The Messiah Would Be Betrayed for Thirty Pieces of Silver
Zechariah 11 concerns false shepherds (leaders) of Israel. In an acted parable, Zechariah himself becomes the shepherd over the people and eliminates three false shepherds. This passage is part of the entire messianic passage of chapters 9-12. Here, the people reject this true messianic shepherd as well, and he breaks one of his staffs named “Favor” to show that they have broken their covenant with the Lord. At this point, Zechariah resigns from his shepherd position, asking only the price of a slave for his efforts. God instructs him to throw the proceeds to the potter in the Temple. One writer suggests that the idea is that the potter can then fashion an idol out of the silver, cementing the people’s rejection of the Lord. At that point, Zechariah breaks his second staff, called “Union,” to symbolize the rupture within the people themselves. They have broken with God, and with one another.
Matthew does not cite Zechariah as a direct prophecy, but as a pattern fulfilled in the life of Jesus and Judah. Jesus, in the tradition of the prophets of Israel, had rebuked the current leadership of Israel for being false shepherds. Yet the true shepherd, Jesus himself, was rejected by the people and valued as lowly and worthless, just as thirty pieces of silver was the price of a slave. When Judas betrayed Jesus for a price, the false leaders of Israel paid a price representative of a minimum-wage Messiah, so to speak.
But there is also a reference to Jeremiah in Matthew’s quote. This is why his name appears in Matthew 27:9. When Matthew gives quotes that include multiple biblical authors, he gives the names of the major prophet rather than the minor prophet.
The “potter” is found in Jeremiah 18:1-11 in a sermon on God’s sovereignty; a potter’s vessel is in Jeremiah 19:1-13 in a chapter of judgment, which includes a mention of filling the land with “innocent blood”; while Jeremiah buys a “field” in chapter 32.
The idea in Matthew seems to be that God oversees all things sovereignly, not least in the fulfillment of prophecy; while innocent blood has been shed in the death of Jesus (see Matthew 27:4, where Judas says, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood”). The connection with Jeremiah 32 may well be this: that chapter concerns the blessing on Israel when they will have been restored to fellowship with God. Invoking Jeremiah here may suggest that even in this midst of the betrayal of innocent blood, blessing and restoration will take place through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
This is not a simple, direct fulfillment of prophecy. But not all prophecies work the same way. In this case, Matthew sees prophecies of false shepherds, low valuation of the messianic shepherd, God’s sovereignty and the shedding of innocent blood as all coming together in the betrayal of Jesus. Both Zechariah 11 and Jeremiah 19 in particular are acted parables. They find their fulfillment in dramatic fashion in the events of Matthew 26 and 27.