for a murdered bull or slave, which actually ties Zechariah’s service to the Bronze Altar (binding) rather than the prophetic Incense Altar (loosing). Remember, these two altars correspond chiastically in the pattern, one being the earthly country (bloody Adam) and the other the heavenly country (fragrant Eve). Silver has to do with loosing, with redemption. It is bridal, and military. It is also the plunder for Covenant obedience, and the legal witness (as fragrant, silvery smoke) that the Law has been satisfied.

The money is thrown into the Lord’s House, however, it is designated “to the potter.” Rather than ascending to heaven, it will be returned to the earth, hidden in the clay under Achan’s “Tabernacle.” The JFB commentary mentions that the Temple employed its own potter, and any “unclean” money went to pay him. It was a “talent” hidden in the ground. The idea is that the Covenant Head is not multiplied as a Body, bearing fruit, as desired by God. The potter worked in the Valley of Hinnom, where Jeremiah threatened the rulers of Judah by shattering pots (Jeremiah 19). This valley was where child sacrifices took place, and God judged Israel for this crime by filling it with their bodies. We see the same thing in the first century, beginning with Herod the Great’s slaughter of the innocents and ending with the Roman siege. The valley of the potter came to be known as Gehenna, a rubbish tip filled with fire and maggots.

The house of God and “clay” are both Ascension symbols concerning the firstfruits. Adam is lifted from the miry clay and made to stand upright. So perhaps the idea is that the “ascended” bridal Land is to be covered in sacrificial blood. The prophet himself has been redeemed and he has purchased a burial cave for the Bride. She will rest in the bosom of Abraham until his heavenly country is a place “prepared” by Jesus.

This section ends with a familiar “Trumpets” symbol of the brothers. Judah (the head) and Israel (the body) are divided. The reference is to the “new Covenant” made with these two houses, as predicted in Jeremiah 31 (known by some as the “Restoration Covenant”). It takes us from the beginning of Zechariah to the first century. Here they are not united but separated. There would be no real outcome in history in the first century. The point is that this “tribal” unity would be replaced by a greater unity, the one between Jew and Gentile, as Hebrews 8 explains.

“In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13)

This brings us to the end of the triune “Ethics” section of the prophecy. At Ascension, the prophet united priesthood and kingdom, enabling him to speak as a prophet (Adam was to be the third tree in the Garden, whose fruit was righteousness, representing God as His Word). At Testing (Pentecost), the face of God stopped shining upon Israel-according-to-the-flesh. Maturity is about a “many” which are united with one mind. Here, the old Feast of Trumpets was annulled forever through the legal witness of the apostles, the testimony of Jesus, who like Joseph was sold by his brothers to the Gentiles. The Trumpets warned of the old walls coming down.

SANCTIONS – Conquest (Joshua/The Triune Man)

Now we come to the Day of Coverings, when the High Priest approached God for the Priesthood and the People, the head and the body. Atonement is about healing the Land, but God was raising up a shepherd who would not heal but devour. At this point in Jesus’ pattern, the High Priest exalted himself against the Son of God, the veil was torn, and a Roman soldier testified to Him. In the larger apostolic cycle, the Temple was completed (in defiance of Jesus’ words) and then destroyed only a few years later by armies of Roman soldiers. But it seems that the prophet is still speaking hear of the ministry of Jesus.

SUCCESSION – Glorification (Judges: Israel serves the Gentiles)

The cycle has covered de-forming and de-filling (Days 1-6) and now moves to de-future! The worthless king will be cut off. The right side of the Adam/Tabernacle is the kingly side. The sword-arm and the eye of judgment will be taken away. Israel will no longer have her own king sitting at court. Because she would not be a priest to the nations, she will serve a Gentile Solomon, the emperor (an ironic Booths). The initial fulfillment of this was the death of Herod on his throne, sitting in the Temple of God. The Lord turned him into a human Gehenna, filled with worms.

Jesus or Judas?

This brings us to an interesting aspect of the prophecy. Is the prophet predicting the actions of Jesus or Judas? Zechariah was from the tribe of Judah, and Judah would be divided like the two goats on the Day of Atonement. Judas (Judah) was himself a sign of what was coming upon all Judah. The Last Supper follows the order of Israel’s annual festal calendar, with Judas being expelled as the second goat, filled with the devil and carrying the sins of the nation to destruction. [1] Jesus and Judas are the positive and negative coordinates of the prophet’s “formula.”

Whose purchase?

Matthew 27 says that the chief priests and elders bought the potter’s field with Judas’ silver, as a place to bury Gentiles, the unclean.  Acts 1 implies that it was Judas’ purchase, but the theme that unites these two statements is Covenantal. Abraham purchased a parcel of the Land but his children would later inherit it as a gift. The meek eventually inherit the earth but the wicked will always have to buy it. [2]

The Valley of Hinnom

The Jews were no longer merely murdering their sons in a horrific reenactment of Passover, they were once again giving them to foreign armies in a horrific reenactment of the fall of Jericho. After Pentecost, the children they were killing were the children of God, that is, the regenerate. [3] The idea is that they were not honoring the firstfruits and redeeming the firstborn at all but slaughtering them and keeping the money, just like our own culture is today. God would cut them off for their theft of a tongue of gold (the false prophet, Adam) [4], a robe from Babylon (the deceived harlot, Eve), and the redemption silver (the beast, the offspring of the shining Serpent), them and their children, like the family of Achan.

Why Silver?

Besides the obvious references, silver is an Old Testament type. It is bridal. Under Solomon, the great bridegroom, Jerusalem was filled not only with gold but silver.

“And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone…” (1 Kings 10:27)

The silver of Abraham was a downpayment on a heavenly country, the silvery smoke on the Incense Altar of resurrection. The silver of Achan and Judas fell like ashes through the grate in the Bronze Altar, into the earth like the sons of Korah, the false priests whose incense was rejected. Like Adam, like Judas, like Judah, an earthly altar without Pentecostal fire will only ever be a place of death, a field of blood. It always splits open in the end and returns to the dust (1 Kings 13:1-5). [5]

[1] See One Taken, One Left Behind and Fool’s Gold.
[2] James Jordan sees the fulfillment of the Jubilee in the conquest of the world by the Gospel. All the Land is returning to its original owner, and His brothers.
[3] See Provoking the Dragon.
[4] See A Tongue of Gold.
[5] See Bridal Men for how Esau and Jacob correspond to the two altars.


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